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Saturday, December 31, 2005

A Happy New Year’s Eve 


Here's hoping that everyone is having a properly rowdy and safe New Year celebration. If you can't or don't want to celebrate it with anyone, there are still plenty of things which you can do all by yourself (besides that).

I've already listed some of the fights on the tube this weekend.

Here are a few of some of my other personal favorites which I recommend:

British comic Ricky Gervais has grabbed attention on both sides of the pond with his irreverent, off-the-wall, and usually intelligent comedy. He was the star of, and co-wrote, the series "Extras". This show, co-produced with the BBC, aired in the U.S. on HBO. He also did the same in his first major television venture, the BBC comedy "The Office", which is still being rerun in the U.S. on BBC America. (And I have not heard the same recommendations for its American version on NBC.)

Gervais describes his work as mainly being "a comedy of embarrassment." The stories involve everyday people messing up in a world where social niceties are too important, and where many folks too often manage to do the wrong thing at the wrong time.

With the first season of "Extras" finished and nothing clear announced about its fate as a series, Gervais has started a free podcast on the web site of the Guardian of the UK.

On the advice of a number of boxing writer colleagues, I have just started to consume Gervais's comedic works. What I have seen so far, mainly "Extras", is hilarious and sophisticated stuff. Check it out before the networks like HBO replace it with one of their many dreadful shows. (And also watch the better series, including far better boxing, on Showtime.)

The world leader in popular music, of course, is Texas music. If you've been delinquent so far about doing this, check out the modern Western swing group Asleep at the Wheel. Its leader, Ray Benson, has also been active in the campaign to elect Kinky Friedman governor of Texas.

Billy Joe Shaver is also one of the best songwriters ever, and his new album includes his version of his song, "Live Forever", whose video is still playing for free on CMT.com.

On the Yahoo group dedicated to him, Honky Tonk Heroes, I came across a link to a site for the Texas Singer Songwriters Review. Get ready to listen and learn. This site, along with its own Yahoo group, is for folks who like "Americana, Alt-Country, Texas Music, Red Dirt Music, Folk, Singers/ Songwriters, Bluegrass, Western Swing and Independent Artist(s)."

And if you are in or near Nashville, my favorites Big & Rich are joining perennial country music duo of the year Brooks & Dunn at the Gaylord Entertainment Center in a New Year's Eve show beginning at 8:00 PM CT.

Back to that lesser medium known as television. The sleeper of the night might be on Great American Country . They are having what they call a "New Year's Eve Block Party", described thusly: "Join Neal McCoy as he rings in the new year country style with all your favorite videos! Airs New Year's Eve at 9pm ET!"

And there are all sorts of marathons.

For rednecks or those who love them, CMT is showing a big helping of the "Dukes of Hazzard".

For bluebloods or those who love to mock them, BBC America is showing a marathon of Monty Python's Flying Circus..

For those who love the 60's and 70's, and real r&b before it was corrupted, AMC is showing two of America's funniest comedies: "Animal House" and "The Blues Brothers"

For those who remember science fiction and fantasy before it got too geeky, the SciFi channel has reruns of the original "The Twilight Zone".

And in that other dying medium, print, and also online, for those who don't want to or can't get drunk, there is Modern Drunkard Magazine

So happy new year, y’all, and don’t try anything I wouldn’t do!

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Friday, December 30, 2005

The Fights of New Year's Weekend 

So you want to see some fighting on the tube and all the football and booze and the New Year's celebrations with the amateur partygoers are not enough for you. There are mostly repeats and taped broadcasts in the U.S. this weekend, so here's a peek.

Showtime has its year-end special "Showtime Boxing: Best of 2005" this Sat., Dec. 31, starting at 2:10 PM ET. This is a studio show about a half-hour long.

ESPN2 has another showing of the World Sumo Challenge on Friday from 10 PM ET to midnight.

The Spanish-language network Telefutura concludes the year with a special edition of its weekly "Solo Boxeo" with "Las Grandes Peleas del 2005", its year-end best-of show starting Friday at 9 PM ET. Featured will be the brawl between Johnny Tapia and Frankie Archuleta.

For mixed martial arts fans, Pride Fighting Championships, the Japanese-based mixed martial arts company with the best overall roster of fighters, has another of its monthly studio shows featuring some of its top fights of the recent past. This is on Fox Sports Net at various times around the U.S., so scour your local listings. On Fox Sports New York, it is on Friday at 10:30 PM ET for one hour.

Pride will also have its big New Year's Eve show Saturday night in Japan. That show will be broadcast live in Japan on the Fuji Network . An edited version will be shown in the U.S. on tape-delayed pay-per-view starting Sunday, Jan. 1.

Their rival group in Japan, K-1, will also have its huge New Year's Eve show which will be broadcast live on Japan's TBS network . No announcement has been made so far if there will be any broadcast of this event in the U.S.

And there are other assorted fight pay-per-views and local shows, so if you must, also check your local provider's listings.

And as mentioned previously , UFC has its year-end special also Saturday night on Spike TV.

Of course, being held captive by the inflexible schedules of these networks is becoming as passé as 2005. Tech and media guru J.D. Lasica has written extensively that we are in the midst of a personal and citizens' media revolution which is more and more empowering ordinary people and weakening corporations, bureaucracies, and governments. The way we consume media, including of course the combat sports, is changing. It is just these networks which are too slow to change, giving rise to all sorts of legal, semi-legal, and illegal viewing of these fights.

So hopefully you will get to see some fighting alongside your New Year's revelry. Just make sure that it is in the ring or on some type of screen, and not in the bars, clubs, or streets.

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BioWillie and the Boys 

One of the last places you would expect to see a lengthy article about Willie Nelson is in The New York Times. And the last place in that paper you would expect it to appear would be in its joyless business section. And if it were in that business section, you would then expect it to be about country music.

But there it is Friday, in the business section, and the article is about fuel.

Called "His Car Smelling Like French Fries, Willie Nelson Sells Biodiesel", the piece focuses on the fuel Willie himself uses in his car and sells to the public: BioWillie.

The Times explains, "BioWillie is a type of biodiesel, a fuel that can be made from any number of crops and run in a normal diesel engine." As motivation for both Willie's business and this latest crusade are his twin opposition to the U.S. war in Iraq and America's dependence on foreign oil. Plus, Willie's well-known support of America's family farmers factors into this all, since fuel made from easily grown and harvested domestic crops would give a life-saving lift to them economically.

Of course, if it were not for the various niches artificially created by the marketing suits in the music racket, we could all look at Willie's music as great American song. But it's still divide and conquer on the music rows of the world, so unfortunately some people just won't pay attention to his music or his message, maybe at least until he's gone.

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Boxing vs. UFC Debate Continues 

The boxing vs. UFC debate has proved a difficult one for many in the boxing world. No holds barred fighting, known today by the sanitized moniker mixed martial arts (MMA), has always had at its base the grappling arts, and in particular Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The set of techniques which are next in line as most effective in MMA is wrestling.

Most boxing people know the same about Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling as they do haute couture, honest finances, and getting subjects and predicates to agree.

I've been part of this debate for over a decade now, doing my part to oppose the actions of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to close this sport down. I've done so both as a journalist embedded in the NHB/MMA world, and as one embedded in the boxing world.

Despite the growing acceptance of mixed martial arts by the American regulatory commissions such as Nevada, New Jersey, and in early 2006 California, there are still many in boxing who view these events as some type of wild battle royales involving barbarians and thugs found in some parking lot or bar. The MMA enthusiasts counter by rattling off the lengthy and growing roster in these events of Olympic champions in wrestling and judo, black belts in jiu-jitsu and judo, world and national wrestling champions, kickboxing world champions, and those with impressive credentials in more than one of these disciplines.

Yet these events still appeal to largely different audiences. The MMA audience is far less discriminating as far as striking technique is concerned than the boxing audience is. In MMA you will thus too often see two world-class specialists in one or another form of grappling engaging in what mainly becomes a boxing or kickboxing match. For a boxing aficionado, it can be as painful as any sports fan watching Michael Jordan play baseball, any country music fan enduring Willie Nelson being placed in duets with various pop mediocrities, and any writing fan having to plow through most of today's sportswriting, and especially the drivel and hack jobs which pollute the boxing and MMA "literature" if you can even call it that.

But the MMA fans can't get enough of this, and parry the boxing fans' barbs by stressing the intricate and artistic grappling techniques that lie at the core of their beloved sport. They also emphasize that many boxing people are still willfully ignorant of accepted martial arts techniques like chokes, which are legal in Olympic judo, for instance. And, the MMA folks argue, the boxing folks fail to realize that punching an opponent on the ground almost always gives the puncher far less leverage than if he were standing right in front of him and could sit down on his punches. Plus, they usually add, if one guy gets in trouble, the ref is there to stop the fight, which almost always happens far sooner in MMA than in boxing, or that the other fighter can tap out and quit honorably, whose equivalent in boxing is still taboo.

