In preparing to go 12 hard rounds in a career-making fight, most fighters will actually watch what they eat. It's part of a popular program known as "training."
Heavyweight imposter Kirk Johnson obviously gave his food just a casual glance and a smile before it quickly disappeared off his fork.
That must explain the Goodyear radial jiggling just above his belt line Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. That must be why he looked like a guy who had just been recruited to fight while standing in line at the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.
In what could have been the biggest fight of his life, Bubba decided to eat his way into infamy.
Now we know why they call him Bubba.
When Johnson approached the ring Saturday night for his fight with Vitali Klitschko, he did it with a slow, deliberate walk, a kind of "Hey, look at me, I'm Kirk Johnson," stroll down the runway in one of those silly, dramatic entrances that remind you of spoiled Hollywood starlets and pro wrestlers.
Pose, strut, glare. Pose, strut some more, glare again.
We thought his slow, agonizing entrance was for effect, a little extra theater before the start of the real drama. What we didn't know was, that was as fast as Johnson could move. He was on full throttle, but it looked like slow motion to the rest of us.
It turns out that Bubba, who weighed in at 260 pounds in his sweats, already knew what some of us only suspected. His walk to the ring would last longer than his fight, so he needed to drag it out, to get the most of it. It was his time in the spotlight.
When the opening bell finally rang and Johnson waddled out to the center of the ring, I had a flashback to Bert Cooper.
Cooper used to carry around a few spares, but that was just how he was built. It was how he trained, what he was, how he grew up. He didn't try to hide it, because he couldn't. But he could still kick your butt on any given night. Or at least come close.
But for Johnson, this was a new look, the circus Strongman deciding he wanted to go on stage one night as the Fat Lady.
Unfortunately, the act was a bust.
When Saturday's one-sided mugging was finally over with six seconds left in the second round, Johnson was tangled up in the ropes and Klitschko was trying to figure out what happened to the real Kirk Johnson, the 240-pounder he'd been training to fight. That guy never showed up.
In the immortal words of Larry Merchant, "the whale got harpooned."
For Klitschko, it turned out to be a surprisingly easy night, an early Christmas present that wasn't expected. Of course, who knew Johnson was going to look and fight like Santa Claus?
As I've said before, first round knockouts are the worst scenario in which to accurately judge and evaluate any fighter. Most of the time it amounts to one fighter being psyched up and ready who comes out and jumps on his opponent. The fighter who is stopped is usually not warmed up and ready for the onslaught. Remember, fighters who can punch are always going to blow through second tier opposition.
This past week, Joe Mesi stepped up in his level of competition and fought fringe contender Monte Barrett. The fight with Barrett was the perfect fit for Mesi at this stage of his career. Since this was Mesi's first fight under his three fight deal with HBO, you know for certain that Barrett was deemed safe by the suits at HBO and the Mesi brain trust.
Barrett had name recognition, and sometimes didn't fight with passion in the big spot. On top of that he had some boxing ability which would help give Mesi some needed rounds, and he had shown a decent chin since he was only stopped once in his career by Wladimir Klitschko. And of course the main thing Barrett exhibited throughout his career is that he didn't posses the big punch. Going into this fight, Barrett appeared to be the ideal fighter to give Mesi some rounds. However, Mesi's team probably felt that Joe could still probably beat him in a spectacular fashion. Well in boxing, things don't always go as planned. Some seem to forget that the other guy is getting paid too.
Much to the surprise of many, and yes it was a surprise because many felt Mesi would stop Barrett, included myself, the fight went the distance. Not only did the fight go the distance, but Barrett had some very good moments in the fight. Some may have not liked the decision, but since boxing is scored by the round, I didn't have any problem with it. The fight was not difficult to score, I had it 6-4 Mesi.
Yes, I thought Mesi won it, but it was close and Barrett fought well down the stretch. However, there were some things about Mesi that I observed that I find a little troubling. It appeared that once Barrett endured the early onslaught, and started to fight back, Mesi was a different fighter. Mesi seemed to have things going pretty much his way until he was dropped by Barrett. Once Mesi got up from a solid left-hook from Barrett, he was not the same fighter.
In the fight, Barrett was dropped before Mesi, yet he seemed to handle it better? Maybe it was because Barrett had been down before, and he drew off that. What stood out to me was that Barrett's confidence wasn't shook after he was down, and Mesi's was. Barrett got up after being down and took the fight to Mesi. Once Barrett started pushing the fight, it appeared that Mesi submitted mentally and let Barrett lead? That is very troubling to me. I didn't see Mesi fight with the so-called warrior mentality that many undefeated fighters claim to have. This type of mind set has troubled me with other fighters as well in the past.
That is one of the problems I had with Mike Tyson. I've always felt that he lost much of his confidence once he was met with serious resistance. Back to Mesi. Another thing that bothered me about Mesi was that he didn't carry his punch late into the fight, and he stopped committing to them. There is only one reason why a fighter fails to totally commit to his punches. This is because he knows that when he does, he's in a position to get nailed back in return. Maybe it's just me, but I got the feeling that Mesi was worried about getting hit after he was down?
One other thing bothered me about Joe. When he came out for the last round, he had to have known that Barrett had closed the gap and was controlling the fight based off of the 7th, 8th, and 9th rounds. I would think the last thing Mesi wanted was to let Barrett finish strong in the final round and sway the crowd? Yet Joe came out and just basically fought to make it through the 10th round. I didn't see the urgency in him that I was expecting. Obviously he was tired, but I thought we'd see a more furious rally by Mesi to try and turn the fight and finish leaving the crowd with the impression he was winning at the end.
Based off of Mesi's last fight with Monte Barrett, I have three area's of concern. How will he hold up under fierce resistance from a top contender? Will his stamina improve enabling him the capacity to fight a complete fight from round one thru twelve. And last, does he carry his punch late in the fight.
Again, I will not bury him as being a media creation who has been brilliantly managed. And I will not praise him to the enth degree declaring him as a future heavyweight champion. I don't know because the jury is still out. Like with all up and coming fighters, the burden of proof is on him. And there are still some questions that must be answered.
