Thursday, January 31, 2013

Does a fair fight in boxing fit like a glove?

While the sport of mixed martial arts may only date back a little over 19 years, the sport of boxing has a history that is not hundreds nor thousands, but possibly millions of years old. While boxing, as we know it, may actually only be about 150 years old, give or take a few years, there are documented Egyptian carvings dated around 3 million B.C. where bare fisted contests are depicted. Add to that the earliest evidence of glove fisted fighting can be traced to Minoan Crete in the Greek Islands circa 1500-900 B.C.; this would seem to makes sense since the birth of boxing "as a sport" was considered when the ancient Greeks accepted it as an Olympic game in 688 B.C.

Granted, with such a long history obvious changes have been made over time. The first known rules to have been introduced were instituted by a fighter named Jack Broughton circa 1743 and they were brought about to protect fighters who were many times dying when engaging in such activity. In the early to mid 1800's the "London rules" were initiated, which introduced fighting in a ring surrounded by ropes and then in 1867 what is known as "The Marquess of Queensbury rules" (12 rules in all) were adopted to insure that fights should be a "fair stand-up boxing match." (This would suggest wrestling was part of boxing, which would make it MMA; that's a story for another day.)

Some of those rules still used today included three minute rounds with a one minute rest interval in between, a ten second count if a fighter is knocked down and the introduction of gloves to be of "fair size." That brings me to boxing today and one of the biggest issues I have with it, which is the use of gloves in professional boxing and what is considered "fair?"

I remember growing up as a kid in the '70's, when I would watch prize fights with my uncles all the fighters appeared to be wearing the same gloves. They were always black and they were always Everlast. That's because the Everlast brand has been around for over 100 years and is the brand name most synonymous with the sport. However, with time came the evolution of the sport; and more importantly the glove.

Over the last 20-30 years there have been numerous changes to the boxing glove as we know it. That has a lot to do with the introduction of numerous boxing glove manufacturers such as Grant, Reyes, Rival, Winning and Balazs just to name a few. With so many different producers of gloves now there are many nuances in the style, including structure, padding and even color; gone are the days of standard black Everlast gloves being at the end of precision punches and knockouts.

Thus, with so many different styles to choose from it would only be normal that some fighters would prefer a certain style glove over another. Boxers with fast hands, but chronic hand problems may prefer 'Winning' brand gloves because of the extra padding they are known to possess, often being referred to as the "Pillow glove." Heavy handed punchers on the other hand (no pun intended) may prefer 'Reyes' brand gloves, which are known to have less padding around the knuckle area. That's all fine and dandy, but it doesn't sound quite "fair" to me.

In 1983, journeyman boxer Luis Resto and his trainer Panama Lewis were found guilty of illegally removing padding from Resto's gloves, which gave him a decided advantage in his fight against the then undefeated and highly touted prospect 'Irish' Billy Collins. Resto pounded on Collins's face so bad, that Collins had to retire from the sport and Resto and Lewis were ultimately banned from boxing for life. So, if removing padding from a glove is considered a crime, how is it that a fighter is allowed to go into a fight wearing a glove that is clearly manufactured differently than the one his opponent is wearing?

I posed the following question to professionals in the industry ranging from fighter to journalist to see what they think; "Do you think two fighters wearing different gloves in the ring is considered a fair and level playing field?" These are the responses I got:

"I don't think it makes a difference because the gloves still have to weigh the same. The bottom line is either you can punch or you can't." ~ Ronald Cruz, WBC Continental Americas welterweight champion

"It's fair because the fighters agree beforehand what they are going to use in the ring."Muhammad 'King Mo' Lawal, Professional MMA fighter and former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion

"While I do agree that gloves are made differently, the boxing commission gives you the option before a fight to produce, which glove you would like to use. Thus, if the commission allows it, there is nothing wrong with two fighters wearing different gloves." ~ Lemuel 'Indio' Rodriguez, Professional boxing trainer

"A knockout is a knockout; it is not the glove, it is the fighter. Fighters have been cut, bruised and KO'ed with every style of glove." ~ Jacob 'Stitch' Duran, Renowned Boxing and MMA cutman

"No, it's absolutely 100% wrong; it's absurd, it's ludicrous. Why commissions would allow it is absurd to me." I mean would we let one pitcher in baseball use a different ball that would help his curveball better; I don't think so." - Al Bernstein, Hall of Fame Boxing Analyst and Journalist

As you can see differing opinions to say the least, although surprising to me the majority tend to feel it is okay. They don't necessarily say it is fair, but they all tend to feel that either the glove has no bearing on the outcome or that if the commission says it's okay, who are we to judge? it is hard to argue with the experts and professionals in the industry.  