So who, if anyone, is right? This is not exactly like debating which tastes better, chocolate or vanilla, because what has thus far gone on in the exchanges between the two sides has focused more on the realm of fighter safety, level of athleticism, the comparative aesthetics of these two types of fighting, and the like.

The best way for the open-minded, intelligent, and sports-savvy boxing fans (and I hope there are billions and billions of you) to learn about an event like UFC is, like just about anything else, to investigate it. The best yardstick is to examine its best product to observe just what it has to offer in its fullest development.

That can now be done quite easily in the U.S. The cable network Spike TV is offering a free, three-hour telecast called "The Best of UFC: 2005" on New Year's Eve, this Saturday, December 31, from 9:00 PM to midnight ET/PT. It will also be repeated later that night at 12:30 AM ET. (For those ringing in the new year not in front of the TV, try recording it on the device of your choice and later watching it sober.)

The show features the rematch between Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture at UFC 52 on April 16, 2005, which got the UFC its highest number of pay-per-view buys in a decade .

Also being shown is the much-acclaimed fight between Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin on the finale of the first season of UFC's reality show "The Ultimate Fighter", as well as fights involving UFC champions Andre Arlovski, Matt Hughes, and Rich Franklin.

That should provide a fair yardstick for the boxing world's skeptics to judge an event like UFC. For the rational and perceptive people on both sides of this divide, hopefully it will engender some useful dialogue. And for the idiots on both sides of this fence, just don't get drunk on New Year's Eve in the same joints I will check out.

Finally, in the what-comes-around department, the old Tapout web site, which was a combat sports news site, and was referred to in the Phoenix New Times article on me and Johnny McCain listed above, no longer exists. Its URL was taken over by the current group of people who put out the Tapout line of mixed martial arts-related gear .

In a marketing agreement announced last week with Tapout, Bodyguard Magazine will be changing its name to Tapout Magazine, and also launching a new web site. I will continue as the magazine's senior contributing editor, writing a regular "No Holds Barred" column as well as, if our plans work out, doing a lot more. And among the topics I will write about for this new Tapout Magazine will be boxing.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Boxing Ninth Most Popular Sport in America, Says Harris Survey; Can UFC Catch Up? 

According to a nationwide survey conducted by Harris Interactive, boxing is the ninth most popular sport among adults in America. In this survey, two percent of the respondents stated that boxing was their favorite sport.

Topping the list was professional football at 33 percent, followed by baseball at 14 percent, college football at 13 percent, and auto racing at 11 percent. Also ahead of boxing were men's college basketball (5%), hockey (5%), men's pro basketball (4%), and men's golf (4%). Boxing finished ahead of men's soccer, horse racing, men's tennis, women's tennis, bowling, women's pro basketball, women's college basketball, women's soccer, track & field, and women's golf, which ranged also from two percent down to under one percent.

The survey was conducted online between December 8 and 14, 2005, among 1,961 U.S. adults, of whom 1,402 follow at least one sport. The question reported was, "If you had to choose, which ONE of these sports would you say is your favorite?" They either did not ask the respondents to rank their next choices, or else did not release that data.

(Disclosure time: I used to work for Louis Harris and Associates under its previous ownership.)

Although this question was first asked of respondents back in 1985 and the responses by sport tracked since then, boxing was only added to the list of sports offered in 2004. It also scored two percent last year, although then that placed it behind men's soccer, which had three percent last year.

A demographic breakdown for boxing fans was also not released.

As for the accuracy of this poll, according to the Harris press release, "In theory, with probability samples of this size, one could say with 95 percent certainty that the overall results have a sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points of what they would be if the entire U.S. adult population had been polled with complete accuracy."

From my own observations working in past years with polls and this company, I can conclude that this ranking for boxing is in general, as a ballpark figure, accurate enough to be considered for analysis.

What it does show is that boxing is as or more popular than many sports which receive wider coverage on both network and cable television. But boxing's level of corruption and violence has generally scared away most potential sponsors, other than beer, liquor, and gambling outfits. Thus boxing's biggest events land on premium cable channels like HBO or Showtime or even costlier pay-per-view shows, seen by a shrinking circle of people. The chance to sample for free a top boxing match is virtually non-existent in the U.S.

Also on the heels of boxing is a revived Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). These shows, though featuring real fights, are now marketed and positioned in the same cultural genre as the fake pro "wrestling" spectacles, and draw a portion of that audience.

UFC drew in the neighborhood of 200,000 to 250,000 buys for its UFC 52 show on April 16, 2005, featuring the rematch between Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell, this time won by Liddell. The number of buys are not monitored by any independent company, but this report is consistent with what I have heard from reliable sources.

The 250,000 figure was the best for UFC in a decade. UFC 5, back on April 7, 1995, got between 280,000 and 300,000 buys, albeit at a time when only a fraction of the homes in the U.S. could even receive pay-per-views compared to now. That show featured a draw between Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock, with Dan Severn winning a tournament.

Royce's departure from UFC, a deterioration of match-ups, and intensified attacks by politicians resulting in UFC being banned from pay-per-view in the U.S., all led to its buy rates declining in subsequent years.

Now UFC is back, although it aims at a younger -- and whiter -- audience than boxing.

Besides finishing behind four WWE pay-per-views, that pay-per-view figure placed UFC 52 only behind seven boxing shows in 2005: Wright-Trinidad (520,000 buys), Tarver-Jones 3 (415,000), Taylor-Hopkins 2 (410,000), Taylor-Hopkins 1 (370,000), Mayweather-Gatti (360,000), Morales-Pacquiao 1 (340,000), and Tyson-McBride (325,000).

The next head-to-head match-up between UFC and boxing is on Sat., Feb. 4, 2006, the night before Super Bowl XL in Detroit.

Showtime will telecast, from El Paso, Texas, and on its regular network, the third fight between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo. Their first fight is a lock for 2005 Fight of the Year.

UFC will show on pay-per-view, at the same time, the third fight between Couture and Liddell. The live show in Las Vegas is already reportedly sold out.

The question hanging over the world of combat sports is, as boxing continues to paint itself in a demographic corner, can UFC capture its fan base and surpass it in popularity?

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

"No Holds Barred" Special Preview Show: World Sumo Challenge and Mayhem On Mulberry Muay Thai Events in New York 

As a prelude to the regular return of the "No Holds Barred" Internet radio show, hosted and produced by yours truly, a special preview edition of this show has just been posted. You can listen, and for free, at: http://www.ourmedia.org/node/126960 .

All that is required is a media player which plays RealPlayer.

This first special preview show -- there likely will be at least one more -- focuses primarily on the debut show of the World Sumo Challenge, which was held Oct. 22 at New York's Madison Square Garden.

As I have reported on my No Holds Barred blog, this event had two showings in the U.S. on ESPN2, the first on Dec. 24 and the second on Friday, Dec. 30, from 10 PM EST to midnight. Make sure to watch it if you have not done so already.

For "No Holds Barred" we conducted numerous interviews. Here are the people with whom we spoke:

Former yokozuna Musashimaru, who served as a color commentator and analyst on the ESPN2 telecast.

Veteran boxing trainer Tommy Gallagher, who was also working with this event.

Ken Podziba, head of the New York City Sports Commission, which assisted this event.

Noah Goldman, president and CEO of Big Boy Productions, which produced and promoted the event.

Yoshisada Yonezuka, a vice president of the International Sumo Federation and longtime judo coach, who acted as a sumo technical advisor for the event.

We also spoke with two of the participants, sumo wrestlers Ronny Allman of Norway and Sydney Carty of the Netherlands.

In addition, at the Mayhem On Mulberry 5 muay Thai event held the night before the live sumo show, we caught up with two judo legends, Teimoc Jonston-Ono and Mike Swain. We discussed the sumo event, with which they both were attending, as well as judo, mixed martial arts, muay Thai, and the combat sports in general.

Also at the muay Thai event, we caught up with two of the fighters that night, Brian Robertson, who won a decision over Marcus Antebi, and Willow Chanthavong, who lost a decision to Liz Linstrom.

As we mentioned during this special preview show, the World Sumo Challenge was highly organized, got tremendous mainstream media attention, and was very well received by the fans at Madison Square Garden. The telecast had excellent production values and the tournament format was well explained both at the live event and on TV. Plus, sumo is fairly easy for casual fans to understand, and the action on the mat was usually non-stop and had the mainly American crowd cheering throughout the tournament.

The major and perhaps only shortcoming was its inconsistency in educating the fans as to who the athletes were. For example, Torsten Scheibler, the 438.5-pound wrestler from Germany, had recently won the gold medal at the world championships in Japan. Yet he was upset in the first round by Sydney Carty, a mere 328.5 pounds. Yet this was only noted briefly after the match by Musashimaru, with Scheibler's credentials going almost unnoticed, and the huge sports story of this first-round upset not being emphasized.

Also, the event's first champion was Mitshuhiko Fukao, a 5'10", 411.5-pound wrestler from Japan. Little was known about Fukao before the event and less reported about him afterwards. There was no post-match interview with Fukao, who had become a crowd favorite, or a post-event press conference. Even though an interview with Fukao would have had to have been conducted in Japanese, there were numerous people who could have done the translating right there. Thus, Fukao is their first champion and will defend his title without much more information even to this date being provided about him.

