The CBZ Newswire

Touching Gloves with…Mike Weaver

by on Aug.12, 2013, under Boxing News

By Dan Hanley

mwpic

A fighter’s record can often be as misleading as a TV pitchman in a plaid jacket and a bad ‘toup’. They both have to be taken with a grain of salt. Such is the case of Mike Weaver. At outward glance one may simply scoff at the early losses on his record, but numbers mean little unless scrutinised closely. And mean next to nothing when gauging Weaver’s rib-bending shots to the body or those skull-rocking hooks that he doled out so liberally. Let’s take a few moments now and re-examine what’s under a very misleading surface.

Dan Hanley: Mike, are you originally from the west coast?

Mike Weaver: No, I’m originally from Gatesville, Texas, but we moved to Los Angeles when I was 3 or 4.

DH: You come from a large boxing family, but were you the one that started it all?

MW: Ahh…my father actually started the whole thing. He boxed amateur but couldn’t pursue it any longer due to heart issues. But I suppose I am the one that got it rolling professionally.

DH: How did you get started in boxing?

MW: (laughing) By accident.

DH: Could you explain?

MW: Well, I was 19 and serving in the Marine Corps. I was in a club on base and was at the jukebox ready to play a song when this big guy comes over and says, “Oh, no you don’t!” and he pushes me away. Well I wasn’t going to take that and we got into it and I knocked him cold. The next day the Captain of the base shows up looking for me and I figure I’m in trouble. But he’s there to tell me they need a light heavyweight for the boxing team. It turns out that I had knocked out the heavyweight champion of the Marine Corps. And I gotta tell you just for laughs, the name of the song I was trying to play at the jukebox was (laughing) ‘I don’t want to do wrong’ by Gladys Knight and the Pips. I actually met her years later and told her it was because of her that I became a fighter.

DH: That is too funny! How well did you do in the Service?

MW: I think I had about 25 fights. I won All-Marine and Inter-Service championships, the Los Angeles Diamond Belt title and also fought in AAU and the National Golden Gloves. I just missed out competing in the ’72 Olympic Trials. My hitch was over in ’71 and as All-Marine champion I would have had one of the eight spots in the Trials. So I turned pro in ’72.

DH: Who did you turn pro with?

MW: Raymond Grays was my manager and Archie Grant was my trainer.

DH: You turned pro at the age of 21 in 1972 against Howard Smith. Coincidentally, another fighter who would go on to crack the top ten in the world ratings. Did you know of Howard Smith going into this fight?

MW: I knew of him but we had never worked together in the gym. It’s funny you mentioning that we would both go on to crack the top ten because we came pretty cheap back then. I made $85.00 for my pro debut.

DH: I ask because, with the west coast so Hispanic-heavy and with the attention towards the lighter weights, I was curious about the heavyweight scene and how much action you were seeing.

MW: I know what you mean about the interest in the smaller weights, but I was working quite a bit in the gym with guys like Pedro Lovell, Henry Clark and Ken Norton. So I was picking up things.

DH: Two points I was always curious about. The first was your massive upper-body. How much weight-training did you employ?

MW: None.

DH: Seriously?

MW: Just a product of good genes. My father was built the same way and so were all my brothers. I think it was Ken Norton who made a thing about it on television. He called me something like, ‘Hercules unchained’. And then Jimmy Lennon, Sr. got wind of it – and he would always have some nickname for a fighter – and he started introducing me as Mike ‘Hercules’ Weaver.

DH: The other question that always nagged me was the rocky start you got off to. You obviously had a decent amateur background, but after two years as a pro you had an unimpressive 7-6 record. What happened?

MW: Dan, I just never took it seriously. I never trained. I would be at a party and would be told that I was fighting the next night. I would just say, “Okay!” And of course go back to the party. See, my problem was that (laughing) I just loved the ladies and everything else was getting in the way. It was actually Ken Norton who pulled me aside and said, “Mike, you could make some real money at this game if you put your mind to it.” And it started to sink in from there.

DH: During this ‘dark’ period you took on Duane Bobick, who was 22-0 and one of the hottest prospects around. Tell me about that fight.

MW: Well, Duane and I knew each other well. We had fought twice in the Service. I was the Marine Corps champion and he was champion of the Navy. We both held a win over each other in the amateurs. But I was actually stopped on a cut in the 7th round in our pro bout.

DH: When did things start turning around for you?

MW: Around ’76 I changed management. I had knocked out Eddie ‘Bossman’ Jones in a sparring session and was told that his manager was looking for me. His name was Don Manuel, who told me that the only fighter who ever knocked out ‘Bossman’ was George Foreman and we hit it off. I signed with him and also now had Ray Barnes as my trainer.

DH: I saw your televised win against Bill Sharkey in ’77. Now, it had been 4 years since I had last seen you fight – against Tony Pulu to be exact – and I saw a remarkable difference in you. This seemed to be the turning point for you.

MW: I believe it was. I was just taking things very seriously now.

DH: Your competition level really started to spike as well, fighting Pedro Lovell, Stan Ward and Leroy Jones. Was there a realization at this time that you thought, hey, I’m not a journeyman anymore?

