NEW YORK — The year 2005 forced many fight promoters and boxing fans to look forward into the future. 2005 was a year of change and inevitable finishes. Zab Judah, Antonio Tarver, Jeff Lacy, Winky Wright, and Jermain Taylor all fulfilled their potential of becoming boxing’s biggest stars.
Judah began 2005 with the most impressive victory of his career. Fighting as an inevitable underdog in St. Louis, MO, Judah knocked out Cory Spinks to win the undisputed world welterweight title. 22,374 that packed the Savvis Center. The bout also set a new indoor-attendance record for a world title fight.
“Hunger and determination was the difference in this fight,” Judah said. “I begged and prayed for a second chance after the first fight.”
Judah knocked out two opponents in 2005 and already has two title defenses scheduled next year. Judah, following a Jan. 7 homecoming fight at The Theater of Madison Square Garden, has an April meeting against undefeated Floyd Mayweather.
Mayweather has a terrific 2005. He finally established himself as a pay-per-view main event headliner when he knocked out Arturo Gatti in the sixth-round to capture the WBC junior welterweight title in June. Mayweather’s boxing skills were on display, snapping Gatti’s head sideways with left jabs furious combinations.
Mayweather also defeated former two-time WBA 140-pound champion, Sharmba Mitchell in his first fight as a welterweight. IBF/IBF super middleweight champion, Jeff Lacy’s pursuit of WBO super middleweight champion, Joe Calzaghe continued in 2005. There were plenty of excuses as to why Calzaghe and Lacy couldn’t get together.
“SHOWTIME had November 5 reserved, Jeff was ready to fight in Cardiff, London, or any other home court venue Team Calzaghe desired,” said Lacy’s promoter, Gary Shaw. “Calzaghe’s promoter, I should have known he did not want Calzaghe to fight Jeff. Having Calzaghe take a meaningless fight against a meaningless opponent. Evans Ashira was the WBO’s No. 9-rated middleweight contender in its July 2005 ratings! Warren didn’t want rounds for Calzaghe, he wanted an escape hatch from fighting Jeff!”
Although Lacy did not fight Calzaghe in 2005, there was an announcement that Lacy would indeed challenge Calzaghe to a super middleweight championship unification fight in March ’06.
“My goal is to unify the super-middleweight division,” Lacy said at a press conference announcing his unification bout against Calzaghe. “If I cannot unify because I cannot leave the U.S.A., I do not consider myself a true champion. I have a lot of respect for Calzaghe, but I have to come over and win this world title.”
Lacy, in 2005, made three successful defenses of the IBF super middleweight championship all by knockout. Lacy remains undefeated at 21-0, 17 KOs.
When Lacy meets Calzaghe, it will be one of the biggest super middleweight title fights in history since Sugar Ray Leonard defeated Donnie Lalonde to become boxing’s inaugural 168-pound champion in November 1998.
Bernard Hopkins’ 10-year reign as undisputed world middleweight champion came an end by his apparent successor Jermain Taylor.
Hopkins has defeated every challenger he faced from Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad, Antwun Echols, Robert Allen, Syd Vanderpool, and Howard Eastman to name a few. Hopkins’ title loss to Taylor marked the 21st defense of the world middleweight championship, four shy of heavyweight great Joe Louis’ all-time mark of 25 consecutive defenses.
“I think after all the years that after reviewing my fights, especially these two fights with Jermain that I will be considered among the top middleweights and my fights will be mentioned along with all the other great middleweight fights in history,” Hopkins said.
Taylor, a former U.S. Olympian, has reached the peak of his career and is still undefeated. Taylor solidified his grip on the middleweight title throne by beating Hopkins in a December 3 rematch.
“Hopkins is great fighter,” Taylor said after his second victory against the former champion. “He came out there and at his age he gave it all. He is a very tricky fighter and he’s tough to really hit cleanly. You have to work to get him. But I beat him and I deserved the decision.”
