Friday, September 30, 2011

Do The Yankees Have Enough To Go All The Way?

By Rich Mancuso

We get to October and post season baseball. The New York Yankees are there again as AL East champions, the 17th time which surpassed the Atlanta Braves. And for Yankees fans, the organization, and the networks it is not October baseball if the Yankees are not a part of it.

The journey to the World Series and championship number 28 begins Friday evening in the Bronx. The Yankees will host Detroit in the best of five ALDS for the first two games Friday and Saturday evening.

In fact, the Yankees, even with a share of injuries to players, and with a suspect pitching staff went beyond expectations even if they had the highest payroll in baseball. Because they utilized veterans Freddie Garcia and Bartolo Colon, at the backend of a rotation, they got more than expected and with the ineffectiveness of A.J. Burnett, Garcia and Colon made a difference on the mound. Though Colon, in the second half, showed age and innings got to him and was not that effective.

Despite the outspoken objections from GM Brian Cashman about spending $43 million on the contract of bullpen set-up man Rafael Soriano, who sat out two months with a shoulder injury, the pen is one of the strong points that favor New York in October. In the end, Soriano in the pen makes the Yankees tough to beat in later innings that are close. Manager Joe Girardi can get seven innings from his starter, and it is a perfect set up getting to Mariano Rivera baseball’s all-time saves leader after he reached a milestone 602 save in mid September. And there is David Robertson the one-out specialist who leads all American League relievers in earned run average.

Robinson Cano had a MVP type season, the captain Derek Jeter achieved a milestone 3,000 career hit, showing no signs of an aging veteran, and Alex Rodriguez with knee, hip and thumb ailments is still a viable threat in the lineup. A potent lineup that once again led baseball in home runs, maybe attributed to the friendly confines of the new Yankee Stadium.

Regardless of how far they go, networks that televise the baseball post season, Fox and TBS, are thrilled that the Yankees are playing in October again and hope that they go deep and advance to another World Series. Because the Yankees are a vital cog to baseball network coverage when it comes to the ratings and revenue, and fans will watch because most of America has that anti Yankees approach. They like to see the second most expensive sports franchise go out the window early.

But an early exit for the Yankees may not happen. If their ace on the mound, CC Sabathia goes deep into the ballgame, the pen will take over. Rivera, who had some struggles, a 42-year old arm will do that from time-to-time, is considered the best post season reliever in baseball history. The rotation is set with the rookie Ivan Nova making more of an impression with every start. A.J. Burnett could come out of the pen and Phil Hughes, questionable for the first round, in September showed some side effects from a bad shoulder that sidelined him most of the season.

Yes, there are questions and a first round best of five with Detroit could be trouble for New York. There could be an eventual showdown with the Boston Red Sox, the adversaries and a team New York had constant struggles with again in 2011, that is, until the Red Sox had a late season collapse. But that showdown would be ideal for the networks because New York and Boston is the rival series in sports. A best of seven and who goes to the World Series will be a ratings bonanza.

But what defines the 2011 Yankees is their versatility and awareness once again that they came up short in 2010. The veterans such as Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, as well as the manager Joe Girardi know anything less than an appearance or winning of the World Series is a failure.

So the mission since leaving the field and losing to Texas in the ALCS last October was try and forget how close they got to defending championship number 27, and get number 28, back to the Bronx. Ownership, Cashman, Girardi and the Yankees believe they have the nucleus to do that, and saw a solid year from Jeter, MarkTeixeira, Curtis Granderson and possible MVP candidate Robinson Cano.

They may be older, this Yankees roster that begins the October part of their campaign, the second oldest in baseball. Though the wave of talented youngsters in the organization made some stops in the Bronx this season including rookie catcher Jesus Montero, considered one of their top prospects. And Eduardo Nunez, the 22-year old got a taste of the big club last season and is a versatile infield backup who filled in when Jeter and Rodriguez hit the disabled list.

Brett Gardner and Jeter, they get on base and what follows is a lot of runs scored again. In the end it comes down to that starting pitching. All in all, predicting the outcome of a short series in October is not easy. Good pitching will get you far in the post season.

But, will that pitching be enough for the Yankees to get championship number 28 and another parade down the Canyon of Heroes on Broadway? Time will tell as October baseball is here.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sergio Martinez Is The True Middleweight Champ If He Handles England’s Darren Barker

By Rich Mancuso

Lou DiBella continues to say that Sergio Martinez is the number one fighter in the world. His middleweight champion does not have the title, stripped because of boxing politics. So after wins over Kelly Pavlik and Paul Williams he gets a title called the WBC Diamond belt. That can be an insult, but the 36-year old from Argentina will be in discussion as the number one fighter if he defeats the undefeated, 23-0, Darren Barker of England at Boardwalk Hall Saturday evening in Atlantic City.

Sensing the urgency that Martinez is at the pinnacle of his career, DiBella, who is co-promoting the HBO televised fight, has every reason to petition his fighter into bigger paydays. Possibly a future meeting with Manny Pacquiao or Miguel Cotto, if Martinez decides to move down in weight, though there should be no inkling of looking past Barker.

Martinez has difficulty conveying his message in English. He leaves that to DiBella and his advisor Samson Lewkowicz. They say Martinez gets limited credit for defeating Williams in a first round knockout last year at Boardwalk Hall. Maybe boxing fans give Martinez minimal credit, but the boxing writers gave that KO an award as knockout of the year.

“I respect Sergio but from the first time I saw him I know what it will take to defeat him,” said Barker Wednesday afternoon in New York City at the final press conference. Barker wants to prove he belongs in the ring with Martinez. He was not a mandatory challenger and should he pull off an upset, DIBella and Martinez will be eating their words because there will no longer will be a discussion about lucrative pay days.

