Thursday, February 27, 2014

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. vs. Brian Vera 2... Repeat or Redemption.

By Peter Silkov

When Julio Cesar Chavez Jr (47-1-1, 32 koes) meets Brian Vera (23-7, 14 koes) for the second time this Saturday, he will be looking to put behind him the controversy of their first meeting, last September, when he and the three judges seemed to be just about the only people present at the Stubhub Centre that night, who believed that Chavez deserved to take the decision. To say that the verdict left a nasty smell in the air would be an understatement.   

Brian Vera was supposed to be a soft fight for Chavez Jr.; a simple warm up to shed some rust and look impressive in what was his first fight since losing to Sergio Martinez for the WBC World middleweight title in 2012.  However, things didn’t turn out that way. Far from being a soft target, Vera turned out to be a feisty opponent who took full advantage of an out of shape Chavez Jr. This was after the fight had gone from being a super-middleweight contest, to being a ’catchweight’ fight at 173 pounds, (just two pounds under the light-heavyweight limit) after it became clear that Chavez Jr. would not be able to make the super-middleweight limit. 

The results of Chavez’s lack of conditioning were plain for all to see against Vera.  Despite being a heavy underdog going into the fight, Vera out-hustled, out-boxed, and even out-slugged Junior.  Although Chavez Jr. seemed to land the heavier punches, they were few and far between, and when they did find their target, Vera simply shook them off and increased his own attack. Vera is not a big puncher, but he controlled the pace of the fight, and landed considerably more punches throughout the course of the contest. In addition to this, Vera was also the aggressor, while Chavez Jr. spent large portions of the fight on the retreat and covering up, while at the same time, offering little to counter Vera’s constant busyness. 

If the verdict in favour of Chavez Jr. came as a shock to observers, it shouldn’t have, after all, Chavez Jr.’s boxing career has been marked by the blatant favouritism and indulgence that he has received from the boxing authorities and the WBC in particular. Being the son of the legendary multi-weight world champion, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., has certainly turned out to have some perks for Junior, with the biggest perk of all is when the president of the WBC doubles as your Godfather. As can be expected under such circumstances, the late Jose Sulaiman was the perfect Godfather for Chavez Jr. The way Sergio Martinez’s WBC world middleweight title was levered from him during an injury-forced absence in 2011, and handed to Sulaiman’s favourite (God) son, was really something to behold, for its pure unashamed crassness.
For his part, Chavez Jr., having been born with a silver (or is it golden?) boxing glove in his mouth, rather than a silver spoon, has spent the best part of his career bewailing how tough life is when you’re the son of a legendary champion. 

Chavez’s tragedy is that he has inherited little of his famous father’s pugilistic gifts. Instead, he has built his career upon a wide variety of mediocre opposition, allied to an astonishing ability to downsize for weigh-in day, and then gain as much as 25 pounds by fight time. This difference in natural size from his opponents is the one thing, which has helped Chavez look like a genuine world-class fighter in the past, and has helped him compensate for his lack of talent in almost every other area.  It is true, that young Chavez is a tough boy, who can take a rap on the chin and keep coming forward, as he did in his fight with Martinez. Then again, when a fighter is well over 14lbs+ heavier than the man in front of you, it must be a little easier to take what they dish out. 

It is perhaps fitting, in the topsy-turvy world of Chavez Jr., that his most admirable night in many ways has been his defeat at the hands of Sergio Martinez. On that night, Chavez Jr. showed genuine heart to take a prolonged boxing lesson and pasting from Martinez, and then stage a last round rally that had some believing that he was about to pull off a famous victory. In the end, it was not enough and Chavez Jr. lost by a wide margin, but he had shown a toughness and heart that many thought he did not possess.  It was a defeat, but not a disgrace.