MW: That’s exactly right. These guys were contenders and I was holding my own.

DH: You went on a five bout knockout streak, including stoppages of Bernardo Mercado and Stan Ward in a rematch. Were you surprised to get the call for a shot at Larry Holmes for the world title in Madison Square Garden?

MW: Well, I should have known something was up because Holmes and Don King was there watching me against Mercado – of course, they were probably there to see Mercado. But King called my manager Don Manuel and simply said, “You got the fight.”

DH: It irritated me as a fan that the networks would give us garbage like Holmes against Alfredo Evangelista and Ossie Ocasio, but not televise Holmes – Weaver. Was it that early-career record dogging you?

MW: Oh, yeah. They only looked at the numbers on the record and classified me as a journeyman.

DH: Tell me about the fight.

MW: I really believe I could have won that fight. In the 10th round I caught Holmes with a double jab and right hand and I had him, but it was late in the round and I wasn’t in the best of shape to begin with. See, Don King called that fight a month earlier than when it was scheduled and we lost out on training.

DH: In November of ’79 you beat top-rated Scott LeDoux in Minnesota – of course, now the networks were televising your fights – and it really seemed like you were hitting your peak. You introduced a jab that I had never seen into the arsenal. Was this worked on?

MW: (laughing) Everybody was surprised about the jab. My manager Don Manuel told me I had a very good jab and said, “Why don’t you use it?”

Weaver stopping John Tate to win the WBA heavyweight championship

Weaver stopping John Tate to win the WBA heavyweight championship

DH: You got the call once again for March of ’80 to fight ‘Big’ John Tate in Knoxville for the WBA heavyweight title. Tell me about the fight.

MW: I had said to my manager before the fight that I was going to knock him out, but Tate was very fluid and accurate for a big guy and was outclassing me. Well, the bell rings for the 15th round and Don says to me, “If you’re going to do it you better do it now!” And I caught him solid in the last round and I thought I had killed him. He was out long before he hit the ground and I was the new world champion.

DH: Who was promoting you at this time?

MW: Bob Arum and Top Rank.

DH: Your first title defense was signed for October against Gerrie Coetzee in South Africa. This was a massive attendance wasn’t it?

MW: It was unbelievable. You know they actually built that stadium specifically for the fight.

DH: With apartheid at its height you were running into some roadblocks along the way, such as from the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Was it you who made the statement, “Jesse don’t pay my bills!”?

MW: (laughing) Yeah, that was me. I told them all point blank that I’m an athlete, not a politician and this was how I made my living. And you know, I made $2.5 million for that fight.

DH: Tell me about the fight.

MW: Around the 8th round Gerrie nailed me with that ‘bionic right’ of his and I was in trouble, but I lasted out the round and regrouped. I started coming on while he was weakening and I caught him in the 13th round and he was out. And that was the first time he was ever off his feet.

DH: Your next title defense was against James ‘Quick’ Tillis in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont. However, there were all kinds of injunctions and threats of lawsuits flying back and forth before this. I understand you actually signed to fight #1 contender Gerry Cooney but the WBA forced #3 ‘Quick’ Tillis on you. What was this about?

MW: It was primarily Bob Arum. See, Tillis and I were both being promoted by him and Bob just refused to bend on this. We were going to get $5 million for that fight and we even offered Tillis $1 million to step aside and get the next title shot, but he refused as well. I told him he was being foolish, especially for what they were offering him for the fight. I told him, “On my worst day you couldn’t beat me!” For a finish, my manager wanted to take the Cooney fight and let them strip me of the title, but I told him the title meant more to me and we went through with the Tillis fight. And of course, I won.

DH: What was the involvement with Harold J. Smith and his promotional group ‘MAPS’?

MW: Harold was the one putting up the money for the Cooney fight. You always had to watch Harold. He promoted the Scott LeDoux fight and was like my best friend, coming around me saying things like, “Hey, brother! We gotta stick together, brother!” Well, he paid me $100,000 for the LeDoux fight, which was fine, but then (laughing) I find out my ‘brother’ pays LeDoux $250,000. I’ll tell you another story about him. I was out of town and Don Manuel calls me to tell me to get home because Harold Smith showed up at my door with $1 million cash in a suitcase, which was supposed to be my down payment on the Cooney fight. Well (laughing), I told Don, “Hey, Don…I’m with a woman, see if it can wait until Monday.” Unfortunately, Harold was arrested on Monday and sent to federal prison for bank fraud after embezzling $45 million.

DH: $1 million cash! Dude, was she worth it?

MW: (laughing) Nope!

DH: You were out of the ring for 14 months with a title defense against Randy ‘Tex’ Cobb going belly-up. What happened?

MW: Cobb supposedly got cut in training and we were waiting to get it rescheduled when we hear that he signs to fight Larry Holmes instead. What can you do?

DH: Were you actually promised a unification match with Larry Holmes by Don King if you got past Michael Dokes in December of ’82?

MW: Yes, I was, but Dokes was a King fighter and something funny was going on. A fella I knew from New York called me and said he had been hearing rumors that this fight was going to be stopped in the first round.

