Second Half of ’05: Gut Check Time for Former Champions
By Aaron Imholte (Aug 11, 2005) 
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Many say that greatness can only be achieved once adversity is overcome. Real life human drama is the most exciting thing to witness, followed by sports. And no sporting event in the history of mankind has combined the two like boxing has. Adversity makes for great storylines, and exposes character both weak and strong.

How a champion or former champion responds once being knocked from his perch may show just what kind of man history will remember him as. If he can climb back to the top of the ladder he will be remembered as a great (think Sugar Ray Robinson). If that former champion fails to recapture his stride, only to embarrass his old legacy along the way, people will always say ‘yeah he was good but…’ (think Mike Tyson).

It is the stuff of history folks, and in the upcoming months legacies will be made, broken or tarnished forever. Yes the first half of 2005 brought you some of the best in boxing entertainment since the turn of the century. But it will be the second half that will mold many fighter’s images for centuries.

Hasim Rahman

The Story: It was a fluke wasn’t it? Did I totally dream up the 5th round TKO this guy had over Lennox Lewis in South Africa back in ’01? The record books said I didn’t but Rahman’s performance since that fight has tossed him into the ‘one punch wonder’ category.

The Path to Redemption: This weekend Rahman has a chance to polish his tarnished image by taking one more step back to his old resting place atop the heavyweight division. A victory over Monte Barrett will pit him against Vitali Klitschko for the WBC strap and give him one more shot at creating a legacy for himself.

Likely End Result: Barrett is no stepping stone. Not only will Rahman have his hands full with ‘Two Gunz’, but if he wins he would then have to take another fight on about six weeks notice and take on the biggest heavyweight champion around in Klitschko. Forget about Vitali for a second, I don’t like Hasim’s chances against Barrett! Rahman loses at least one of these fights and is relegated forever to the aforementioned one punch wonder category.

Ricardo Mayorga

The Story: Mayorga captures and defends the welterweight title from Vernon Forrest in 2003 by beating the Viper twice. He instantly becomes a fan favorite with a cocky persona and a big I don’t give a #@%$ kind of attitude. He was that little guy who would fight any man in the bar on any night and probably would literally do it on occasion.

But Mayorga’s mouth was bigger than his fists when he was out boxed by Cory Spinks and lost his welterweight crown, and again when he was pummeled and out gunned by Felix Trinidad at middleweight this past October.

The Path to Redemption: It starts with Michele Piccirillo. They will duel for the vacant WBC junior middleweight championship on the undercard of this weekend’s PPV. If Mayorga can put Piccirillo away, Fernando Vargas (pending a victory over Javier Castillejo) would be a very logical and dangerous opponent for El Matador. It would be bombs away for the WBC belt if these two ever got it on.

Likely End Result: What the future holds for Mayorga is as predictable as the man himself. Smart money is on him stopping Piccirillo, capturing a belt and cashing in against Vargas. After that we will see which former champion has more gas left in the tank. A win for either man catapults them very close to the status they were at before they fell from grace. Look for Mayorga to make a one or two year run at 154 and end his career being remembered as not necessarily the best, but one of the most entertaining fighters of his day.

Roy Jones Jr.

The Story: As if you don’t know it! Roy Jones looked unstoppable in 50 professional fights. He has captured belts at four weight classes and had one blemish due to a DQ loss to Montell Griffin (who he ‘iced’ in one round in their rematch). Roy was a sensational athlete. He had remarkable speed, strength, reflexes, and endurance. He seemed as durable as a race horse in his esteemed career.

But the so-called Superman would meet his Lex Luther in 2004. Who played the role of Luther? It was multiple casting. In the first act it was Antonio Tarver stripping Roy of his cape with one Kryptonite shot that sent Roy to the canvas for the first time in his career, and handing him his first legitimate pro defeat.

Acts two and three would be played simultaneously by father time and Glen Johnson. Jones would be sent to the mat again in a losing effort against Johnson and retire for a year to his HBO commentators chair. It seemed that many boxing fan’s superhero was down for the count.

The Path to Redemption: Call him egotistical, call him selfish and call him a braggart, but do not accuse Roy Jones of having no pride or no heart. He has signed on for the rubber match with Tarver and is determined to beat the demons of May 2004. The only question is can RJJ muster up just enough of that speed, strength, and reflexes to win one more time. If the answer is yes, Roy will be forever known as one of the best pound for pound fighters to grace the sport. But if he loses, it will be that much harder to justify his place among the Sugar Rays, Archie Moores, and Willie Peps of the world.

The Likely Outcome: Some say it was a lack of focus that caused Jones Jr. to tumble from his P4P perch. But that just sounds like the reluctance of diehards to let go of the past and accept that their man may be fading away. If the latter is the truth than Jones will lose his third bout in a row and possibly be stopped again. Critics will than feel vindicated. You know the critics, who say Roy never fought any good fighters, and when he did they were either past their prime, or they knocked him out.

Bernard Hopkins

The Story: An ex-con who lost his first pro fight and his first world title shot sticks with the sport he loves and dedicates himself tirelessly to a game that has not always been fair to him. What is his reward? Two big paydays with two of the games most notable names and two big W’s on his resume. Couple that with 20 world middleweight championship defenses and you have a career that would make anyone stand and applaud.

But to do most of this after the age of 35 and into your forties is just plain unheard of in boxing! Hopkins was supposed to get old against Felix Trinidad and it never happened. He was supposed to get old against Oscar De La Hoya and it never happened.

Just a few weeks ago at the MGM grand however, it may have happened. Hopkins may not have gotten old age wise, but his style got old with 2 of 3 judges at ringside. Hopkins made his legacy on picking his spots and fighting in spurts toward the tail end of his career, and many thought he did this just enough to beat Jermain Taylor and retain his undisputed title. Obviously he was wrong.

The Path to Redemption: There is a fine line between a top 3 middleweight and a top 10 middleweight when it comes to Hopkins. After his loss to Taylor he dropped into the latter category. A win in his rematch with Taylor would not only put him back up next to Hagler and Monzon, but give him an accomplishment few men have achieved, winning an undisputed title after the age of 40. It is the stuff that movies and fairy tales are made of. Can he do it?

The Likely Outcome: Many felt Hopkins did enough in the last 6 rounds to win the fight or at least get a draw. Well in the rematch B-Hop will have to stretch his 40 year old body a little farther if he wants to win in a convincing enough fashion to get his belts back.

Of course to do this Hopkins must do something he has done seldom throughout his career and that is forget. Forget about what Duane Ford did to you. Fight your fight and pick Taylor apart with counterpunching. If the last fight comes with Bernard into the ring he will lose and slip farther from the top of the middleweight greats. Fight like he is supposed to and Hopkins will beat Taylor and thus reclaim his spot amongst his idols.

Other fighters with less of a legacy to salvage this year but need salvaging none the less: Wladimir Klitschko, Fernando Vargas, David Tua, Sharmba Mitchell.
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