Nonetheless, the World Sumo Challenge has to be considered overall a major success. A new professional combat sport is being born, and that is good news. Others in the combat sports world can learn a lot from how this event was organized and conducted.

If you have any comments, you can e-mail us at nhbnews@gmail.com .

Finally, for technical reasons (mainly to keep the audio file smaller and use less bandwidth), this show was posted in RealPlayer format rather than MP3 format. If enough people prefer it in MP3 want to be able to download it as a podcast, we could consider starting to do that as well.

Look for more information about the next step in the revival of "No Holds Barred", and keep checking out my blogs on Blogger and Ourmedia.org .

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Monday, December 26, 2005

With No Boxing, What To Do On Boxing Day 


Now is a time of year when many people have a little more leeway than normal to relax, explore, discover, and enjoy some new things. Internet traffic is usually way down for this week, and sports like boxing mostly take it off.

So in the run-up to New Year’s Eve, when many folks will blow their minds and budgets simultaneously, take some time, if you haven’t done so already, to check out some music with which you may not be familiar.

At the top of that list I suggest the recently-reissued classic album The Road Goes on Forever by the Highwaymen, who were Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson.

This album combines the rhythmic poetry of these four with the tight, swinging music for which they were always known. Plus – as if this isn’t the norm, which of course it is not – you will want to listen to these lyrics of wisdom, compassion, and sorrow over and over again until you have mastered them yourself.

Fortunately for the world, CMT.com has a free listening party featuring all the tracks from this album.

And, as I wrote here recently, the video from the haunting classic, "Live Forever", also on this Highwaymen album, is also available for free at CMT.com.

This newer version is performed by the song’s author, Billy Joe Shaver, along with Big & Rich.

And tell 'em Eddie sent you.

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Don't Be A Dope 

Thinking about taking any of these so-called dietary supplements for health reasons or to boost your athletic performance? Make sure first to check out a couple of useful and informative articles which have appeared in recent days.

Sunday's New York Daily News had a long piece called Beating the heat detailing the mess left behind by the 1994 law, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which deregulated this diet supplement industry. The article sums up the litany of charges brought against this law and this industry, with its high-powered lobbyists:

There is nothing in DSHEA that protects the public from buying the health products of a convicted drug dealer, nothing to assure them that his "natural" supplements are healthy, safe or that they even work. The law says that you don't have to prove natural supplements are safe or effective before you market them; the government has to prove that they aren't after the fact.

The article also has a section on some of the currently popular supplements being used to replace substances like ephedra and andro, and their dubious claims of effectiveness.

The New York Daily News article did not discuss creatine, which is particularly popular in some combat sports circles. An article on the web page of the Baltimore Sun, however, does.

This piece is called The benefits and dangers of using creatine and discussed the pro and cons of creatine with Dr. John Emmett, a surgeon, bodybuilder, and author of Turning Back the Hands of Time.

Dr. Emmett concluded, "Above all, be smart. Creatine is NOT for young athletes, meaning high school students, nor is it for any athlete who may have liver, kidney, gastrointestinal or electrolyte problems. If you choose to take the supplement, use it as directed, with plenty of water, and consult your physician."

I have also heard harsher pronouncements against creatine.

So take great care when using any of these unregulated supplement products, and seek out the opinions of experts in this field who are NOT on the payroll of one of these companies selling this stuff.

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Sunday, December 25, 2005

Who Killed Santa Claus? 

The honky tonk was pretty empty Saturday night, as it usually is on a Christmas Eve. There were the usual regulars and locals, some stranded tourists probably from where they play country music all the time, a nosy guy there by himself who sounded like he was from Russia, and a stray blonde or two who marched right into the bathroom and a minute or two later right back out onto the street.

Gone were the Saturday night college boys and their make-believe dates, the representatives from the great state of New Jersey, the (presumably) off-duty cops and firefighters, and the sweet young thangs who know all the words to every Gretchen Wilson song.

There was one dude, however, who really looked out of place. He sat alone at a table near the men's room, thus having to evade the mixed fluids which sometimes runneth over onto the floor. No one paid much attention to this old dog, as often happens to senior citizens who venture into the self-segregated world of the young. But his long, white beard, clear spectacles, red jeans and cowboy hat, and growing collection of empty Lone Star beer longnecks suggested that he was not from around these parts, and maybe was supposed to be somewhere else.

"Hi, I'm Eddie," I offered, and he just grunted in response. "From around here?" I inquired.

"What are you, the NSA?" he shot back.

"No," I countered, "they're on that pay phone in the back."

"Now that's funny," he said, a saying I vaguely remembered hearing earlier that day somewhere.

"Listen, before you ask," he continued, "the answer is 'Yes, I'm him.' "

"Who?" I asked as if I didn't know, trying to be polite, which is unnatural for me to attempt.

"Old St. Nick. Kris Kringle. I go by a lot of names, but you probably best know me as Santa Claus."

Now, he didn't look as bookish as Edmund Gwenn and I certainly don't look like John Payne (and the remake just doesn't count), so maybe we were just having our own little miracle on 76th Street.

Though the skeptic that I am, I nonetheless decided to play along. After all, there are far worse lies told every night in this very bar.

"So Santa, what the hell are you doing here tonight of all nights? I mean, I know the jukebox is good and the beer is cheap, but it's like that every night, just more crowded. It's past midnight, so aren't you supposed to be jumping down chimneys or something by now?" I asked.

"Nobody needs me anymore," he moaned, his speech starting to become about as muddy as the leftover beer in the cans and bottles decorating most every flat surface in the joint.

"What do you mean?" asked I. "I thought that even those religious fanatics barking 'Merry Christmas or else!' wanted the stores like Wal-Mart to keep celebrating Christmas, and not make it some serious, boring holiday, for crissakes."

"That's part of the reason," he said, as he seemed ready to begin an explanation.

"Years ago, when kids wanted toys like a Red Ryder BB gun , me and all the elves had all the work that we could handle."

"So what happened? You got sued for shooting their eyes out?"

"No, it wasn't even that. Most people don't know this, but there's a lot of oil in the North Pole, so we hired some sleazy New York lawyers to settle. I think they also represent some boxing promoters," said Santa.

Now the old feller sat up a bit in his chair, and seemed ready to drop the bomb.

"It's the Internet and all this new-fangled hi-tech stuff," he said, now almost shouting over the Merle Haggard song playing on the jukebox.

"If you want a book or a dress or even some food, you can order it online. And music -- that's killing me more," he went on, his face now once again drooping onto the wet table in front of him.

"If they want music, there's nothing for me to pack and bring! How do I tell those elves to stick some dang MP3's in my gunny sack, anyway?"

He then looked straight into my Hubble Space Telescope glasses, aware that I, like everyone else, had no answer.

"We've been downsized, a bunch of the elves and even a few reindeer have been thrown out of work, and now the North Pole federal government says we may not even be able to collect our pensions," he shot out.

"Well, look," he added, suddenly in a friendlier tone. "I know this isn't any fault of yours, and you probably think it all sucks, too. So let's have a beer together and toast the holidays."

Trying to be friendly, I began to say, "Merry ....", but before I could finish he put his gnarled right index finger up to his lips.

"Nah, 'Happy holidays' is good enough for me these days," the old man stated. "It's more inclusive and besides, it gives me more opportunities to find work."

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Happy and Merry 

To those who celebrate any or all of the various Western holidays and festivals, may you, your family, and friends have a happy and merry time.

To those who don't celebrate any of these holidays and festivals, remember that you have lots of company, and you should also make sure to have a happy and merry time.

And to those who don't respect the rights of others to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as they see fit while not harming anyone else, remember that those of us who embrace tolerance still have the freedom to whip the authoritarian asses (proverbially, of course) of you and everyone else who is as ugly, ignorant, anti-science, prejudiced, devious, divisive, and reactionary as you and your co-conspirators are.

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

Ruiz-Valuev Highlights on Boxen.com 

The official web site of the Team Sauerland Event promotion in Germany has posted free video highlights from last Saturday's controversial WBA heavyweight title fight between John Ruiz and Nicolay Valuev in Max Schmeling Halle in Berlin.

This can be seen on the Boxen.com site .

All you need is Windows Media Player.

Of course, you can only tell so much about this fight by looking at a few minutes of edited highlights. You can still hear, however, even over the added commentary, most of the German crowd boo when the majority decision in favor of Valuev was announced.

By the way, on an American boxing site which shall remain nameless and linkless, a couple of their boys were writing about how they saw this fight live online on some site which streams international television stations. It was not telecast in the U.S.

If this were a legal webcast, you would think that the Sauerland site would either be hosting it or at least advertising it. They weren't, leading me to suspect that maybe, just maybe, something wasn't on the up-and-up here. (And if I'm wrong here, please correct me, and I will post something about it. I also would have liked to have seen this fight live, online or on TV, just legally.)

What's worse is that these fellows work at a site which has a lot of video content available only to paying subscribers. Now, you boys wouldn't want someone stealing your stuff, would you?

