The Cyber Boxing Zone Newswire
"If Evander Holyfield was a sparring partner in our camp, we wouldn't use him because he's too slow and too old."
Emmanuel Steward after Lewis-Holyfield
The Ol' Spit Bucket was eagerly looking forward to writing an Op-Ed piece that cleverly wrapped up the history of the the heavyweights in the 90's in a semi-brilliant, synaptic type method...
I was gonna (hopefully), entitle my article: "Chili Con Carnage"... After three divorces, I should know better than to be hopeful... Yeah, well... If Tyson-Holyfield II was the spectacle that slit the jugular of boxing's credibility, tonight, fuckin' buried the corpse.
Sailing hard ships through broken harbours...
All the Bucket's got's t' say is: THE FIX IS IN
CALL VANDER THE TUMBLIN' DEUS: AS KEEF RICHARDS SEES UP CLOSE, IN THE WORLD OF BIG-TIME BOXING, YOU'VE GOT TO SCRAPE THE SHIT RIGHT OFF YOUR SHOES...
Lennox Lewis v. Evander Holyfield
March 13, 1999
Madison Square Garden, NYC
Sometimes, as ringside Lennox Lewis booster Keith Richards knows all too well, you just CAN'T get no satisfaction.
It was supposed to be boxing's crowning achievement: a heavyweight unification bout -- the first in a decade -- capping several weeks of glittering marquee matchups, in the sacred palace where the sport's finest moments have occurred over the past century. And it should have been a glorious night for the oft-slighted, underappreciated and frequently-evaded Englishman Lennox Lewis, who outjabbed, outmuscled, outfoxed and outfought aging warrior Evander Holyfield over a lopsided 12 rounds. Enter a batty Brit named Larry O'Connell and a completely out-of-her-element Jersey joker named Eugenia Williams who had this one-sided affair 115-115 and 115-113 for Holyfield, respectively. Love and justice, they say, are blind and now we can add a third to that list: prize fight judging. With this at-best-witless scoring, boxing received a sapping body blow at precisely the moment it should have been taking a richly-deserved bow. How many times have we seen one of these outrageous, prefabricated "draws" used to prime the pump for a money-spinning rematch? But, again, as Keef might have put it, in the terminally-tainted world of major-league prize-fighting, you're a fool to cry. It would
be very poetic justice for the Daily Mail to publish Squire O'Connell's home address, so some of the vocal British punters who spent 1999's pint money on the MSG junket, and who deserved the chance to see one of their own crowned undisputed champ, can suitably "thank" him for his fine, fine work. With cricket bats, preferably.
Much was made before the fight of Holy Warrior Holyfield's divine prophecy of a 3rd round KO, and, entering the ring singing hymns, he seemed almost a tad TOO relaxed and happy, more concertmaster than conqueror; more Shirley Caesar than Julius Caesar. Lewis had a stoney look of determination that might have been misinterpreted as fear. In fact, Lewis had nothing to fear and knew it.
In the first two frames, Holyfield threw little and landed even less, Lewis using his substantial 7" reach advantage to keep the smaller fighter at bay and neutralize his swatting punches. Lennox's jab, thrown early from an angle
as a half-hook, was the dominant punch all night, and although the indefatigable Holyfield occasionally fought his way into range, Lewis' effectively kept Evander bobbing at the end of his jab like a schoolboy throughout the bout. Between rounds two and three, Holyfield assured trainer Don Turner that they would be "outta here" and that the prophecy would be fulfilled. It was a testament to the WBA/IBF champ's faith that he came to life in the third, scoring with blistering combinations and, to the delight of the pro-Holyfield partisans, backing Lewis into a corner. It would be his only moment of glory until late in the contest.
Through the long middle portion of the bout from rounds four through ten, Lewis set the tone with a pumping jab, thrown occasionally with purpose, but most often used as a tactical weapon, a prod to throw off Holyfield's timing
and keep him from punching, a cudgel to bust up Holyfield's eyes and, to a lesser extent, as a range finder for Lewis' vaunted overhand right. In the fifth, a looping, clubbing right hand to the temple disoriented Holyfield and
left him immobile on the ropes for much of the round's first half, as Lewis measured and potshotted his opponent. Perhaps to his credit, the WBC champ resisted the impulse to go wild, controlling his flurries in the knowledge
that he had things well in hand. This intuition, however reasonable, would be Lewis' undoing.