After Klitschko disposed of Kirk Johnson with a shower of thudding shots inside of 6 minutes, the two embraced each other and showed the love. Not long before, as he made his way towards the ring, Johnson had the look of a man who was about to - or already had - soiled his trunks, and he fought like it. Afterwards he seemed relieved, the money was made and there were presents to buy.
After Joe Mesi eked out a decision over Monte Barrett, Mesi was full of compliments to Barrett, describing him as a slick opponent and that it was the best of Monte Barrett we had ever seen. I imagine the Christmas card complete with a Mesi Family photo had already been signed, licked and posted. Yuck! These guys are out to hurt each other, they are in the business of inflicting pain upon other human beings for money and glory, no love, just pain . . . please.
Unfortunately, it only gets worse. At the post-fight press conference Klitschko put his arm around the flabby Canadian Johnson and told him he was sorry. Sorry? For what? Johnson told the big man not to worry, that it was just business, yeah, 'the business' of Johnson being ill-prepared and getting paid over a quarter million for less than 6-minutes work. 'The business' of Vitali becoming even more of a fan favorite in the U.S. since his gallant win, although people seem to forget that he actually lost, to Lennox Lewis. Since when do you apologize for doing your job the way it should be done? In a perfect word Johnson would be the one apologizing for coming in at a balloon-like 260 pounds and looking like a man who would go down if you gave him a dirty look. But there was still hope.
We were finally going to get what we wanted when life-long angry man 'Iron' Mike Tyson eased his way to the back of the press conference room. Perhaps Klitschko and Tyson would get it on right then and there ala Lewis and Tyson before their fight. This was gonna be good, it had to be good - the Grinch had arrived and he was ready to mess things up for all the little Whos in Whoville! I woke up from my dream to hear Klitschko tell Tyson that he was more than welcome to be there, that he had admired him for so long and how it would be a pleasure to share a ring with him someday to exchange fisticuffs. Tyson accepted the compliment like a gentleman and thanked Klitschko. Say it ain't so!
The undercard saw a decent but sloppy scrap featuring 'Buffalo's Third Franchise,' Joe Mesi , who managed to squeak past solid measuring-stick Monte Barrett. Mesi dropped Barrett in the 5th with a nice right hand than came over Barrett's jab that stayed out a little too long. In the spirit of Christmas the favor was returned by Barrett in the 7th when Mesi was caught flush on the jaw by a perfectly timed left hook by Barrett. The shot landed right on the "sweet spot" of Mesi's chin and he went down briefly, as it was a shot that would have most men tasting the canvas. Still, Mesi overcame that and a closed left eye to win a majority decision that most would agree was fair based on Mesi winning early and things being closer as the fight wore on.
If Mesi is going to be the next heavyweight champion he will have to learn to protect himself a bit better and to capitalize on an opponent who carries his hands around his waist. Clearly Klitschko demonstrated he is head-and-shoulders above Mesi right now, but the lack of depth at the top weight class means Mesi will climb the ladder off this performance.
Next Saturday looks to be a breath of fresh air for those of us who appreciate fighters fighting and people hurting one another. The Grinch and Scrooge are certain to show up in the form of Ricardo Mayorga and Bernard Hopkins, respectively. There should be no shortage of arrogance and trash talk provided the building is big enough for all of the fighters, and their egos, to squeeze in - and Zab Judah will be on standby should Hopkins and Mayorga leave the mic unattended for any length of time.
Oh yes, Hopkins, Mayorga and Judah will be laying the verbal 'smackdown' in just a few days time to show Mesi and Klitschko what it's truly all about. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas after all.
Hey, when I'm wrong, I'm reaaaaallly wrong. I don't go half way on anything I do.
Johnson would get blasted out in two short rounds, but the fight was lost way before he ever stepped into the ring at the famed Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
I knew my powers of prognostication were in trouble when Johnson came in at a portly 260 pounds. This for a guy who seems to be a bit heavy at 245. His reasoning was that he had actually over trained for his bout with John Ruiz in July of 2002 and that he would never take a peek at the scales ever again. Then he said that Larry Holmes gave him some advice on not leaving your fight in the gym and how a few days off could be beneficial to your camp. I dunno, but I'm guessing that Johnson took any day that ended in 'y' rather lightly.
This was a classic case of a guy losing a fight in camp- where a lot of fights are actually decided. While Klitschko looked as fit as ever, Johnson's slovenly appearance told you all you needed to know. His handlers from Dino Duva, his promoter, to his manager Ken Lilien all reasoned that Johnson was actually much lighter but with the weigh-in being held outdoors in the cold weather that Johnson had several layers of clothing and jackets on.
Ok, but what were those jackets made off? Copper or brick? Seriously, it's pretty difficult to put on that much clothing so that it will actually weight THAT much. And if that were indeed the case, there have been many mummies that weren't wrapped up so tightly.
Now, I don't want to say that Johnson was out of shape, but stretch marks were visible on his body. His back was so big that when his fighting days are over he can use his back to show movies on at drive-in theaters. In fact, his appearance was so blimp-like that you got the sense that Goodyear would have been wise to sponsor him. And with his physical conditioning being so poor, he crashed like the Hindenburg.
No, he didn't out right quit like Buster Douglas did against Evander Holyfield or Bruce Seldon when he laid down versus Mike Tyson, he took some thumping, hard shots from Klitschko. But in not preparing at all for this fight, he did quit. Not necessarily in the ring the night of the fight, but when the fight was signed a few months ago. And that in itself is just as bad. He owed the game, the fans and more importantly, himself, a fair shot at winning this fight.
A fight that was the most important fight of his life. Remember, he was the guy that had to pull out of a bout with Lennox Lewis back in June, only to see Klitschko come in as a late replacement and fight valiantly in a sixth round TKO loss. It was a golden opportunity for Johnson that had slipped through his fingers but now, he'd be getting a shot at redemption against the very same guy who had seized his chance at glory.
