He was supposed to be the prototype, the United States model for the next generation of heavyweight superstar.
The hopeful looked at Michael Grant in the late 1990s, and grinned, pleased that not all the athletes were picking hoops, or future NFL stardom, over the squared circle.
This guy could do it all, had a golden ticket to whichever sport he graced with his presence. A Clemensesque fastball as a pitcher; sick 40 speed, 4.6, for a humongous dude, tailor-made to be a dual threat as a tight end; a stellar baller.
But no, he wanted us, he wanted in on our shared passion, the fight game, and hed help us transition to the post Tyson era.
Sports Illustrated looked at him, at his 6-7, 250-pound frame, and drooled, and spread the saliva far and wide. The hottest young heavyweight, Franz Lidz wrote, possesses a disintegrating jab. Another member of the choir was trainer Manny Steward, who said he was impressed by Grants development, bout after bout. For a 26-year-old who learned to box at age 20 and had just 12 amateur bouts, he shows amazing composure, said Steward, not coincidentally on the lookout for suitable foes for his man Lennox Lewis. HBO liked what they saw, too, enough to merit a five-fight deal. The heavyweight of the new millennium, they touted him, as we all looked ahead to the calendar flipping to the 2000s, and loaded up on TP and bottled water in case all the worlds computers crashed.
Soon enough, the hopeful thought to themselves as Grant took out the whos who of the Heavyweight Explosion fraternity, circa 1997-98, Lewis would be toppled from his throne. Hope hiccuped when Grant went down twice in the first round in a step-up fight against Andrew Golota, but those yearning for the prototype thesis to play out tried to look past the knockdowns and instead concentrate on the heart that was in evidence at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City on Nov. 20, 1999, as Grant exited with a TKO10 when Golota offered a no mas after eating some nasty shots.
There would be no more tempting of fate, no more seasoning fights. Grants people werent fools, not in the realm of looking out for their guy as an investment, if not as a human being. They booked Grant in with Lewis on April 29, 2000 in Madison Square Garden.
The bout was tagged Too Big. Much was made of the combined weight--497 pounds-- of the combatants, Lewis and Grant, but maybe not enough attention was paid to an in-hindsight obvious deficiency in Grant--his lack of experience as compared to Lewis. Lennox went 85-9 as an amateur, while Grant went 11-1 before turning pro. The hopeful, especially us in the States, were tired of hearing about Lennox pugilistic superiority. We wanted the champ to have some shark blood in him, instead we were saddled with a crafty guy who played boxing like he played chess. We were ready for a change, for the heir apparent to step up, grab the belt. But the heir apparent was not ready.
Lewis sent Grant to the mat three times in the first round, and it became glaringly apparent that all the hype was just hope, and marketing; Grant was in over his head, drowning, and Lewis was only to happy to happy to keep pouring cement into his boots. A sick uppercut, unleashed while the Brit held Grant in place with his left, finished off the challenger in round two.
After, SIs drool had dried up. Richard Hoffer wrote that there was the problem of Grants boxing pedigree...Grant...has the look of a contender whos been well-handled, steered into this $4 million jackpot by promoters and broadcasters. Fight folk are always skeptical of athletes turned boxers. Now you tell us!
Grant tried to get back on the winning track, subbing in Teddy Atlas for Don Turner, in his comeback bout, against another tight-end sized heavyweight, Jameel (6 6, 250 plus) McCline. The switch didnt work. The night ended more quickly, in more embarrassing fashion, as McCline sent Grant to the floor with his first punch, a left, and the loser broke his ankle. And, maybe, his psyche.
Getting back into the ring was not a given for Grant. Atlas stuck by him, and tried to help him get his emotions in check. I had days in the gym where Michael stopped training and started crying, Atlas explained, right before Grant was to fight Dominick Guinn, in what would be his last meaningful fight before his Aug. 21 return to the big stage, against Tomasz Adamek at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ (available on PPV). The Humpty Dumpty project didnt pay off on June 7, 2003. Grant ate left hooks like his contract called for a bonus for every one absorbed. Guinn sent Grant to the floor four times, and the fight came to an end in the seventh after the fourth. Nobody questioned Grants heart, but his chin, his confidence, his future in the sport, all those were fair game.
Since then, Grant has made periodic appearances on our radar. Were always keen for a comeback story, as they resonate with us, and with readers, all of whom can identify with the feeling of being lower than whale doo-doo, and seeking the strength to get out of the muck. He fought once in 2004, twice in 2005, was off 2006, fought twice in 2007, twice in 2008, and not at all in 2009. In his last effort, he scored a TKO1 victory over Kevin Burnett on a Long Island card. He is 8-0 since the Guinn fight, but to be honest, the opponents were not even Heavyweight Explosion material, many of them.