DH: Tell me about the fight.

MW: I got caught in the first round and went down. That was no big deal because I’m a slow starter and everyone knows it. But the referee Joey Curtis just steps in and stops the fight and takes my title.

DH: It was very strange. Joey Curtis was old school. He was known as a referee who let fights go on too long. I saw him let Wilfredo Gomez drop Derrick Holmes 8 times and not stop it until Holmes’ jaw was busted. I also saw him allow Sugar Ray Leonard to bludgeon Pete Ranzany on national TV before he pulled the plug, so this seemed out of place.

MW: We even heard a rumor that Curtis himself bet that I would be stopped in the 1st, but I don’t know about that.

DH: You did receive a rematch – also in Vegas – and Dokes retained his title on a 15 round draw. And you know something? I’ve never met anyone who didn’t believe you won that fight.

MW: (laughing) Me neither! But at the end of 15 I knew they wouldn’t give it to me. Too much politics involved.

DH: You won three straight after this and received another shot at the crown. This time against WBC champ Pinklon Thomas. Tell me about this fight.

MW: Well, I knew going into this fight that I wasn’t going to beat him and it had nothing to do with politics. My legs were going. I went down in the first round and it wasn’t from being hit. I just sort of fell down. But the fight was even until it was stopped in the 8th round in his favor.

DH: Didn’t something arise during the promotion for this fight where you two found out you were related?

MW: That’s right, we were cousins. We didn’t even know it. And Pinklon and I have stayed in touch ever since.

DH: Carl ‘The Truth’ Williams was the hottest contender in the heavyweight division in ’86, had fought Larry Holmes to a razor close decision and needed a name opponent in that final push for a rematch. And they chose you as the sacrificial lamb. Tell me about the fight.

MW: (laughing) That’s exactly what I was. He needed poor old me, but I took him out in the 2nd round with a left hook.

DH: By now you were in your mid-30s – winning some-losing some – but still able to pull off the upset every now and then. Tell me about your two fights in South Africa with undefeated hotshot Johnny DuPloy.

MW: Y’know, some funny stuff went on there. I’ve been in boxing long enough to know what a punch feels like and there was something wrong with DuPloy’s gloves. He was hitting way too hard for a normal fighter. Also, in the rematch, they were sending a woman up to my room every night right up to the fight. I stopped him in our first fight but he stopped me in the rematch.

DH: Was there still good money coming out of South Africa?

MW: Oh, yeah. I made $120,000 for the first fight and $150,000 for the rematch. And that was all tax free.

DH: In 1991 – at the age of 40 – you actually took on soon-to-be heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis in Caesar’s Tahoe. Tell me about the fight.

MW: Well (laughing), like you said, I was 40 but I still gave a good account of myself. I gave him a bit of a fight until he caught me in the 6th. But I’ve gotta tell you, he was so impressed with me even at that age, he asked me to work with him for his title fight with Razor Ruddock. So I go over to London to spar with him but they put these huge gloves on me. I mean like they were pillows, while he was wearing something a little bigger than skin-tight mitts. The sessions were hard…(laughing) for me.

DH: You were still knocking about in ‘93 and accepted a fight in China of all places. Tell me how that came about.

MW: I beat Bert Cooper over there. Harold said it was the first ever professional fight in China and that’s how it was promoted.

DH: Wait a minute. Harold? This wasn’t Harold J. Smith again?

MW: (laughing) Yes it was. He was out of prison and up to his old tricks again. Because I think I’m the only one that got paid on that card.

DH: It’s hard to believe that you actually finished out your career in 2000 at the age of 49 against old opponent Larry Holmes in Biloxi. Tell me about that one.

MW: I was actually retired for two years when I got the call from Don King offering me that fight. I told him I had been out of the ring and was out of shape, but he promised it would be really light. But, man (laughing), I get up there and it felt like they tried to kill me.

DH: Mike, any regrets on your career? Anything you would have done differently?

MW: Well, I would have taken things more seriously early in my career and I certainly would have loved to have taken the Gerry Cooney fight. That was $5,000,000 I lost out on. Sometimes there’s no justice in this game.

DH: Last question, dude. What have you been doing with yourself since hanging up the gloves for good?

MW: I’ve been taking it easy. After 28 years in the ring, 4 marriages and 4 divorces, (laughing) I think that I’m probably entitled.

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Mike Weaver, at right, with author, Dan Hanley

Mike Weaver, at right, with author, Dan Hanley

When I was a kid in school, the nuns would put the fear of God in us by warning us that any misstep in our behavior would go down on our permanent record. The very thought that the ‘Bazooka Joe’ incident would dog us into adulthood had us all practically wetting ourselves. Mike Weaver, however, took that permanent record and used it as a tool straight to the heavyweight championship of the world, while leaving a host of fighters horizontal in his wake. As I said, numbers can be deceiving. And if Mike Weaver’s in the house, don’t you bet on the numbers, baby.

See ya next round,

 

Dan Hanley

pugnut23@yahoo.com

 

 

 

 

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