January 28, 2000
On Thursday, January 27, Cedric Kushner Productions kicked off what has
been billed as a monthly series of boxing shows in the Hammerstein
Ballroom at New York's Manhattan Center. Part of CKP's "Heavyweight
Explosion" series, the string of shows constitutes an attempt to capture
the echo of the glory days of the sport, when boxing shows were weekly, if
not more regular, events at large and small venues throughout the city.
Based on last night's debut, however, that echo may be growing fainter and
A fair amount of show-biz and glitz accompanies heavyweight fights. The
ratio of model-quality, bored-looking young women chatting into their
cell-phones under the protective glare of stocky guys in pastel suits and
slicked-back hair is vastly increased. The fighters have (and can
sometimes even afford) "entourages". There is a high proportion of people
strutting around looking important, often wearing official-looking badges,
but who don't appear to know exactly how they found themselves at the
arena. You get the picture.
Last night's "Heavyweight Explosion" was a nice illustration of the
general format. Kushner's approach is to highlight the entertainment
value of the heavyweight division by interspersing the fights themselves
with music, dancing and even (god help us) an MC. The overall effect is
something of a cross between a lounge act, a club having a really bad
night and a music video. Sport is peripheral at best.
The evening started with a slinky young woman in a black sheath dress and
knee-high leather boots standing on a black podium near one corner of the
ring and engaging the crowd with what sounded like a parody of a lounge
singer's patter. "Allllll RIIIGGGHHHHTTT!!!! Are you FEELING it!?!
YEAH, you're feeling it!!! I wanna get busy!!!" She repeatedly shouted
out thanks to "The Legendary Chris Washington", a gentleman in a warm-up
suit in the balcony, who was spinning bass- and drum-heavy hip-hop prior
to the first bout, and in between bouts thereafter.
The MC then introduced "The Everlast P-Funk Dancers", a group of three men
and three women (boys and girls, really, they couldn't have been more than
18), who took to the ring dressed in warm-up suits and did a little number
to "The Legendary" Chris Washington's music. The routine ended with one
of the men doing a handstand, his legs bent almost backwards towards the
floor, so that his body was parallel to the ring mat's surface.
That was the most athletic thing to happen in the ring for the next hour
Three quick bouts followed. In the first, Damon Saulbury, 217 lbs, with a
record of 1-0 (1), easily dispatched Jason Gethers, 224 lbs, 2-1-1(2).
Gethers had a nice opening round, hurting Saulbury to the body more than
once and staggering him against the ropes. But Gethers tired visibly
towards the end of the round and never really recovered. Saulbury rushed
out at the bell and seemed to almost push Gethers over. The take-down was
ruled a slip, but immediately thereafter Saulbury landed a huge left hook
that put Gethers on the mat again; the referee waved it off at 0:57 of the
The next bout pitted Taurus Sykes, 7-0 (3) against Willie Kiles, 2-5, and
at least had the virtue of being short. Kiles, 238 lbs., came out at the
bell swinging wildly, putting on pressure but not exhibiting a great deal
of skill. Sykes' family, up in the balcony, was going wild every time
Sykes threw a jab, hollering for him to do more. Eventually, he did. A
left hook practically spun Kiles out of his socks and he pitched
face-forward on the mat. The referee stopped the contest (using the term
loosely) at 1:26 of the first.
Next were (brace yourself) female heavyweights. Bridget Robinson, 216
lbs, was making her pro debut against "Awesome" Keisha Snow, 223 lbs and
with a record of 3-0 (1). Robinson's debut was over quickly, as Snow, who
looked to be a fairly tough customer despite her girth, put Robinson down
twice with unskilled, but effective, clubbing right hands. After the
second knockdown, Robinson headed back to her corner, shoulders slumped
dejectedly, as the referee stepped in. After her bout, Snow came up to
the balcony to sign autographed pictures and have her picture taken with
friends and family.
There was a brief pause following the Robinson-Snow fight, during which
two women clad in silver spangled tops and lace shorts clambered to two
podiums set up on either side of the ring and started to bump and grind to
"the Legendary" Chris Washington's music. During the interval, the
Everlast Ring Card Girls were introduced, to howls from the cheap seats.
The RCGs would spend the rest of the evening working hard; after each turn
at the ring card, each would race to the back of the house to change from
their skimpy, two-piece ensemble into . . . another skimpy, two-piece
ensemble, albeit usually a differently-colored one. At least THEY were
getting a workout . . .