So you think there would be a sense of urgency, right? A hungry and motivated Johnson, ready to put himself through hell to achieve his career goals, right. Uh, no, obviously not.
But it shouldn't be too much of a surprise the way things worked out. Johnson had garnered a million dollar signing bonus from Duva Boxing( through television mogul, Michael King) and had other money given to him by his handlers a year ago when he was a free agent and sitting on the top spot in the WBA rankings, with a shot at the eminently beatable John Ruiz in the near future.
Johnson, would be paid off for promise and potential and not actual production inside the ring. Remember, this is a guy that didn't exactly set the world on fire against Al Cole in two bouts, Larry Donald and got a bit lucky against Oleg Maskaev. But, he was a heavyweight, one with a title shot looming, people jumped over themselves to get a piece of the action.
All this for a guy that wasn't exactly the most diligent of workers to begin with. Seriously, if the guy wasn't going to be a dedicated worker before the millions rolled in, why would anyone think that things would change once he gained financially security without having to take a punch inside the ring?
The excuses made by his people in the aftermath of the weigh-in was par for the course. The bottom line is that they were in too deep to bail out now and they had to hope that he got lucky. In today's society, the truth is oftentimes too inconvenient and those who are honest when it's uncomfortable to be so, get jettisoned. Just ask Teddy Atlas, his former trainer, who's relationship was estranged because Atlas had the temerity to tell Johnson things that weren't to his liking.
But that's exactly what Johnson needed in the months prior to his fight with Klitschko. If he came in at 260 for the fight, one can only guess what he was weighing in the weeks and months leading up to the fight. It was at that point that someone should have had the gumption to tell Johnson the truth. Or perhaps they themselves really didn't care, maybe, after his June pullout, they just wanted to make sure that Johnson got to the starting gate this time around. Perhaps they were just cashing out and cutting their losses.
But I find that scenario unlikely since Duva Boxing had basically mortgaged their future on Johnson. They needed this win as badly as a drowning man needs a lifeguard. With Johnson drowning in his own gluttony, he may have taken Duva Boxing down with him.
Like all those who were involved with Johnson, I should have known better. There was simply too much evidence to the contrary that Johnson would beat Klitschko.
But unlike them, I really didn't have too much too lose.
Johnson like Derrick Gainer would have to post-pone fights this year because of torn left pectoral muscles.
Funny, based on the performances of both men, it does make you think, isn't the left pectoral very close to the heart?
I'm just saying.
You gotta give big Vitaly credit, while Johnson was ill-prepared, Klitschko, coming off his horrific cut against Johnson was prepared and professional and he took care of business.
It's pretty clear now that Klitschko is now among the top five big men in the world. Industry sources believe that a rematch with Lewis would be a pay-per-view blockbuster that could do in excess of a million buys.
Enter Vitali Klitschko. Klitschko, fresh off of his second round knockout of Kirk Johnson must be considered the most worthy challenger to champ Lennox Lewis. Based off of Klitschko's strong showing against Lewis last June, and his destruction of Johnson, I don't see another heavyweight more deserving a shot at Lewis.
Although Klitschko doesn't own a piece of any title, I don't think it's a reach to say that he would probably be favored over IBF champ Chris Byrd, the Rahman-Ruiz winner, and either James Toney or Roy Jones. In my opinion, a rematch between Lewis and Klitschko would represent a fight between the two top heavyweights in the world at this time.
Lewis is the true champion and Klitschko has yet to be out manned or out fought in the ring. He has only two defeats on his record. One was to Byrd when his shoulder gave out and he couldn't continue, despite leading on all three official scorecards. Oh, Byrd just happens to be the current IBF champ. Klitschko's other defeat came against Lewis when he was stopped due to a horrific eye cut between the sixth and seventh rounds. Like in the Byrd fight, Klitschko was leading on all official scorecards.
The way I see it, Klitschko has fought the best heavyweight in the world, Lewis, on more than even terms. And he's also fought the best boxer in the division, Byrd, and was ahead of him when he had to retire on his stool due to a badly injured shoulder. I ask, what other heavyweight can say that? I'll answer that, none!
Without a doubt, Vitali Klitschko is the man most deserving a shot at the true world champion, should Lewis decide to fight one more time before officially retiring. And ya know what, I think the fight will happen, I really do.
Without a doubt Lewis-Klitschko II would be a huge money fight for both fighters, especially Lewis. The fan anticipation would be out of sight, and it represents the best of the division. I think George Foreman said it best when he said that Lewis would need counseling if he prevented this fight from happening.
One of the things that makes a Super-Fight is when a strong case can be made for either side. I always thought that was the thing that made the biggest and most anticipated fight in history, Frazier-Ali I so compelling. Having two big names is not enough to automatically qualify a fight as a super fight. A fight between Lewis and Roy Jones would feature two huge names, but can a case really be made for Jones coming out on top? Not as far as I'm concerned.
However, a Lewis-Klitschko rematch has all the ingredients to qualify as a Super-Fight. You have Lewis the established champ who is recognized worldwide. And you have Klitschko who has proven himself in the ring in his last two fights and is also gaining name recognition. The most compelling thing about a rematch between these two is that they have a track record with each other and some unfinished business. Face it, boxing fans and writers are split on what may have happened had Klitschko's eye not been so badly cut and their fight had continued.
A case can easily be made for both fighters in a proposed Lewis-Klitschko rematch. The case for Lewis is that he has proven over the last five years that he's the best heavyweight in the world, and must be afforded that until he is defeated in the ring. In his fight versus Klitschko, Lewis was clearly in the worst shape of his career and looked past Vitali. No doubt that Lewis would kill himself preparing for Klitschko this time, but the question is can Lewis summon what is needed to beat him at age 38. Also with Lewis is the rematch factor. Everyone knows Lewis has been brilliant in the rematches that he has fought when he is in proper condition.