In the sixth, Holyfield nearly had his moment when Lewis, his confidence ripening into cockiness, showboated with hands at his sides, only to eat a lunging Holyfield left. But Lewis came out with a mission in the next stanza,
jabbing with authority, peppering Holyfield with body shots and uppercuts and reclaiming the play. Holyfield's growing (and justified) sense of desperation led him to up the rpm's his 36-year old body could provide and increase the pressure in the later rounds, cutting Lewis in the ninth and crowding the Brit with thudding blows in the tenth. But nothing came of either the cut or Holyfield's offensive and Lewis coasted behind his jab, superior bulk and sharper ring generalship to what he (and everyone watching) must have felt was an easy decision win. As he looked up at Holyfield's puffy face, Our Keef might have been thinking to himself, "what a drag it is getting old..."
Nothing more need be said about the decision in this contest than that Nigel Collins, who in his book Boxing Babylon christened Alfredo Escalera-Tyrone Everett at the Philadelphia Spectrum as boxing's greatest outrage, will have to rewrite the chapter for future editions. Even Holyfield was sheepish and embarrassed to accept the gift draw that the New York boxing mafia must surely feel paves the way for a rich rematch. A more deeply cynical journalist than this one might wonder aloud what kind of markers Don King could have called in to get a pair of "professionals" to disregard the evidence offered by every sensory organ, but, honestly, isn't this kind of bald thievery all too common in a sport that will never be clean? Soon, the chants of "let's do it again" will ring out and fans will be digging deeper into their purses and pockets. I can only say that Lewis, who has been dodged, ducked, maligned and generally abused for years is owed a loud and heartfelt apology by every U.S. fan and
writer. Sorry to say, for the sport of boxing, respectability is still just about a moonlight mile down the road.
For what it's worth -- apparently bupkus -- this writer had the bout 118-110, ten rounds to two for Lewis. Lewis falls after this farce to 34-1-1, while Holyfield slumps to 36-3-1.
Of course, Holyfield has had a wonderful career and should not be slighted, no matter how deficient his performance in this bout. And Lewis had it exactly right when he said that the boxing faithful would now crown him in their hearts and minds as the rightful heavyweight champion. We can only hope he gets his due one day very soon.
For such a momentous event, Don King and TVKO assembled a uniformly lackluster PPV undercard. Perhaps the sole bright spot was the gallant losing effort of Sam Garr (25-3), the unheralded clubfighter whose quick hands and deft feet gave the powerful but occasionally ponderous WBA welterweight king James Page (24-3) much more than he could have expected. While Page's murderous body work took its toll and won him most of the early rounds, Garr's speedy fists and elegant movement gave him moments and frustrated the champion. But with the exception of the 11th round, Page's superior strength and power enabled him to walk through Garr's shots in the second half of the bout. The contest was unanimously scored for Page. Judge Luis Rivera had the fight 119-109, judge Gonzalo Riveras scored it 116-113 and judge Don Ackerman, like TVKO analyst Harold Lederman and this writer, scored the bout 117-111 for the power-punching Page, who may need to gain some finesse and conditioning before challenging fellow titlists Felix Trinidad or Oscar De La Hoya.
Respect, in varying measures, is also due to challengers Howard Clarke (26-11-2), the junior middleweight who challenged undefeated IBF champ Fernando Vargas (16-0), and heavyweight Mario Cawley (21-2), who fell to
Chelsea, MA contender John Ruiz (34-3). Clarke gave a good account of himself for three losing rounds, standing up to Vargas' harder punches, and even mounting some offense, before being chopped down in the mercifully-stopped fourth. Cawley, who had been chastised by a manager for quitting in a prior loss against Hartford, Ct Olympian Lawrence Clay-Bey, ignored the doctor's invitation to retire and got off his stool for the fourth round after soaking up a prodigious beating, although, given his absence of aggression, one had to wonder why.
In the end, it was a thoroughly sickening, but all too familiar display of contempt for its fans by a sport to which we share a lingering, but inexplicable attachment.
You said it Keith: love, it's a bitch.
By Chris Bushnell
Kings Crowning Glory. That was the monicker given tonights heavyweight unification battle. Kings Frowning Robbery is more like it.
