WAIL! The CyberBoxingZone Journal
September 2000 issue

Guest Editorial

Lucius Shepard
 Back in the day when everything was in black and white, when men were men, women were dames, and Life was a magazine, it was easy to tell who the good guys in boxing were.  For the most part they were quiet, unassuming men with enlarged knuckles and scarred orbital ridges who opened doors for their wives, spoke respectfully of their opponents, and rumpled the hair of admiring urchins.  Whenever these men made a stumble in their personal lives, the gentlemen of the press, a group far less concerned with their own celebrity than they are today, would either cover the matter up or apologize for the miscreant.  Every so often
they would serve someone up, usually a person of color, and anoint him a villain, but this practice was not so much an indicator of personal or even editorial morality as it was of cultural bias.  The narcissistic simplicity of mid-century America demanded heroes--thus heroes were provided.

 The world of the year 2000, a place where morality often is perceived to be a matter of cultural relativity, does not permit this sort of naive focus.  We are given so much personal information about athletes, we cannot view their actions in the ring or upon the playing field as isolated events, and instead of being persuaded to look away from their flaws, we are encouraged to savor every nasty detail.  Even icons of the past, Joe DiMaggio and his ilk, have been stripped bare by their biographers and displayed with all their warts highlighted.  It seems evident that what the times demand are not heroes, but characters whose misdeeds are the stuff of soap opera. There are those--politicians and the otherwise deluded--who cry out for a return to the virtues of the good old days, yet it's clear that the good old days never existed...not, at any rate, in a form that would be recognizable to those who pine for them.  True, society has grown more violent, more dishonest, more cynical, but what is referred to as the lost innocence of our culture merely references a time when we were less accomplished at violence, dishonesty, and cynicism, when the technologies that enable these qualities were not so fully developed as now.  That we have reached this pass is not simply, as some would have it, the result of our falling away from that ol' time religion and "the principles that made this country great."   The cause of our problems is complex--a vast momentum of class tensions and  economics and Darwinism has produced the wave front of the moment, and it appears that little can be done to stop this wave from breaking over us and reconfiguring, for better or worse, all that we know.  The idea of renewing old virtues, even if they are only fables, might well be our best hope of turning things around...if, that is, said renewal would permeate every level of society and contrive a proactive majority of minds and hearts.  This is, of course, unlikely to happen.

 I'm writing this shortly after watching Diego Corrales--a man accused of beating his pregnant wife badly enough to hospitalize her and endanger their child--dismantle Angel Manfredy and put himself in a position to earn a million dollar payday, monies with which he will doubtless pay off the injured party and thus keep himself free to fight for even more money.  I'm writing this in early September, looking ahead to a fall season of fights featuring a genuinely interesting heavyweight title bout and a potential classic at 154 pounds, but knowing that the most talked about and probably the most financially successful bout of the year will be contested between Mike Tyson and Andrew Golota.  I'm writing this because while thinking about these two circumstances and the men involved, it occurred to me that boxing, which is itself something of a fabulist entity in that it tends to buy into its own bullshit, might be responsive to simple remedies.  And the simplest, most effective remedy I can think of would be to place the sport in the hands of a commissioner.  Someone whose power would be absolute, overriding that of the alphabets and the local commissions. Someone with the moral authority to command respect.  Someone with both a love for and a knowledge of every side of the sport:  business, fighters, refs, judges, the entire spectrum of activity.  Someone, perhaps, with a legal background.

 Someone like Mills Lane.

 If this were the good old days, a time when the words "Let's get him" were frequently imbued with judicial weight, it's quite possible that, guilt or innocence aside, Mr. Corrales would no longer be with us.  Certainly his civil rights would have been violated in some fashion, and few would have wept because despite the man's assertion that we don't know the whole story, it's hard to imagine any story that would justify the least measure of violence leveled at a pregnant woman.  It's equally hard to imagine that Corrales' career will suffer to any significant degree should he buy his way out of trouble.  But if Mills Lane were the czar of boxing in the USA, it's flat impossible to imagine that whatever the outcome of his difficulties with the state of California, Corrales would not be subject to a serious fine and substantial suspension.

 The Tyson-Golota fight is, in my view, more emblematic of the ills of boxing than Mr. Corrales' alleged spousal abuse.  This is a fight that should never happen.  Both Tyson and Golota have proved that they're incapable of handling pressure, and the fight has been made not so as to determine who is the better man, but to see which of them will be the first to crack, to perform an act of extralegal violence that will titillate some, give others a reason to pontificate, and provide comics with an abundance of new material.  It's a reality show, a condensed half hour version of "Survivor" whose appeal is less to the sports fan than the voyeur.  It plays to every sickness of our society.  Put simply, it's a travesty, a freak show.  We might as well have them fight in ten feet of water.

