It's a long way from the bright lights and the exposure that Grant once fought under on a regular basis. Remember, it was just a couple of years ago that the hulking Grant was HBO's heir apparent at heavyweight and was hailed as 'the heavyweight of the new millennium'. That is until he was rushed into a title fight with Lennox Lewis and stopped in two short rounds. Like a piece of fine china, he was dropped and shattered into a thousand little pieces.
More than a year later, those thousand fragments would be pieced together and put back into the ring against Jameel McCline, in what was thought to be a comeback fight on his way to bigger and better things. This time he would be armed with a new trainer, the esteemed Teddy Atlas. But he wasn't much help as Grant was dumped to the canvas is less than 15 seconds with the first solid punch from McCline, fracturing his ankle in the process. In two fights, his stock plummeted faster than Enron.
Grant had hit rock bottom- twice. But he decided to give his career one last chance at legitimacy and after recovering from his fractured ankle, he would embarked on a series of comeback fights. We would say that he took some 'gimme's' but the fact of the matter is, we're not sure in his state of mind that there was any fight that could be considered an easy one for him. But slowly he has started to climb out of his hole; and this past August he took a decisive step up in class by knocking out fringe contender Robert Davis in three rounds in front of a national audience on ESPN. For Grant, it was a significant step in the right direction.
So now they move on to bigger and better things right? Actually, they took a step back by fighting James Walton in early November in Washington D.C., stopping Walton in four. And now, they're taking on Johnson, another unknown and relatively safe fighter. And it's just the way Atlas planned it.
" You gotta be honest," he says." I think we dropped back a lil' bit but not by accident. What I really felt like after the Robert Davis fight was that I wanted to evaluate what I saw. And I saw some good things, but I also saw some things that need to be tightened up, some inconsistencies, and so I thought I'd be wrong if I stepped ahead . I believe in the way I'm going about it and my philosophies towards this business; and right or wrong, you have to believe in it if you're the one who's leading it."
Atlas, after the knockout loss to McCline, in his first bout training Grant, took over the decision making in Grant's matchmaking from managers Craig Hamilton and Jim Thomas. Atlas, from the very beginning, had doubted that his new fighter was ready for a fighter of McCline's caliber so soon. And Atlas is hesitant even now to push the envelope looking ahead.
" With his lack of background, and moving to a title fight, and then the devastating two losses in a row and everything; I feel Michael needs time obviously in the gym to develop and then develop in proper fights. Off of the Davis fight, I though that he took a nice step forward from where he was. But there were some things I wanted to see better, become more consistent with."
The word 'consistency' is used over and over again by Atlas in talking about his fighter. In short, he wants more of it from him and even in his performance with Davis, he didn't see quite enough of it. After a strong round one against Davis, he would fight listlessly without focus in the second- earning a loud reprimand from his trainer- before stopping Davis in the next round. It was the second round that made Atlas proceed with caution.
" I felt, let me pull back a little bit," said Atlas, of his thoughts after the Davis win." And work in the gym again and see if I can get him to be more consistent and add to the areas that I saw were good and the areas that I thought he drifted a little bit and that he could have been better at. See if he can be consistent before he gets to the next level. To me, that's the way you do it. That's the way I feel comfortable developing a fighter and training a fighter."
So next came a fight off of TV against Walton.
" We had the fight in Washington. I felt that I was right, there was still some inconsistencies in that fight," Atlas says." Now, we're gonna have this fight where we got a game guy in front of him, who's gonna come forward but he's a level below Davis. And now, I'm gonna see- and I don't just care about winning- but I want to see how he wins. I wanna see how he looks, I wanna see if he shows the things we've been working on in the gym."
And Atlas insists that he will not move up to the next level just based on wins. He must see development and of course, consistency.
" It's always about the fighter getting better to me. My bottom line is being a teacher and the most important thing is your fighter getting better," said Atlas, who's currently got some time off from his other gig on ESPN2 as their 'Friday Night Fight' series is in the midst of a three week hiatus." Look, I know I don't have forever to do this, he's 30 years old, I got him at a certain point in his career, I know that.
" But I'm still not going to ignore the fact that there are still certain areas that he needs time to develop. I'm going to give it as much time as I can in practical terms and then I still understand that I need to step forward and be able to apply it within certain time frames- I understand that."
" But my first and foremost priority is going to be my fighter being consistent in the area's that he needs to be, becoming as good as he can become. Forget about the styles of the guys out there, I can pick spots out there with guys, but I want Michael himself to become as solid as he can possibly become within a certain practical term of time."