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They Are Hopeless, So Go Vote 

A good writer and a socially conscious person has to try to be an avid reader, so when I read that The Best American Sports Writing 2005 had been published, I decided to check out what was in it this year.

This volume is the latest in this ongoing book series, which is part of a larger set of works called The Best American Series. According to the propaganda on the publisher's web page, "Each volume's series editor selects notable works from hundreds of periodicals. A special guest editor, a leading writer in the field, then chooses the very best twenty or so pieces to publish." This year's guest editor is Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News.

I have bought a few volumes of this series in years past. I thus browsed through this year's table of contents on the publisher's web site, but mainly looking for two things: articles from online journalism sources, and about the combat sports.

In the first category, there was absolutely nothing from the Internet. Only the dying print media, with its annually declining circulation, was represented.

It was hard to tell just from the titles of the articles what many of their subjects were, so I tried to check if any of these writers were members of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Most I was sure were not, but there was at least one writer I thought possibly could be.

Then I put in the URL for the BWAA, http://bwaa.org/ , but it directed me here: http://higherlevelmedia.net/suspended.page/ . If you clicked on this, you will also see that I was given this wonderful holiday message that the page has been suspended.

Next stop was a WHOIS search , which yielded the information that the BWAA's domain name is good until May 8, 2006, after which, of course, it can be renewed.

I am not buying this book this year, and not because I don't appreciate or read sportswriting about non-combat sports. In fact, I read this all the time. But to have this book publishing company and its newspaper columnist-editor omit selecting anything from the Internet once again shows that they are on a fast highway to hell and are becoming more irrelevant to the public minute by minute.

As far as the BWAA site's being TKO'd is concerned, it is just typical of the failure of many boxing writers to adapt to the new media world replacing the largely comatose print media.

I am not a young man, although sometimes my three grandkids don't understand that. But I'm done trying to get these other old men to adopt at least 1990's technology. They are hopeless. Maybe I would stick it out if I were Billy Joe Shaver, who we know will live forever .

So let's build the alternative while the old media rots on death row. Perhaps not coincidentally, I just came across several attempts at establishing sports blog awards for 2005.

Probably getting the most buzz are the 2005 Sports Blog Awards run by someone calling himself The Red Reporter, who announces that his is "A Cincinnati Reds Blog." Voting started December 20 and runs through January 1.

Another site has already held what it calls the 2005 Weblog Awards , which include a category for sports blogs.

And there are the 2005 Canadian Blog Awards , which also include one for Best Sports Blog .

I haven't read most of these blogs, but I recommend we all do to sort out what is good and what is not. They may be run by people who have a lot to learn about journalism, but at least many of them are still willing to learn.

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Friday, December 23, 2005

Hick Hop 


Sometimes this grimy town makes me want to call in a bunch of cowboys to civilize these city folks by sensitizing them to the humanity underlying much of country music. That admirable quality has long since departed from much of urban culture, no matter how much melanin you might have in your skin. The new Aretha Franklin is Gretchen Wilson, the new Chuck Berry is John Rich, and Billy Joe Shaver was always newer than Bob Dylan.

While all sorts of people who talk with the cadence of a jackhammer or a clothes dryer pontificate about what happened and why during our three-day transit strike (except, of course, the Trinidadian Roger Toussaint, who mellifluously managed to infuriate over two-thirds of the New York metropolitan area anyway), I kept thinking about a different place in the present time – somewhere, for instance, where there is a major country music radio station. New York and San Francisco are the only two major markets in the U.S. without one. How liberal and open-minded.

The Internet, of course, holds a cure for many prejudices, and you can bet your biscuits and gravy that it can help you go country before you know it.

The various Internet media companies are trying to entice us to pay for their services by offering selected free video and audio features. This is our escape route, and much cheaper than a plane ticket to Amarillo.

Real.com has just posted some free videos of Cowboy Troy, the Black country rapper from Dallas, Texas, who is part of the MusikMafia. He calls his style Hick Hop.

The what, you ask?

John Rich called helping get his act going and Troy’s selling over a quarter of a million albums, without being played on country radio, one of the major accomplishments of 2005. So just listen, learn, and enjoy.

PS -- I almost forgot to reiterate that Troy is a big fan of the martial arts and combat sports. I guess it all goes hand-in-hand, eh?

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Please Watch the Closing Doors 

The Great Transit Strike of 2005 is over, at least for now, and hopefully for good. TWU Local 100 president Roger Toussaint announced Thursday afternoon that his executive board had voted to end the strike while talks continued. There is no contract between the MTA and the TWU, but a mediator has gotten them talking and negotiating again as the workers return to their jobs. Regular subway and bus service is being restored gradually, with full service hoped to be up by Friday's rush hour.

So who won? In boxing and other combat sports, we eventually know the scores. Some sports, like wrestling and most other forms of grappling, have the scores displayed as the match proceeds. Others, like boxing, mixed martial arts, and kickboxing, have the judges turn in scorecards after each round which are then tallied but not announced until after the fight has concluded.

In this one, the scores are still only known by a tiny handful of people. According to media reports, no details of what the contract negotiations have yielded have been made public.

Also according to these reports, not even the union's executive board was informed of what transpired at the bargaining table that convinced Toussaint and them to blink on the strike issue.

No doubt the $1 million a day fines, the loss of dues' check-off by the TWU, the fines of two days' pay for each one day out on strike for each TWU striker, and a laundry list of other suits and fines forced them essentially to retreat on the pledge of no contract, no work.

A poll released by cable news channel NY1 found its sampling of New Yorkers split over who was most to blame for the strike:

According to an exclusive NY1 poll, 41 percent of New Yorkers think both the MTA and the Transport Workers Union are to blame for the strike. About 27 percent solely fault the MTA while 25 blame the union for the walkout. The poll does find, though, that 54 percent of New Yorkers think what the union wants is fair compared to 36 percent who do not.

The poll also comments about the divide among the groups they label as by "race":

A final note about race. White New Yorkers see the union as deserving more blame for the strike than do black or Latinos.

Latinos are a "race"? This is not even a scientific category for those we call "white" and "black", let alone the amalgam of people known as Latinos. But it does reveal, as if we didn't know already, that different groups of people are more likely to side and identify with the bosses or the workers.

The results of the poll which were released also did not discuss who thought the TWU should have struck and who did not, as opposed to blame, as well as if the strike personally created hardships for them.

We will probably learn about the details of the negotiations long before we hear much more about that.

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Stoney Retires 

Here is the official story in a press release issued Thursday:

2-Time Heavyweight Champion of the World John Ruiz’ manager Norman Stone retires

WILMINGTON, Mass. (December 22, 2005) – Colorful boxing manager Norman “Stoney” Stone today announced his retirement from his Massachusetts home. Stone had been two-time world heavyweight champion John “The Quietman” Ruiz’ manager and cutman for the past 20 years dating back to Ruiz’ amateur days.

“I’m done,” Stone said. “I’m tired of boxing and last week’s bad decision was the last straw (Ruiz lost a controversial 12-round majority decision to Nicolay Valuev in Berlin for the WBA title). I’m going to relax with my family and spend a lot of time with my two little grandchildren. I’ll always support Johnny. Even in retirement I’ll be covering his back. I’m sorry if my actions sometimes upset people, but I always had John’s best interests at heart. It was a great ride.”

The Boxing Writers Association of America selected Stone, 54, as Co-Manager of the Year in 2002. A Vietnam War veteran, Stoney also served as Ruiz’ head trainer for four fights.

“I’m sorry to see him go,” Ruiz commented. “We’ve been together for 20 years and it was an up-and-down, roller coaster ride. It’s going to be tough moving on without him.”

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Live Forever 


I just changed the song on my MySpace.com profile . Now up is "Live Forever," sung by its original author, Billy Joe Shaver , along with country music's latest phenomenon, Big & Rich .

CMT.com is also showing the video of this song, and for free, as well as playing it on their television channel.

Check it out, because I listen to this song over and over and over again. And let me know if you believe, as I do, that this song will live forever in the annals of great American song.

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Lament of A Stranded Union Man 

Inwood in New York City -- It was eerily calm at 7:30 this morning at the corner of Broadway and 207th Street in Manhattan's Inwood section on this, the third day of the New York City transit strike.

Livery cab drivers parked in the bus stop hawked their services, promising stranded subway riders a trip down to 34th Street for only ten bucks a head, so they claimed. Another driver just kept shouting "Downtown!" to whomever passed by, and then returned to chatting in Spanish with one of his fellow entrepreneurs.

A small group of striking transit workers huddled on the street above the locked gates of the 207th Street station, normally the end, and the beginning, of the line on that A train about which Duke Ellington advised us to ride to Harlem. A woman passerby signaled her support for the strikers, and they thanked her, but they then continued a chatty discussion which sounded like a gossip session at a private club.

These strikers carried signs saying something about safety for riders and transit workers. Many spry would-be subway riders marched up Broadway to get to the 225th Street station on the Metro-North Railroad, which is not on strike, to catch special shuttle trains to Grand Central Station. But not everyone was hiking uptown, as there were a few women with canes, and not that old, headed in different directions.

