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Recent article revives long-time quest
Lyle Fitzsimmons

By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Boxing Contributing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - I've never met Chris Mannix.

And I'm quite sure I wouldn't know him even if he walked into my office, plopped down in the chair alongside me and started rattling off myriad reasons why big-time sports writing has got to be the best "work" gig on Earth.

If he did visit, though, I know exactly how I'd welcome him.

I'd punch him in the mouth. Actually, I think I'd punch him twice.

But before you go thinking I'm some hair-trigger hothead incited by envy over dissimilar career curves, let me assure you that the one-two I'd deliver to my interloper's chops has nothing to do with the fact that he's something of a household name and I'm, well... not.

Rather, it'd be something of a science experiment...in the athletic sense.

Now that Mannix has put both his name and a pasty 6-foot-1, 185-pound frame in the ring for a three-round exhibition with junior lightweight elitist Juan Manuel Marquez -- he's become something of a muse for this garbage fish in the sport's journalistic aquarium.

Evander 'The Real Deal' Holyfield
Evander Holyfield and Sultan Ibragimov will square off against each other on
October 13.
And while I can't precisely speak for my fellow bottom-feeders, I do know that I read his recent piece on si.com with a mix of curiosity, amusement and the ever-present testosterone high that had me thinking, "I would have torn the guy's head off."

A theme that I'm guessing has flooded Mannix's reader mailbox ever since.

Meanwhile, just a day or two before I was notified of the article's existence, Ocala boxing guru Nick Fortuna and I were already telling any colleagues who'd listen that we'd stand a pretty good chance if ever gloved up against such a smallish foe, regardless of his in-ring acumen.

I stand an even six feet tall, weigh a moderately solid 160 pounds and can list the 2005 NYC Marathon and five Broad Street Runs among my athletic accomplishments.

Nick stands a shade over me at 6-foot-1, tips the scales in the 250-260 range -- depending on what he's brought in for breakfast -- and is an ex-varsity footballer at the College of New Jersey.

We are, by every measure, your garden variety athletic wannabes.

And though neither of us is mistaken for Ray Leonard at the speed bag or Rocky Balboa on the heavy version, I still believe our conclusions are correct -- especially compared to the largely accomplishment-free resume Mannix toted with him against Marquez.

With that said, I'd like to try an experiment of a slightly more visceral kind.

The heady midlife mix of hubris and ignorance has me wanting to take a step beyond Mannix, past the padded-glove and headgear exhibitions and into a legitimate four-round bout against a genuine, live (though preferably more green than world-class) 154- or 160-pound opponent.

The payoff for me -- I'd get a Plimpton-like insight no non-participatory writer could equal.

The payoff for you -- hopefully, it'd translate to an interesting lead to a future column.

And all kidding aside, it's an absolutely legitimate quest.

I started the wheels rolling in Pennsylvania a few years back, passed all the medical exams and actually had a bout scheduled with one Jim Scully -- a 1-5 super middle from West Chester -- but the card was eventually canceled and the idea forgotten for others more immediate.

Now that I'm a full-time Floridian with a slightly more forgiving work routine, I'd like to try it again. One time only -- win, lose or draw. And if there are any promoters, managers or general men-about-town who could make it happen, I'd appreciate an e-mail.

Thanks in advance.

Oh, and P.S. ... the payoff for Chris Mannix -- it's no big deal to be laughed at by a guy eating through a straw.

And now, coming to a theater near you this October -- it's Rocky IV.

The story of an aging American ex-heavyweight champ who travels to Moscow to take on an unbeaten and seemingly impenetrable new kingpin amid plaintive wails from the press that the ought-to-be-retired veteran is in for a frightful beating.

But thankfully this time, Stallone and Brigitte Nielsen are nowhere to be found.

Playing the role of the "Italian Stallion" will be former four-time title- holder Evander "Real Deal" Holyfield, who's graduated from the prime-time TV dance ranks to win four bouts in 12 months and position himself for a bit of intercontinental good fortune.

And, playing an infinitely less menacing Ivan Drago, is WBO belt-keeper Sultan Ibragimov.

Holyfield got said opportunity last week when the bout's scheduled other half, WBA champ Ruslan Chagaev, pulled out due to conveniently "unspecified" medical reasons -- perhaps not the least of which being no one actually cared about the event in its original make-up.

But conspiracy theory or not, the pull-out suddenly left Holyfield -- fresh off a pay-per-view defeat of long-time cannon fodder Lou Savarese in late June -- ready, willing and able to provide the much-needed publicity jolt longed for by "surprised" Ibragimov promoter Leon Margules.

"When a fighter pulls out of a major fight, it's always a headache for the other fighter and the promoter," said Margules, executive director for Seminole Warriors Boxing. "But this time, we have been able to put together another historic bout for fight fans as Evander Holyfield fights in Russia for the first time in his professional career and tries to make history.