But, a fight like this is what makes boxing a compelling sport. We don’t know much about Barker, with the exception that he can throw a punch and Martinez will have to use his defense to stop him. “We worked on more tactics and strategy this time,” Martinez said through an interpreter. “I worked on my speed and endurance. I want my title back. It was taken from me. I can’t focus on that now. Barker is first and I will take it from there.”

Every time DIBella puts Martinez in discussion as the number one fighter, the ultimate debate begins. Better than Manny Pacquiao, or Floyd Mayweather Jr.? The New York City based promoter has petitioned Top Rank promoter Bob Arum for Pacquiao. They never seem to get to first base. Arum has a plan for Pacquiao, one for Cotto and Antonio Margarito. Mayweather is another situation, and with Arum focused on Pacquiao defending his welterweight title against Juan Manuel Marquez, any plan for Sergio Martinez at the moment gets the silent treatment.

But DiBella believes Martinez deserves to be in the discussion towards getting a lucrative opportunity in the ring with Pacquiao or Cotto. Martinez has heard that Pacquiao mentioned his name. “He said if I went down to 150, he would fight me,” says Martinez. “I gave the go ahead. I will fight him. I am waiting for an answer.”

Cotto and Margarito are concentrating on their fight at Madison Square Garden December 3rd. Martinez is planning to be there at ringside, something that will make things interesting if all goes to plan Saturday evening on the boardwalk. “I hope Margarito wins because Cotto won’t fight me,” says Martinez. That has nothing to do with weight or Cotto avoiding Martinez. It is an issue that DiBella has been elaborating with Arum over the past year.

“Bob won’t give Sergio a chance and we have to do what is best for boxing,” says DiBella about the situation. So for now, Martinez is this talented fighter looking for opponents. The WBC middleweight title belt now belongs to another Arum fighter, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. “I want to recover that belt but he is avoiding me also,” says Martinez about a potential fight with Chavez.

The suggested Martinez fight with Chavez could mean big business. “But that dream is going away from me,” he says. “I am focused right now on Barker. I can’t look beyond that. I can’t plan on anyone beyond Saturday. If things go the way as the styles show then I should win this fight by knockout. He has a good style and good skill.”

So there is every reason to believe that Sergio Martinez will continue this path to bigger paydays. Pavli k and Williams were bigger in size that puts him in that category to be considered as the number one rated fighter. And that question will remain unanswered until the big fight comes, and Barker, as much as he has the reputation in England, is relatively unknown here.

That makes boxing interesting. And what makes Sergio Martinez interesting is to come to know the unexpected.

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The Last Day At Citi Field With The Mets Had Some Highlights

By Rich Mancuso

Jose Reyes was the major agenda at Citi Field Wednesday afternoon as the New York Mets concluded their third straight losing season with a 3-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds. Playing his last game as a New York Met, because Reyes is a free agent, he entered the game as the National League batting leader. And it became an interesting story in the first inning, when Reyes, leading off, hit a bunt single and was removed for Justin Turner.

A majority of the slim crowd immediately offered their displeasure at manager Terry Collins. But it was Collins answering for his star shortstop. Reyes asked his manager to remove him from the game if he got a hit in the first inning. So Reyes left Citi Field in the late afternoon as the NL hit leader at .337 and was going towatch how Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers faired later in the evening, second at .335 and would need at least three hits to surpass Reyes.

“I wanted to stay in the game, but Mets fans have to understand, too , what’s going on,” said Reyes who planned to watch the Brewers game against Pittsburgh with a circle of family and friends at his home in Long Island. If Reyes wins the batting title he would be the first Met to do so, and according to his Major League baseball contract there would be no extra incentives granted.

Reyes, doing what he did, made for plenty of controversy. He admitted after a Mets 13-inning loss, the night before to the Reds, that he would not get much sleep. He said the batting title would be a significant accomplishment and something his people in the Dominican Republic would want. And, Reyes made no reference to his free agency having more value if he secured the batting title.

Collins, who had respect of his players all season, and rewarded with an option on his contract to manage through the 2013 season said, “I heard some comments in the stands. I don’t blame them. People pay a good price to come to these games. “You’ve got to understand that I ask these players to do a lot. We worked hard to get their respect this year and they deserve ours.”

It was an emotional Collins making that statement in his last post game press conference. When asked about Reyes, Collins was obviously holding back tears. His teammate David Wright had no objection to what Reyes did, though some Major League players had their opinion in social media circles and did not agree what Reyes decided to do.

“I guess everybody is entitled to their opinion but in order to win a batting title you have to have a certain number of plate appearances during the course of a year,” said David Wright a teammate of Reyes the past eight years. “I don’t see what the big deal is. I don’t think it’s fair criticism to get one more plate appearance? He had a great year and we are all rooting for him to win the batting title.”

Reyes was trying to become the 11th different shortstop to win the batting title and first since Florida’s Henley Ramirez hit .342 that led the National League in 2009. As to this being his last game as a New York Met, said Reyes, “A lot of stuff is going through my mind. At the same time, I know what is going on. I am going to be a free agent. So we are going to see what happens in the next few weeks.”

And Reyes heard the fans during the game, chant, “Please stay, Jo-se” They chanted again when Reyes sprinted out of the dugout after Miguel Batista threw the last pitch and got the complete game victory. “I want to stay here,” he said. “We see what happens.”

Alderson said the decision to pick up the option of Collins; contract was attributed to a lot of factors. “The way he communicates in the clubhouse and is appreciated by the players was a large part of it and he is committed to the organization,” he said. You heard the words from Mets players all season, and most who don’t know where they will be next season were all in agreement that Terry Collins was a player’s manager.

“He is patient, taught me a lot this year,” said Ruben Tejada who Collins has always said was developing into a fine player. Tejada could be a successor to Reyes at short, if not he certainly has earned a spot to be the regular second baseman in 2012. Tejada has one hit in 15 of the last 17 games and finished the season hitting .284. He also showed a flashy glove in the infield and has developed plenty of respect in the clubhouse.