The local McDonald's was empty. I was the only customer when I went in, with only one person taking orders behind the counter (the one person making the sandwiches still got it wrong). This was not a good time for them to reduce the number of items on their Dollar Menu.

A longtime friend of mine, many years my junior, called me last night to say he had been bicycling between Manhattan and the Bronx to see his family and for work, and had been besieged by young Latinos asking for a few bucks for cab fare. These were not con artists, he explained, but people who normally had to cut corners just to pay the subway fare, and now they had to pay even more to find another way to get to where they needed to go. My friend predicted that if this strike goes on much longer, especially through Christmas and New Year's, that there will be riots in these types of communities, and not exactly popular uprisings to support the strikers.

The transit workers, represented by Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, certainly have many valid grievances. Juan Gonzalez, the old Columbia radical and Young Lords Party leader who now is a columnist for the New York Daily News, outlined many of the harsh practices of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) which have infuriated many of these workers. There are about 34,000 transit workers, and he wrote, "Local 100 President Roger Toussaint has repeatedly complained that the MTA issued a phenomenal 15,000 disciplinary actions against his members last year."

The MTA's negotiating tactics also seemed designed to provoke an illegal strike. As reported in the New York Times, the MTA proposed a new giveback to the union not previously on the table shortly before the old contract was set to expire:

But then, just hours before the strike deadline, the authority's chairman, Peter S. Kalikow, put forward a surprise demand that stunned the union. Seeking to rein in the authority's soaring pension costs, he asked that all new transit workers contribute 6 percent of their wages toward their pensions, up from the 2 percent that current workers pay. The union balked, and then shut down the nation's largest transit system for the first time in a quarter-century.

Yet for all the rage and bluster that followed, this war was declared over a pension proposal that would have saved the transit authority less than $20 million over the next three years.


If it was the MTA's intention to provoke an illegal strike, they succeeded. But if it was the strategy of the union to rally the masses of this old school union and working poor town to their side, they have grossly failed.

We now have a three-way fight: 34,000 transit workers vs. a handful of obscure MTA bureaucrats and fat cat politicians vs. 7 million riders.

The worst hit are the poor, including the lowest income workers, who are forced to spend much extra to get to work, endure price-gouging by cabs, especially from the lightly-regulated livery cabs in the poorer neighborhoods where the yellow cabs do not go, or to lose income or even their jobs if they remain at home. No one asked then if they thought a transit strike was proper at this time, and no organization helped them create any strike fund.

Support, the TWU leaders fail to grasp, is a two-way street. The average subway riders regularly complain of rude service by transit workers, subway doors shut in their faces, yelling and sneering at passengers, stops skipped on bus routes so drivers get done faster despite people waiting in bus stops to be picked up, etc., etc., every day.

The TWU couldn't even organize a city-wide support rally now if they wanted to; no one could get to it.

Plus, the timing -- crucial to any fight -- is all wrong. It is the TWU, and not the corrupt and miserly MTA, which is compared to the Grinch this holiday season, a compelling if clichéd portrayal.

Instead of acting as some sort of vanguard for workers -- this is Roger Toussaint, not L'Ouverture -- the TWU's tactics have only served to unite their enemies and divide their potential friends.

Now the TWU is being fined $1 million a day for violating the state's draconian Taylor Law, enacted after the 1966 transit strike. Everyone in New York knows all about this law, so the TWU can hardly complain that these fines will bankrupt it in a few days.

Toussaint may just be leading his troops into another PATCO fiasco. Although the transit workers will not all be fired as Reagan did to the air traffic controllers, Toussaint faces his local being taken over by the TWU's international body (which is not supporting this strike), the local quickly being without funds, and the contract dispute being settled by binding arbitration, which the TWU opposes since it surely will not yield favorable results for the workers. At the same time, each striking worker is being fined two days' pay for each one day out on strike, in addition to losing that day's wages.

Toussaint is due in court today, facing fines and possible jail time himself, although the latter is not likely. He is being represented by union attorney Arthur Schwartz, yet another old Columbia radical.

There also is a group of strikers outside the nearby bus terminal in Inwood. Sometimes a chant is started, "No contract, no work," but then it quickly dies out. Occasionally jeers arise as some manager or maybe a scab drives onto the premises. But they stand in and around another bus stop, trying to keep warm in the freezing temperatures and the even more frigid atmosphere in the city they have thrown into chaos.

In boxing, the old adage is to hit and not get hit. So far, the MTA, usually almost universally hated in this town, is way ahead on points. The ref is looking into the eyes of the union brass to see if this fight should be stopped. If they lose, it will be much tougher for any union or group of workers to make it here, and if you can't make it here, you can't make it anywhere.

I had to postpone a doctor's appointment today because I couldn't get there without risking paying some absurd fare. I'm just a union man, too, a member of the National Writers Union, Local 1981, UAW. At least I can mainly work from home, which, I guess, is also one of the benefits of being an old Columbia-educated radical myself.

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John Ruiz and Norman Stone: A Team No More 

According to Ron Borges on The Boston Globe's web site, the team of now-former WBA heavyweight champion John Ruiz and Norman Stone, described by Borges as his "longtime manager and surrogate father," has broken up. The reason: "growing strife inside the Ruiz camp."

Borges has provided the most comprehensive, and, more importantly, objective coverage of Ruiz and his camp of anyone in the mainstream media, so make sure to check his piece out.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Now, THAT'S Funny 

CIA Chief Admits To Torture After Six-Hour Beating, Electrocution

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It Stinks 

The latest installment of what should be an ongoing series called "How We Discard Old Boxers" appeared Dec. 21 on the web site of The Boston Globe. It is entitled "Riches to rags - Years after gaining world fame and fortune, it's been a hard fall from glory for Leon Spinks" and written by Globe staffer Stan Grossfeld.

The 52-year-old Spinks, the former world heavyweight champion who once beat Muhammad Ali and was an Olympic gold medalist and a marine, is now broke and suffering from dementia. Presently he works as a weekend custodian for $5.15 an hour at a local YMCA in Columbus, Nebraska, and also part-time unloading trucks at a McDonald's.

And what happened to the $3.75 million he made from Ali-Spinks 2? It all went to his lawyers. "The money they stole. They stole all my money," he told The Globe.

Happy holidays.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Hello, Big Boy: World S.U.M.O. Challenge Coming to ESPN2 Dec. 24 and 30 


For the past decade and a half or so, there have been numerous attempts in the U.S. at starting new combat sports organizations and leagues. Many have met with fierce opposition stemming both from the ignorance and corruption of various politicians, as well as the gross blunders committed by their organizers in positioning and marketing these events as bloody, brutal brawls, whether they were so or not.

Some events just never got off the ground, due in part to the amateurishness of their organizers, their failure to listen to professional advice from experienced people in the combat sports world, and the failure of rival promoters in their given sport to band together to establish one credible league featuring the top athletes in that sport competing against one another for what would become comprehensible and credible championships.

After losing countless millions of dollars, a handful managed to gain a foothold as fringe events, mainly by imitating the culture of the fake pro "wrestling" and directly marketing to that fan base. While putting on real fights, they proved themselves clueless about marketing their events as sports and threw away the honor, dignity, and respect associated with most of the combat sports in favor of higher ratings fueled by trash-talking, brawling short on technique, and the spectacle atmosphere promulgated by their de facto spiritual mentor, Vince McMahon. In doing so, they effectively prostituted their events and left the real sports world for the purgatory known as sports entertainment.

The backdrop of all this is the decline and gradual marginalization of boxing. No longer a mainstream sport regularly telecast on the largest American networks with events regularly held in the largest arenas, boxing has devolved into a niche sport whose main fights are only available in most countries on pay$per$view for hefty fees, far more than a six-pack of beer.

Yet the masses want to watch fights as much as ever, perhaps even more these days than in recent decades. Fighting provides wonderful entertainment in these increasingly contentious times, and even offers guidance on how to proceed strategically and tactically in everyday battles outside the realm of sports (and should have for the current New York transit strike, a point we may return to soon).

As I have reported, a new combat sports company has recently emerged that thus far appears to be getting most of it right.

That organization, known as Big Boy Productions, put on a major international professional sumo tournament in the main arena of New York's Madison Square Garden on Oct. 22, 2005. The build-up to this event saw almost unprecedented coverage, for a combat sport anyway, in virtually every mainstream media outlet in New York, including all over the TV and radio and in every daily newspaper.

On the night of Oct. 22, the Garden was filled with an enthusiastic crowd. Many of the top sumo wrestlers from around the world were competing, including several who had just wrestled in the 2005 world championships held shortly before this event.

The tournament format was easy to understand and well explained both in the printed program and on the huge overhead screen in the Garden. While, like every other sport, there were a handful of controversial calls, the instant replay, also shown to the crowd on the big screen, showed that the officials basically made the right call in almost every instance, if not all of them. Even some mistakes which were made, such as the absence of a post-event press conference, could easily be corrected.

