By Lyle Fitzsimmons
For the second time in half a decade, I’m on the move.
After five years and a few months and around the university town of Gainesville, Fla., the nebulous Fitzbitz base of operations will soon be heading to a more permanent bliss along the Gulf-side coast of a perpetually sunshiny state.
And with the aromas of packing tape, cardboard boxes and general upheaval permeating soon-to-be tropical nostrils, I got the urge to look back to the things I blathered around the time the most recent move – from Philadelphia to Florida – was made in 2007.
I’ve always been amazed at how, even in a relatively short period of time, the names and issues that seemed so pertinent back then can transform into today’s ancient history.
In a column penned for posting on June 1, the day’s hot topic was a conference call masquerade in which a never-boring Yoel Judah pretended to be his son and promised violent mayhem in Zab’s challenge of WBA welterweight belt-holder Miguel Cotto at Madison Square Garden.
“We are going in to take the title. You are going to see blood, guts and sweat,” the supposedly younger man said. “You are going to see somebody hit the floor, I promise you.”
It didn’t take long for Top Rank publicity guru Lee Samuels to unravel the deception and apologize for Judah’s devious actions. And as karma would have it, Cotto handled the rest in the form of a punishing 11th-round TKO of the recalcitrant former champion.
Judah’s future prospects seemed nonexistent when he was beaten by Joshua Clottey in a subsequent belt-grabbing try at 147 a year later, but a slide back down the scale hastened a reinvention – and another championship – at junior welterweight in 2011.
Topic No. 2 of that year’s pre-summer missive was the revisionist ranting of ex-heavyweight king George Foreman, who was chattering back then about supposedly unfair play the night he was dethroned by Muhammad Ali in Zaire, a full 33 years earlier.
Surmising that his stunning loss had to do with something other than Ali’s masterful game plan – in this case, a tainted water bottle – Foreman said, “I know there was medicine in that water. I'll never forget that. It was years before I got my health back together after that fight. It wasn't doctors who put something in my water. They didn't have Ph.D.s. I'm lucky I'm still alive.”
As both a fan of “The Greatest” and someone who loathes excuse-making, my response went a little something like this:
“Big man. Bigger overcompensation. The only inalienable truths about the goings-on in Zaire that October night are these: 1. Foreman was a certainly imposing, but obviously limited behemoth. 2. Ali was superior not only in conditioning, but in in-ring intellect as well. 3. Nothing in anyone's water – short of Red Bull or crystal meth – changes Nos. 1-2.
“Give it up George. You're just embarrassing yourself.”
As irony would have it, the weekend fight schedule for that column featured an imminent title defense for the last man Foreman faced in the ring.
Brooklyn-born Shannon Briggs, who won a controversial majority nod over Foreman at the Taj Mahal Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City in 1997, was stepping a few doors down the late spring boardwalk to defend his WBO crown against Russian export Sultan Ibragimov at Boardwalk Hall.
It was the first and last outing as “champion” for Briggs, then 35, who’d won his belt with a dramatic TKO of Serguei Lyakhovich in 2006 after entering the final round trailing 106-103, 106-103 and 105-104. Ibragimov won a decision to both snatch the title and send Briggs back to the back roads, where he won three fights by first-round KOs before being fed to Vitali Klitschko for a shutout loss in October 2010.
According to Boxrec.com, he’s scheduled for a March 2013 return in Dubai, though the entry gave no indication as to why anyone would consider it worthwhile.
And, speaking of faded former heavyweight champions, also prepping for a fight that week five years ago was Roy Jones Jr., then on the verge of meeting unbeaten super middle Anthony Hanshaw at the Coast Coliseum in Biloxi, Miss.
Though he’s fought nine times since, back then Jones was still in the intermediate rebuilding stage after the three-fight losing skid – Tarver (TKO 2), Johnson (KO 9) and Tarver (UD 12) – that precipitously lowered the buzz around him from “all-time great” to “he should retire.”
Jones ended up winning a close decision over Hanshaw that night on the Gulf – the same night Alfonso Gomez beat Arturo Gatti into retirement – that catapulted him into big fights against Felix Trinidad (W 12) and Joe Calzaghe (L 12) in the next 16 months in New York.
“For being off a year, it wasn't too bad,” said Jones, who took control after hurting Hanshaw with a left hook to the body in the ninth round, then landed a three-punch combination in the 11th to score the fight's lone knockdown.
“He was trying to counter me and he's a good puncher, so I had to put them together.”
Meanwhile, Hanshaw fought just once more 10 months later and lost a fifth-round TKO to then-unbeaten super middleweight Andre Direll at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, Calif.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBO super middleweight title – Kreuzberg, Germany
Robert Stieglitz (champion) vs. Arthur Abraham (No. 1 contender)
Stieglitz (42-2, 23 KO): Seventh title defense; Fought 10-plus rounds 18 times (18-0, 3 KO)
Abraham (34-3, 27 KO): Fourteenth title fight (11-2); Held IBF title at 160 (2005-09, 10 defenses)
Fitzbitz says: “Abraham has lost his aura – and his unbeaten record – since moving up to fight the super middle elites. But here, he may have enough to handle a guy on the next level.” Abraham by decision
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. For example, fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Last week's picks: 1-0
Overall picks record: 326-109 (74.9 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.