Tonight was supposed to be a shining night for boxing. The sports biggest fight set up the sports two biggest men in a showdown that would finally, we hoped, provide one single unified heavyweight champion atop the sport. Instead, boxing fans were once again subjected to the disgusting scoring that continues to threaten what little legitimacy boxing has left. Every time boxing steps up to showcase its glory, another black eye marrs the sport we love.
Evander Holyfield, the centerpiece of the division since his inspiring victory over Mike Tyson, sought to unfiy his WBA and IBF belts with WBC and lineal claimant Lennox Lewis. Two years in the making, this fight overcame the conflicting demands of the sanctioning committees, the bitter posturing of opposing promoters, the contractual red tape of rival cable networks, and the astronomical purse demands of the prinicpals. It seemed a miracle that the fight was signed, and as both Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis stood in center ring, for once everything seemed right in the sport.
At the opening bell, Lennox Lewis pounced on the smaller, older, but more experienced Holyfield. Firing his long jab and blue chip right hand, Lewis immediatly sought the respect that he felt the champion, if not the boxing
public, had long denied him. Landing in his first attempt, a confidence-filled Lewis pursued Holyfield across the ring. As Lewis flicked his jab, if not occasionally pawed with it, the distance between him and the Real Deal was
wide. Holyfield attempted to connect with his challenger, but his reaching blows caught nothing but air. Lewis calmly fired back, hitting the champion with some thudding shots.
In the second, the fight continued, with Holyfield nearly sleep walking in the ring. As Lewis reach easily kept Evander at bay, Lennox began firing more brutal shots, catching Holyfield with rights and lefts that visibly shook him to the bone. Offering little resistance, the 36 year old Holyfield appeared more concerned with making it to the third round.
In numerous pre-fight interviews, Holyfield claimed that he would knock out Lewis in the third stanza. The deeply religious Holyfield testified that God Himself had sent word that the third would deliver Holyfields victory. Boxing fans, long bemused by such specific pronouncements, had written off the prediction as mere hype; a boastful soundbyte to generate pay-per-view sales among the casual fan.
But sitting in his corner after two lackluster frames, Holyfield seemed to believe his prognostication with the ferverence of the easiest mark. Smiling and praising God from his stool, Holyfield assured his worried corner that
this is the round yall, hes outta here!. Hope that Holyfield would wake up was held by even the non believers, as his performance early in the fight suggested that he was either saving himself up for the third or was spent
before the bout had begun.
God helps those who help themselves, and Holyfield charged out of his corner to begin the third full of life. Pressing Lewis, Holyfield finally managed to get inside and fire some punches of his own. It almost worked. Twice, Evander landed head snapping combinations that backed the lumbering Lewis against the ropes, and twice Lewis covered up and survived the assault. As Lewis took Holyfields heat without melting, just as Holyfield had done in the two previous rounds, a good fight was shaping up. But it never came.
After winning the third, but failing to fufill his promise, Holyfield slumped on his stool and appeared as discouraged as the gambler who had bet his entire stake on the KO3 proposition. When the fourth began, Holyfields frustration overtook his stance, as he gruddingly plodded out to face Lewis again. The mental lapse was out of character for Holyfield, and just as the fight was getting started, he seemed removed from the task.
Lewis returned to his jab in the fourth, and it paid dividends. Although his left often pawed, and almost never retracted back into proper position, it was still enough to keep Holyfield too far away. With Lewis controlling the
action with boxings most basic tool, he neutralized Holyfields offense, while peppering him with consistent punching. Although Holyfield landed two fantastic punches mid round, Lewis tallied the round in his column by spending the remaining 2:57 reaching out and touching Holyfield at will.
And so it went. In the fifth, in the sixth, and well past the seventh, Lewis controlled the entire fight. With Holyfield unable to get inside (and tied up effectively when he did get in), Lewis was afforded a pace that allowed him to find a deadly rhythm. Jabbing and throwing right hands, Lewis was careful not to overcommit to a haymaker that might leave him open. The result was a measured Lewis reaching out and finding Holyfield with everything he threw. His face swelling under the attack, Holyfield could do little more than wing giant punches that missed by a mile and looked as though they would not be threatening even if they had landed.
Falling far behind in the fight, Holyfield turned up the aggression in the eighth, focusing his attack on Lewis midsection. Although he landed a number of blows downstairs, most of them were protected by the unusual highly worn cup of Lewis. Despite pre-fight complaints from Emanuel Steward about Holyfields low-line, it was Lewis who benefitted most from ill-fitting gear. Nonetheless, Holyfield was finally the one coming forward in the fight, and his body assault began to lower Lewis hands.