Collins said about his contract, “It’s certainly an honor. I’m very proud of the way the player’s have played. Manager’s we get extended and we get a contract because you team plays well and hard. As I said in spring training we asked them to come out and play the game right, and they have.” He added the wins and losses could have been better, and enjoyed the experience of his first year in New York and watching young players develop.

Alderson is holding a post season press conference with the media Thursday afternoon at Citi Field. Surely questions will be asked about Collins’ coaching staff and word is all should return including pitching coach Dan Warthen though reportedly third base coach Chip Hale will take a coaching job with good friend Bob Melvin, manager of the Oakland Atheltics. Mets are leaning to returning starter Chris Capuano, a spring training signee who made over 31 starts and was the bad luck starter Tuesday night and did not fair in the decision.

“I am proud of pitching a full season and pitching every fifth day,” said Capuano who enjoyed New York City and finished with a 11-12 record and 4.55 ERA. “That was a big positive for me. The last time I threw a full season was ’06, 07. I threw over 200 inning s in ’06 and had less in ’07. There are some numbers I’d like to improve on. I guess I’d like to get that ERA a little lower….”

One uncertain player in the Mets clubhouse is outfielder Angel Pagan. Team doctors shut him down for the final three games with the Reds after Pagan sustained a mild concussion in the previous series with the Phillies. Though Pagan claimed it was not serious and wanted to play the final games. But there is more.

If Alderson can’t find another outfielder in the offseason there is talk he will be looking to convert Jason Bay into a centerfielder. Pagan, a close confident of the traded Carlos Beltran, fell in bad flavor with teammates on three separate occasions including a game in July when he asked to be removed from a game in Texas because of the excessive heat.

He had the boxes packed Tuesday evening and was ready to return home to Puerto Rico early Thursday morning. As players packed their bags, hugged each other and said their goodbyes, Pagan quickly got dressed and stayed away from the media. A fan of welterweight boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, Pagan plans to rest for a few weeks, go into an offseason workout plan and attend the Pacquiao fight in Las Vegas in November. It won’t be his last visit to New York this year as Pagan plans to attend the Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito fight at Madison Square Garden in December.

“I have seven good years left in me,” he said. Packing two pairs of Nike shoes sent by Pacquiao, he said, “Someone will pick me up if I am not here next year.” He was not petitioning to keep his roster spot, and as players walked in and out of a back room to the clubhouse, it seemed the only communication was Pagan and getting out of town.

Miguel Batista, the 40-year old former Arizona Diamondback pitched the season ending two-hit shutout and was raving about his former team that is headed to the post season for the fifth time in their young history. As to his future, signed as a late season addition when cut by the St. Louis Cardinals, he said, “This is an organization with talent that will win. I felt good, my pitches had velocity and I know I can help these guys next year.

Mets finished the season with a final 77-85 record good for fifth place in the National League east, 25 games behind the first place Phillies… A final wrap up on the season with the Alderson press conference, and more from behind the scenes on the final game of the 2011 season at Citi Field coming tomorrow.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Nonito Donaire Just Wants The Right Opportunity And It Is Coming

By Rich Mancuso

Maybe Nonito Donaire needed the deserved attention last week when he appeared in New York City with Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito. He will defend his bantamweight title, at the WAMU Theatre at Madison Square Garden, against undefeated Argentinean champion Omar Narvaez October 22. It is the Garden, not the main arena, but a huge fight for Donaire who will make his debut on the east coast.

The task ahead is to defeat Narvaez, undefeated in 35 fights with two draws. It won’t be easy. “I need to be at my best and train hard for this fight,” said Donaire last week at a New York press conference where Cotto and Margarito were showcased on their media tour to promote their upcoming battle at the Garden on December 3rd. “it is definitely something I have to take seriously,” he said.

The boxing world took notice of Donaire in February when he knocked out Fernando Montiel in the second round for the title. After that there were contract issues that made news. Top Rank and Golden Boy promotions were in a legal battle for his contract. Golden Boy said they had his rights and in the end Bob Arum won the fight. With that over, Donaire was ready to continue a journey that he hopes will eventually, but not top, Manny Pacquiao. The connection is Donaire and Pacquiao are two champions from the Philippines.

“I am happy to be with Top Rank,” he says. “I don’t want to be compared to Pacquiao. He has done great things for the sport of boxing. We are two different people. I respect what he has done. I want to fight the best.” Donaire, after his fight in New York has expressed an interest in moving up the ladder. There are plans to fight at 126, possibly looking at taking on current featherweight champion Yuriorkis Gamboa.

Arum has envisioned Donaire to be in the marketing plan at Top Rank. Showcasing the 28-year old southpaw in New York City is a start. There is a large contingent of Filipino boxing fans in New York, and exposure fighting at the Garden, known as The Mecca, will only help his cause. “Great to show my talents to the many Filipinos in the New York area,” he said about his bout that will be televised on HBO.

But will Donaire be able to take on Gamboa, if indeed this is the last fight at bantamweight? He was not included in the Showtime tournament that has become the Abner Mares and Joseph Agbeko show. He could not wait for the opportunity to fight Mares, so it was his decision to move on. “I want to fight the best out there and if it is not at 122 it can be 126,” he says.

Arum could care less where Donaire decides to go. He has always envisioned his fighter to be marketable and moving up in weight could lead to pay-per-view fights. Arum was asked about an eventual meeting of Donaire opposing Gamboa. As expected there was no definite answer, and if that fight happens it all depends on what occurs at the Garden. And Gamboa has expressed an interest of fighting as a junior lightweight, but that should not deter Doinaire.

“I don’t want to look ahead,” he says, “but for me I want to fight the best out there. Gamboa said he is moving up in weight but is willing to move down to fight me. I will be glad for boxing if we can get the best fights. I am all about that. I want to be the best. It will be an amazing fight if Gamboa wants to face me.”