Ironically, after the positives that came out of his loss to Martinez, Chavez Jr. has seen his fortunes fall and his career tumble completely off the rails. In the wake of his first career defeat, Chavez Jr. was hit by a suspension for testing positive for marijuana in his post Martinez drugs test, forcing him into a year of inactivity, and recrimination with those around him.  Then came the ’comeback’ last September, and the controversy with Vera.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Junior. The Vera fight was supposed to be a prelude to Chavez Jr. ascending to a new throne at super-middleweight, (Middleweight being written off now, due to Jr’s ever expanding midriff) the WBC portion of which had been skilfully prised from an injured and inactive Andre Ward (rings a bell somehow?) and given on loan to battle worn veteran Sakio Bika.  Everything was set up for a Chavez Jr. to challenge Bika once he got past Vera, but Junior fluffed his lines, even if the judges tried to give him a pass anyway.     

Controversial decisions are nothing new for Chavez Jr. Previous opponents Matt Vanda, Sebastian Zbik, and Marco Antonio Rubio have all suffered from the curious judging that often seems to accompany a Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. fight. Maybe it is one of the few traits that he has inherited from his father, as Pernell Whitaker and Frankie Randall know only too well. It has never been that easy to get a point’s decision over a Chavez. 

The general indignation caused by the Vera decision couldn’t be simply ignored this time, even the Chavez Jr’s loyal Mexican fan base have grown increasingly disillusioned with their wayward hero. In the run up to this rematch, Chavez Jr. has been making all the right noises, saying that he owes the fans a great performance and that he has been training for 5 months, and certainly pictures seem to show Chavez Jr. in better condition than he has been in years. 

Chavez needs to do more than simply win this fight, he needs to win it in style in order to be convincing. Vera for all his toughness is in reality a middleweight, and with all due respect, a mediocre middleweight. Chavez is likely to be weighing in at cruiserweight levels by fight time. With such a natural size advantage, anything less than a clear-cut victory for Chavez Jr. on Saturday, will be a further blow to his crumbled credibility. For Vera, the question is can he really improve on his last performance against Chavez Jr. and how will he stand up to a supposedly fit and motivated Chavez Jr.

One thing in Vera’s favour is that out of the two men, it is he, rather than Chavez Jr. who is the natural fighter, with an indomitable heart. Whether it will be enough to defeat a fit Chavez Jr is an interesting question. 

Saturday should be redemption for Chavez Jr., otherwise, his credibility will be stretched to breaking point, and there’s a limit to how much even his homegrown   Mexican support will put up with, before they start to finally desert him. 

If the fight goes the distance again, it is hoped that the judges are watching the same fight as everyone else this time. 

Copyright © 2014 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to and

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Erik Morales… The Long Goodbye

By Peter Silkov

On March 22, Mexican ring legend, Erik Morales, will enter the ring again for the first time in almost 18 months, to once more ply the trade that has brought him fame and glory, but which his 37 year old body seems increasingly ill-suited to pursue.  When he steps through the ropes at the Monterrey Arena in Mexico, on March 22nd,  Morales will not simply be facing battle with fellow Mexican Jorge Paez Jr., he will be battling the debilitating effects of being a professional fighter for 21 years, and all the wars and punches, that those 21 years have entailed.  Unlike arch rival Marco Antonio Barrera, ‘El Terrible’ has never changed his style in order to adapt to the aging process, or prolong his career, instead, he has remained the aggressive boxer-puncher he has always been since the earliest stages of his career.  While this devotion to the warrior-way has cemented his popularity with the fans, it has also has caused a steady corrosion of Morales’ skills, a decline that can be seen reaching as far back as the past decade. 

Morales’ record of 5-8 in his last 13 fights, stretching back to 2004, exposes the length and depth of ‘El Terrible’s’ decline. True, some of these defeats have been to the best fighters in the world pound-for-pound; it could be seen as harsh to hold Morales defeats to the likes of  Manny Pacquiao, Marco Antonio Barrera, Marcos Maidana and Danny Garcia against him. It isn’t so much that he lost to these fighters, but how he lost to them that has been so revealing.  In each one of his defeats, Morales has looked a little more chipped and frayed, a little more removed from the sleek sharp-shooting, gunslinger of a fighter that he was at his peak. 