In the ninth, with Lewis dropping his hands from fatigue and arrogance, Holyfield had in front of him the fighter he wanted: exposed and waiting to be tested. But he absolutely could not capitalize. Using little more than a short jab, Holyfield simply watched as Lewis hit him. Worse still, he also watched when Lewis would miss. Unable to make the most of the opportunities he clearly saw, Holyfield looked as shot as weve seen him.
The tenth round began with Lewis bleeding from a butt-induced cut over his left eye, and showing a bit of tentativeness for the first time. Holyfield tried to jumpstart his chances by throwing hard shots, and finally landed some boot shaking blows of his own. As Lewis tried to tie up Holyfield, he caught more than a few clean punches on the chin, and the largely pro-Lewis crowd finally stood on its feet. But it was too late. Holyfields remaining energy was spent with this assault, by far his best of the night. Lewis survived and returned to his corner looking no worse than he had after any other round.
The Holyfield agression contuned in the eleventh and twelvth, but to no avail. Landing occasional big shots on Lewis, Holyfield was eating consistent jabs and right hands in between. Lewis jab, while rarely stinging, still thudded into Holyfield with the power of a typical right, and controlled the pace of the bout. Clearly needing a knockout, Holyfield tried, but seemed more unable to deliver than unwilling to try. When the final bell rang, Lennox Lewis raised his hand over his head in victory, and by all accounts he had finally unified the title.
And then the scores were read.
The first judge, a woman named Jean Williams, had Holyfield ahead 115-113. The second judge, Stanley Christodoulou of South Africa, had a more expected 116-112 for Lewis. And the third judge, the always unpredictable Larry OConnell, scored a bizarre 115-115.
Easily, this was the worst decision of the last 20 years. Worse than Whitaker-Chavez...by far. In the ring, Lennox Lewis dropped his jaw in utter disbelief. The sold-out New York crowd booed. The television announcers could barely hold their contempt.
Lennox Lewis, the fighter who had spent the 90s being ducked, avoided and maligned, was robbed blind. Love him or hate him, he completely dominated Evander Holyfield this night. There should have been no question. There should have been no controversy. Instead there it was again: boxings ugly side.
Some will call it corruption and some will label it as incompetance, but who can deny that once again, with a chance to shine, boxing has again stumbled. The distaste that this type of outcome leaves will not wash away easily. The fans, who paid either $50 each to watch at home, or up to $1500 to be sardined in at ringside, are even bigger losers than Lennox Lewis. Although there was immediate talk of a rematch, why should the fans care? So that we can again have our pockets picked by boxings seemly underbelly?
In a post fight interview, the official who scored for Holyfield claimed that I simply score the fight on blows that land. Despite ignoring the rules that rounds also be scored on effective agressiveness, defense and ring generalship...the statitistics do not justify her tally. Lennox Lewis was credited with landing 348 punches, a dominating 57% connect rate. Holyfield, by contrast, landed a more average 34%, while attempting only slightly more punches than Lewis landed.
Overall, it was a disappointing night. The war in the ring never materialized, and the scene outside the ring was equally uninspiring. Both fighters will likely rematch for big money instead of meet their required sanctioning body manadatories...but does boxing need a unified champion that badly? If what happened tonight might possibly happen again, then the answer is a resounding No!.
-On the undercard, fans were treated to three less-than-scintillating matchups. In one, the WBC showed everyone just how awful their ratings are when their #1 heavyweight contender John Ruiz took on the uninspired Mario Cawley. Cawley, whose 14 month layoff began when he simply quit in his last pro bout, looked like he wanted to be anywhere other than in the ring. He rarely threw punches, and each of the four times he was knocked down, he looked like he would rather be watching on pay-per-view. Despite the four knockdowns, Ruiz looked less than stellar, clubbing Cawley with hard punches, but mostly waltzing with his challenger in a boring contest that ended by TKO4. Also undermatched was newly crowned junior middleweight champ Fernando Vargas, who walked through a game but unworthy Howard Clarke. Clarke flipped a decent jab and showed that Vargas could be hit with a left hook, but simply could not withstand the punishing power shots of the young champion, who also won by TKO4. In the final undercard bout, WBA welterweight titlist James Page
turned in a performance that has welterweight killers DelaHoya and Trinidad frothing at the mouth for what would be an easy win. Page punished the late sub Sam Garr early with winging, overcommitted punches. Garr stunned Page, however, in the fourth by countering with shorter straight shots that dropped the champion. Page rallied when Garr tired later in the fight, having not made 147 in over 4 years. Garr came roaring back in the final two rounds with a spirited, if unfufilled, rally that further served to tarnish Pages claim to a world championship. Page got the wide decision he deserved, but lost more in stature than he gained in victory.