Ok, but where does he see his fighter in six months?
" I'm looking at stepping up to an ESPN-type fight," he answers." I'm looking for him, by the summer, to be on the fringes of the HBO-fights, the kind of guys you gotta fight in those kind of spots. To be able to show that he can be consistent on that level."
FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS
Also on that card with Grant is Anthony Thompson, a young welterweight out of Philly, who is now 7-0 and considered one of the best prospects in boxing.
The IBF in their latest ratings has placed Arturo Gatti as it's top ranked jr. welterweight, which perhaps brings us a step closer to a bout with undisputed champion Kostya Tszyu.
But then again, there's no way this bout ever goes to a purse bid and the question would be if there is enough money from either HBO or Showtime to satisfy both sides.
Bob Arum has put out an ultimatum to Shane Mosley to officially sign on the dotted line for his September 13th rematch with Oscar De La Hoya, or they will proceed to go through with a return bout with Fernando Vargas.
Why the rush to make Mosley sign? Well, it seems that Mosley, who's a bit unhappy with the $4 million he is set to receive against De La Hoya, has made overtures to Don King, setting off alarms with Arum and anyone else involved in De La Hoya-Mosley II.
When Clifford “The Black Rhino” Etienne (24-1-1, 17 KOs) meets Mike Tyson (49-4, 43 KOs) on Feb. 22 in Memphis, you can be sure the winner will have done hard time, spent a thousand nights or more listening to the cell door clang shut just before they turned out the lights.
Tyson has spent time for rape and Etienne for armed robbery when he was 17.
That’s why, if you’re going to watch this fight at home on Showtime, you should take the kids aside before the opening bell and quietly explain to them that not all pro athletes making big bucks on TV are role models. Some are ex-cons.
But while Tyson still appears to be a dangerous man outside the ring if not inside it, Etienne is the kind of guy they like to make movies about. He’s Huck Finn, Rocky and the Birdman of Alcatraz all rolled into one. His is a Hollywood-type story that’s already been told a hundred times, a poignant cliche everyone’s heard and still likes to hear.
You don’t make up stuff like the Clifford Etienne story. You don’t have to. He’s the bad kid with the natural gifts who went astray, paid for it in prison and eventually turned things around. Now he likes to cook, play the horn and read to his little girl before bedtime.
In a story-book world, he goes on to win the heavyweight championship of the world.
In reality, he has to first get past Tyson.
A high school football star who was recruited by a number of big-time schools including LSU, Oklahoma and Texas A&M, Etienne used to hang out with that notorious gang known everywhere as, “The Wrong Crowd.’’ Convicted of armed robbery shortly after he was old enough to drive a car, he was sentenced to 40 years, eventually serving 10 years in prison in Louisiana.
That’s where he discovered there was a way he could knock guys out without worrying about being frisked and taken downtown to be booked. Going against boxers from other correctional facilities, Etienne was 30-0 when they finally opened the gate and set him free. He then started attending Southern University in Baton Rouge, made the Dean’s list, got married, started a family, hugged his mom and dad, turned pro and won his first fight with a knockout in 31 seconds.
Drama, tragedy, redemption. How about Cuba Gooding Jr. as The Black Rhino?
“Prison is a thing I had to do,’’ Etienne says now, looking back on his incarceration and how far he’s come.
It’s questionable whether Tyson feels the same way about his time behind bars.
Known for his ability to punch, Etienne is not recognized for his ability to box. He’s no Chris Byrd. Don’t expect dancing against Tyson. Expect back-alley stuff. Elbows. Heads. Knees, if they can get away with it. Loud, ugly sounds. Two Peterbilts in a head-on collision.
Neither fighter took ballet or believes that slipping a punch can be as great an art as landing one.
As for the significance of the fight, there isn’t much. If Tyson wins, they say he’ll get a rematch with Lennox Lewis, which no one in their right mind would pay to see.
If the Black Rhino wins, he'll move up in the standings. But more important, he can someday bounce his grandchildren on his knee and tell them he beat Mike Tyson.
But there's one place where they've missed the boat entirely.
Just a few days ago, Luther Mack, the chairman of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, appointed Tony Alamo JUNIOR to the position of vice-chairman, which means, almost by definition, that unless he is replaced, Alamo would be next in line for the chairmanship.
My friend Don Majeski recently put together his annual "50 Most Influential People in Boxing" for International Boxing Digest; one of the names on this list is Tony Alamo SENIOR.