However, I tend to side with Al Bernstein in that I think it is 100% wrong. As long as two fighters are not using the same gloves, there is no way that they are competing on a "level playing field." Thus, how can you truly gauge who is the better fighter? In the photo above, Floyd Mayweather wore 'Grant' gloves when he fought against Miguel Cotto, who wore 'Everlast', last May.  

While Mayweather is universally recognized as the number one pound for pound fighter in the world and it may be fair to argue that in the end Mayweather is just a better boxer than Cotto, can we really say that with 100% conviction considering they fought each other wearing different gloves? I'm not saying that a different outcome may have been had if they both wore 'Reyes' for example, but can it honestly be called a fair fight? As Arsenio Hall used to say, "Things that make you go hmmmmmm?"

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Are flyweights big enough to carry a fight card?

Now before all the little people in the world unite and have at me, hear me out first. As you read you will see I'm not directing a slight towards fighters of a smaller stature, in this case the smallest, but rather asking a legitimate question; are flyweights (125 lbs.) big enough to carry a fight card as the main event?

This is a question that has been asked numerous times before; maybe not necessarily about flyweights in mixed martial arts, but the question has been asked before in both MMA and boxing. If you don't believe me, let's take a look back at some recent history long before there were 125 pound fighters in MMA.

For those that remember and for those newer fans that don't realize, it wasn't that long ago that lightweight (155 lbs.) was the smallest weight class in mixed martial arts. Part of the original "Big Five" created for MMA when weight classes were instituted into the sport, the same question was asked when BJ Penn and Jens Pulver, two future Hall of Fame candidates, fought for the initial lightweight title in the UFC. Can you believe that? Seems kind of silly when you think about it now and in that context doesn't it?

However, it's always been this way in combat sports. I remember vividly in the summer of '97, HBO sports was headlining a card with the main event featuring IBF super flyweight champ Danny Romero against his hometown (Albuquerque, NM) rival and WBO super flyweight champ, the late great Johnny Tapia. Now mind you, super flyweights in boxing only weigh 115 lbs., so that's even lighter than the main event we got on Saturday night.

In boxing, where heavy fisted knockout artists are what TV audiences crave, the question was asked; could these two extremely talented fighters, in their fighting prime, Tapia was 30 and Romero was a young 23 who already had 31 pro fights, carry a TV audience? The answer was they could and they did. An epic fight classic that went the distance, 12 rounds, with Tapia winning an exciting back and forth tilt via unanimous decision. To this day I remember that fight vividly and always refer back to it fondly.

That brings us back to Saturday night where UFC flyweight champ Demetrious 'Mighty Mouse' Johnson (17-2-1, 3 KO's 6 subs) faced number one contender John 'The Magician' Dodson (14-6, 6 KO's 2 subs). The result just like the Penn/Pulver five round classic that took place 11 years ago (wow has it been that long?) and the Romero/Tapia fight, was a mirror image of those battles; a back and forth affair, where each fighter had their moments and in the end it was Johnson whose hand was raised with a close unanimous decision victory.

Dodson, with his heavy hands for this weight class, had some early knockdowns from crisp sharp punches, yet every time Johnson got right back up and in the end answered the biggest question going into this fight; who was the fastest fighter in mixed martial arts? Chael Sonnen said it best in his post fight analysis, "Speed kills and Johnson was clearly the faster fighter in there tonight."

Johnson used that speed to do something that's never been done to Dodson in his career, take him down. When he did, he attacked with punches and more importantly knees to the body, which actually slowed Dodson down. Dodson's trainer Greg Jackson told him after the third round, where at that point he was winning the fight, "The only thing I want you to do these last two rounds is stay busy."

Try as he did, it was Johnson who was the busier fighter and those knees he was throwing while in the clinch kept Dodson from doing anything about it. The result was scores of 48-47 from two judges and 49-46 from the third all for the champion. More importantly though, both the champ and challenger answered, yet again, the question of whether flyweights are big enough to carry a fight card? Hopefully, this will be the last time that question is ever asked about smaller fighters whose hearts are as big as any heavyweight.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Another one bites the dust

Just like in the business world it is actually a part of, as the sport of mixed martial arts continues to grow, some in its wake will suffer the wrath. Thus, as the 1980 rock classic by Queen says, "Another one bites the dust" as world renowned MMA promotion 'Strikeforce' ended its 27 year run Saturday night. I'd like to say it went out with a bang, but in reality it sort of faded away with a whisper.