Lewis Mugged in New York City
By Thomas Gerbasi
Leave it to boxing. In football, a 31-7 game is a blowout. The same goes for 112-89 games in basketball, and 9-0 games in baseball. In boxing, Lennox Lewis can win 10 out of 12 rounds (118-111 on my card) against Evander Holyfield, and only be awarded a draw. This decision was a disgrace of the highest order, and one which should leave no doubt as to the sickness of the sport. While the Quartey-DeLa Hoya and Trinidad-Whitaker fights lifted us up, this fight, held before a sellout crowd in the Mecca of boxing, Madison Square Garden, brings us right back down.
But at least there are no questions to be asked of the fighters themselves. Lennox Lewis is in my eyes, and in the eyes of everyone except Jean Williams, Larry O'Connell, the WBA, and the IBF, the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. There are no more doubts. For all the quips about Lewis' heart, his desire, and his ability, without a doubt he dominated the "Real Deal" from the opening bell. Even Holyfield couldn't admit that he thought he won the fight in his post-fight interview.
Too big. Lewis utilized his jab and reach all night, controlling the action, and leaving Holyfield looking like an old man. Lennox landed an amazing 57% of his punches and 51% of his jabs in the fight, while Holyfield looked less like a warrior and more like a worrier as the fight progressed.
And obviously there was no third round knockout, as Holyfield so brazenly predicted. Holyfield looked relaxed between rounds two and three, even going so far as to tell his corner that this was the round that Lewis was going out. And despite a more aggressive attack, there was to be no kayo, and not even a wobble from the WBC champ.
This was no Ali-Frazier I. After the third, Holyfield seemed to lose all desire to fight. And all the pre-fight hype couldn't save this one from becoming a tedious exercise in domination. There was no way Lennox Lewis lost this fight. How Jean Williams saw this fight 116-113 in favor of Holyfield is mind boggling. This woman should lose her license, or at least have to sit in on HBO's replay of the fight and explain her scoring. And just so Lewis doesn't think that it's only Americans that are blind, his countryman Larry O'Connell saw the fight even at 115-115. Only South African Stanley Christodoulou saw the fight correctly at 116-113, and even that was kind of close. Control the fight. Land 59% of your punches. Close out with a strong last round. Sounds like a formula for victory. But not when you're dealing with inept judges. I'm usually lenient with judges because I know that seeing a fight live and seeing it on television are two entirely different things. But in this case, you could have been hanging upside down from the Madison Square Garden rafters and still know who the winner was.
This fight left a bad taste in my mouth. I'm not even interested in a rematch. I know who the better man is. For what it's worth...THE WINNER AND NEW UNDISPUTED HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD...LENNOX LEWIS. Lennox, you may not have the hardware to show it off, but you are the people's champ now.
Holyfield vs. Lewis A Draw?
The Boxing Community Cries Out Fix!
By Francis Walker
During the past two weeks Evander Holyfield predicted Lewis would not last more than three rounds with him. On Saturday, March 13, the world was anticipating the coronation of a newly crowned Undisputed World Heavyweight champion. Lewis (34-1-1, 27KOs), the WBC champion made Holyfield (36-3-1, 25KOs), the WBA & IBF king eat his words, as Lewis clearly dominated the contest. Just when it had appeared Lewis had unified the world heavyweight crown, the unthinkable happened.... In front of a sold out crowd of nearly 21,300 fans at Madison Square Garden in New York City, On Saturday, March 13, Lewis' 12-round lopsided dominance of Holyfield ended in a draw.
The bout, promoted by Don King Productions, Main Events Monitor, and Panix Promotions in association with Madison Square Garden Communications, was televised exclusively on TVKO Pay-Per-View from HBO at a suggested retail of $49.95.
In my book, Lewis won nine of the twelve rounds fought. However, one judge scored the bout 115-113 for Holyfield. The next official had it 115-112 for Lewis, while the third and final official scored the encounter 115-115 even. How could that be?