In 2006, expect Taylor to fight the biggest threat to his championship reign, Winky Wright, who had an incredible 2005 himself. This year, Wright defeated the legendary Felix Trinidad in May. The previous year in ’04, Wright twice defeated Sugar Shane Mosley to become the first fighter in boxing to unify the world junior middleweight championship.
The heavyweight division, perhaps the weakest division in boxing, appeared to have become even weaker. Vitali Klitschko postponed his WBA heavyweight title fight against Hasim Rahman four times in 2005 due to injuries. Rahman would eventually be declared the new WBA heavyweight champion, while Klitschko retired as champion in emeritus.
“The decision to retire from professional sports was a very difficult one, one of the hardest I have ever had to make,” Klitschko said in a statement. “I love boxing and am proud to be the WBC and Ring [magazine] heavyweight champion. But I would like to end my career at its peak so I am retiring now as the champion to clear the way for my successors.”
John Ruiz, who lost the WBA heavyweight championship to James Toney, who was stripped after testing positive for steroids, lost the WBA heavyweight title on December 17 to undefeated, Nicolay Valuev in Germany. Valuev becomes the largest heavyweight champion in boxing history at 7′ 4,” 324 pounds.
In 2006, the world will pay very close attention as King attempts to bring the newly crowned undefeated WBA heavyweight champion to the United States. King also promotes IBF heavyweight champion, Chris Byrd and WBO heavyweight champion, Lamon Brewster.
Also, the legend of Iron Mike Tyson finally came to an end after losing another fight to a club-fighter. Tyson finally admitted that he does not have the fire in his stomach that he once and announced his retirement from boxing. Tyson quit on his stool in the sixth round of his fight against Kevin McBride in June.
I do not have the guts to be in this sport anymore,” Tyson said. “I don’t want to disrespect the sport that I love. My heart is not into this anymore.”
Roy Jones, Jr., one of the greatest fighters to have won championships in the middleweight, super middleweight, light-heavyweight, and heavyweight divisions, apparently has met the end of the road. In a rubber match, Jones dropped a unanimous decision against Antonio Tarver, who KO’d Jones in two rounds in April 2004. Jones is only a fraction of the fighter he once was and becomes easily rattled when he’s hit with a good punch.
In March 2006, Jones will face Hopkins, the man who he defeated to win his first world championship as a middleweight in May 1993. Both fighters careers took contrasting paths following their first battle and eventually achieving ultimate success. It is only appropriate they face each other to end their memorable careers.
2005 was a tragic year for Levander Johnson. In September, Johnson died after spending five days in coma following a brutal eleventh-round knockout loss to Jesus Chavez, Johnson was making the first defense of the IBF lightweight championship he waited his entire career to win. Johnson was 35.
“His passing is a terrible reminder of the dangers inherent in our sport of boxing,” said Lou DiBella of DiBella Entertainment, Johnson’s promoter. “Despite the high level of medical care and regulation in Nevada, it is also a reminder of that the health and safety of fighters must be protected to the greatest extent possible and that a national, uniform, health and safety regulations must be instituted and enforced.”
Johnson had won the IBF lightweight title just three months before his death when he knocked out hometown favorite Stefano Zoff in the seventh round in Italy.
Fights to watch in 2006: Roy Jones, Jr. vs. Bernard Hopkins – the best middleweight of the last decade vs. the best light-heavyweight of his time.
Jeff Lacy vs. Joe Calzaghe – a super middleweight championship unification of the WBO/IBF titles between two undefeated fighters entering the prime of their careers.
Hasim Rahman, once again the WBC heavyweight champion, has been mandated to fight James Toney and Oleg Maskaev. Jermain Jermain Taylor vs. Winky Wright – Having defeated former world champions Bernard Hopkins, Felix Trinidad, William Joppy, and Shane Mosley Taylor and Wright are both the No. 1 and No. 2 guys at 160. It’s only natural they fight each other in a compelling boxing match.
Also, Oscar De La Hoya returns to the junior welterweight division to challenge WBC 154-pound champion, Ricardo Mayorga. This This fight will determine just how much De La Hoya has left having not fought since his first KO loss by Bernard Hopkins in September 2004. A victory for Mayorga could elevate his career.