But… boxing is a hard place to leave.

The cracks could be first seen in the third fight of his bitter trilogy with Barrera on November 27, 2004.  Like their first two fights, it was a close battle, but it was the first of their three fights to have a clear winner, and Barrera won it with a freshness that a relatively lethargic Morales seemed to lack.  For the first time in his career, Morales seemed to be a little slower at pulling the trigger than in the past.
Any suspicion of decline would be dismissed as foolish when looking at Morales next fight. Four months after the Barrera defeat, he had his first encounter with Manny Pacquiao, and came away with a point’s victory, after yet another classic war. However, in retrospect, this was to be one of the final great bursts of the flame and Morales’ last great victory.     

In his very next fight, against awkward, but unheralded Zahir Raheem, Morales found himself out-paced and out-boxed, with his reflexes suddenly looking like those of a man who has been in a string of never ending ring wars. Suspicion became sad fact over the course of Morales’ next three fights, all of which he lost, as the roof of his boxing career fell in upon him. Two consecutive losses to Manny Pacquiao showed a quickening decline in Morales’ abilities. In what was their second encounter, on January 21, 2006, Morales was comprehensively beaten, and stopped in the 10th round, handing Morales the first stoppage defeat of his career. 10 months later, Pacquiao simply crushed Morales, knocking him out in the 3rd round.

When Morales fought David Diaz for the WBC World Lightweight championship, on August 4, 2007, it was supposed to be Morales’ farewell fight. Unfortunately, few sportsmen make longer farewells than boxers. Against Diaz, ‘El Terrible’ mustered some of his old magic and lost a close decision. Morales kept to his word and announced his retirement after the loss to Diaz. It would have been a fitting finale to Morales’ career, and it was for over two years. But then he came back.
The comeback in boxing is it seems to be as inevitable as rainy Sundays. Often the bigger a fighter’s legend, the harder it is for that fighter to stay away, and see himself become part of history and the past.   

Starting in March 2010, Morales’ comeback fulfilled all the usual clichés of the aging warrior stepping back into the ring after his time has past. Weighing in at welterweight, he was slow and flabby against Jose Alfaro and Willie Limond.
Then, like so many greats before him, Morales reached back into his past, got into better physical condition, and pulled out two performances that had strong echoes of the fighter he had once been. His fights with Marcos Maidana and Pablo Cesar Cano (when he won the vacant WBC world light-welterweight championship) showed that, while he was past his best, his heart was still that of a warrior.  While these were great performances by Morales, the knowing-eye would still see these performances as more the case of a warrior’s heart pushing a faded body to its limits and beyond, rather than a rediscovery of past youth.

Glory turned to farce and embarrassment when Morales lost his title on the scales in his next fight against Danny Garcia.  His technical loss outside the ring, was followed by a point’s loss in the ring.  Morales’ aging body will no longer shed the weight that he wants it to lose. 

However, the worse was to follow. In a rematch with Garcia on October 20, 2012, ’El Terrible’ was just terrible. He was plagued again by weight problems and looked to be a shell of the fighter he had been in their first fight, as he was knocked out in the 4th round. To add insult to injury, Morales failed the post-fight drug test, testing positive for a diuretic, and clearly exposed Morales’ ever-increasing inability to hone his body into fighting shape.

Now Morales is coming back again and the results are not likely to be pretty.  Time is not on the side of ring worn warriors over the age of 35, who comeback after almost 18 months of inactivity.  Morales has spoken of this latest ’comeback’ as being his ’farewell tour’, but boxing unlike tennis or golf, isn’t kind to farewells.