The case for Klitschko is that he was fighting even with or maybe even beating Lewis in their last fight. No doubt that the Lewis fight made him a better fighter and more confident, something that cannot be overlooked. Another thing that Klitschko has in his favor is that he is younger than Lewis and seems to be at his peak. I also think that with Klitschko feeling that fate cheated him out of his last fight with Lewis, he will be even more motivated for a rematch?
For Lewis, a rematch with Klitschko would be right on par with his fights versus Holyfield and Tyson. At this stage of Lewis' career, he is only thinking about his legacy and money. Speaking of legacy, Mr. Lewis has quite an impressive one. I for one think he is one of the top ten greatest heavyweight champs since Joe Louis. I don't have him in the top five, but he is fourth on the all-time heavyweight list in number of title defenses. Only Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, and Larry Holmes have defended sports greatest title more times than Lewis. There is much to be said for that.
Lennox Lewis has met all the challenges of his career. He has never avoided or ducked any fighter of his era that was a perceived threat to him. He has been terrific off of a defeat or a bad showing. I think he is too much of a champion to walk away and ignore the only true challenge that exist in boxing for him. In his last fight against Klitschko he was in deplorable condition, and didn't give a true account of himself. I don't believe Lewis has a morsel of fear or doubt regarding how he would fare against Vitali Klitschko in a rematch. In fact, I believe that he will fight Klitschko again and clear up all the confusion as to whether or not he was his stumbling block.
Look for Lewis to answer Klitschko's challenge and fight him again somewhere around the end of Spring or mid-Summer. No way Lewis walks away with the fight with Klitschko out there overshadowing his retirement announcement and party. I believe that he believes that he can summon greatness one more time and put the issue of Vitali Klitschko to rest once and for all! Can't wait to see it ?
One was supposed to have been the last opponent of heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis, the other one was. It's been just about six months since Vitali Klitschko filled in for the injured Kirk Johnson and challenged Lennox Lewis for the title. In his fight versus Lewis, Klitschko acquitted himself quite well before the ring doctor halted the fight after the sixth round due to his severely cut eye.
When the fight was stopped, Klitschko led by a consensus of 4-2 in rounds against a very fat and under prepared Lewis. In his fight with Lewis, Klitschko erased all doubt about his heart that followed him after retiring on his stool and surrendering his WBO title to current IBF champ Chris Byrd. Vitali showed that he does have some boxing ability. No, he won't make anyone forget Holmes, but he's not the stiff that some had referred to him as being. He also took some monstrous hooks and uppercuts from Lewis without ever appearing to be on the verge of going down or out.
Kirk Johnson had to sit and watch Klitschko push an overconfident and out of shape Lewis to the brink of defeat. I haven't a doubt that Johnson feels that fate cheated him out of being in the ring with Lewis on a night he was very vulnerable. Instead it was Klitschko who enhanced his reputation and stature off of his showing in the biggest fight of his career to date. In fact, many have said since his fight with Lewis that Klitschko may be the heavyweight to be dealt with once Lewis is out of the picture.
Now Kirk Johnson is back healthy and I'll assume he's in good shape, despite weighing 260 pounds. On Saturday night December 6th he gets his chance to steal some of Klitschko's thunder and prove that he could've pushed Lewis every bit as far and hard as Klitschko did. We'll see?
I don't think this is a hard fight to handicap. I see Vitali holding just about all the trump cards in his hand. He's the bigger and stronger fighter. His conditioning has never been questioned, something that cannot be said about Johnson. Klitschko has also been in with better fighters than Johnson, and really hasn't been in a stinker. Johnson on the other hand fought former cruiserweight champ Al Cole to a life and death draw, and than won an uninspired decision in their rematch. In his title fight with former WBA champ John Ruiz, Johnson turned in another stinker and was trailing on all three scorecards when he was disqualified in the 10th round.
Opposed to Klitschko who was winning versus a slick boxer like Byrd before his shoulder gave out. He stopped survivor Larry Donald who goes the distance with everybody. And in his last fight he endured some of the best punches Lennox Lewis has ever thrown. Also, Klitschko will probably enter this fight with more confidence than he has had at any other time during his career. I think that he will be a better fighter due to his tough fight with Lewis. The way I see it, Klitschko will stop Johnson. Klitschko, in my opinion has too many weapons and ways to defeat Johnson. I can't see Johnson out-boxing him over the course of the fight and winning a decision. And I can't see him knocking Klitschko out. Having seen Vitali stand up under some of Lewis' bombs, I doubt Johnson can put him away?
Mesi vs. Barrett
In the fight before the Klitschko-Johnson title elimination, heavyweights Joe Mesi and Monte Barrett will fight to possibly position the winner for a title shot some time in 2004. Mesi, fresh off of his one round knockout of DaVarryl Williamson last September makes his first appearance since signing a three fight deal with HBO. If nothing else, the fact that this is Joe's first fight under the HBO umbrella, I wouldn't look for an upset here. My feeling is that after Barrett, Mesi will fight one more fringe contender and than look to fight for one of the titles in his next fight.
Barrett is riding a six bout win streak since being stopped by Wladimir Klitschko on July 17, 2000. In those six fights since losing to Klitschko, Barrett has stopped the once beaten Erik Kirkland in his last fight on October 3rd of this year. Won a split decision over the twice beaten Robert Wiggins, and decisioned the also twice beaten Robert Davis. The biggest win and name on Barrett's ledger was over the 43 year old at the time former two time heavyweight champ Tim Witherspoon, who he won a split decision over on June 8th of 2001.
Lets not kid ourselves, Barrett is the perfect opponent for Mesi. He's not really fast, nor is he an outstanding boxer. Barrett also is not a big puncher, so it's not likely that he will test Mesi's chin. Obviously the deck is stacked against Barrett in this fight. He would damn near have to kill Mesi to get the decision, something I'm sure he and his management team must know. It would seem that the only way Barrett can beat Mesi is if he knocks him out. To achieve this he has to bring the fight to Mesi and engage with him. This favors Mesi since he is the better puncher and probably has the quicker hands.