"Whether Evander was chasing me with the jab I was chasing him all night long," Lewis said at the post-fight press conference. Where is that third round knockout, that is what I want to know? I felt like I was in complete control of the whole fight."
According to CompuBox, Inc. statistics - Lewis threw more total punches (613-385) and landed more (348-130) than Holyfield. Despite fighting in an 18' ring, Lewis still managed to out-jab (187-57) and out-power (249-214) Holyfield in punches connected.
In the third round, the round in which Lewis would get knocked out, Holyfield landed some hard overhand rights to his temple. But it was Lewis' left-jabs and hard right that kept Holyfield off-balance the entire contest.
'It looked like Lewis was training with one of his sparring partners," Lewis' trainer Emanuel Steward said afterward. "It was not a close fight. Lennox played with Evander with his jab. What happened here I think was disgusting."
Here is what fighters and experts at ringside felt about the controversial decision....
HBO Senior Vice President, Lou DiBella: "I hate to say this, but everytime you see a fucked-up decision and a fighter who should not be a mandatory the politics of the sport stinks."
WBA No. 1 contender, Henry Akinwande: "I think Lewis won by about two rounds. That is life, that is life. You just have to stay strong and believe. They are going to have rematch and if that happens it is going to happen again. They will pass as long as there are two guys willing to kill one another. These are the the kind of lies we fighters go through. If you want to get to the top, you have to go through pain."
IBF light heavyweight champion, Reggie Johnson: "I called it! I told them it was going to be a draw. I called it because, the fight went the distance and no one really dominated the fight. I'm saying this is not the kind of fight
you can consider one fighter the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the world."
Young heavyweight, Michael Grant: "Nah! It was one sided. Sometime you gotta go with what you got. This business sometimes...Hey, this is the sport of boxing and I don't think it's a righteous thing."
WBA junior welterweight champion, Sharmba Mitchell: "I thought it was a draw. The first two rounds I gave to Lennox. The next two I gave to Holyfield. The middle rounds were fip flop. I gave Holyfield several straight rounds and gave Lewis the last round. I called it a draw myself. Lewis had a great night. Holyfield had a shitty night."
WBC middleweight champion, Hassine Cherifi: "Like everybody... The decision was no good for boxing. It's a real pity. How can you discurse about that? Its a bad thing."
WBA cruiserweight champion, Fabrice Tiozzo: "No draw, I think Lewis win. It's not a draw, I think it was not a good fight. Holyfield had nothing."
HBO Sports Boxing Commentator, Jim Lampley: "No way! This fight was one-sided- a victory for Lennox Lewis. He proved that he is indeed the best heavyweight in the world today. This decision was worse than Foreman-Briggs and Whitaker-Chavez.... All the momentum the sport has generated was sacrificed tonight.
All of that wasn't, but with with strength of highway robbery."
Until press time, Holyfield is stuck with WBA and IBF mandatories Akinwande and David Tua (respectively). Meanwhile, Lewis has WBC mandatory Johnny Ruiz."
The undercard featured Fernado Vargas (16-0, 16KOs) making the first defense of his IBF junior middleweight title, knocked out Englishman Howard Clarke (26-10-2, 18KOs) in the fourth round.
James Page (24-3, 18KOs) retained his WBA welteweight crown with 12-round decision against Sam Carr (25-3, 21KOs).
Ruiz (34-3, 25KOs) mentioned earlier, knocked out Mario Cawley (21-1, 16KOs) in the fourth round.
Lastly, Hugo Soto (50-6-2, 33KOs) lost the WBA flyweight crown to Leo Gamez (30-6-1, 22KOs), via second-round stoppage.
By Chuck Bogle
In college, one of my roommates was both a fan of, and an occasional participant in, track and field. I recall walking into our living room one evening to find him staring at the television, his arms folded, shaking his head as an announcer read the news about a star Canadian runner, Ben Johnson, having tested positive for steroid use. Between the two of us, there was generally no subject that wasn't material for humor. I made a weak joke about
how I had WONDERED how Johnson had managed to run the mile in 45 seconds. The roommate looked at me, not smiling.
"You don't understand," he said, "I BELIEVE in this stuff."
Until last night, I did, too.
There's no reason to give a blow-by-blow of last night's unification fight between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis, or to search for ways to justify the decision that left the heavyweight title in pieces. The result of the
fight was clear, the decision unjustifiable.