To which Arum commented, “Right now Gamboa has a plan. It is still too early to be talking about a Donaire-Gamboa fight. Look anything can happen between now and then. Right now Ninito is focused on fighting in New York City. This will be a great fight with Narvaez. The talents of Nonito will be seen and what better way to do that than at Madison Square Garden.”

But Arum missed a golden opportunity in the past year. A mega fight that would have showcased two of the top featherweights, Gamboa and Juan Manuel Lopez was in the plans, and the possible venue was New York City. Lopez would lose his title and Gamboa continued his title reign so that fight never happened. Now, with Donaire looking for the bigger opportunity, Arum may get some redemption and have a bigger fight if Gamboa and Donaire meet.

“I want to make that statement that Nonito is to be feared,” he says. Donaire has the speed and power to resemble Pacquiao at times. However, as proud as he is about his heritage, Donaire does not want to be compared to the welterweight champion. “We are two different people, two different fighters,” he says The boxing fan has decided they are two different fighters, and the Filipino community has not caught on with him as they are so immersed with the exploits of Pacquiao.

Bu that could start to change once Pacquiao decides to hang up the gloves. Donaire may just be getting started, and the right place is fighting at Madison Square Garden in New York City even if it is not before 19,000 fans. The Theatre seats a little over 5,500, but the exposure and fighting a world class fighter will help his cause.

“I am given the opportunity and I have to present myself,” says Donaire. Defeating Montiel was a first step, settling the promotional contract was another, and now New York City awaits him.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Victor Ortiz: Mayweather Is A Bad Image For Boxing

By Rich Mancuso

Victor Ortiz admits he made a mistake Saturday night in that fourth round WBC welterweight title defense against Floyd Mayweather Jr. Even if a fighter is supposed to protect himself, at all times, as Ortiz supposedly did not follow,
he admits that Mayweather is not good for boxing and that referee Joe Cortez mishandled the entire situation.

It may sound like sour grapes coming from Ortiz. He wants the rematch that his promoters at Golden Boy have been petitioning since that awkward ending. Mayweather did consent for the return bout but is the new and undefeated controversial champion going to consent or take another 16-month hiatus from the ring?

“Golden Boy is pressing for the rematch but it is not classy for him to not give me the rematch,” said Ortiz about Mayweather in an interview with this reporter early Thursday evening. The former champion is relaxing and reviewing went wrong in Oxnard California. He says the championship belt will be his again even if means not meeting Mayweather in the near future.

“It is definitely not the last time I will have that title,” he says. The 147-pound weight is something that Ortiz believes he can handle. There has been no discussion about what would come after the devastating loss. The potential for a rematch is very unlikely at this point, though Manny Pacquiao, someone Ortiz has also expressed an interest in meeting, could be an eventual opponent. The first waves about the rematch with Mayweather came when Oscar De La Hoya, President of Golden Boy Promotions announced that Oritz deserved another chance at meeting Mayweather.

Though Ortiz may have lost some value after that devastating fourth round knockout, and appeared to be in a mismatch with Mayweather, he believes that the corner head butt in that round was a mistake. But Ortiz still contends, “Mayweather was paranoid what he did,” referring to the so-called sucker punch and right hand that stunned Ortiz and now a fight that is classified as one of the most bizarre endings in the sport.

Again, Ortiz is probably defending himself when he says the punch by Mayweather was not proper. A majority saw that Mayweather had command of the fight until that point, but there is every reason to understand that Ortiz was getting to Mayweather. His punches landed more and Mayweather seemed to have some problems with adjusting to how Ortiz improved his defense. More so, Ortiz and his corner informed Cortez about Mayweather in the pre fight instructions. They wanted to see a clean fight and Mayweather not using the elbow to his advantage.

Ortiz would not fault Cortez for the loss though he felt the experienced referee was distracted with news that his mom passed away earlier that day. That was something not known, though when reviewing the fight, Cortez issued a warning to Ortiz after the head butt and quickly had his eyes off Mayweather when the punch was thrown.

When asked if it was his inexperience that caused him to head butt Mayweather, and why he apologized to him before the punch heard around the world, Ortiz said, “I saw the fear in his eyes. I figured I was in the wrong. It was a mistake.” He also said that “Mayweather has no sportsmanship,” when asked to comment about what was said between the two fighters at the conclusion. Though the video shows Mayweather going to Ortiz in the corner when the fight was over, Ortiz said the new seven- time and five-division champion never said anything to him though the video shows otherwise.

“He never said anything to me,” said Ortiz reiterating that Mayweather has no sportsmanship. People can say what they want to say, my stock went up,” refuting claims that Victor Ortiz, after what occurred, may never see another huge payday.

Pacquiao is the other fighter that Ortiz envisions for the future. And perhaps an Ortiz-Pacquiao fight can be made, assuming Mayweather and Pacquiao don’t meet in the next year. “Pacquiao of course,” says Ortiz, if he does not get another opportunity to meet Mayweather again. And as much as Victor Ortiz gained some stock and value when he dethroned Andre Berto earlier this year, this devastating loss to Mayweather was a lesson and he still has some value because he went in the ring and defended against who many say has established a legacy.

“We can settle this as professional athletes, if he says he is as good as he is,” said Ortiz. He was content that the misery of a bad defeat was over. It is time to move on and continue fighting at welterweight after some long awaited rest and relaxation. “I can hold my weight at 147,” he says. Ortiz said he will also attempt to visit New York City in December and observe Miguel Cotto defending his welterweight title against Antonio Margarito at Madison Square Garden.

But the voice sounds assertive and so is the confidence that he can gain control over this loss and another meeting with Mayweather will have a different outcome. But the Mayweather attitude is something that he believes boxing should not tolerate.