Morales’ opponent on March 22nd, Jorge Paez Jr., is the son of the talented and flamboyant former World Featherweight champion, Jorge Paez Sr., who in his prime would have been a worthy opponent for Morales in his Featherweight days. Paez Jr. is a different proposition to his father; he is a good, but not exceptional fighter.  Paez Jr.’s best wins have been his two victories over Omar Chavez, one of the fighting son’s of Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.  

Even the Morales of two or three years ago would have been a solid pick to beat Paez Jr., but in 2014, and with his last appearance in the ring being his flabby 4-round collapse to Danny Garcia, ’El Terrible’ has reached the point of his career where any punch coming his way is filled with danger, no matter whom is the thrower of that punch.  Fighting at welterweight Morales’ body is likely to be carrying the unsightly handlebars on his sides, which seem so sad and incongruous, on the man who was once rake thin in his warrior prime. How close to really being fighting-fit Morales can be at this stage of his career remains to be seen. On the plus side, Paez Jr. is not a noted puncher, however, he is known to be durable, and so this is unlikely to be a short night for Morales, but rather a long and gruelling fight that will test the conditioning of his aging body. 

The biggest worry is what will happen if ‘El Terrible’ does win and gains the misplaced confidence to go for one more big fight.  One more… yet again. 

After over 21 years of taking and giving punishment in the ring, the reality is that Morales’ body has already retired on him, even if he refuses to acknowledge it. 
All that is likely to be left now is the heart of the warrior he once was, and that is a dangerous thing for a 37 year old with over 21 years in the ring behind him.  Unfortunately, long goodbyes seldom have happy endings.

Copyright © 2014 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to and
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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Bennie Briscoe…The Bad Man From Philadelphia

By Peter Silkov

Looking back from where we are today in boxing, with it’s multiple ‘world titles’ infecting every weight division, it is hard to imagine a time when there was just one world champion at each weight, and the contenders actually fought each other regularly, with the prize being a possible shot at the champion. This was the way it was for Bennie Briscoe, back in the 1960’s and 70’s, when he was one of the ‘baddest’ contenders for the World middleweight title, at a time when the 160 pound division was made up of a pretty ‘bad‘ bunch. 

Briscoe came out of Philadelphia, ‘the city of brotherly love,’ which is renowned for producing some of the toughest, most aggressive, and exciting fighters, ever seen within the square ring. Bennie was no exception, in fact, he was and is still seen by many as a prime example of what a Philadelphia fighter should be, tough and aggressive, relentless, with a good punch,  and not afraid to take some, in order to land some, but intent on landing more, far more. Bennie’s nickname was ’Bad’ and long before Mike Tyson, Bennie Briscoe fought every fight with bad intentions.  Bennie was no fancy-dan, but he had good technique, the kind of technique that many of today’s sluggers sadly lack. He had a hard, accurate jab that could shock and shake an opponent.  However, it was his body punches that really wrecked a man.  Briscoe’s body attack was one of the prime reasons why he was so ’Bad’. 

Briscoe turned professional in 1962, at the age of 19, after an amateur career, which saw him go 70-3.  Fighting in legendary Philadelphia halls and arenas such as the Blue Horizon, The Convention Centre, and the Philadelphia Arena, Briscoe soon built up a following with his exciting and aggressive style, and it wasn’t long before he was mixing it with some of Philadelphia’s finest and most dangerous; having started his career as a Welterweight. Briscoe soon matured into a middleweight and by the mid-1960’s ’Bad Bennie’ was fighting and beating fellow Philadelphia middleweight warriors, such as Charley Scott, Percy Manning, George Benton, and building a reputation that would become a legend.  In May 1967, Briscoe travelled to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he faced another young contender, Carlos Monzon. The two men fought an evenly matched contest, which was judged a draw after 10 rounds. For Briscoe, the draw away from home, against such an opponent who was fighting in front of his own people, was as good as a win. Monzon would go on to win the World middleweight championship and become one of the greatest champions the division has ever seen. Indeed, Monzon’s record for the rest of his career, after his first fight with Briscoe, would be 49-0-3. 

