While undisputed welterweight champ Zab Judah is set to defend his crown against Carlos Baldomir of Argentina, few wanted to discuss the matchup because it is viewed largely as a walkover.
Judah (34-2, 25 KOs) and Baldomir (41-9-6, 12 KOs) will fight at Madison Square Garden's 5,000-seat Theater in New York on Jan. 7 (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET/PT). But during a teleconference with boxing reporters this week to hype the fight, nearly all of the discussion centered on whom Judah would face after his expected victory over the obscure Baldomir, a typical WBC mandatory challenger with few credentials, little power or speed, and a barren resume.
Judah's promoter, Don King, has been negotiating an April 8 HBO PPV mega-fight with Floyd Mayweather promoter Bob Arum. It's not done yet, and Judah must defeat Baldomir first, but to Judah the winning part of the equation is a foregone conclusion.
"I am looking to come in and blow him away," said Judah, a Brooklyn native who will be fighting in front of his hometown fans.
Judah insisted he won't overlook Baldomir because a victory is his ticket to a major money fight.
"I would never overlook Baldomir because he is the person coming in who could spoil all the stuff," Judah said. "I am most focused on him because of the Mayweather fight. I am looking to go in there and show to the world that I am the best. I am not going to predict [a first-round knockout], but that is what I am working on. I am looking to go in there and come out in spectacular fashion. I am home. I have got to give him a good New York welcome."
So once Judah gets done with Baldomir, he wants Mayweather, a junior welterweight titlist who is regarded by many as the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world.
"I am looking for the big matchup and a big showdown with 'Pretty Girl,'" Judah said, mocking Mayweather's "Pretty Boy" moniker. "Floyd Mayweather is a very fast fighter, a very cocky fighter. I possess speed and power. Everyone knows that Floyd Mayweather is not a very hard puncher.
"I have boxed him a lot of times. We sparred back in the Olympic camp [before the 1996 Games], we sparred recently. It is nothing new. Floyd knows my power. Floyd knows what I bring as far as skills and speed. Right now, the reason why the fight has not been made is because of what Floyd Mayweather knows. He knows that a fight with a Zab Judah with eight-ounce boxing gloves on is not going to be a pretty fight for him."
Judah, is aware, however, that the Mayweather fight is no lock even if he beats Baldomir.
"We had a good meeting the other day and it is looking really, really good for April 8 right now," Judah said.
"I've got my fingers crossed. But Mayweather has got this whole thing about money. He wants to be the dominator of the money and he wants a non-title fight because he has the pay-per-view date. He wants to have a non-title fight so he can get all the money. If I am happy and I walk away with what I want, it's going to happen. I don't have a problem with anything."
A Judah-Mayweather fight would match two of the fastest, cockiest fighters in the sport. They've been friends for years but their relationship has grown frosty over the past several months as they've trash talked each other knowing they eventually might face each other in the ring.
"He crossed the line of disrespect," Judah said. "There ain't going to be no nice guys out there. There is a lot of money involved and both of us need it. This is the fight the world wants to see, but first I have to annihilate Mr. Carlos Baldomir."
Around the ring
Ruiz-Valuev: Heavyweight titlist John Ruiz, ignored by the American TV networks and unloved by most boxing fans, is in Berlin to defend his title Saturday night against 7-foot, 330-pound German-based Russian Nicolay Valuev, who became the mandatory challenger by virtue of a disputed decision victory against slick American Larry Donald on Oct. 1.
"I'm fighting him because he's the No. 1 contender," Ruiz said before heading to Germany. "I don't pick and choose my opponents like [Vitali] Klitschko. Valuev deserves the title shot. He's earned it. I'm going halfway around the world to fight a giant in his backyard because I'm a true world champion."
When we last saw Ruiz (41-5-1, 29 KOs), he had lost his title to James Toney in April, but that was only until Toney tested positive for steroids in his post-fight drug test. At that point, the result of the fight was changed to a no decision and Ruiz was given his belt back by the WBA.
Now Ruiz faces another difficult fight against Valuev (42-0, 31 KOs), whose size is breathtaking -- he steps over the top rope when he enters the ring.
Valuev said at a recent press conference that he planned to neutralize Ruiz's usual clutching tactics.
"I won't give him the chance," said Valuev, 32, a former basketball player and discus thrower.