The next step for this organization was television. An announcement was promised by its organizers of a TV deal, and now we have it.

ESPN2 will show this event as two back-to-back one-hour specials. This will be shown on Saturday, December 24, 2 to 3 PM and 3 to 4 PM ET, and repeated on Friday, December 30, 10 to 11 PM and 11 PM to midnight ET.

The live show has to be deemed a success. But the future of this organization rests to a large degree upon how it looks, and draws, on television. The organizers hope to start a regular tour and have a regular cable show in 2006. These showings, announced on short notice and scheduled during the holiday season, will play an important role in determining the fate of professional sumo in the U.S.

You can find out more info at the event's web site at http://worldsumochallenge.com/ and in this press release just released Tuesday:

For Immediate Release

“WORLD S.U.M.O. CHALLENGE -- BATTLE OF THE GIANTS,” TO BE TELEVISED AS TWO-ONE HOUR SPECIALS ON ESPN2 DECEMBER 24, 2 TO 4 PM, AND DECEMBER 30, 10 PM TO MIDNIGHT

Taped at Madison Square Garden on October 22, 2005, Programs Feature 24 World-Class Heavyweight Sumo Wrestlers Competing in New York City’s Biggest International Sumo Competition Ever!

ESPN2 will telecast two one-hour specials, back to back, on Saturday, December 24, 2 to 3 PM and 3 to 4 PM (repeated on Friday, December 30, 10 to 11 PM and 11 PM to midnight), featuring all the action and excitement of WORLD S.U.M.O. CHALLENGE -- BATTLE OF THE GIANTS, the international world-class Sumo competition taped at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, October 22, 2005. The competition attracted 24 of the world’s best heavyweight Sumo wrestlers from countries all over the globe who competed for the 1st World S.U.M.O. Challenge Cup.

Presented by Big Boy Productions, LLC, a New York-based sports and entertainment production company whose mission is to develop and present world class international SUMO to national and international audiences, the championship competition was sanctioned by the International Sumo Federation, the Japanese-based world governing body for Sumo. The Garden competition attracted more than 10,000 enthusiastic fans and was the inaugural event of a new international Sumo organization – Sumo Ultimate Masters Organization (S.U.M.O.) – which is currently setting up tours of North and South America for the spring of 2006 and Europe for the summer of 2006. The tour will be broadcast on national television. The 2nd Annual World S.U.M.O. Challenge has already been booked into Madison Square Garden for October 2006.

The Sumo competition at the Garden, governed by traditional Japanese Sumo rules, was contested in the main arena and featured the spirituality and mystique inherent in traditional Sumo wrestling. It was punctuated by spectacular special effects as well as live music provided by Taikoza, a thunderous percussion group that features taiko drums – large barrel-like drums that produce a magnificent sound -- creating a visual and audio treat for spectators.

The two dozen wrestlers who competed in the 1ST ANNUAL WORLD S.U.M.O. CHALLENGE – BATTLE OF THE GIANTS, and are featured on the ESPN2 telecasts, represent Japan, Bulgaria, Hungary, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Republic of Georgia, and United States. They include: Georgiev Stiliyan and Petar Stoyanov (Bulgaria); Jorg Brummer, Karsten Grapp and Torsten Scheibler (Germany); Dezso Libor and Barnabas Toth (Hungary); Mitshuhiko Fukao, Takayuki Minami and Kaleo (Japan); Sydney Carty (Netherlands); Ronny Allman and Hans Borg (Norway); Jacek Jaracz, Marek Kraszewski, Marek Paczkow, Robert Paczkow and Marcim Roczum (Poland); Levan Altunashvili, Jondo Dabrundashvili and Levan Ebanoidze (Republic of Georgia); and Kena Heffernan, Oni pa’a Imua Pa’a’aina and Harrington Wa (USA).

The ESPN2 TV commentary is provided by sportscaster Al Pawlowski with expert commentary by the 67th Yokezuna, Masashimaru. The emcee at the Garden is Ryan McDonough.

Executive Producers are Big Boy Productions (Noah Goldman and Jeff Daniels) and Executive Producer of the television specials is Ron Honsa. The event producer is Ted Kudyla. The post-production services were provided by Moving Pictures and the programs were edited by Alan Miller.

Sumo wrestling is one of the oldest forms of martial arts and Japan’s national sport. The most notable feature of the sport is the size of the athletes, ranging from 275 to 600 pounds. Sumo opponents battle barefoot and wear a mawashi, a traditional loin cover. The object is to throw your opponent outside an 18-foot ring or knock him to the ground. Wrestlers use many moves, including the oshi-dashi, or push, to drive an opponent backward, and the tzuki-dashi, or slap, to upset an opponent’s balance. A typical fight lasts less than one-minute; if a bout goes as long as three-minutes, there is a short pause after which the combatants go at each other again. In addition to fierce aggression, Sumo is a sport with solemn traditions, including a pre-fight ritual where opponents squat facing each other and open their hands to show they have no weapons.

Sumo is currently contested in more than 80 countries around the world. Because of its growing international popularity, the sport is being considered for inclusion in the Olympics, possibly as early as the 2012 Summer Games.

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While Mesi Mess Gets Bloody Messier, Many Commissions Conduct NO Medical Tests 

So Joe Mesi has finally won a court case. On Monday a judge in Nevada ruled that Mesi cannot be suspended indefinitely by the Nevada State Athletic Commission because he had suffered a subdural hematoma -- bleeding on the brain -- since his one-year commission license to box had expired at the end of 2004.

The judge, Clark County District Court Judge Douglas Herndon, was quoted as saying, "But I cannot see how the suspension can outlive the license."

In essence this judge ruled that there can be no permanent medical suspensions for what are deemed to be permanent medical conditions.

But he did not explain if Mesi's being prone to subdural hematomas also cannot outlive the license, or what to do if he gets another license elsewhere, fights again, and then himself does not outlive that license as a result of an even more serious brain injury.

Two boxers died as a result of injuries suffered in the ring this year in that state of Nevada, Leavander Johnson and Martin Sanchez, while two others ended up with major brain injuries. And this judge's holiday gift to the boxing world is to loosen the medical requirements for fighting because of some "Alice in Wonderland"-like legal technicality.

This comes on the heels of a report issued by the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) detailing just what the medical test requirements are for each of its member commissions to license fighters. The report is dated Dec. 14, 2005, and is based on responses sent back to the ABC from the various state and tribal commissions in the U.S. (A few commissions failed to send in replies.)

According to this report, seven commissions -- Arkansas, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Santa Anna, Vermont, and West Virginia -- have NO medical test requirements for a fighter to get a license. None. Nothing. Zilch.

In Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Oklahoma, the only medical test is one for pregnancy, which, according to reliable sources, is annually passed by 100 percent of the male applicants.

In Louisiana and Rhode Island, the only medical test is for HIV.

In North Carolina, the only medical tests are for pregnancy and an eye exam.

On the list of tests was CT/MRI baseline, meaning a test or tests to observe the health of the brain. Seven commissions perform this type of test. Although they are among the biggest ones, since tribal commissions are included on this list, they are basically clustered in only four states. These commissions are Connecticut along with Mashantucket and Mohegan, both also in that state; Nevada; New Jersey; and New York and Oneida, also in that state.

Only a sadist or a nihilist can accept this rag-tag patchwork of politically-appointed commissions being responsible for protecting the health and safety of professional boxers. But that is the prevailing mess as we prepare to close out this year, begin a new one, and mourn more fallen boxers.

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Ruiz-Valuev Controversy Still Boils: WRITE WBA TO DEMAND IMMEDIATE REMATCH! 

The controversy over Saturday's disputed majority decision victory by Nicolay Valuev over John Ruiz in Berlin to capture the WBA heavyweight title is spilling over into the international media.

Veteran British boxing writer John Rawling on the Guardian Unlimited web site, the online presence of the Guardian newspaper in the UK, called Valuev's win "a hotly disputed majority decision" and repeated other reports that "many of the 10,000-strong sell-out crowd at the Max Schmelling Halle jeered the verdict and John Ruiz claimed he had been robbed, saying it had been 'a sad day for the sport'."

Ron Borges of The Boston Globe, who, according to Don King Productions' publicist Alan Hopper, was the only American journalist covering the Ruiz-Valuev fight live from Berlin, has written a follow-up story to his earlier report. This one is called "Ruiz left wondering if King's really in his corner".

In this new piece, Borges reports, "Before dawn, King had received a call from rival promoter Bob Arum, who now handles King's former fighter and reigning World Boxing Council champion Hasim Rahman, about the possibility of a unification fight with Valuev, according to King. There also was talk of a showdown between Valuev and former World Boxing Organization champion Wladimir Klitschko, who made his name fighting in Germany and remains a huge sporting celebrity there but who never has wanted anything to do with Ruiz."

There have been numerous examples of sanctioning bodies ordering or at least allowing immediate rematches following other "hotly disputed" decisions. The infamous draw in the first Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield heavyweight title unification fight led to an immediate rematch. Other controversial decisions in title fights which have seen immediate rematches in recent years include Hopkins-Taylor, Corrales-Castillo, and Wright-Mosley. So the precedent is there.