Briscoe’s assault upon his fellow 160 pound contenders was relentless in the late 1960’s and early 70’s. He was like a rampaging freight train running through the division. There was seldom a soft touch handed to Bennie from his management, but he usually won, and those he lost, such as decisions to Vincent Rondon, Juarez De Lima, and Joe Shaw, were avenged in rematches. A fighter had to be something really special to beat Bennie twice in a row, and the only men to manage this with Briscoe throughout his career, were Luis Rodriguez and Rodrigo Valdes. Briscoe fought Rodriguez twice in the late 1960’s and found the brilliant Cuban (who sadly is seldom talked about today) simply too fast and slippery.

Despite his success, and his regularity in the Ring magazine’s top ten, (when that magazine’s ratings actually counted for something) it took Briscoe 10 years of fighting to get his first world title shot. On November 11, 1972, he went back to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to face Carlos Monzon again, this time with the World middleweight championship at stake, (Monzon took the title from Nino Benvenuti the previous year). Briscoe gave Monzon one of his toughest nights as champion, shaking him up in the 9th round, and always coming forward and trying to pressure the champion. After 15 rounds of intense action, Monzon retained his title on points. It was to be the theme of Briscoe’s career concerning world titles, being so near, yet so far of his goal of becoming a world champion.

Following his unsuccessful world title bid, in 1973, ‘Bad Bennie’ went back to doing what he did best, beating up on the rest of the middleweight contenders. On March 26, 1973, Briscoe stopped Art Hernandez in 3 rounds, to win the NABF middleweight title. After successfully defending his title against Billy Douglas three months later, with an 8th round stoppage, Briscoe lost the title on September 1st, when he was out- pointed by the hugely talented Columbian, Rodrigo Valdes. It was the first of three fights that Briscoe and Valdes would engage in together, each one of them fast-paced duels.

Eight months after their first meeting, Briscoe and Valdes fought again, this time for the WBC world middleweight title at stake. The WBC chose to strip Monzon of recognition as world champion, due to him declining to fight Valdes when they ordered him to fight. This second meeting would be the best fight between Briscoe and Valdes. It was a skilful slugfest, as both men went after each other with everything they had, each man taking turns in hurting the other, as the battle ebbed and flowed at a blistering pace. However, Valdes’ counterpunching and flashy combinations seemed to be edging things, as Briscoe took heavy punishment during his continual march forward.  In the 7th round, Valdes seemed to have tired and Briscoe went after him as he lay on the ropes, only to be caught by a tremendous left hook from Valdes, and then a follow up combination that sent ‘Bad Bennie’ crashing down to the canvas. Although Briscoe beat the count, he was out on his feet, and the referee waved off the action, giving Briscoe the first and only inside the distance defeat of his career.

At this defeat by Valdes, Bennie did what a Philadelphia warrior would be expected to do, shrugged his shoulders, and carried on pushing forward. Over the next three years ‘Bad Bennie’ continued to take on anyone who would face him, which wasn’t always easy and meant that Briscoe often had to take the short end of purses in order to entice opponents to face him. Amongst Briscoe’s victories at this time were wins over Stanley ’Kitten’ Hayward, Eugene Hart, and future World light-heavyweight champion, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad.  Briscoe also fought draws during this time with Vinnie Curto, Willie Warren and Emile Griffith. Through it all, Briscoe stayed at or around the top of the world rankings.  But, despite retaining his status as one of the premier contenders for the world title, Briscoe had to wait until the 1977 retirement of world champion Carlos Monzon (who had regained the WBC portion of the title with two victories over Rodrigo Valdes) before he got another chance of becoming world champion.  On November 5, 1977 ’Bad Bennie’ met Valdes for the 3rd time, in order to decide the winner of the now vacant WBA and WBC world middleweight titles. It was another classic contest between the two, but without quite the fire of their first two bouts. This time Valdes boxed and counter-punched his way to a 15 rounds point’s victory. His movement and slick combinations kept him a slight step ahead of Bennie, and allowing him once more to deny the Philadelphian the world championship. After this third, and final shot, defeat for a world’s championship, something seems to have gone out of Briscoe. This should not be surprising, as Briscoe had been campaigning for over 15 years, most of it in the front-line against the very best. He was now past 34 years of age and perhaps resigned to the fact that he would never reach the pinnacle of his profession…the world championship. In the remaining five years of his career, Briscoe went 8-9.  He was still fighting the best, but the losses were coming more often.  His defeats included losses to future World middleweight champions Vito Antuofermo and Marvin Hagler, two fights in which Briscoe gave, as good as he got at times, but was unable to sustain any advantage long enough to claim victory. Then there were close, and debatable, losses to David Love, Richie Bennett, Clement Tshinza, and Vinnie Curto.