"I always use my height -- I see no reason it should be different this time," said Valuev, nicknamed "The Beast from the East."
Ruiz, who is 6-2, 240 pounds, said he is not concerned about the massive size difference.
"He's got a head the size of a Volkswagen," Ruiz said.
"I can't miss hitting him. I'm not worried about his height or reach advantage. I trained to fight and will come to fight. My game plan is to take the fight to him, which will neutralize any height or reach advantage."
American fighters often have a very difficult time winning decisions in Germany, which Ruiz knows. Fellow titlist Lamon Brewster didn't have to worry about the scorecards when he knocked out his German mandatory challenger, Luan Krasniqi, there in September.
"I know there have been questionable decisions [in Germany] but what can I do?" said Ruiz, 33, who has scored only one knockout in his last nine fights going back to 1999.
"I can only do my best."
Knockout or not, Ruiz sounded confident that he would win and return to the United States for a unification fight that he has coveted.
When a German reporter asked Ruiz if it was true that he had arrived in Berlin with 28 pieces of luggage, and if so, why, Ruiz responded, "We plan to bring pieces of the giant Russian back to the United States. We're going to give them out as Christmas presents."
Gatti update: As a precaution, New Jersey boxing authorities have asked that Arturo Gatti undergo additional medical testing than the norm required to obtain a boxing license in the state before his next fight on Jan. 28.
Gatti, 33, is scheduled to move up to welterweight and face Denmark's Thomas Damgaard on HBO at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.
Gatti's annual New Jersey boxing license is up for renewal. Normally, fighters must undergo various medical tests, including an eye exam, CAT scan, an EKG for the heart and blood work, before being relicensed in New Jersey. However, because Gatti, a two-division champion, has been in so many grueling fights and received such a brutal beating in losing his junior welterweight title to Mayweather in June, New Jersey authorities want him to also submit to an MRI and a complete neurological exam.
Promoter Main Events said Gatti is happy to comply with the request.
"This is strictly precautionary," Main Events vice president Carl Moretti told ESPN.com. "The Mayweather fight was a tough fight, and the New Jersey officials are looking out for Arturo's safety, as are we. There is no hesitation whatsoever from anyone to take these additional tests, not from the Gatti camp, Gatti himself or Main Events. We will oblige wholeheartedly."
As a testament to the brutally of Gatti's career, he and friendly rival Micky Ward -- who waged an unforgettable trilogy in 2002-03 at a video game-like pace -- will grace the cover of a real video game. An action shot from one of their bouts will adorn the new "Fight Night Round 3" for PlayStation 2 and Xbox systems, EA Sports announced. The game is due out in February.
Chavez-Barrera: Unified junior lightweight champ Marco Antonio Barrera will make the leap to lightweight to challenge for Jesus Chavez's title on March 25 on HBO, Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy Promotions told ESPN.com.
After several weeks of negotiations, "both fighters have agreed on the terms, so it is just a matter of getting the contracts signed," Schaefer said.
The fight will be at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Schaefer said the rumors that Barrera was insisting on making Chavez defend his belt at a catchweight below the lightweight limit of 135 pounds are not true.
"Barrera is not asking for a catchweight like some people are saying," Schaefer said. "There is no language like that. This is a 135-pound fight."
Schaefer said the HBO undercard would either feature junior lightweight titlist Jorge Barrios (44-2-1, 32 KOs), possibly in a mandatory defense against southpaw Janos Nagy (23-0, 14 KOs) of Hungary, or former junior middleweight titlist Kassim Ouma (22-2-1, 14 KOs). Barrios and Ouma both have interim bouts before March.
Barrera (61-4, 42 KOs) unified 130-pound titles with a lopsided decision against Robbie Peden on Sept. 17. If Barrera defeats Chavez he would become the first Mexican fighter to win titles in four weight classes. He has won titles at 122, 126 and 130 pounds.
Chavez (43-3, 30 KOs), a former junior lightweight champ, won his lightweight belt on the Barrera-Peden undercard. In a tragic outcome, Chavez stopped Leavander Johnson in the 11th round, and Johnson died a few days later from a brain injury suffered in the bout.
Margarito-Gomez: Although few fighters are willing to get in the ring with rugged welterweight titlist Antonio Margarito, Manuel Gomez is more than willing.