I look for Mesi to come out and put the pressure on Barrett early in the fight. Barrett has not shown that he holds up well in the big spot when the heat is on. Mesi will most likely force Barrett to fight him instead of boxing him. This will lead to Barrett exchanging with Mesi which will ultimately lead to his down fall. I doubt that there will be any suspense in this bout. Mesi stops Barrett within four rounds.
The Future of Heavyweight Champ Lennox Lewis
Look for Lewis-Klitschko II in 2004 provided Klitschko defeats Kirk Johnson. I've heard from some close to the Lewis camp that Lennox wants to go out on a better showing than what he did versus Vitali in his last fight. I know there have been some reports that Lewis is retired. My source comes from someone very close to Emanuel Steward. As of now according to Steward, Lennox will fight Vitali. Obviously things could change, they always do in boxing. My feeling is he'll fight one more time and it will most likely be against Vitali Klitschko.
It will probably speak with a thick accent, stand about 6-foot-7 and have a certain resolve to it, a stubborn commitment born of tough breaks, bad press and sad endings. It will be polite, honest and candid and will show an intelligence usually associated with ivy-covered walls, Ph.Ds and dissertations on great philosophers.
It will also have a left jab that can stop a Buick.
Vitali Klitschko (32-2, 31 KOs) could be the future of the heavyweight division, though it's hard to say what will happen when he faces Kirk Johnson (34-1, 25 KOs) in one of those "eliminator" fights at Madison Square Garden.
That's because Klitschko - like his brother Vladimir - remains one of boxing's great mysteries, a sure thing with a few minor flaws, a gifted giant with all sorts of promise but no guarantees.
A flight risk with sincerity.
Just when you think one of the Klitschkos is about to move in and close the deal that will bring him a legitimate heavyweight title, along comes a torn rotator cuff or an improbable Corrie Sanders or a gash over his eye the size of a golf divot.
These guys don't have bad luck, they have major calamities. The indestructible Klitschkos are suddenly hard-luck Ukrainians with bad karma, soft chins and no chance for a title. They don't lose fights as much as they somehow seem to let them get away, slip out of their grasp like a squirming fish.
The future of the heavyweight division might also rest on the shoulders of Johnson, a Canadian fighter who recently retired former heavyweight contender Lou Savarese. Johnson is a better fighter than most people think he is, but he's not as good as you'd like him to be if he was going to be the heavyweight champion of the world.
As far as his popularity in this country, he's probably more well-known than your friendly, neighborhood barber, but not as popular as your county clerk.
Besides, a guy who goes by the nickname "Bubba" can't be heavyweight champion of the world. That's like the president going by the nickname, "Spanky."
But either way - Klitschko or Johnson - the future of the heavyweight division will still be in the hands of some guy who is only visiting and can't vote here.
If you think back a few years, you might remember when the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world used to be an American. He was a guy who grew up in places like Louisville or Philadelphia or New York or in a small town in Texas. He knew who the Dodgers and the Yankees were and if he grew up to be an ex-con or a thug, at least he was our ex-con and our thug.
The heavyweight champion of the world also used to be an easy guy to find. When he was champ, he attended grand openings, kissed babies, supported politicians, led parades down main street and opened a bar or a restaurant when he retired.
When he lost his title, it was always to someone who knew who played in that year's Super Bowl.
That's why you should watch the fights Saturday night. The future of the heavyweight division just might show up on HBO.
If we're lucky, his name will be "Baby" Joe Mesi from Buffalo.
Peltz unleashed several threatening statements about Ouma, not the least of which was, "He'll (Ouma) never fight on ESPN again," which was rather unusual, considering Ouma was a fighter Peltz had under an exclusive promotional arrangement. (Details in Chapter 18 of "Operation Cleanup: A Blueprint for Boxing Reform").
Less than two weeks later, there was a very interesting - though seemingly unrelated - development. On May 22, John McCain's Professional Boxing Amendments Act was introduced to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The bill contained certain changes and amendments to federal bills before it - one of those changes concerned Section 15 of the Professional Boxer Safety Act, which dealt with the concept of "confidentiality", primarily in dealings between fighters and promoters:
"`SEC. 15. CONFIDENTIALITY.
`(a) IN GENERAL- Neither a boxing commission or an Attorney General may disclose to the public any matter furnished by a promoter under section 13 except to the extent required in a legal, administrative, or judicial proceeding.
`(b) EFFECT OF CONTRARY STATE LAW- If a State law governing a boxing commission requires that information that would be furnished by a promoter under section 13 shall be made public, then a promoter is not required to file such information with such State if the promoter files such information with the ABC."
The reference to Section 13 in the Professional Boxer Safety Act pertains to the requirement of financial disclosure on the part of promoters, which includes this:
"`(b) DISCLOSURES TO THE BOXER- A promoter shall not be entitled to receive any compensation directly or indirectly in connection with a boxing match until it provides to the boxer it promotes--
`(1) the amounts of any compensation or consideration that a promoter has contracted to receive from such match"
What this meant, in effect, was that even though the law seemed to state, subject to interpretation of course, that promoters had to "open their books" to fighters, at least to the extent that it concerned that fighter directly, it could be nullified by a provision that allowed for confidential dealings, and that the only way a fighter could avail himself of these figures was to file a lawsuit or be granted an administrative proceeding by a commission, and furthermore, that the promoter doesn't even have to make those figures available to a state commission if he has already filed them with a duly authorized representative of the Association of Boxing Commissions - something that would certainly happen in states without commissions.
Either way, it would be too late for the fighter to utilize the result of any such disclosures in the process of negotiating or re-negotiating a deal for a fight.
However, when McCain's bill came before committee on May 22, the confidentiality clause was completely eliminated, as if it were just a bad memory:
"As introduced in Senate: S.2550(IS)
SEC. 114. CONFIDENTIALITY. Section 15 (15 U.S.C. 6307g) is repealed."