I realize circumstances beyond their control had a lot to do with the way its final card played out, but I just feel a promotion that gave us so much deserved better in the end; I guess it was to be expected once UFC Parent Company Zuffa took control. Through its MMA run, Strikeforce was always viewed as second fiddle to the UFC, almost like a little brother. However, since being taken over by Zuffa, it was treated more like its little sister.

The reason, in my estimation, has everything to do with business and in the same breath nothing to do with business at all. That is because of two men; one is Scott Coker, the man who started Strikeforce back in 1985 as a small regional kickboxing promotion based out of San Jose, California and built it up to a world recognized MMA entity that was showcased on both network and cable television.  The other is UFC President Dana White, the driving force behind the UFC's growth and international expansion and a person who takes no prisoners when doing business.

Two very shrewd businessmen who battled openly for years against each other for MMA supremacy, but in the end it was White and his business partners behind Zuffa who won out as Coker sold out to Zuffa a year and a half ago. Once that happened, it was just a matter of time because I truly believe White, who holds onto grudges longer than Rousimar Palhares hold onto leg locks, was determined to inevitably wipe Strikeforce off the MMA map.

Sure, Zuffa kept Coker under employ as part of the deal; they gave him a fancy little title under the UFC banner and let him run the Strikeforce end of business while under TV contract with the Showtime network. However, since the merger Strikeforce has been dying a slow death. It's almost as though Coker sold his soul to the devil and in a sense he did; though this is no slight towards White who I have the utmost respect for, especially when it comes to business.

I have predicted openly since the merger that once the Showtime contract was done, there would be no more Strikeforce and the obvious became inevitable. It's hard to believe that just less than two years ago Strikeforce was thriving as they embarked on a historic eight man heavyweight Grand Prix tournament that sent chills down my spine the night it began in February 2011. However, it's limp to the finish of that tournament should have been an indication of things to come.

While I've been fortunate enough to have been credentialed and cover both the UFC and Bellator, it is my regret that I never got a chance to cover Strikeforce up close. I came close the night the tournament mentioned above began in New Jersey, however it was so huge that press requests were massive and I was left out. I have though been lucky enough to actually hold a Strikeforce title belt as former light-heavyweight champ 'King Mo' Lawal let me pose with his as can be seen here.

Thus, the promotion that gave us such magical moments as the first ever female main event in MMA history between Gina Carano and Cristiane 'Cyborg' Santos and the historic fall of legendary heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko has quietly gone away. It ended the same way the WEC did, with a young exciting fighter named Tarec Saffiedine winning a title in the final fight of its promotion. However, because injuries decimated the original lineup and the NFL happened to have two great playoff games on, I wonder how many others beside myself actually took notice. Alas, another one bites the dust.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Through God and boxing all dreams are possible

Through God and boxing all dreams are possible. That's the message I got after interviewing boxing trainer Lemuel 'Indio' Rodriguez (Pictured @ left working with a young pupil). Talk with this guy for a few minutes and you start to receive all this positive energy that infuses from him. However, after talking to him for more than a few minutes, I quickly found out life wasn't always so positive.

While today at 43 years old, Rodriguez is living his dream of being a professional boxing trainer inside his own gym, he openly admits if it wasn't for God he wouldn't be where he's at today. A native of Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico, he started training in boxing at the age of 12. Training in the sport and being at the gym came natural to him for two reasons. One, he had family members who were and currently are involved in the sport and two was that fighting, whether in the gym or the streets, is all he enjoyed doing. "I never liked school; when I went to school I would get into fights, thus I never finished," he said.

A dropout right after middle school, his education came from the gym where he trained religiously till he was 18. It was at that point that he ended up moving to Bethlehem, PA. However, when he got here it was the lure of the streets and not the gym that attracted him. Admittedly caught up in the drug scene he said, "I was caught up in the street life; luckily at the age of 21 God saved my life."

Not surprisingly, once he turned his life around he looked for refuge in the one place he felt comfortable, the boxing gym. Thus, he went to train at Larry Holmes Gym in Easton where he went off and on for about eight years. During that time he engaged in an estimated 21 amateur fights and even had offers to turn pro. However, other outside ventures such as working as a bodyguard and even falling back into the drug game seemed more lucrative to him at the time.