But hope springs eternal.
It cant be stopped by a cutman dream team of Stitch Duran, Joe Chavez and Danny Milano.
So, at 38 years old, with a new trainer talking familiar bullet points of optimism, Michael Grant will attempt to get back into the mix. It wont be easy. Hell need to get the better of Adamek, the wily Pole who is a fight or two away from getting a title crack against David Haye or a Klitschko.
The smart money, and the smartass keyboard tappers, see Grant as a warmup for a Klitschko, someone to let the Pole get some live rounds against someone with a similar build. Grant, on a Thursday media call-in, does not agree. He says that his age isnt something to hold against him, that he now possesses the maturity to get it done, to do what needs to be done to fulfill his potential.
And who am I to scoff? I am a 40 year old man, who no longer finds it so easy or subconsciously gratifying to stomp on the best laid plans of past-their-prime dreamers...because I still have dreams not yet accomplished, and sometimes ponder uneasily the possibility that what once seemed a given may never happen.
Grant and Atlas parted ways after the Guinn loss, and the long, tall heavy tried his luck with Buddy McGirt. He seemed to enjoy the more laid back style of McGirt (Atlas had his strategy how he wanted to fight. I had my strategy how I wanted to fight. Buddy helps me express my talent, my athletic ability. I can be myself. I can correct my mistakes. Im coming out, establishing the jab and being alert--Grant said in 2004), but then latched on with Tommy Gallagher in 2007, after a two-year hiatus. That marriage went the way of Bristol and Levi, and Grant started working with Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, the ex light heavyweight standout.
So far, so good. OK, what would one expect at this juncture. Pessimism has no place in the comeback arc. Grant said on the call hes in superb shape, and Adamek will pay because of it.
“This camp has been like no other, training with Eddie, Grant said. We have a nice formula working together and this is definitely one of the times I’ve trained the hardest. The only time I trained harder than this was for the fight with Lennox Lewis.
When I talked to Grant three years ago, during the last comeback run, he articulated some bitterness, with past managers and promoters, and said he was a puppet way back when. This time around, he seems to be steering clear of that rearview mirror stuff. He mentioned several times his maturity, his experience, said he didnt let that political stuff get him down. This may bode well, might indicate that Grant is cognizant that his destiny is mostly in his own hands, and that while it might feel good to get things off his chest, to move things forward he has to stay in a positive frame.
Mustafa certainly is; he said that he thinks Grant is in the top five in the division, right now, and that his work ethic has been top tier.
The trainer pointed out that he was in the corner of the first and only man to beat Adamek, Chad Dawson (Feb. 2007, UD12), so one can presume that might bolster Grants confidence heading into the Aug. 21 beef. Ill give him his second defeat, EMM said.
Grant said hell be looking to have a constant presence with the jab, and that if and when Adamek slips inside, hell be met with a right hand. He dismissed the notion that Adamek is slick, and said he thinks the Pole will run around. You know its not gonna be no brawl, hell not fight like that.
Grant isnt getting ahead of himself, he said, and hed look for another fight at Gods speed. Im not rushing anything.
A decade after his big chances exploded in his face, Grant maintains that hes back in the ring because he has chores left to accomplish. I wasnt finished. I felt like I had unfinished business. I have a lot to offer this game.
The 40-year-old man in me hopes so. It is always comforting and encouraging when someone seemingly set in his ways tweaks some defects, makes some mental adjustments, gets over the hump. How many of us gain, and lose, and find again, that same 10 pounds? Someone who takes it off, and keeps it off can be a catalyst. Fundamental change, going against our wiring, our mannerisms and behaviors cemented over decades, is damned difficult. The cynic in me, a goodly portion of my being, being a journalist and all, suspects that a late-in-the-game makeover will be really, really hard for Michael Grant to pull off. He may well be what he is, what he was, what he will always be. You cant, however, begrudge the man for spinning his inactivity into a positive, as he plays up his maturity.
The Grant case brings to mind the old saying, Just because everything is different doesnt mean anything has changed. New management, new trainer, newfound maturity. Maybe new results, maybe a midlife surge. But, oh, its hard. No matter the result, and I see Adamek using his cagey ring generalship to get a UD, I have to applaud Grants effort and desire. Youll not hear snide remarks about another comeback from me.
Allow me to quote, with a tweak, Ben Franklin: When youre finished changing--or trying to change--youre finished.
Good luck, Michael.
Who will win #HOPKINSKOVALEV