Ruiz-Valuev was decided by a majority decision. One judge had it even at 114-114, while the other two judges scored it 116-114 and 116-113, both for Valuev. And almost all the 10,000 German judges in the stands scored it for Ruiz.

Whether or not you like John Ruiz's style of fighting, he is a good man. In an era of Rafael Palmeiro, BALCO, and James Toney, Ruiz is one of the few top fighters who have gone on record publicly advocating random steroid testing.

Plain and simple, John Ruiz deserves an immediate rematch with Nicolay Valuev. The promoters may think that more money might be made in the short run by matching up Valuev with someone else, like Hasim Rahman, Wladimir Klitschko, or whomever.

But, as Ruiz said in his locker room after the fight, “I think this [decision] is ridiculous,” He continued, “This is a sad moment. Not only does this destroy me but it doesn’t do any good for boxing. It’s up to the people of Germany and around the world who saw this fight on TV to decide what they thought of this decision.”

We are thus urging everyone to contact the WBA telling them that they must order an immediate rematch between Valuev and Ruiz. Put it in your own words, but here is their contact information, taken from their web site:

CONTACT ADDRESSES WBA CENTRAL OFFICE

Centro Comercial Ciudad Turmero, Local 21, Piso 2, Calle Petión
c/c Urdaneta -
Turmero 2115, Estado Aragua -Venezuela - P.O. BOX 377 - Maracay 2101-Estado Aragua -Venezuela -
Phone: (0244) 663.15.84 / 663.33.47 -
Fax: (0244) 663.31.77
wbaven@wbaonline.com

GILBERTO JESUS MENDOZA
Executive Director:
58 (414) 4922866
58 (412) 3462898
gjmendoza@wbaonline.com

Executive Director
Gilberto Mendoza, Jr.
director@wbaonline.com

In the meantime, remember that while John Ruiz may earn his living as a boxer, he is a human being just like any of us. After he was defeated by James Toney on April 30 at Madison Square Garden, and before Toney's positive doping test was known thus nullifying that decision, Ruiz announced his retirement from boxing. It was, of course, a short-lived retirement, even by boxing standards, but he was just disgusted with the way so many in the boxing establishment had been treating him.

So while we wait for the normally slow-moving WBA to sort all this out, you can read a piece I wrote just after Ruiz had announced his retirement , as well as listen to an audio interview I did with his manager and trainer Norman "Stoney" Stone.

And while you do all this, make sure to contact the WBA and demand that they do the right thing.

Update: We also received this message from our old Boxingranks.com colleague Ian Spencer, known in Internet circles as Conan the Cribber, who saw the fight on television in Germany:

Well I scored it 116:113 for Ruiz. I had three clear rounds for each and the rest were a mixed bag. Ruiz got no favours on the cards in the last two rounds, which I gave to him.

Overall the fight was OK, but lacked all tension. Neither boxer was in trouble the whole fight. Valuev just kept throwing his jab the whole night, which landed often enough to win some rounds. Valuev landed about two rights the whole fight, one of which was in the twelfth. Ruiz was not hurt. Ruiz on the other hand would sometimes box, sometimes not. He landed about 2 jabs the whole night, but occasionally some good punches. If he tried, then he won the round. But Ruiz was absent a lot of the time and Valuev picked up the points.

Overall I'd say anything two points advantage either way was justified. The crowd by the way booed their lungs out at the decision. It just didn't stop. That probably motivated Stoney to steal the belt back. A member of the Valuev team landed a nice right on Stoney and then all the security wrapped them all up.

There was precious little holding by the way. Ruiz was smart and boxed from the outside. Only at the end did he bury himself in like a tick.

Real tough to pick. Valuev did land a lot of jabs. On the other hand, it's scored via rounds. And Ruiz won more of them on my scorecard. I gave one round even, and one of the judges gave the same round even (the 9th).

Ruiz landed some nice shots on Valuev, who just blinked them off. Should've back the over.

cheers

conan

p.s. Laila Ali won by a 5th round KO. She was lucky her opponent tired as she was getting a boxing lesson. The stoppage was good as the Swede was stunned and helpless and didn't know how to defend herself. The crowd didn't like it, they wanted to see more, but it was only a matter of time before the tiring Swede ran out of gas and got tagged.

p.p.s the elbow stuff is a crock of shyte. Valuev never threw an elbow, nor was he warned for it. He used his foreman to push Ruiz off him, that's all.

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Phoebe Legere: Singer, Actress, Wrestler 


Over the weekend I had a chance to speak with an old friend, the multi-talented Phoebe Legere. You may know her from her unique and luscious singing, along with her all-girl band, The Four Nurses of the Apocalypse. You may know her from her performances in the cult classics "Toxic Avenger", parts 2 and 3.

But you probably don't know that Phoebe is a huge fight fan and wrestled in the short fantasy film "Marquis de Slime", which she wrote and was the star.

It was during the filming of "Marquis de Slime" that I got to know her. She played the heroine who faced the villain, played by Angel Amoroso, in a pro-style wrestling match of good vs. evil. I was called in to choreograph the wrestling scene involving Phoebe. Angel knew what to do in the ring, as she is a veteran of the staged pro wrestling circuit (probably most famously in ECW) as well as fought in real no-holds-barred fighting events around the world. I am also in the film as a rapid fan in the crowd.

Even though this was a fantasy story, I had them use a real submission hold to close the match. You'll have to see it to know which one, though.

Phoebe is getting very active on the Internet. She has her own web site at: http://phoebelegere.com/ .

She has also recently started her own blog, called Sex is Love, at: http://sexislove.blogspot.com/ .

You can learn more about the "Marquis De Slime", including how to order the DVD, at: http://phoebelegere.com/slime.html .

Plus, Phoebe has posted the first part of the film on her blog .

QuickTime is required to play it, and it may take a few minutes to download.

Phoebe also told me that she is currently finishing up a new album, after which she will return to touring. So check out her wonderful singing and watch her fun-filled acting.

But don't let her flowing blonde hair and gorgeous looks fool you, because while she is a cool and nice person, she CAN kick your ass.

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Why Blogs Should Rule the Sports Media 

Thanks to the folks over at Deadspin.com for posting a correction we sent in -- their first and maybe their last, they say, because "it's probably best if it doesn't become a trend" -- and the plug.

I first heard of this relatively new sports blog when reading this week's issue of Sports Illustrated.

They had a special section on their best of the sports media for 2005, so, natch, this is what I turned to first. (This section is only available online to paying SI customers, nyah, nyah.) Deadspin got the nod for blogs.

I didn't hold this against Deadspin and decided to check them out anyway.

The print magazine and even the SI.com web site, by the way, didn't make that easy as neither posted the web address for Deadspin, although a quick Google search provided the link. I guess it's too much to ask of them to include a link to their best sports blog of the year.

While watching, sort of, Sunday's football games (the country music channels had mainly repeats), I continued checking the web for more commentaries on Saturday's Ruiz-Valuev fiasco in Germany. I came across this on Deadspin:

Boxing. 7-foot Russian Nikolay Valuev wins a controversial decision over John Ruiz, capturing the WBA heavyweight title. The crowd’s boos are partially drowned out by Don King running around, screaming that there will be a rematch and yelling, “CHA-CHING! CHA-CHING!”

That's why I wrote to Deadspin that King has purposely NOT committed to pushing for a rematch so that he could get his “CHA-CHING! CHA-CHING!” by bringing Valuev to the U.S. to fight against someone -- not Ruiz -- he'd be more assured of defeating. As we already relayed, King has four options on the Russian giant .

Next in line in the rankings of the WBA for Valuev might be Wladimir Klitschko, since he is ranked third, while second is vacant, and Valuev was their number one contender. But Klitschko the younger is also ranked as the top contender in the IBF and might be more interested in fighting Chris Byrd, whom he already defeated on Oct. 14, 2000, by unanimous decision, for his title. He is also the top contender in the WBO, and might just take a rematch with Lamon Brewster, who TKO'd Klitschko on April 10, 2004. So if the last of the fighting Klitschko brothers goes in either of these latter directions, next for a defense of Valuev's WBA belt may be another King fighter, but one who would be an easier assignment: the soon-to-be-elevated number four contender, 35-year-old Ray Austin. His last two fights were not exactly scorchers: a split decision win over Owen Beck and a draw with Larry Donald.

With all this in mind I contacted Deadspin and informed them of their little mistake. Better than The New York Times and the rest of the mainstream media on such trivialities as WMD, they almost immediately posted their correction.

So I'll post a correction as well.

In my e-mail to Deadspin editor Will Leitch, I wrote, "Hey Will, it's one thing to be snarky; it's another to be inaccurate."

Obviously they acknowledged their mistake, but Will wrote back with a correction of his own: "And we prefer 'cheeky' to 'snarky.' Because we're dopes."

Let the record note this correction.