Yet, the gym and the sport always remained a constant in his life. He would always work with young perspective fighters, to the point that training and working with others came natural to him. It was while working as an assistant trainer at 'The Bethlehem Boxing Club' that he met a young kid named Ronald Cruz who wanted to become a boxer. Rodriguez told me, "When I first met him, I felt an immediate connection; but it wasn't on a boxing level. He showed me real respect and outside the gym he would contact me for advice and mentorship."

Upon getting to know the young fighter, he found out that the two of them had even more in common. They were both natives of Puerto Rico that had come to Bethlehem in their teens. They both had lost their older brothers and both were caught up in the drug game before boxing saved their lives. After awhile they even found out their birthdays were two days apart. So although Cruz's amateur and pro career began with the head trainer at the now defunct Bethlehem Boxing Club, it was inevitable that when Cruz decided he needed to go in another direction for his career, he looked no further and decided to call Rodriguez.

With Cruz currently sporting a (17-1) record, along with a WBC Continental Americas welterweight title and a couple of prime time showings on the NBC Sports Network, the pairing between the two seems to be working to perfection. Others also have begun to take notice the development Cruz has made under Rodriguez's tutelage. Thus, 'Indio' now has three other professionals in his stable in up and coming light welterweight Jerome Rodriguez (2-0-1), along with MMA fighters Scott Heckman (13-3) and Rick Nuno (1-0).

Some notables in both boxing and MMA have also acknowledged the work Rodriguez has been doing. With Cruz and now Jerome Rodriguez both sparring regularly in Philadelphia, noted trainer Nazim Richardson once told Rodriguez, "You're a great young trainer." More recently, world renowned Freddie Roach who has worked as a TV analyst at Cruz's last two fights told Rodriguez, "You're doing a great job." Roach was so impressed with both Rodriguez and Cruz that he extended an open invitation to come train at his 'Wild Card' gym in California.

The notoriety doesn't end there as Rodriguez has also worked with former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, recently with former WBO light welterweight champion DeMarcus 'Chop Chop' Corley and this week will be traveling with his protege Jerome to Philadelphia to work with current WBC light welterweight champion Danny 'Swift' Garcia. Rodriguez says he has a good rapport with Garcia's father who is his head trainer.

With all this adulation coming his way, Rodriguez didn't forget where he came from. After a chance meeting with District Justice Elizabeth Romig where was asked if he and Cruz would consider speaking to young people in the community, he told Cruz, "It's time for us to give back." He took that opportunity when the late Stephen Godboldt, a former mentor and friend, asked him to do just that at the Northeast Ministry. "Steve asked if Ronald and I would come speak to the young people at his congregation and I readily accepted," he said.

However, it wasn't enough. Rodriguez had a dream of opening a non-profit gym in his community where he and Cruz could continue to work with kids and give them some of the opportunities they had been afforded. Dreaming is one thing, but the reality of finance is another. That is when God once again opened the door and a private benefactor not only agreed, but was willing to assist them in this endeavor.

With financial backing and influential people in his corner, Rodriguez then turned to a place he knew from his adolescence that he felt would be the perfect location for his gym; The Bethlehem Northeast Boys & Girls Club. He met with the club's Chief Professional Officer Gary Martell, explained his idea and Martell with an open gym space available said, "Let's give it a try and see how it goes."

Over four months later 'Ron & Indio's Gym' is flourishing with young kids and teens and according to the both of them, there are a few talented prospects they are developing and nearly ready to engage in amateur competition. A devoted husband and father with a daughter and two sons of his own, Rodriguez, proudly refers to his young students as "My kids."

He told me, "My dream now is for me to be able to develop and take one of these kids to the Olympics. I've worked with professional fighters, so I've accomplished that goal, but this would be a dream come true for me to see one of these kids make an Olympic team." I wouldn't bet against him because he's already shown more than once through God and boxing all dreams are possible.

Thanks to Lemuel 'Indio' Rodriguez for taking time out of his busy schedule to conduct this interview.

If you are interested in training at Ron & Indio's Gym, located at 1430 Fritz Drive/Bethlehem, PA, for children under 18 all you need is a Boys & Girls Club membership, which is $15.00 a year. If you are 18 and above, besides the membership there is a monthly fee of $40.00.

Junkie Gathering 2017... this time it was personal

Wow! I feel the only way to properly start this summary of what I just experienced is summed up in that one word. Although there is anothe...