He did not see the in- ring post fight interview that had Mayweather and HBO commentator Larry Merchant having words that were not appropriate coming from a champion. He later observed how Merchant stood his ground with Mayweather.

“Mayweather showed what type of example he is, a bad image for boxing,” claims Ortiz. And whether you agree or not what Ortiz did to Mayweather, perhaps to save himself from a fight that was going away, one has to also give him credit for speaking out about his new adversary.

It made for good boxing theatre and if indeed there is a rematch surely fight fans will have the interest. They always do because of Floyd Mayweather, but now there is another dimension to it. Because Victor Ortiz finally arrived more so with the loss to Mayweather and not the championship win over Andre Berto.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Miguel Cotto Says This Time It Is Another Chapter With Antonio Margarito

By Rich Mancuso

This time when Miguel Cotto meets Antonio Margarito he says there will be a difference. They will meet again at Madison Square Garden in New York City on December 3rd, a fight televised on HBO Pay-Per-View at 153 pounds. There will be intense scrutiny by the New York state Athletic Commission when Margarito gets his hands wrapped and puts the gloves on. That was established Tuesday afternoon in New York City at the Edison Ballroom, the second stop of a three-day four-city tour that also includes Puerto Rico, Los Angeles and Mexico City.

“The thing with Margarito was 2008 the chapter that was closed in that book,” commented Cotto about the first fight in July 2008. That is a night that saw Cotto with a battered face, dethroned of the WBA welterweight title in the 11th round. The result was talk about Cotto being done, that he no longer had it. Cotto would rebound later, and Margarito, after winning the title from Shane Mosely, would eventually see his boxing license suspended for using tainted hand wraps under his gloves.

So a lot transpired since their first encounter. Both fighters went to war with Manny Pacquiao and Cotto, quietly had been seeking this rematch for revenge. He leaves business to the promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank and in the last year made it known that Margarito is what he wanted, and at Madison Square Garden his favorite venue where he is undefeated in six fights.

Though Cotto does admit he did have flaws in that first fight and will make no excuses or accusations that Margarito had tainted hand wraps then. But for the first time he showed writers a picture on his cell phone that was given to him earlier this year. It indicated a tear in the wrapped hands of Margarito. There was evidence of a tear with the tape and gauze. Again this was pure speculation by Cotto and he will not make accusations. However, the facts later on make one to believe that Margarito had an unfair advantage, even if Cotto that night was not at his best.

Margarito remains silent about the hand wrap controversy except when he is asked. “I never used any illegal bandages. I can’t change the opinions of everyone. I always fought clean. He claims to have paid his dues and the subject is a thing of the past. He is also promoted by Arum and never went against his Mexican fighter when it came to the hand wrap issue. A win this time would put everything in perspective. He takes care of business in New York and Antonio Margarito indeed has the number of Miguel Cotto. Though the early line favorite is Cotto gets a commanding win and vengeance for what happened a few years ago in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Arena.

“I accept my defeat like a man,” says Cotto about that uneventful evening in Las Vegas. “It’s the first time I show the pictures to anybody,” referring to the Margarito wraps. “I over trained and won’t make the same mistakes again. I will be watching the first fight again soon to see what I did wrong.” He did not have the veteran Emanuel Steward in his corner then and he will once again have him for the third time in his corner at the Garden.

Steward was able to correct some flaws when he worked with Cotto the first time in June of 2010 at Yankee Stadium, a Cotto 9th round TKO and defense of the WBA title over Yuri Foreman.

“He is sharp and will be ready at 154,” said Steward when reached for comment because was preparing Andy Lee for his rematch with Brian Vera. “Nothing will go wrong. We will watch the wraps and the gloves. Miguel has picked it up and learned what went wrong the first time.”

And with vengeance obviously on his mind, though Cotto will never show a vindictive trait, Margarito could see the same approach that was used in March. Ricardo Mayorga, saw enough punishment before being stopped by TKO in the 12th round in the WBA super world light middleweight title fight. Cotto was aggressive and finally put Mayorga on the mat in that final round. It was vintage Cotto, punching with authority, and throwing combinations that propelled him to be a three division world champion.

“I’m going to give it all my body and soul to make this a great match,” said Cotto, (36-2-28 KO’s) one of those in the loss column coming to Pacquiao. He reiterated, ”It’s going to be the same as last time but the ending will be different.” Meaning of course, the punishment this time will show on the face of Margarito who is fully recovered from an injured eye socket that occurred when he lost to Pacquiao last November.

Cotto insisted also that the fight be at 153. Margarito says that is unfair and that Cotto should be at 154. “If he is a real champion he should fight at 154,” says Margaritio. And Cotto would later respond that the weight was not an issue. His win over Margarito will tell the story that the first loss was because Margarito was with the advantage, once again briefly making reference to the hand wrap controversy.

“Boxing is a sport when you use your skills,” said Cotto. “He played with my health and that’s not fair.” The wraps for both fighters will be placed in a suitcase prior to the fight and inspected by the New York Commission at the weigh-in. So there could be an end to the issue about Antonio Margarito and hand wraps that have tarnished his career.

Arum stated the Garden has a record advance gate for the fight with an undercard that also includes the undefeated Mike Jones, another of the rising stars in the welterweight division and junior welterweight Pawel Wolak. And Cotto always sells out the Garden with a strong contingent of Puerto Rican fans from New York City.

But this is not about Puerto Rico against Mexico. It is the fight that Cotto wanted and he anticipates the coming months of training, saying he is a much more matured fighter with his new team under the direction of Steward.

“We accepted 153 because we don’t want Antonio Margarito to make any excuses,” says Cotto. Indeed this looks like it could be another chapter though this time a different and better one for Miguel Cotto.