I'm afraid Don may not even know the half of it.
Mandalay Resort Group, which operates the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, is not only a major player in championship boxing in the city of Las Vegas (and the world), but also a licensed promoter in the state of Nevada.
Tony Alamo Sr. is the senior vice-president of that operation and the man in charge of the hotel/casino's boxing activities.
What this means is that the son is in the precarious position of having regulatory authority over the father. Let me put this another way - it could be easily perceived that the father, part of a licensed promotional entity, is uniquely positioned to control a vote on the board of the state agency that is supposed to be overseeing his activities.
And on a five-member commission, that vote has the potential of breaking 2-2 deadlocks that could occur at any time.
It's safe to say that many of the votes taken by the Nevada Commission concern either boxers who may someday fight on the Mandalay Bay property (or one of its sister properties), or promoters who may either seek to stage shows at Mandalay Bay, or do shows in conjunction with direct competitors of Mandalay Bay - competitors who also have licenses, or who would be required to have them.
Alamo Jr. is eligible to vote on all these issues. And to my knowledge, no other casino in the state of Nevada has such "representation by proxy" on the commission.
Not that what I've just told you is a secret to anyone in Nevada. Alamo Jr. gets up at every commission meeting and reads off a disclaimer whenever he has to vote on something. It discloses his family association with Mandalay Bay - this, I guess, in case any member of the general public in attendance doesn't know it already.
Of course, what he really should be saying is, "I hereby recuse myself from voting on any matter that even remotely concerns Mandalay Bay Resort Group or any competitive entity."
But he doesn't do that. In fact, he doesn't recuse himself from anything.
And silly me - I'm over here thinking that if a guy has to read off a disclaimer like that, it should not only disqualify him from VOTING, it should probably disqualify him from SERVING on the commission.
Yet apparently the governor doesn't feel that way.
Alamo Jr. has a ready-made rationalization for his position. "I do not work for Mandalay Resorts," he has told the Las Vegas Review Journal. "I do not own common stock. I have no ties at all to Mandalay Bay, per se."
Well - yes, and no.
Let's say Alamo Sr. owns stock in Mandalay Bay and has some stock options (not an unreasonable assumption). And I would further assume that if he's been a good son, Alamo Jr. would one day inherit this interest. Last I looked, the shares were sitting at 27-3/8. Now, would it be better for Tony Alamo Jr. - in the long run - if that stock jumped to 40, or dipped to 20?
In this business, that's what we call a rhetorical question.
You see, having "no ties at all to Mandalay Bay, per se" is just a matter of perception, isn't it?
Don't misunderstand me - I'm sure everyone is very thankful that Alamo Jr. has given us his input on his position, vis-a-vis Mandalay Bay. But to be perfectly honest, when it comes to someone who is, let's face it, a government official, I'm not all that interested in hearing HIM tell me HE doesn't have a conflict of interest, not when there's supposed to be a higher authority to make that determination.
And if the people overseeing the boxing commission in Nevada's state government can't see what I see, then the state that likes to think it sets a standard for other states to follow in the way of boxing regulation has fumbled the ball.
As I've said time and again, and will continue to say as long as it needs to be said - when it comes to the governmental regulation of boxing, we've got to look deeper than the OBVIOUS conflict of interest and attempt to avoid even the APPEARANCE of a conflict of interest.
Is there anyone out there who could possibly tell me, with a straight face, that Alamo Jr.'s situation doesn't constitute - at the very least - the appearance of a conflict of interest?
I mean, there have been people with the commission who have already gone on record in recognizing this. And it brings up at least one thing I would congratulate the NSAC on. Back when Alamo Jr. (an internist) was the chairman of its medical advisory board, he was not permitted to serve as a ringside physician at fights that were held at his father's property, despite his protests. Of course, the problem, at least from my perspective, was easy to see - his father's property was taking bets on those fights, and as a ringside physician, Alamo Jr. may have been in a position where he could directly affect the outcome of those fights - like who won, and how. Why venture into that kind of territory?
Others with the commission agreed. Marc Ratner, the executive director, was quoted in a Las Vegas Review Journal story as saying, "It is an implied conflict of interest we don't even want brought up. He will not be working any fights at Mandalay Bay. We don't want anybody second-guessing him as a doctor with his obvious ties to Mandalay Bay."
Amy Ayoub, who was a commissioner at the time, was right behind him.
"Dr. Alamo's integrity is not in question at all, but the perception of a possible conflict is there," Ayoub said. "Because of that, we feel it is best that he not be the doctor at Mandalay Bay fights when we have other qualified doctors to work those fights."