 Because their rights are protected under the constitution, Tyson and Golota cannot and should not be prevented from fighting, but a commissioner like Lane could impose a remedy that would  potentially circumvent the interests of the promoters by saying, Go ahead and fight, but if either man should be disqualified, and if in my judgment that disqualification is warranted, he will be subject to an irrevocable lifetime suspension.  Given this proscription, it's possible the fight would not come off--the promoters might not want to risk their cash cows--and while this would deny the press a chance to mount their soapboxes and cry Apocalypse, more importantly it would be a small step forward in a sport that has traditionally excelled in taking gigantic backward leaps.

 Perhaps in the long run, a commissioner of the sort I envision--a no-nonsense hardliner, a Kennesaw Mountain Landis without the racist streak and a more common sense approach to governance--would act to smother the sport and drive major bouts out of the country.  That's a risk I think we should be willing to take.  At the moment boxing is a Gordian knot that needs a severing stroke to unravel its criminal entanglements and no commission, no Act of Congress, is likely to prove effective in this regard.  Ceding ultimate power to a single person is obviously not something one would wish on society at large, and it has drawbacks even when applied to something as relatively inconsequential as sport.  For one thing, I can think of no one with a sufficiently high profile who would be qualified to serve as Lane's successor.

 Of course if this proposal were given anything approaching serious consideration, it would provoke a hue and cry from every quarter of the boxing game.  Some would say that Lane is a human being and therefore eminently fallible--he would make mistakes.  So what, I'd say. I'd much prefer the order of  a dictatorship governed by a man who screws up in the process of earnest effort than the chaos dominated by criminal manipulation for profit that now exists.  Others might suggest that I watch reruns of Mr. Lane's television show.  Look at him barking and snarling from the bench, they'd say.  Boxing should seek to find a more dignified figurehead, someone with more gravitas.  After I stopped laughing I would say, Bullshit.  Look at the swine who run the game; look at the fools who serve them; look at the meatpackers, the hustlers, all the parasites that grow bloated upon the blood of athletes. Boxing needs an angry god.  Someone who'll go into the temple and chase out the moneychangers.  Mr. Lane is most assuredly not Jesus Christ, but I feel he is capable of imitating Him to this extent.  He would stir things up, and that alone would be more beneficial to the sport than any change  its current administrators have heretofore provided.

 Let's suppose that reality took a vacation and the proposal was approved on principle.  The next question voiced would probably be, Why Mills Lane?  Alternate candidates would be proposed.  Don King would nominate himself.  Bob Arum would put his weight behind a suitable front man.  Rock Newman would cry racism and offer the great Marion Barry.  The casino owners would dig up a suitably character-impaired politician; the television networks would do the same.  Jose Sulaiman would scurry about like a chubby rat in a bad suit, sniffing after the cheese in Seth Abraham's hip pocket.  In sum, it would be rather like a snapshot of the average moment in the boxing world during the past decade--a snapshot that would not be much different from one taken ten years from now.

 Within a couple of months, millions of us will go to the polls and exercise our right to vote.  Would that we could do the same thing in regards to boxing.  But boxing is not a democracy, it's a loosely gathered group of feudal holdings incessantly at each other's throats, and most of us who love the sport are disenfranchised.  And this had always been the case.  As with society in general, in boxing there are no good ol' days to reflect on.  I have no great personal investment. emotional or otherwise, in the fates of Diego Corrales, Mike Tyson, or Andrew Golota.  Those men should certainly be dealt with in some meaningful way, but my chief concern is with the lower levels of the sport, the milieu of the club show, the world of the novice and the journeyman and the grimy little players who misuse them.  Dealing with this part of boxing, the foundation of the sport, the 9/10s of the iceberg hidden beneath the surface, has never been a popular task because no headlines attach to it.  If public scrutiny is not brought to bear, nothing will be done, and the public is not concerned with any of this.  But if a hardline commissioner with some celebrity status took on the status quo, it might convince a significant number of the press that here was an entirely new opportunity for a display of self-aggrandizing morality, one that actually had some value.  And if the press fell into line, hey, who knows, we might get some serious TV interest.  Movies.  The crusty, shaven-headed Lane chasing away the roaches from boxing's feast would make a great late-career role for Jack Nicholson.  Maybe another Oscar.  The klieg lights would shine into every murky corner, sending the bugs scurrying for cover...until they recognized their potential as characters.  Then they'd preen, call agents, try for bit parts and positions as technical consultants.

 Well, this is shoe gazing on my part.  Foolishness.  If Lane were to be offered the position, chances are he'd turn it down.  The prospect of welding together the warring feudal estates that control the fight game into a dictatorship, even one approved of by the disenfranchised (the fans, the fighters, the honest members of the boxing community), it's not only verges on the impossible, it's flat out un-American.  All in all, it's a stupid idea.  But considering how much effect aggregate wisdom has had on the sport, stupid might just do the job.

Back To WAIL! Contents Page


Upcoming Fights

Current Champions

Boxing Journal

On-line Encyclopedia


Main Page

[Return to Top]