Monday, September 19, 2011

VIDEO: Interview with Former Boxing Heavyweight Champion "Merciless" Ray Mercer

It’s not everyday that you get to sit down and straight shoot with a former Olympic Gold Medalist and former World Heavyweight Boxing champion – especially when you’ve been a fan of the sport since you were two years old. So a couple of weeks ago, I got the chance to meet one of the heavyweight greats, “Merciless” Ray Mercer.

We were both attending a local MMA Expo Event in Atlantic City, NJ and just happened to end up sitting next to each other when we got so board out of our minds, we had nothing better to do than to make fun of the fights and fighter were were watching. After a couple of beers, Ray and I talked a little shop about the state of the boxing industry and the growth of the MMA world. Collectively, we thought this would make some good content to record and show off to the fans of both worlds. But after chugging nearly a case of Red Stripe beer, who wanted to work that night? So we ultimately agreed to meet up the next morning at the meet and greet convention to shoot from where Ray was scheduled to be signing autographs.

After getting to know Ray somewhat over a couple of brewski’s, I got a better sense of his humor. One thing that you rarely get to see in interviews is both the interviewer and interviewee loosening up and getting the opportunity to speak the truth. How often do newscasters and reporters carefully construct their questions and rebuttals? Even when delivering hard hitting questions, reporters maintain a safe distance while beating around the bush of what they really want to ask. At the same time, the person being interviewed must maintain their composure and carefully field the questions in an effort uphold their public image. You immediately sense the stiffness and often wish that the broadcast journalist and subject would just loosen up and conduct themselves like “two guys talking”.

The personalities who have the confidence to pull it off – or at least have the gall to give it a shot – are few and far between. Figures like Howard Stern and Bill Mahr deliver the burning questions and witty comebacks that any journalist secretly wishes they could execute on a public forum. You may argue that the barriers between professional journalistic integrity and entertainment are worlds apart. To some extent I agree. Sometimes viewers rather have their “news” fed to them in a manner that is socially acceptable and prefer not to stray from what they’ve only ever known…. But that’s where I differ. And that is where the DieHard Derek persona becomes more unique than the others who hold the mic. This is what makes the content more unique than the same repackaged material that is being broadcast on multiple networks through the constant boredom of cloned stiff talking heads.

You know who appreciates it more than anyone else?… The person being interviewed. They’re relaxed and at ease with the freedom to smile, laugh and be normal, rather than the puppets the public perceives them as. For a moment you share a bond and strengthen your comfort levels at the risk of spontaneity. If you don’t believe me – then you’ll notice the shift in mood during this interview which starts off as your ordinary “stiff” exchange of question and answers, and quickly shifts gears to two guys having a blast talking to each other. You be the judge!

In this interview, Ray Mercer talks about his infamous fight with Tommy Morrison, the state of the sport of boxing, his transition to MMA and his fights with Tim Sylvia and Kimbo Slice, and some choice words for HBO boxing commentator Larry Merchant!

**WARNING** – This video may not be suitable for all audiences due to language.

**Don't forget to connect with DieHard Derek on his pro wrestling blog, online wrestling videos site, Facebook and Twitter.

It Was Larry Merchant Who Took The Punch From Mayweather

By Rich Mancuso

It was not the Victor Ortiz head butt or the hug, apology, and kiss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. or that referee Joe Cortiz did not have his eyes on the fighters. It was the Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Larry Merchant show on HBO Pay-Per-View, in a ring at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas Saturday night.

And it was one of the most awkward moments in boxing, an ending that may have topped the Mike Tyson bite of the ear to Evander Holyfield in their championship fight. It was boxing theatre, the appropriate term for an evening that had us talking more about Mayweather and Larry Merchant. And for boxing and fans, another travesty that brings more negativity rather than the positive aspects at a time when the sport is supposed to be at a momentum.

Because Floyd Mayweather Jr. continues to be the villain and not a champion, even if he won another title and continued to secure his legacy as a seven- time and five division champion. It does not justify making a post fight interview into pro wrestling theatre. The 80-year old Merchant could have made this more interesting had he took a shot at Mayweather. And as much as Merchant can get under your skin at times, boxing deserves better. Merchant, and for that matter any professional journalist or broadcaster, should not have to take abuse, threats, or embarrassment in attempting to get the answer.

You knew it was coming. It could be seen. Mayweather thrives to be in the spotlight and in all fairness it was time to address his fans and the boxing world. Merchant was ready with the ammunition and instead we get a confrontation that has become chemistry of this era of new school boxing. The question was coming that Mayweather was not ready to answer, his long awaited meeting with Manny Pacquiao.

It was better than scripts WWE writers put together every week, and something Mayweather knows something about having been a part of a main event two years ago for a WWE WrestleMania event opposing the Big Show. Mayweather was the big show, the bully, and give Merchant credit for standing tall. That moment in the ring has made highlight reels, already getting a record number of views in this age of technology. But the encounter should not be something known as a defining moment for boxing. It was a disgrace and became more of a storyline than the Mayweather punch that dethroned Ortiz of his WBC welterweight title.

And if HBO enjoyed the moment, it is further humiliation to Merchant who at a time last year appeared to be walking on thin ice with the cable network. There have been awkward and contentious moments in sports with media and athletes. We have seen Jim Grey of the Showtime Boxing broadcast team put the controversial Pete Rose on the spot on network television regarding Rose admitting his guilt to gambling on the game of baseball. Mike Tyson in a post fight interview was always an adventure. The tolerance of boxing theatre in the ring after a fight went beyond the spectrum Saturday night.

There has never been any public feud with Mayweather and Merchant, not to the knowledge of those close to the situation. It was Mayweather in character, and Merchant ready with the question about Pacquiao igniting a spark that lit the fire. Except there is nothing that can stop the fire with Mayweather, or for that matter any of the unjustified actions that take place during or fight or post fight ring interview.