Well, if there are "obvious ties" to Mandalay Bay, which would preclude him from working fights there, why would this "implied conflict of interest" be any less operative in Alamo Jr.'s role as a commissioner, where he's voting on issues that, once again, might directly OR indirectly affect Mandalay Bay or one of its competitors?
Let's give another example. Alamo Jr. was, in the end, opposed to licensing Mike Tyson. Tyson's fight with Lewis was supposed to be bought by the MGM Grand - a competitor of Mandalay Bay. if the fight had been scheduled for Mandalay Bay, and his father had an awful lot riding on it, would Alamo Jr. have voted differently? And would he have tried to convince others on the commission to do the same?
Should someone like him ever be in a position where he can cast the deciding vote which determines whether a fight - ANY fight - takes place at Mandalay Bay or not?
The very fact that one can bring up a question like that should be grounds for a recusal on his part. And as long as that's the case, why should he have been able to vote on Tyson appearing at ANY casino?
Here's the thing - in both pieces of federal legislation in effect, there are provisions - which I've brought up before - designed to guard against conflicts of interest:
In Section 5 of the Ali Act,
"(b) FIREWALL BETWEEN PROMOTERS AND MANAGERS-
`(1) IN GENERAL- It is unlawful for--
`(A) a promoter to have a direct or indirect financial interest in the management of a boxer; or
`(B) a manager--
`(i) to have a direct or indirect financial interest in the promotion of a boxer; or
`(ii) to be employed by or receive compensation or other benefits from a promoter, except for amounts received as consideration under the manager's contract with the boxer."
......And in Section 15 of the Professional Boxer Safety Act,
"(b) EMPLOYMENT AS CONDITION OF PROMOTING, ETC- No person who is a licensee, manager, matchmaker, or promoter may require a boxer to employ, retain, or provide compensation to any individual or business enterprise (whether operating in corporate form or not) recommended or designated by that person as a condition of--
`(1) such person's working with the boxer as a licensee, manager, matchmaker, or promoter;
`(2) such person's arranging for the boxer to participate in a professional boxing match; or
`(3) such boxer's participation in a professional boxing match."
One of the principal thoughts in mind from the very beginning was the professional relationship between Don King, a promoter, and his son Carl King, who managed some of the fighters who were under promotional contract to Don King Productions.
In fact, this kind of issue has been specifically brought up - often - by people like John McCain and other proponents of a national boxing "administration".
What they recognize is that the relationship between one relative and another - particularly between a father and son - can create a perceived conflict of interest that can have the effect of polluting a dynamic in which two parties would otherwise hold certain checks and balances over each other.
Well, if we consider the relationship between a commissioner and a licensee, don't Alamo Sr. and Alamo Jr. fit into that same kind of dynamic?
So how can we ask anyone to obey the Ali Act or the Professional Boxer Safety Act, to enforce them, or even sympathize with their rationale, when the very regulators who espouse them don't even care to adhere to the same standard?
Or as usual, are commissioners and politicians telling us that what's good for the goose isn't necessarily good for the gander?
Wouldn't you like to be able to flip a switch and exert influence on the natural order of things in boxing? Would it be an adrenaline rush to have the Kings, Arums, Kushners, Warrens, and Kohls licking your boots?
Well, I don't know what you're waiting for.
All you have to do is start a sanctioning body and take it from there.
Tom Mishou, the Georgia commission administrator who has something called the International Boxing Union headquartered in his state, says, "All you need, I guess, is to incorporate and you can call yourself a sanctioning body."
You don't even have to go THAT far.
Let me show you how easy it is. After class, I'll even sell you the complete startup kit (it's a mere $34.95).
Our story begins in May of 1994. At the time I was working with a partner, Steve Benson, and we had a company called Whirlwind Entertainment that was getting ready to promote a June 6 boxing show at Casino Magic in Mississippi as part of a multi-fight deal we had just signed.
These shows were low-budget, which appealed to the casino. Nonetheless, we felt it incumbent upon ourselves to make at least a small splash, inasmuch as names like Larry Holmes, Roberto Duran, Oscar De la Hoya, and Roy Jones had fought at the property the year before, when I served as the boxing consultant.
If we could get someone with a name to fight for chump change, and promote it as some kind of title fight, it would help our cause in this first show out of the box.
We knew it would be nice to have a former heavyweight champion, and there were several around at the time who would have fit our needs - people like Tim Witherspoon, Trevor Berbick, Tony Tubbs.