That move was applauded by those officials from state commissions who were paying attention. One of them told me at the time, "Looks like someone didn't consult with Greg Sirb (Executive director of the Pennsylvania commission, a proponent of confidentiality, and a key player in the legislation) on that one."
Maybe McCain was influenced by a letter sent to him a year earlier by the astute Tom Mishou, executive director of the Georgia Boxing Commission. In it, Mishou wrote,
"Raising a barrier of confidentiality in the business of boxing, as was done in Section 15, is in direct conflict with almost every other principle of government you are so respected for promoting. There is simply no sound reason why bout agreements and contracts should be confidential. These are agreements and contracts sanctioned by the authority of the state. Public interest demands that they be available for public scrutiny. Georgia law supports one of the most aggressive open records laws in the country. Government operates best when there are no secrets.............I would urge that Section 15 be deleted in its entirety. A promoter should write contracts that survive public scrutiny - not defy public scrutiny."
Following the May 10 fiasco, Ouma was understandably distrustful of Peltz, who may or may not have actually been fined by his employer, but who was nonetheless able to leverage the Ouma-Papillon bout into a multi-fight deal at Dover Downs, a pari-mutuel establishment that has experienced a great deal of success with slot machines.
After having "benched" him for a while, Peltz scheduled Ouma for another ESPN-televised fight for October 4 at Dover Downs, where he was to take on Darrell Woods. The offer for the 12-round USBA title fight was $17,500.
Ouma was worried that in light of his newfound "racino" deal at Dover Downs, Peltz may have been penalizing him somehow by shorting him on the purse. So he contacted a couple of friends - Paul Johnson, the head of the Boxers Organizing Committee (BOC), and Johnson's associate, Tom Moran, the former manager of ex-heavyweight champion Tim Witherspoon. The two had been moral supporters of Ouma's decision to wear the back ad in the May 10 fight, and in fact Johnson's BOC had challenged ESPN's edict by issuing a resolution in writing and staging a demonstration in the ring with several fighters, including Witherspoon, Bones Adams, and Vito Antuofermo.
Johnson and Moran sought to find out what they could about the revenues and expenses associated with the October 4 date. What they discovered was that Peltz was receiving the equivalent of $50,000 from Dover Downs - an estimated $30,000 in cash and $20,000 in tickets, which were re-sold. And the standard rights fee from ESPN was $52,000, so Peltz' revenue from the fight card would be at least $100,000, not including what he may have been pulling in for his ESPN "consulting fee".
To the best of their knowledge, Michael Stewart, a Peltz fighter who was in the semi-main event, was to receive $6500; Woods, for example, got $12,500. Plugging all of their numbers into the formula, the two men concluded that Peltz could be making as much as $50,000 in profits on the show - nearly three times that of his main event fighter. And they came to the conclusion that, based on what they had unearthed, Ouma's purse should have been bigger. Perhaps much bigger.
So Johnson, in the name of the BOC, as well as the interests of Ouma, fired off a letter to Peltz on September 27 - one week before the fight - in which he requested that Peltz forward certain financial information - namely, what his sources of revenue were for the fight card and how much he was getting from them, pursuant to his interpretation of Section 13 in the Professional Boxer Safety Act.
Peltz did not answer the letter. Johnson then made contact with Sirb, the executive director of the Pennsylvania commission, who was the supervisor for all pro fights in Delaware - a non-commission state - by way of authority in the Professional Boxer Safety Act which requires that someone representing the Association of Boxing Commissions oversee all fights in states without commissions. In January of 2001, when Sirb was still president of the ABC, he entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Delaware in which the ABC would be in charge of pro boxing in the state. Then, conveniently, he assigned that responsibility to his own commission. Because of all this, Sirb had what amounted to an exclusive license to regulate boxing there.
Sirb affirmed that all the contracts connected to the fight would be in his possession, but that Ouma, by way of Johnson, could only get them "if Russell says it's okay." Johnson continued his efforts, but according to Peltz, financial disclosure was most decidedly NOT okay.
Ouma did go ahead with the fight, stopping Woods in the 11th round.
A week or so after the bout, Johnson decided to try contacting Sirb again. Once again, he was told, "Russell Peltz has to agree to it", but this time, Sirb was a little more defiant and much more abrupt. He more or less recited the "confidentiality clause" in the federal law and explained to Johnson that Ouma basically had no right to see the financial information. Evidently, while he was sitting in his state office in Harrisburg, and on a state telephone, Sirb was speaking to Johnson with his "ABC hat" on - indeed, as an ABC representative (he had the title of "Past President") rather than a state official, he felt he could justifiably protect Peltz under the governing federal law.
Undaunted, Johnson made contact with Tim Lueckenhoff, the president of the Association of Boxing Commissions. When asked about the financial records, Lueckenhoff was "very political" about it, according to Johnson, and did not make himself clear as to whether he had the documents from Peltz' show or not. Of course, Lueckenhoff may have been coming from a position where he felt he was standing on solid ground, since the confidentiality provisions in the law seemed to allow the ABC to hold the records from public review, even if it had them.
To add insult to injury, Sirb, as supervisor of the Ouma-Woods fight, proceeded to change Ouma's victory to a "no decision" on the basis of an alleged "positive marijuana test".
Then a rather astonishing thing happened.
On October 17 - just thirteen days after Ouma's fight with Woods and literally days after Johnson had been rebuffed again by Sirb - the Professional Boxing Amendments Act was voted out of McCain's committee. But mysteriously, there was no longer a repeal of the Section 15 "Confidentiality" section. It remained very much intact. "This looked clearly like it was done at the eleventh hour," said one northeastern commissioner, who requested anonymity. "We had absolutely no idea that was going to happen, and no one from the committee ever addressed anybody I know about it. The strange thing is, somebody must have felt it was important enough to eliminate the confidentiality thing. But even stranger is why someone, for some reason, felt it was important enough to put back in. Obviously someone had gotten to McCain's people during that time, and it must have been late in the game."
