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The Inside Track | BOXING / STEVE SPRINGER

Several Veterans Will Fight in Farewell Bouts

January 02, 2006|STEVE SPRINGER

Hello, 2006. Goodbye, Oscar De La Hoya, Bernard Hopkins, Roy Jones, perhaps Felix Trinidad and Fernando Vargas. Maybe John Ruiz -- if we're lucky.

Welcome back, Rocky Balboa. And Vitali Klitschko?

And hopefully good riddance to shameful rankings, timid matchmakers, unscrupulous promoters, out-of-shape fighters and near-sighted judges.

We can dream, can't we?

Finally, let's wish for a year in which every fighter leaves the ring under his own power, without his senses impaired or his brain damaged.

Whatever else 2006 brings, it figures to be memorable because of:

* Shane Mosley vs. Fernando Vargas, Feb. 25

These are fighters at crossroads that intersect. Mosley's two victories over De La Hoya are long forgotten after his two losses to Winky Wright and his pedestrian performances against average fighters in his last two matches. At 34, Mosley needs a victory over a name fighter such as Vargas to put himself back in the mix for lucrative paydays.

For Vargas, a win is even more imperative. He's only 28, but it's a weary and worn 28. He was perceived as damaged goods after a brutal beating at the hands of Trinidad in 2000 and he has only gone downhill since, suffering another beating, administered by De La Hoya in 2002, then being suspended for testing positive for steroids and suffering a back injury.

If Vargas loses, it would seem pointless to go on punishing his body, especially considering he has a budding acting career and various successful business enterprises.

* Bernard Hopkins vs. Roy Jones, March 11

This doesn't figure to be a great fight because both men are clearly past their prime.

And in Jones' case, he probably shouldn't even be in the ring. He was once a central figure in any discussion of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world, but all discussions about Jones, at least by reasonable observers, now involve the word retirement.

In his prime, Jones rarely lost a round and sometimes nearly made it a non-contact sport from the perspective of the opponent trying to hit him.

But that was then. Now, Jones is coming off three consecutive losses after having been defeated only once in his first 46 fights.

And we're not talking about fluke losses, bad decisions or lucky punches. Jones, who turns 37 this month, was knocked out by Antonio Tarver in less than two rounds, knocked out by Glen Johnson, and was then dominated by Tarver in Jones' last fight, a loss by unanimous decision.

While Hopkins at 40 hasn't shown such alarming deterioration, it is clear he is no longer the fighter who once dominated the middleweight division. While his twin losses to Jermain Taylor were close -- and controversial in the minds of some -- Hopkins is no longer able to call upon the myriad weapons that were once at his disposal.

With both fighters laboring under the restrictions imposed on them by their advancing years, it will probably be a fair fight. Kind of like Jack Nicklaus in match play against Tom Watson. Or a home-run hitting contest between Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.

Whatever the outcome, Hopkins and Jones, for all their accomplishments, deserve a grand send-off.

* Oscar De La Hoya vs. Ricardo Mayorga, May 6

De La Hoya insists 2006 is his final year in the ring. He plans on fighting Mayorga and then, assuming he wins and demonstrates that he retains his skills after a layoff of nearly two years, De La Hoya hopes to lure Trinidad into the ring for a final fight in September.

Mayorga would appear to be a perfect opponent, or rather target, for De La Hoya. Taking a swing-from-the-heels, defense-be-damned approach, Mayorga is ill-equipped to face an efficient, talented boxer such as De La Hoya.

But this is a different De La Hoya than the fighter who left the ring after losing to Hopkins in 2004. He will be 33 when he returns and has moved comfortably into a new life as promoter/businessman. He also has a new child, Oscar Gabriel, born to him and his wife, Millie, last week.

Does De La Hoya still retain the mentality of a fighter? Can he motivate himself to return to the rigors of training camp?

Should De La Hoya lure Trinidad back into the ring for a rematch and avenge his controversial loss to Trinidad in 1999, Trinidad might well join De La Hoya in retirement.

Old Faces in the New Year

Balboa is definitely returning. He will fight Mason "The Line" Dixon, better known in real life as Tarver, in "Rocky VI," to be released this year.

Finally, with Hasim Rahman expected to defend his World Boxing Council heavyweight title -- the one he was handed when Klitschko retired -- against James Toney this spring, might Klitschko be tempted to return to face the winner?

Klitschko relinquished his title only because a series of injuries left him unable to defend his crown. Having mended, he will surely be tempted to face whoever survives between Rahman and Toney.

Or, at the very least, maybe Klitschko could return to fight Balboa in "Rocky VII."

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