A fight finally broke out a few minutes later, as Jameel "Big Time"
McCline, 258 lbs with a record of 20-2-1(14), took on late substitute Ron
Guerrero, 226 lbs, 8-2 (6). "Big Time", whom I'd never heard of before,
had a relatively huge cheering section up in the cheap seats, mostly on
the younger side. A youngish, buxom woman in a long black evening dress
stood the entire fight and yelled things like "Step IN!!!" "Go to the
BODY!!!" McCline's fans were in for an unfortunately long night. Much
the bigger man, with a huge reach advantage, Jameel nevertheless seemed
unable to keep the pesky Guerrero away. Guerrero generally fought in
spurts, but particularly in the middle rounds landed excellent counter
left hands, and constantly pressed the action, trying to get inside
McCline's long arms. When McCline worked the jab, it was an entirely
lopsided fight, but he couldn't seem to build and hold a rhythm for more
than a round or two. There were no knockdowns, and by the final bell, the
judges had it scored 77-75 McCline, 77-75 Guerrero and 76-76, for a draw
The next bout was supposed to be the co-main event, but was dropped to a
prelim when Kirk Johnson's original opponent, Israel Cole, apparently came
down with hepatitis. Kirk Johnson, 244 lbs, 28-0-1 (20), always seems to
be on the cusp of good things, but hasn't yet had a defining fight against
superior competition. His most competitive recent bouts were a draw and a
close decision win against former cruiser king Al Cole. Since then, he's
fought mostly minor-league or worse fighters as he tries to maintain his
ranking and secure a signature fight.
Last night did little to advance that particular ball.
First, Kirk came in looking relatively out of shape and puffy around the
mid-section. Fortunately, his level of training never became a factor.
Johnson's new opponent, Marcus Johnson, 238 lbs with a record of 7-5 (6),
had apparently been dredged from the bottom of the card to serve as cannon
fodder for the Canadian. The bout went about as you might have expected.
Marcus Johnson merely pawed and ran for the first round, never landing a
significant shot. Kirk Johnson put the beating on his American opponent
in the second, finally sending him down and out at 2:00 of the round.
While there's something to be said for a willingness to keep the show
going even in the face of unavoidable last-minute problems, it's hard to
see what the point of last night's "fight" was for Kirk. Even had
Johnson's original opponent, Israel Cole, not fallen out, Cole was 15-9,
hardly a world-beater himself, and certainly not the type of guy a ranked
fighter in his prime should be wasting his time with. Further, in the
kind of non-shape he exhibited last night, Johnson's in danger of eating
himself right out of serious contention in a reasonably crowded pool of
Next up was the main event, pitting Monte Barrett, 224, with a record of
21-1 (13) against Derrick Banks, 227, who has nineteen wins against four
losses and a draw, with seven wins via knockout. Barrett's last fight,
and first loss, was a close, sloppy duel against Lance "Mount" Whitaker.
Barrett dropped a split decision against the huge, but ultimately
toothless Whitaker, probably earning the loss with the last punch of the
last round, in which the far bigger man finally put his weight behind a
punch and practically took Barrett's head off. Banks has posted wins
mostly over journeyman competition (Lou Monaco, Arthur Weathers, etc.),
and generally has lost when he stepped up the class.
Prior to the main event, there was more bumping and grinding from the fly
girls on the podium, more hip-hop music, and I think the P-Funk dancers
came out one more time. To what I'm sure was the horror of any vets in
attendance, one of the fly girls, whose butt cheeks were hanging out of
her lace shorts, held the flag for the national anthem prior to the bout.
The fight itself was on the slow and sloppy side. Banks, who appears to
fancy himself a puncher despite his low KO ratio, started each of the
early rounds vigorously, trying to get inside on Barrett, who would warm
up only as the round progressed. Banks managed to stagger Barrett in the
second, but was himself cut over the eye and bleeding from the mouth over
the next few rounds. The referee checked Banks in the corner once or
twice during the later rounds, but the cuts never seemed to truly endanger
the fight. Would that they had, for most of it was a boring clinch-fest.
Barrett, especially in the middle rounds, generally dictated the pace with
effective use of the jab. The last three rounds saw Banks resurrect
himself a bit, working well to the body and pressing his case more out of
desperation than anything else. But it would fall short by the final
bell, as the judges put Barrett comfortably ahead by scores of 97-93
(twice) and 98-92.
The end of the main event was like throwing a switch. All the pretty
models with their cell phones and hulking boyfriend/bodyguards headed for
the exit. A genuine shame, because they missed Charles Hatcher, a dread
locked 215-pounder (10-0 (8)), put the hurt on Augustin Corpus, a Mexican
heavyweight weighing in at 234 lbs and with a record of 7-5-2 (7).
Despite the impressive KO ratio of each fighter, the bout was a pure
boxing match. Hatcher did most of the pitching with crisp, effective jabs
and hooks, and Corpus did most of the catching, failing to win a single
round on any of the official scorecards at the end of six rounds.
As I wandered into the frigid NYC night and headed across 34th street to
Sixth Avenue, I saw Bert Sugar exiting an Irish Pub. Apparently, even he
had walked out on the walkout bout.
In short, it was something of a disappointing evening; I left not even
really sure I had attended a boxing match, as opposed to a concert or a
club. Maybe all the hip-hop music, dancers, fly-girls, etc., is the way
to lure in a younger crowd that might otherwise eschew the sport. But
neither the music nor the dancing seems to me compelling enough to hold
much of an audience when the caliber of the actual bouts is so poor.
Good, competitive fights with evenly matched opponents are entertaining in
their own right; if Kushner put more effort into that, he might be able to
dispense with the fly-girls.