This action certainly had its effect. Had the bill, containing the repeal of Section 15, gone to the Senate floor, then to the House, and passed in expeditious fashion, Peltz may have been in the position where he'd have to make the requested financial records available. But now, he was home free.
Did someone take special steps to make sure of that? Maybe someone who had his own interests to protect as well?
It is undisputed that Sirb, who was named by the ABC as the liaison to McCain and attorney Ken Nahigian (who wrote the new bill) at the 2001 convention in New Orleans, was intimately acquainted with most steps in the process, and was in fact designated to "advise" Nahigian on issues related to the bill.
By virtue of Sirb's arrangement with Delaware, he stood to realize licensing and supervisory fees, and monies based on the television revenue, if he so chose. This would happen on a regular basis, with Peltz having firmed up his deal with Dover Downs. As mentioned, such authority was granted the ABC by federal law, since Delaware has no commission. In fact, for all intents and purposes, Sirb WAS the ABC. And he was not necessarily under any obligation to turn those fees over to the general fund in Pennsylvania, since he was not performing those tasks on behalf of the state, within state boundaries, or on state time.
In this business, that's what's referred to as a "sweet deal".
For Peltz too. Imagine being faced with a law that in one paragraph, may very well (dependent upon interpretation) require you make disclosures that might disadvantage you somewhat, and yet another paragraph have that nullified, AND on top of all that, have a commissioner at your disposal who's apparently not answerable to anybody, and who's perfectly willing to run interference for you? Who couldn't strike it rich under those circumstances?
"There is nothing more appalling and egregious in the federal laws than this," says Mishou. "Nothing should be proprietary.
"It is inconsistent with the principles of government to preserve secrecies. If the boxing community wants the privilege of being sanctioned by state government 'boxing commissions', they need to operate in the open like everyone else. State governments have rigorous laws requiring open meetings and requiring that documents be open for public inspection. The federal government has its own Freedom of Information Act. Why do they now think documents concerning boxing should be shielded and confidential? What makes them think they can solve the problems of boxing by perpetuating the secrecy of boxing?"
In the irony to end all ironies, on October 4, 2002, the same day Ouma went into a Delaware ring "in the dark", so to speak, for the Woods fight, Senator John McCain authored a letter to Paul Johnson, responding to earlier correspondence Johnson had sent him about financial disclosure on the part of promoters. McCain, who copied the letter to Ken Nahigian, wrote:
"Thank you for your recent efforts to encourage promoter compliance with the disclosure requirements of the Professional Boxing Safety Act (PBSA). Promoters must be held accountable to the law, and I commend you for taking action. As you know, the PBSA was enacted in an attempt to improve the safety and welfare of professional boxers, and to ensure the truthfulness of promoters in their financial dealings with professional boxers. Unfortunately, due to limited federal and state law enforcement resources, the implementation of the PBSA has been lacking. Your efforts to pressure promoter compliance with the PBSA is a much needed step toward improving the internal regulation of the sport of boxing."
Clearly, this would show a degree of intent at the time on the part of McCain. But sadly, over the next thirteen days, the senator and his staffers endeavored - successfully - to take all that promoter "accountability", not to mention the interests of the fighters who would be enlightened by it, and flush it down the toilet.
Did undue influence from somebody with an agenda - triggered by the persistence of Ouma and Johnson - contribute to that?
Obviously, all fighters should be judged strictly on their skills and accomplishments. That's how I see it and how I evaluate fighters. The funny thing is that some say I shouldn't have mentioned that HBO was going to look to capitalize on Mesi being white. Well if that's the case, how come every article or message board I've read compares Mesi to Cooney and Morrison. How come not Foreman or Tyson? All four of them made their mark as punchers, yet Mesi has only been mentioned with the likes of Cooney and Morrison.
It's impossible to ignore that race will play a major factor in the marketing of Joe Mesi. You can bet your life that the media and HBO will be playing up the fact that Rocky Marciano is his idol. And that both he and Marciano are from Blue-Collar towns. This is manly because legitimate white heavyweight contenders have been few and far between since the heyday of Marciano back in the 50's. This makes him unique. The fact that he can hit also adds to his mystique.
The term White-Hope is so misleading today, and I hate it. The days of Jack Johnson are 100 years behind us. There isn't a ground swell today calling for a white heavyweight to win the title. The only thing that brings the attention to a white heavyweight contender is that most want to see if he can be the one to do something that hasn't happened since 1952. Let's be honest, a bonafied white heavyweight contender is good for boxing. The Black fighters want to fight the white fighters because they represent the most money. And this is good for all fighters. In evaluating Joe Mesi the fighter, let's do it based on what we have seen from him in the ring. Forget the names Cooney, Morrison, Foreman, and Tyson.
First of all we know Mesi is a puncher. He has shown two handed power in both his right hand and his left hook. He also throws a lot of punches and has pretty good hand speed. I know some have raved about his hand speed, however I don't think it's quite as good as they do. What we don't know about Mesi is how good his chin is.
Mesi has definitely improved over the last year but, I need to see more before I jump on the bandwagon and declare him the next Foreman, Cooney, Tyson, or Morrison. His win over DaVarryl Williamson is eye catching and impressive. But I have a hard time gauging guys off of first round knockouts. I don't think they are true indicators. In the heavyweight division, a big puncher will look unbeatable when in with second and third tier opposition. In my opinion Williamson is not, and never was a top 10 heavyweight contender. He is the type guy that Mesi will look great against.
I don't care what anyone says, a fighter, especially a heavyweight cannot truly be judged until he has been cracked on the jaw. Or at least until he has faced resistance. Not many fighters had more knockouts than Mike Tyson on the way up. What did it prove? Nothing. We found out that when Tyson was met with firm resistance, he wasn't nearly the same fighter. And nobody knocks everybody out, nobody!