"This will be an unforgettable night."

And it's not as if Holyfield hasn't been through it before.

The 44-year-old Georgian twice played the Drago role in all-American versions of the young/old screenplay -- initially defending his titles against 42-year- old George Foreman in Atlantic City and against similarly vintage champ Larry Holmes, also 42 at the time of their bout, a year later in Las Vegas.

Holyfield won both matchups back then, and claims that a win this time around will be the first stage of his quest to unify the fractured division.

Though, with far larger-scale obstacles -- the name Klitschko comes immediately to mind -- blocking the road these days, it's much more likely that a triumph will serve as swan song rather than kick start.

That's OK, I'm in no mood for a Dolph Lundgren film festival anyway.

Meanwhile, as a thumb-devouring newborn by comparison, there's Jean Pascal.

Just when it seemed his adopted French-Canadian brethren had abandoned boxing's upper echelons for ice hockey and Formula One racing, the burly 5- foot-11 super middleweight forcefully announced his in-ring presence on ESPN's most recent "Friday Night Fights" card.

Performing in front of a home crowd in Montreal -- complete with curvy go-go dancers swaying into and out of commercial breaks -- the 24-year-old improved to 18-0 as a pro with a punishing 12-round decision over former 160-pound world title challenger Kingsley Ikeke.

And though Ikeke had been out of the ring for 20 months since a KO loss to middleweight champ Arthur Abraham and was rising eight pounds to boot, the one-sided nature of Pascal's victory was no less noteworthy and impressive.

The Haitian-turned-Quebecois stalked his Nigerian-born foe with a palpable menace, walking defiantly through Ikeke's ineffectual busy work to land thudding body shots followed by looping overhand rights to the head.

The two had exchanged verbal jabs before the bout, with Ikeke claiming Pascal was "scared."

"He's talking trash because he's nervous," Pascal replied after the weigh-in. "I'm relaxed. I have a big smile. I'm not talking shit because I'm confident. I can't wait for the bell."

The game but outgunned Ikeke never fell but was also never in serious contention, losing unanimously on the scorecards by tallies of 118-110, 117-111 and 115-113 and dropping his overall career mark to 23-3.

The win was Pascal's first defense of the NABF title he won via 10th-round TKO of journeyman Christian Cruz in June. He scored stoppage wins in 12 of his first 14 bouts as a pro, but has gone the full 12 rounds in three of four fights since late 2006.

A two-tiered championship card in California's capital city highlights action this weekend.

One-loss left-hander Daniel Ponce de Leon defends his WBO super bantamweight title for the fifth time on Saturday night when he faces unbeaten Filipino slugger Rey "Boom Boom" Bautista in a 12-round main event at the Arco Arena in Sacramento.

Ponce de Leon, who turned 27 in late July, won a vacant title with a unanimous decision over alphabet-soup mainstay Sod Looknongyangtoy in October 2005. He's scored three stoppages and another scorecard-sweeping win since, last defeating ex-super flyweight champ Gerry Penasola via 12-round nod on March 17 in Las Vegas.

Bautista, just 21 years old, earned his shot by toppling fellow unbeaten Sergio Manuel Medina over 12 contentious rounds in a title eliminator in May. The 5-foot-6 right-hander had a point deducted for low blows in the fifth round and took a standing-eight count in the 11th, but nonetheless captured the verdict with scores of 116-108, 115-109 and 115-109.

Sharing the bill four pounds to the south will be WBO bantamweight kingpin Jhonny Gonzalez, who'll make the third defense of a crown he also won in October 2005 with a knockout of Thai incumbent Ratanachai Sor Vorapin. His challenger is Penasola, who's 51-6-2 overall but 0-5-1 in title bouts since 1998.

Gonzalez has had a tumultuous two-year reign -- seeing his initial title defense scrapped when challenger Mark Johnson couldn't make 118 pounds in February 2006, then losing via 10th-round TKO in a try for Israel Vazquez's WBC super bantam title seven months later. He stopped Irene Pacheco his last time out, winning via ninth-round TKO in Tucson, Ariz.

A second weekend event featuring two title bouts was scuttled by scheduling conflicts.

Veteran Stevie Johnston was set to face California-based challenger Rolando Reyes for the fringe-ish IBA lightweight belt and the vacant IBO laurels at Denver's Pepsi Center, but the card was called off by promoters, according to the Denver Post.

Also on the bill was an IBA light welterweight match between Adrian Mora and Ricky Quiles.

"We had two great title fights scheduled and we fully intend to reschedule the event as soon as possible," said Jeff Grmoja, vice president of Silverhawk Championship Boxing.

Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com. He is a periodic contributor to the Dave Smith Show, broadcast weekdays from 6 to 9 a.m. on Sporting News Radio (radio.sportingnews.com).

Jabs, hooks or knockouts, Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com.


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