The guy we finally settled on was former WBA champ Mike Weaver, for a couple of important reasons - one, we were promoting this as "D-Day at the Bay", and he was an ex-Marine, and two, because he held the heavyweight title of the National Boxing Association (NBA) - not to be confused with the National Boxing Association that the WBA grew out of, but a rather new organization that was run by a gentleman I knew in Florida named Irv Abramson.
We got in touch with Don Manuel, who was managing Weaver, and struck a deal rather quickly. Somebody we knew had the bright idea that this fight, which we were producing for an independent television broadcast, could be sold to hospitality outlets across the country along a Hispanic bar network via closed circuit hookup. But we would have to have Latins in our main events, preferably Mexicans.
Weaver's name value satisfied the Casino Magic people. Now, to accommodate the TV "gurus" we had met, we set out to insert a Mexican heavyweight as an opponent.
Well, you didn't exactly have to do a Google search to find one, because there were only a few of them out there. Most readily available was Ladislao Mijangos, whose claim to fame was a one-round KO of Jimmy Ellis (not the former heavyweight champ but the ordinary Idaho native), who himself had knocked out Tony Tubbs in one round a year before.
Mijangos brought a 23-16 record with him, and he really couldn't fight. But he was Mexican. So we had a match, for Weaver's NBA title.
At least that's what we thought.
As my partner was addressing the sanctioning details, up stepped Abramson. On May 20, he sent a fax with the sanctioning application, in which he had filled in the fees. The sanctioning fee he was demanding was $3500.
THIRTY-FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS!
Well, there were no set standard sanctioning fees that we knew of, and in those days there certainly were no websites that were going to feed us this kind of information. But to give you an idea of how ridiculous this was, right now the International Boxing Federation, for example, charges promoters a base fee of $3500 for its title fights (plus 3% of the fighters' purses). And there is no argument about the fact that the IBF carries real weight, while the NBA didn't.
Furthermore, to the best of my recollection (don't make me go into storage to find the contracts), we were paying Weaver $10,000 and Mijangos $3500. That's $13,500 total, meaning that it was equal to a whopping 26% of the main event purses, not to mention 12% of the site fee we were getting.
Over the next few days, I sat down to review these numbers with Benson. And I came to the conclusion that it might not make any sense to go with the NBA sanction. To be honest, I was expecting to pay something in the neighborhood of $1500, including the supervisor's fee. Anything more than that would be out of the question.
We started thinking about alternative scenarios, including creating a title from scratch. In the meantime, Benson kept going back and forth with Abramson over the sanctioning fee. And Abramson was not budging.
On May 25, Abramson sent another fax, asking us to send back the application, along with the fees. Benson called him to reiterate that the sanctioning fee was somewhat high, at the same time still hoping to reach some kind of accord.
Well, a couple of days later David Hilbert, the entertainment director for the casino and our boxing liaison there, called us. It seems Abramson had sent the following letter to him:
Dear Mr. Hilbert,
Due to a breakdown in communications with promoter Steve Benson and Whirlwind Entertainment Group Inc., we hereby remove any and all sanctions by the National Boxing Association of the scheduled June 6th, 12-round bout between Mike Weaver and Ladislao Mijangos, as a world championship bout.
Please cease and desist any and all references, promotions and publicity relating to the National Boxing Association as the sanctioning body. This is not an NBA sanctioned championship bout.
Please acknowledge receipt of this letter by Fax or return mail.
President and Chief Executive Officer
It was copied to Billy Lyons, head of the Mississippi State Athletic Commission.
Of course, there was no reference in the letter, nor had there been any in conversations with Benson, about Mijangos not being in the NBA ratings, or being unsuitable as a "championship opponent". Abramson was willing to bypass those ratings issues, so long as he got his money. And as he didn't think he was going to get it, he was going to try and scare somebody.
At that point it was a good thing that (a) we had a healthy relationship with the casino (at least we did then), and (b) that no one there had ever heard of the National Boxing Association to begin with. Otherwise, Abramson's attempt to sabotage the fight card may have hurt us very badly.
Naturally, there was an easy decision to make - I figured that since the NBA wasn't well-recognized or well-respected, it wouldn't make much difference if there were another minor sanctioning body willing to work with us. And really, from there my rationale became, why pay any sanctioning fees at all? Why not start our own organization out of thin air? Who would really care?
So that's what we decided to do. But we had only about 10 days to go until the fight, so we really had to swing into action.