However, even taking into account the level of his competition, and the narrowness of some of his defeats, there was no denying that by 1980 ’Bad Bennie’ had slowed down. While still formidable, he was like a once smooth-running machine, now, sluggish, and prone to misfires.  The familiar march forward had become a slow trudge. 

There were still some sparks of brilliance from the fading Briscoe. These included his 1979 point’s win over the young, rugged prospect, Teddy Mann, a 1980 revenge point’s win over Richie Bennett, (after losing to Bennett some months earlier), and on March 23, 1982, an upset 5th round stoppage victory, over another prospect looking to use him as a stepping stone, Norbeto Sabater. The Sabater victory was Bennie’s last.  Three months later, he dropped a close split-decision to Ralph Hollett, in Nova Scotia Canada. Six months later, on December 15, 1982, Bennie fought Jimmy Sykes at the Blue Horizon, Philadelphia. ’Bad Bennie’ started fast, but then seemed to tail off, and be happy just to jab with Sykes. After 10 rounds, Sykes was the winner on points, having been adjudged to have outworked Briscoe. This defeat seemed to convince Briscoe that at almost 40 years of age, and after over 20 years as a professional, his fighting spark was finally gone.  He never fought again.  Briscoe’s final record was (66-24-5, 53kos).

Unfortunately, even after all the years, and all the fights, and his star status as a top contender and favourite performer, Briscoe was not set up for life when he retired. The last years of his career were overshadowed by Briscoe falling out with his long time promoter J. Russell Peltz and manager Arnold Weiss (who was Peltz’s brother in law) after Briscoe declined to renew their contract. Although Briscoe earned an estimated 1.5 million dollars, when he looked at his bank accounts near the end of his career, he had just 30,000 dollars spread over three accounts. 
In his retirement, Briscoe worked as a garbage collector and generally kept a low profile.  ’Bad Bennie’ Died in 2010, at the age of 67.   

It’s almost a cliché today to pick out certain fighters of the past, and say how if they had been boxing today, then they almost certainly would be world champions.  With Briscoe, however this is no empty cliché, but a stark fact. Briscoe fought at a time where a fighter had to be special just to get himself into contendership. It’s hard to see Briscoe fighting in today’s climate of more ‘world champions’ than genuine contenders, and not picking up a big handful of titles for himself. Although he never won a world title, Briscoe will always be remembered as one of the best middleweights in the world, during a time when the middleweights (and boxing in general) was steaming with talent; when the middleweights were ’bad’ and Briscoe, one of the baddest of them all. 

‘Bad Bennie’s’ legend lives on, John DiSanto, who runs the Philadelphia Boxing History website, came up a few years ago, with the idea of awarding ’Bennies’ which are small bronze statues of Briscoe, that are awarded to Philadelphia fighters, for fights of the year, and fighter of the year. Over 30 years since his last professional contest, and despite his not being talked about today as much as he should be, Bennie Briscoe remains a legend in Philadelphia.       

Copyright © 2014 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to and
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