Boxing has become pure theatre. HBO executives were heard to say they loved the theatre, so did the promoters, Mayweather one of them. Because this was more thrilling theatre that will cause those who did not purchase the pay-per-view to order HBO or watch the replay next Saturday night, meaning ratings and more money in the pockets of promoters and those who believe they are putting boxing back on top.

There is no reason to rehash the confrontation. Though Merchant may have had the lines of his career, his legacy as a boxing broadcaster, when he responded to Mayweather, “If I was 50 years younger I would kick your ass.” Then Merchant, as the professional went back to business and had his moment with Victor Ortiz. Merchant held his composure and Mayweather went about his business to tell the world that Pacquiao was carrying his name, something that still does not answer if the fight will be made next year.

Mayweather has etched his name in stone as a Boxing Hall of Famer. The knockout over Ortiz should not be considered a defining moment of his legacy until he meets Pacquiao. Ortiz wants a rematch that may not be warranted or offered, though Mayweather has consented. Perhaps this is another way for Mayweather to avoid Pacquiao for another 16 months. There is anger in the face of Floyd Maywether Jr. and Larry Merchant was the victim of a verbal assault that was not warranted.

But when Mayweather says, as he did in the post fight news conference that he keeps boxing alive, yeah he surely does. He continues to make news as the controversial and villain of the sport. His tears and thank you to the fans are another part of the personality that makes him the villain.
As for Larry Merchant, it is business as usual. He will analyze and continue the post fight interviews with fighters for HBO Sports. There will be no apology forthcoming from Mayweather and no reputable boxing organization, even the WBC, of which Mayweather now represents, will force the issue of a Mayweather apology to Merchant. It is the way boxing has become to be known, controversial and theatrics.

An anticipated and much hyped fight for the sport resulted with another black eye for fans. Victor Ortiz made the mistake and lost some respect and value. You don’t apologize to your opponent in the heat of a championship fight. And for Merchant, who avoided a black eye, it will be a thing of the past.
And we still don’t know the answer that Merchant, may or may not have received from his adversary Floyd Maywether Jr. Will the new WBC welterweight champion get in the ring with Manny Pacquiao?

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Win By Ortiz Over Mayweather Won’t Hurt Boxing

By Rich Mancuso

Most of the experts, fans, and boxing media are unanimous in their opinion that
Floyd Mayweather Jr. will have a dominating fight tomorrow evening in Las Vegas.
If that happen there is more talk that a Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao bout is
bound to occur, that Mayweather never sustained any form of ring rust after a
16-month layoff. And it could prove that the Victor Ortiz win over Andre Beto was
a fluke.

But an Ortiz win over Mayweather will not hurt the sport. It can only help because
Ortiz will go on and defend his title, become more prominent and prove the
skeptics wrong. Upsets are a part of boxing and will cause people to talk more
about Mayweather. Because the question of a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight will
continue even if Victor Ortiz does what they say is the impossible tomorrow night
on HBO Pay-Per-View.

You see, Mayweather is the dominant favorite before fight time. He is the face
associated with winning titles, and a name well-known and identified among fight
fans. Even though Victor Ortiz has come to be a name, he still has to prove that
he belongs in the same ring with Mayweather. A quick message in the early going
of the fight will answer some questions about Ortiz. If not, it will be Mayweather,
the five-time champion as the center of discussion again whether or not he meets
Pacquiao in the next year.

Mayweather did not get Pacquiao as his return fight. Instead he gets the younger
and determined Ortiz who hit the canvas twice against Berto in April. And Ortiz
arrived and got all the acclaim for coming back and knocking down Berto twice
that got him the title.

This has become the anticipated fight and for a few months we have not been
writing about Mayweather and when he will fight Pacquiao. And because Victor
Ortiz made this interesting as the young and promising hope for boxing, we will
watch with interest, analyze every punch, waiting to see who will deliver the first
hard blow. More so, we will anticipate who hits the canvas first.

And when you listen to Ortiz, don’t expect him to be the first one going
down. “The moment they mentioned Victor Ortiz versus Mayweather, he was
done,” said Ortiz again this week. Both fighters expect a knockout, as would

be the case. In any event a deep distance fight determines how the layoff hurt
Mayweather and how good Victor Ortiz is when it came to stepping up his fight
game. A moment that the world awaits, because Ortiz is the new kid on the
block looking to dethrone an icon in Floyd Mayweather who has never ducked an
opponent, with the exception of perhaps Manny Pacquiao.

Boxing needs a new face, someone who can make things happen. There was a
time when Victor Ortiz was not that individual to do that, more so the buildup
about this hard luck fighter rapidly disappeared after his loss to Marcos Maidana.
He complained then, and the public came to agree that Ortiz had flaws and could
never meet the likes of Mayweather or Pacquiao in a welterweight division that is
potent and difficult to be the best.

Ortiz had a bad day with Maidana and achieved his goal in his fight with Berto.
The perception changed and a new and exciting face was being heard, along with
a framed body that has cashed in with endorsements that go with a champion.
He has handed the adversity of hearing how the impossible has to be done to
keep Mayweather from taking his title. The right approach and words have been
heard, so if Ortiz indeed pulls it off, the question is, what will Mayweather have to

In the meantime, Mayweather is not going away even if he disappoints with a
loss. He has an ever increasing amount of fans who bypass the legal issues that
Mayweather quietly continues to confront. They view his ring accomplishments as
enough evidence to consider him the dominating fighter of this decade. And that
is always good for boxing because Floyd Mayweather is a name that will not go

And as long as Mayweather is around the sport, the increasing speculation is
when is the fight with Manny Pacquiao going to happen? That question was
posed to Mayweather this past week. He is focused on winning another title, the
one that Ortiz has. Mayweather ducks the question about Pacquiao, and surely it
will be posed in the ring Saturday night with a win or a loss.