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Follow the Money 

Wondering why Nicolay Valuev won this controversial majority decision over John Ruiz but Ruiz's promoter, Don King, is not now insisting on a rematch? Ron Borges reported that "King negotiated a deal that gave him 50 percent of the revenue from the fight as well as four options on Valuev if he won."

Then he quoted Ruiz's manager Norman Stone: ''If I knew that we never would have come over here."

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Ron Borges on Ruiz-Valuev: German Crowd More Honest Than Judges 

Reporting from Berlin, Ron Borges has written a searing piece on The Boston Globe's web site about Saturday's John Ruiz-Nicolay Valuev WBA heavyweight title fight entitled "Ruiz wants rematch after disputed loss". Borges pulls no punches himself, reporting how the German crowd booed the victor Valuev and that the title was "stolen from John Ruiz."

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

ESPN "Sportscenter" to Show Post-Fight Ruiz-Valuev Clip 

On American television, ESPN is running promos for "Sportscenter" saying that it will air a clip of the post-fight brawl from Ruiz-Valuev, and hopefully more. This may also air on the ESPNews channel as well.

(Update #1: Of course, during this, the signal provided to my home by Time Warner Cable of Manhattan's so-called digital service keeps going out.)

(Update #2: The signal came back but all the ESPN report emphasized was the post-fight brawl and that Valuev reminds them of Ivan Drago. They didn't even mention that it was a majority decision. A typical Mickey Mouse report. -- 12:26 AM EST)

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German Fans Cheer John Ruiz and Norman Stone: Post-Fight Notes From Ruiz vs. Valuev 

We have just been sent the post-fight notes from Ruiz vs. Valuev in Berlin on Saturday from publicist Alan Hopper of Don King Productions. Although this is a press release from a promotional company, its substance agrees with several other independent reports we have seen, so here it is:

Nicolai Valuev Defeats Ruiz to Win WBA TitleValuev Becomes First Russian Heavyweight to Win a World Title

BERLIN—When the undefeated giant Russian Nicolai “The Beast from the East” Valuev entered the ring in Berlin on Saturday—all 7 feet and 323 ½ pounds of him—to make his first appearance in a world championship match against World Boxing Association champion John “The Quietman” Ruiz, it was much the same as when Valuev fought another American in Germany, Larry “The Legend” Donald, in Oldenberg on Oct. 1.

Huge banners throughout the sold-out 10,000-seat Max Schmeling Halle hung from the rafters, and not a single photo of Ruiz was featured on the cover—or inside—the event program.

If one didn’t know better, they might think that Ruiz was the challenger and Valuev the champion, until Ruiz did see his name illuminated in sparkling fireworks during his walk to the ring.

But just as the audience in Oldenberg lustily whistled and booed when Valuev won a majority decision over Donald in their country village—that crowd of about 5,000 was not swayed by the one-sided propaganda they were fed and rightly sided with the American whom they felt had clearly out-boxed the Russian—the crowd in Berlin reacted in similar fashion when it was announced that Valuev had won a majority decision to become the first Russian to win a world heavyweight title.

In fact, possibly the loudest applause of the evening erupted after the fight when Ruiz’s colorful trainer, Norman “Stoney” Stone ripped the belt off Valuev’s shoulder and held it up to the crowd in defiance.

That started a melee inside the ring with Stone being struck by Valuev cornerman Hagen Sevecke and the corresponding retaliation from Stone before order could be restored.

Ruiz did exactly what he promised at the beginning of the fight by coming right at Valuev, delivering left jabs and burrowing in to attempt to neutralize the Russian’s huge advantages in height, reach and weight.

Ruiz then did what nobody thought he would do midway into the round. He removed himself from the inside, content to stay on the outside. Valuev himself appeared a bit confused when Ruiz stepped back. The Russian waited to fire shots, and Ruiz came back inside with a flurry that delighted the crowd at the end of the opening stanza.

Ruiz continued to press the action in the second, but the lumbering giant seemed to have just warmed up. Ruiz then landed his best punch of the fight to that point, a big right hand. He tried to follow it with another shortly thereafter but missed while Valuev rallied to land a few jabs.

Valuev continued to establish his jab in the third round, which was enough to win the round on one of the judges scorecards—the first judging deviation after all judges were in agreement that Ruiz had won the first and Valuev the second.

Ruiz seemed comfortable to stay on the outside during the first minute of the fourth round and paid the price by again being on the end of Valuev’s jab. Ruiz was better served when he moved back inside and began to throw combinations, many of which scored including a right hand that landed flush on Valuev’s face that seemed to stun him just before the bell sounded ending the round.

It wasn’t enough for Ruiz to win the round on two of the judges’ scorecards, and the judge who sided with him, Francisco Martinez of New Zealand, was the only judge to side with Valuev in the second.

The bout, which had the appearance of a tugboat battling a supertanker at times with the size difference of the fighters, moved into the fifth round where Valuev landed his best right hand of the fight to that point, which may have been the difference in a close round that was unanimously won by the Russian—as he did again in the sixth round.

Ruiz sensed that he needed to rally, and he did with strong combinations in one of the better rounds of the fight, the seventh. All three judges gave that round to Ruiz, and all three judges were in agreement that Valuev was ahead by one point going into the eighth.

Valuev’s trainer screamed at him to increase his intensity, and Ruiz remained right where he wanted him to be—on the outside—where Valuev again worked his jab and also landed a solid right, which was enough to win the round on all three cards and extended the Russian’s lead to two points across the board.

Ruiz burrowed inside again in the ninth where he boxed effectively and won the fight on two scorecards while the third judge, Derek Milham from Australia deviated by scoring it a 10-10 draw. (This wouldn’t be his last 10-10 scoring as he did the same thing in the final round, which had produced some of the most spirited action in the contest.)

The tenth appeared to be an even round until Ruiz unloaded a right hand and promptly followed with another that may have been his best punches of the fight. Valuev answered with a right of his own with both fighters still punching at the bell.

The scorers differed in this round as well: two gave it to Ruiz, probably swayed by those strong back-to-back rights, but Hector Hernandez from Mexico gave it to Valuev.

The fight was still up for grabs entering the championship rounds where one judge had the fight even, the two others were at 96-95 and 96-94 favoring Valuev.

It should also be noted that referee Stanley Christodoulou, from South Africa, had warned Valuev repeatedly throughout the fight for throwing elbows and holding but never deducted a point.

Ruiz slowed his punch output in the first half of the eleventh round while both fighters had marks showing under their eyes by this point. The judges were obviously confused in this round as two judges split the round and the other, Hernandez, scored it a draw.

Stone yelled at Ruiz during the break before the final round, much like Valuev’s trainer had implored his fighter to step up the action earlier.

Both fighters seemed to give what they had left in the final round with many ringside observers feeling Ruiz had won the round but two judges gave it to Valuev. The remaining judge, Milham, inexplicably scored the final round of a heavyweight championship match a draw.

In the end, one judge scored the fight 114-114, while the two remaining judges favored Valuev by scores of 116-114 and 116-113, giving the Russian the WBA title by majority decision.

“I worked 12 years for this moment,” Valuev said after the fight. “I excuse myself for not having the most beautiful performance but the most important thing is that I won the decision and the title.”

Ruiz felt he was robbed of his championship.

“I think this [decision] is ridiculous,” Ruiz said in his locker room after the fight. “This is a sad moment. Not only does this destroy me but it doesn’t do any good for boxing. It’s up to the people of Germany and around the world who saw this fight on TV to decide what they thought of this decision.”

Ruiz added: “Other that the [bad] decision, I loved everything about Berlin, Germany and its people. I’m gonna let them decide but I want a re-match. Boxing is on a path to destruction [with decisions like this].

Ruiz was also critical of the Christodoulou, who he said didn’t do enough to stop Valuev’s holding and elbows.

“The referee didn’t do his job. He should be fined. If they [referees] can’t maintain the rules its chaos in there.”

Ruiz’s attorney Anthony Cardinale said at the post-fight press conference that he would petition the WBA to review the fight and determine if a re-match is in order.

Ruiz did his part for sportsmanship when he and his entire team entered the ring wearing specially made warm-ups with the German national soccer team’s logo emblazoned across the front. This was done to wish the team good luck in the World Cup being staged in Germany in 2006 and to also pay tribute to Berlin and the people of Germany.


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Valuev "Wins" Decision -- Why Are We Not Surprised? 

He didn’t get a knockout, so the judges KO’d his title reign.

John Ruiz lost what all reports are calling a highly controversial majority decision to Nicolay Valuev Saturday night at the Max Schmeling Halle in Berlin, Germany. Valuev thus captures the WBA heavyweight belt from Ruiz.

The story on this fight by the French-based AFP had this headline:

Valuev wins controversial WBA heavyweight title

The European-based Reuters described this scene from ringside:

The sell-out 10,000 crowd in the Max-Schmeling arena booed loudly when the decision was announced even though Valuev, who is 2.13 meter (7ft) and 147 kg (324lbs), is based in Germany.

We await more detailed reports but once again everything indicates that most Europeans and Americans agreed that another robbery, as had been warned, has occurred in the ring.

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