Lewis dominated from the outset, keeping Holyfield at the end of those enormous arms the entire night. He moved better, threw and landed more (and more meaningful) punches and had Holyfield stunned on more than one occasion. Holyfield looked slow, inaccurate and lethargic all night. The WBA and IBF titlist won two rounds, maybe three if you were being charitable, four if you felt the need to give Holyfield a sort of Lifetime Achievement Award for past meritorious service. It just wasn't any closer than that. The judges who scored the bout for Holyfield (Jean Williams from New Jersey) or as a draw (Larry O'Connell from Britain, who might want to start checking out some nice homes in Connecticut rather than go home to face his countrymen) were incompetent, blind, paid off, or a combination of those three.
Boxing blew several major opportunities last night. Obviously, it blew a chance to have a "unified" heavyweight title. The desire for such an animal is a powerful force. Humans, boxing fans included, have an innate need for
hierarchy, for knowing who's "the best" or "the strongest" or, god help us, "the greatest." The fighter that can say "I am" can thrill fans of the sport to their cores. That's probably part of the reason that boxing titles are so fractured in the first place. Promoters have realized that fans will rally behind, and more importantly, open their wallets for, a "champion" or a "title fight" in a way that they won't for just another ten-rounder.
But, at least for me, that's not the worst aspect of last night's injustice. Fight fans care about unified titles. People who aren't fight fans, but who could be, care about interesting, exciting fights with logical, justifiable outcomes.
Last night could have provided an entry point for new fans to come to the sport. As the first heavyweight unification bout in years, and perhaps the only truly exciting matchup left in the division, the bout prompted more media attention, at least on the East Coast, than any non-Tyson fight in the past decade. Driving down Manhattan's West Side Highway recently, I was surprised to see an enormous billboard promoting the fight, which must have been seen by thousands of commuters daily. The result of all the interest and hype was that even people who wouldn't ordinarily be caught dead watching a fight probably were at least dimly aware that it was occurring. While the contest itself was an unexpected snooze, a clear decision for Lewis would have provided the potential fan with a sense of closure and justice, a sense that the sport wasn't the rigged joke it's so often made out to be. There would even have been the possibility that somebody watching the fight as a lark at a friend's house might have been impressed enough with the pageantry of the night to want to see other fights that weren't quite as high-profile.
Instead, as seems to happen so often these days, what could have been such a positive experience for the sport just confirmed, in a very high-profile way and in clear view of all the potential fans I just mentioned, every bad thing that's ever been said about boxing.
As the first scorecard was read, I had the same sick feeling I had when I first heard about the bizarre ending to Tyson-Holyfield II. Before THAT fight, I had been genuinely excited, jazzed about the good things the fight
could do for boxing, regardless of the outcome. For the first time in years, I actually had to work to suppress an urge to shell over my own cash to watch Mike Tyson. Afterwards, watching the early reports from SportsCenter, I just felt empty. Another opportunity for the sport had been wasted and, even worse, converted into something that would push people away rather than draw them in.
It's this tendency for precisely the wrong thing to happen that has been the hallmark of boxing as a sport in the past few years. Just about everyone on TVKO's broadcast last night muttered Don King's name darkly; and the spiky- haired one WAS heard to scream, in what sounded vaguely like a threat, "Let's do it AGAIN!!" from ringside as Holyfield was being interviewed after the fight. It's hard not to be suspicious of King, who in his post-Tyson years would be the person to suffer the largest loss of earning potential if Holyfield had lost last night and who would be one of the only people to benefit from a rematch.
But the road to boxing's current state has not entirely been paved by King or by any other single person. Current fans of the sport have been unwitting partners in boxing's unraveling, duped time and again into shelling out good
money for bad and over-hyped product such as, for instance, any of Tyson's post-incarceration fights, or Whitaker-Chavez, or a dozen others. King and promoters like him continue to exert their corrosive influence on the sport's integrity because its current fans permit them to.
The only solution I see is a personal one that every fan will have to come to him or herself -- stop lining the pockets of snake-oil salesmen like King and the rest. If there is a Lewis-Holyfield II, and I would bet my life that
there is, keep your money in your wallet. Take your spouse out to dinner. Glance at the sports pages for the result if you must, but otherwise ignore it. Only by treating the sport with some dignity is there any hope of preventing its increasingly inevitable-seeming decline into a more violent version of the WWF.
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