And that my friends, is what it is all about. This fight, as much as it dictates how
good Victor Ortiz can be centers more on Mayweather because if he comes out
of the ring Saturday night on the wrong side, his legacy is not complete until
there is a fight with Pacquiao. Unless Pacquiao fails to do his end of the bargain
against Juan Manuel Marquez in November, it is inevitable that boxing will see

the anticipated fight that has been discussed the past two years.

But this is Floyd Mayweather Jr. under discussion. In the eyes of many, he is as
much the face of boxing as is Pacquiao. He does not hurt the sport with a loss
to Ortiz. Mayweather causes more hurt and damages the sport when he makes
headlines out of the ring with the continued legal issues and bad reputation that
follows him outside the ring.

This is the moment for Victor Ortiz. He could be the new face for boxing, and
Mayweather is the right opponent to become that face. But don’t expect
Mayweather to go away for another 16 months if he can’t dethrone his younger
opponent and, like it or not, the name is good for boxing.

Analyze this response from Victor Ortiz regarding the comments Mayweather said
about Ortiz capitalizing on his troubled past. “He has a loud mouth that has to put
somebody down to make himself, feel good.” It makes headlines and for good
boxing theatre.

Regardless of the outcome, Mayweather is not going away and that can’t be all
that bad for boxing.

A win by Ortiz over Mayweather won’t hurt boxing.

**** Don't forget to catch the Keep It In The Ring Radio Show, Sunday Nights from 6-8pm EST on

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pacquiao Says He Will Not Underestimate Marquez

By Rich Mancuso

Manny Pacquiao has an agenda to keep fighting even if he does not meet Floyd Mayweather Jr. and he has moved past the questions about when or if he will ever meet his adversary. The emphasis Tuesday morning in New York City, the second of a four city media tour was about his November 12th encounter again with Juan Manuel Marquez at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas that will be televised on HBO Pay-Per –View.

“I really don’t need that fight,” Pacquiao said about the often discussed bout with Mayweather. “If it happens good, It’s the fight the fans want. If not, I’m satisfied with what I’ve done in boxing.” Mayweather prepares for Victor Ortiz on September 17th and Pacquiao, hinted he really isn’t interested in the outcome. “I think I am more focused on this fight compared to the last two because Marquez denied he lost the fight, complaining he won the fight, complaining blah, blah, blah, and that makes me focus and train hard for this fight,” he said.

Truth be told, Pacquiao is relaxed and ready for his third meeting with Marquez. The press conference at Chelsea Piers started with Pacquiao singing a rendition of “Sometimes When We Touch” with Dan Hill the original composer. At previous media events in New York City, Pacquiao would make his entrance, sit quietly at the podium and wait to be introduced. This time it was a different tune but the same Manny Pacquiao acknowledging his legion of fans from the Philippines who observed in a rear area of the Lighthouse.

“I still enjoy the press tours,” he said. “It’s a good thing. You meet a lot of your fans.” Earlier, Pacquiao did a jog in Central Park and headed to the press conference. After a twenty minute sit- down with the media he did a live spot with ESPN, stopped at HBO headquarters in midtown, and then to JFK Airport with a destination to Los Angeles for the next stop on this latest media tour.

This may not be the fight Pacquiao wanted, but it sparks interest for boxing fans. After all it is Manny Pacquiao, and it is a trilogy with Marquez. They met at featherweight in their first fight and at super featherweight in their second encounter. Pacquiao has graduated to be a record eight- division champion and once again is favored to win this time at a catch weight of 144 pounds. Marquez is a three-division champion and went down three times in the first fight in 2004, though the outcome was a draw. The crafty (53-5-1, 39 KO) veteran at 38- years of age is not concerned about the outcome of this one. He says moving up in weight is not an issue. To which Pacquiao says, “I don’t know what Marquez can improve moving up in weight. We fought at 130 pounds in the last fight, and the third fight is 144. I don’t know what he can do.”

Marquez claimed he won both fights. “I know I can do it again,” he says. “I did it in 24-rounds. I was able to get a draw even though I knocked him down three times, so I beat him. I just have to be fast and I have to hit him hard enough.” And if Marquez prevails, or even if he sustains the loss, there is a rematch clause in the contract. But he deeply feels he will dethrone Pacquiao and take his welterweight title.

“I already proved it,” said Pacquiao about their previous fights and disputing Marquez when it came to the controversial draw. “But somebody is claiming they won the fight. I have to work again and prove I won the fights. I want to prove that somebody is wrong and somebody I right.” But this fight will not be a legacy for Pacquiao, even if it is a trilogy. He says there will be adjustments since the last fight with Shane Mosley and in the previous fights with Marquez. “I learned more techniques and strategies for being a fighter,” he says.

Freddie Roach, his trainer says, “Pacquiao will knock him (Marquez) out along the way. Manny can’t walk in like we did in the first two. He was just a young kid then. He’s a much more intelligent fighter. I am very confident he will knock him out.” But Pacquiao is not underestimating Marquez. He saw his last fight on July 16th, a first-round TKO over former WBA interim super featherweight champion Likar Ramos.

“I saw a still good Marquez but the difference is, I changed a lot of my style and improved my technique and strategy and my power,” commented Pacquiao. There has never been a question of the power, or the technique, just that Marquez is now in the way of continuing the legacy that Manny Pacquiao has established. Far from retirement though, as promoter Bob Arum looks at his main fighter continuing a fight schedule and serving in the capacity of Congressman from the Philippines at least until re-election time in 2013.

Yes, it was a different entrance for Manny Pacquiao in New York City Tuesday. And the trilogy with Marquez should close some issues and put a conclusion to whatever controversy that occurred in their previous fights. Pacquiao has nothing much more to prove, even if we still don’t have a resolution to the Mayweather question.

Arum still wants the Mayweather fight to happen. For now the trilogy bout with Marquez will fill the void and because it is Manny Pacquiao, who happens to be the face of boxing, there will be continued interest.