So let's just evaluate Mesi based on his body of work in the boxing ring. From what we've seen he has a promising future. He has the power, and the willingness to learn. I don't sense that he lacks confidence or harbors any self doubt, but remember, it's still early. I'm just going to evaluate him one fight at a time. And his color will have no bearing at all on what I think. When I see him, I see a fighter, nothing else. I have no idea if he's the next Foreman or Cooney, and I will not jump on and off the bandwagon.
How good will he go on to be, who knows? He's not the best heavyweight prospect I've ever seen, but he is pretty good. All I hope is that Mesi can go on and add some excitement to a heavyweight division that is definitely in the doldrums! That's something all boxing fans are rooting for. That I am sure of.
All this for a pair of brothers, who before Wlad's blowout of Fabio Moli, had lost both their fights in 2003. Wladimir, thought to be the better of the two brothers, was shockingly halted by Corrie Sanders in two rounds in March. Three months later, Vitaly would be much more valiant against Lennox Lewis, in losing via cuts in six rounds in Los Angeles.
But in this losing effort, the Klitschko name was redeemed and HBO is back on the bandwagon as Vitaly faces Kirk Johnson- who ironically, was the one who pulled out of that June date against Lewis with a pectoral injury, opening the door for Klitschko to face Lewis instead.
Now, Vitaly takes on Johnson at the famed Madison Square Garden on Saturday. And it says here, that the Klitschko family ends up at 1-3 on the year. Yes, I'm calling for a Johnson upset and I'm not the only one.
" There's a lot of reasons," pointed out noted trainer and ESPN2 color analyst, Teddy Atlas. Who has intimate knowledge of Johnson, as he trained him for a few fights in the late 90's." One of them is that he's got talent at that upper echelon and the upper echelon of boxing isn't what it used to be, that's another reason. He's got speed and good power and I think he's possibly got a real good situation where he's got a fighter who might be looking past him in the true sense of the word. I think Klitschko in a certain way was fighting for vindication and he got that in the Lewis fight."
Prior to the fight with Lewis, the Klitschko's, although physically gifted, were derided for their ignominious losses to the likes of Ross Purrity and Chris Byrd. They were derisively nicknamed the 'Quitchko's' by their detractors and thought to be classic front-runners. But Vitaly's brave performance has gone a long way in changing that perception.
" Even though he lost that fight, he got vindication, that he has heart and that he can keep his head up now and not be embarrassed by what people were saying about him and his brother.
" And in certain ways he won the big fight even in losing that fight- he won that moment," points out Atlas." And I think that this is a perfect trap fight for him and a perfect sandwhich fight for Johnson because Klitschko probably is going to look at Johnson as a guy who he can make submit, probably a guy who when he's had pressure put on him, he's fallen short and he's under-achieved and in some ways even given in to a certain degree. I think some people think that."
And for good reason, Johnson has never been a guy known for an abundance of heart and fortitude. At times he has taken the path of least resistance during fights and he didn't exactly put himself up for a Purple Heart in his DQ loss to John Ruiz in 2001, either. But if Klitschko think he can just walk through Johnson with no repercussions, that could be just the opening that Johnson needs.
" I think Klitschko's probably going to think that he just has to walk in and put pressure on him a lil' bit like Oleg Maskaev a couple of years ago," said Atlas, referring to Johnson's win over the Russian in 2000, who enjoyed early success only to run into a big punch from Johnson that effectively ended the fight early on." And I think that's very dangerous with anybody at this level. But I think it's very dangerous with a guy like Johnson, who throws sneaky, quick punches, he throws good counter-punches and the kinda punches that can catch you by surprise and I think it may be the perfect situation for that to happen.
" I think if Klitschko just comes walking in, looking to just put pressure on this guy and just thinking that in his own way, he's achieved what he's had to achieve, he might not be mentally and maybe even technically, but especially ready for the fight it might end up becoming."
Another important factor in this fight is that there might not be that much difference between the two fighters. The reality is that while Klitschko was gallant against Lewis and it was an exciting fight, it wasn't exactly a thing of beauty, 'the Thrilla in Manila' it wasn't. And Klitschko could have caught a Lewis that had either turned old, didn't prepare, or a combination of both.
" That's one of the reasons I also like Johnson's chances," Atlas agreed." I like them because I think he's going to have Klitschko in a certain way that's mentally he's already there and that he's already achieved something and looking past him a lil' bit. And also he got more credit than he deserved in that fight, I agree 100-percent. I believe quite honestly that he might have gotten stopped if the fight didn't get stopped.
While Klitschko was ahead on all three scorecards after six rounds against Lewis, he was also hurt in the last round and badly cut over his left eye. He may have been leading, but he certainly wasn't dominating the heavyweight champion.
" Everybody was screaming he was ahead on the scorecards and that he was going to get to Lewis. I saw it completely different," Atlas says." I saw a bad Lewis, I wont deny that, but Klitschko sure as heck did not look like any kind of Joe Louis, lets be honest here. Both of them were very sloppy, technically you could give them both F's and D's, at the best. I mean they were terrible."
It was indeed more barroom fight, than classic boxing.
" I mean if you walked into a room and just saw that fight taking place and you didn't know who they were, you'd think they were sub-novice Golden Glovers the way they were throwing punches," said a blunt Atlas, of that fight." So did they have resolve, did they have stoutness of heart and all that? Yeah, they had all those things that experienced guys have but as far as the form and technique, it was horrendous."
And Atlas believes that the fight getting halted when it did, was the best thing to ever happen to Klitschko.
" I don't go by the fashionable things that people were saying. I saw that the worst had happened already to Lewis and now, Lewis' experience was taking over and he was gonna get to this guy," said Atlas." That he was starting to get himself together and that this guy had done his best work and if anything, that he was going to start to be tested and perhaps start to fade a lil' bit. And I think the worst was ahead of Klitschko, the best had happened to him already but I think the worst was in front of him."
And that's precisely why I'm tabbing Johnson to upset Klitschko and halt the world domination of the Klitschko's. One guy who is being a bit overrated and another guy who is probably a big underrated. One guy who's coming off of a big fight and another, who lost a chance at his and is now getting it against the guy who took his place.