Gomez (28-10-2, 20 KOs) has been waiting patiently for a well-deserved title shot, and he's getting it Feb. 18 at the Aladdin Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas in the main event of a Top Rank pay-per-view card.
Margarito and Gomez were set to fight Nov. 12 on the Vitali Klitschko-Hasim Rahman card that was canceled because of Klitschko's knee injury and subsequent retirement. But promoter Bob Arum salvaged the fight by building the February PPV card around it.
"Vitali Klitschko won't be saving you in this one, Margarito," Gomez -- who is 10-0-2 in his last 12 fights -- said during this week's news conference to announce the card.
When Margarito (32-4, 23 KOs) came to the podium he responded, "I'm going to show, when I fight Gomez, why the other guys don't want to fight me. I am going to put on a spectacular fight."
Margarito is one of the roughest fighters in the world from 140 to 154 pounds, and Arum has had a difficult time finding marquee names willing to face him.
"No one, including [Oscar] De La Hoya, [Floyd] Mayweather, [Fernando] Vargas or [Shane] Mosley will fight Margarito -- all were contacted and all declined," Arum said.
"I went through the same thing when we had Marvin Hagler. No one wanted to fight Hagler, but we kept him fighting and eventually the big fights happened. I expect the same for Margarito."
Margarito will be making his sixth title defense and is coming off a sensational performance in April, when he thrashed Kermit Cintron in a fifth-round TKO victory.
Gomez's record is a little misleading because he lost three of his first four fights. However, he owns victories against Kofi Jantuah and Miguel Angel Gonzalez and gave Shane Mosley the toughest fight of Mosley's lightweight championship reign before being stopped in the 11th round.
Also on the Feb. 18 "Real Warriors" card: Junior flyweight titlist Brian Viloria (18-0, 12 KOs) will make his first defense against former strawweight champ Jose Antonio Aguirre (33-4-1, 20 KOs); strawweight champ Ivan "Iron Boy" Calderon (24-0, 5 KOs) will defend against an opponent to be named; and junior welterweight prospect Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (23-0, 18 KOs) will fight an opponent to be determined.
Perfect gift: Looking for a holiday gift for the fight fan in your life? With the financial backing of promoter Lou DiBella, photographer Teddy Blackburn has published "In the Other Corner: A Tribute to Gerald McClellan."
The $50 book packed with Blackburn's boxing photos -- ringside action shots as well as candid photos of boxing subjects -- and all of the proceeds will go to help McClellan, the former middleweight champ who was severely brain damaged in a 1995 fight and now requires 24-hour-a-day care from his sisters. Blackburn has visited McClellan regularly and helped raise money for him since the injury.
Checks for the book should be made out to Fighters Need a Hand and sent to Blackburn at 2985 Botanical Square, Suite 6E, Bronx, N.Y. 10458. You can also e-mail Blackburn about the book at Tblackburn@aol.com. Contributions for McClellan also can be sent to the Gerald McClellan Trust Fund at the McClellan Trust Fund, c/o Fifth Third Bank, P.O. Box 120, Freeport, IL 61032.
"Many fighters have suffered injustices and injuries both inside and outside of the ring," Blackburn said.
"This book is a tribute to a true champion. The 'G-Man' gave the fight fans exactly what they wanted for seven straight years. Now is our opportunity to give back to a fighter who gave us his all and suffered life-altering injuries in the ring. If you're looking to help anyone this holiday season, this is definitely a worthy cause."
Brock back: Heavyweight contender Calvin Brock (27-0, 21 KOs), a 2000 U.S. Olympian, has been added to the HBO PPV undercard of the Fernando Vargas-Shane Mosley junior middleweight showdown on Feb. 25 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Brock, who outpointed David Bostice last month, will face Zuri Lawrence.
Lawrence (20-10-4, 0 KOs) is a crafty boxer who is coming off a unanimous decision victory against fringe contender Jameel McCline in October for what is his career-best victory.
Brock also defeated McCline on a unanimous decision for the best victory of his career in April.
There had been talk that Brock would face David Tua in January on HBO or on Showtime in May but Brock was hesitant and neither date was set.
Prospect watch: Welterweight prospect Joel "Love Child" Julio (25-0, 22 KOs), who makes his Showtime debut Jan. 6 in Chicago on "ShoBox: The New Generation," has found an opponent for the fight. He will face Robert Kamya (15-5, 4 KOs), who is coming off a career-best 12-round decision victory against Alex Bunema in August. Bantamweight Raul Martinez (12-0, 9 KOs), another of Main Events' top prospects, will face Andres Ledesma (13-1-1, 8 KOs) in the opening bout.
Quick hits: Featherweight Rocky Juarez will take a second consecutive untelevised fight when he faces an opponent to be determined Jan. 21 in Louisiana. Juarez (24-1, 17 KOs), a 2000 U.S. Olympic silver medalist and a crowd pleaser, lost a highly competitive and exciting fight to Humberto Soto in August, and has since disappeared from the HBO and Showtime radar screens. But Main Events is intent upon keeping Juarez sharp so he will be ready for a significant TV bout. He knocked out Reynaldo Hurtado in the third round last week in Corpus Christi, Texas, in his first fight since the upset loss to Soto.
• Heavyweight contender Juan Carlos Gomez, 34, of Cuba has tested positive for cocaine and faces a two-year ban, the Associated Press reported. Gomez (40-1, 33 KOs) is a former cruiserweight champion based in Germany after defecting from Cuba. Gomez was tested Oct. 15 after a 10-round decision victory against former heavyweight champ Oliver McCall.
• Walt Lambert's Northeast Promotions continues quietly to sign quality talent. The New Paltz, N.Y.-based company, which recently signed prospects Delvin Rodriguez, Carlos Quintana and Michael Katsidis, added another one this week in welterweight Shamone Alvarez (12-0, 8 KOs) of Atlantic City, N.J. Alvarez made an impression in his two appearances on Showtime's "ShoBox" series, a blistering first-round knockout of Mohammed Kayongo last year and a fourth-round TKO of Jose Medina in February. "This is my kind of kid," said Northeast matchmaker Ron Katz. "He has a fan-friendly style and can punch like hell."
• Middleweights Jimmy Lange (26-2-1, 17 KOs) and Joey Gilbert (10-1, 7 KOs), rivals during the first season of the "The Contender," will face each other in a 12-round rematch on Feb. 18 in Fairfax, Va., Lange's home turf. Gilbert upset Lange with a five-round decision to eliminate him from the NBC reality boxing series, which has since moved to ESPN. "I entered 'The Contender' for one reason and one reason only, and that was to win it all," Lange said. "Losing to Joey -- the best athlete on the show -- was a huge disappointment, but getting a rematch in my hometown is a great opportunity for redemption."
• Promoter Artie Pelullo of Banner Promotions came on board as a co-promoter for junior lightweight Antonio Davis, joining Brian Young of Prize Fight Boxing. Davis (19-1, 9 KOs), an Atlanta resident who is trained by Ronnie Shields, is on a 15-fight winning streak. He will next fight on Feb. 3 in Detroit in the main event of ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."
• Although the most significant super middleweight on the schedule is Showtime's unification bout between champions Jeff Lacy and Joe Calzaghe on March 4, there is another 168-pound title fight of note next month. Mikkel Kessler (36-0, 27 KOs) of Denmark, who briefly was an option for Lacy's last fight, defends his piece of the title Jan. 14 in Denmark against former titlist Eric Lucas (38-6-3, 14 KOs) of Canada. Kessler is coming off of a June lopsided decision victory against former titlist Anthony Mundine in Australia.
• Cruiserweight contender Dale Brown (35-4-1, 22 KOs), who many believe was robbed of a decision when he faced O'Neil Bell for a vacant title in May, could be headed for another title shot. Brown will face Felix Cora Jr. (17-0-2, 9 KOs) in a title eliminator on March 24 on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights." Brown stayed sharp on Thursday night, shutting out journeyman Dennis McKinney for a six-round decision victory on the untelevised portion of the Samuel Peter-Robert Hawkins pay-per-view card in Hollywood, Fla.
Quotable: "I want Jermain next. I want him as soon as possible. It's time Jermain. It's time you served your mandatory sentence. The top two pay-per-view stars of 2005 are also the two best fighters in the middleweight division -- me and Jermain. The fight is a natural. This is the fight the fans want most. Act like a champion and fight me. Don't let your promoter's lack of confidence in your abilities influence your reign as champion." -- mandatory middleweight challenger Winky Wright, on his desire to fight champion Jermain Taylor as soon as possible.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.