Benson quickly designed a logo for the new "organization" on his computer. He had another company called "Florida Boxing Authority", so we decided to call this the "International Boxing Authority". He put the logo on a disk, sent it to the belt maker in New Jersey, and we had an IBA championship belt within days.
Any of our promotional materials that mentioned the NBA were simply changed to read "IBA".
We informed Weaver that he was now the IBA's heavyweight champion of the world, and let Mijangos' agent know that his man was now fighting for a different belt. It didn't seem to matter to either of them.
In the 48 hours before the fight was to take place, I went to work drafting a constitution and a set of championship rules and regulations for the International Boxing Authority. All of it was loosely based on what I had compiled for the Universal Boxing Association (where I was ratings chairman) six or seven years before.
Then I put together the "official" IBA world ratings. I had included a provision in the rules that allowed anyone in the Top 20 to fight for a world title. Mijangos was conveniently installed as the #19 heavyweight contender. My ratings committee consisted of whoever happened to drift into my hotel suite during this time.
When we were finished, we made sure we put all of this in the hands of the Mississippi State Athletic Commission. To be honest, I don't think we even created a corporation for the IBA.
We also recruited a lawyer we knew in Boca Raton to be our IBA "president". We flew him to the fight on about a day's notice, ostensibly to "supervise" the proceedings. We sat him in the front row, right near the owner of the casino and right behind Billy Lyons.
It was just like the real thing.
And I'll tell you what - when our ring announcer, Mark Beiro, blurted out that this fight was for the "IBA heavyweight championship of the world", no one questioned what we were doing, no one laughed, no one asked "what happened to the NBA?", no one asked for their money back, and no one avoided the blackjack tables after the fight because of it. In fact, to the unsuspecting observer, this was the first heavyweight title fight in the state of Mississippi since 1889, when John L. Sullivan KO'd Jake Kilrain in 75 rounds for the bare knuckle crown!
From what I can recollect, no one from the commission batted an eye. We even used their judges.
And our belt looked much nicer than the NBA's.
As for the fight itself, it wasn't much. Weaver stopped Mijangos in the second round of an uneventful affair.
In doing so, he retained his IBA title.
Of course, that was neither here nor there, because the IBA faded into memory. We didn't need to use it again. Weaver was not the worse for it. Abramson never stripped him, so he went on to make two more NBA title defenses and Abramson collected two more sanctioning fees.
The point of all this is, we were able to start an organization and create a title - just like that. If we did it, others can do the same. Just like that.
So when you see those "title fights" from people like the IBO, IBC, WBF, IBU, WBU, etc., you'll take note that it doesn't require a rocket scientist, or any degree of organization, to be able to step forward and call somebody a "world champion". All it takes is the desire to do it and a little sense of humor.
And when you see something called the "IBA" - another ersatz group promoting out there on the ESPN telecasts, please remember - that ain't us.
For the past several years Tszyu had fought exclusively in the United States. And while he was a critical success in unifying the 140-pound division, he was a failure at the box-office. His unification bouts against Sharmba Mitchell and Zab Judah failed to draw more than 3,500 paid, and his last bout against Ben Tackie drew less than 1000 paid customers.
It was like the New York Yankees having the attendance of the Montreal Expos. I was there, and I would've sworn I heard some crickets in the background at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas that night.
While his reception has been lukewarm (at best) in America, Tszyu now has an opportunity to show his skills in front of familiar faces. And he realizes that it's a chance for him to change the perception that he simply can't sell tickets.
" It's a great thing and we need to show the world that I can bring the big crowds to the stadium," he said on an international conference call last week." And we're expecting 30 - 35,000 people to be in the stadium. It's going to be a very, very special event which people will remember for a long, long time."
It should be a raucous and spirited audience at the Telstra Dome- where Azumah Nelson once knocked out another favorite son of the Australian people in Jeff Fenech over a decade ago- and one that appreciates the efforts of Tszyu. P erhaps the soft-spoken and measured Tszyu simply isn't cut out for American audiences. In an age of braggadocio and trash-talk, Tszyu follows the creed of one Teddy Roosevelt who believed in speaking softly and carrying a big stick. And being a foreigner certainly didn't help his cause either; and then when you factor in that most world-class fighters only fight two or three times a year, at the most nowadays, it's difficult to build up a fan base outside your immediate region.
Perhaps he would have also been aided by having a Don King or Bob Arum guiding his career instead of Vlad Wharton, a second tier promoter who seems incapable of pushing his product above and beyond the core fan base. But now he's home and one of the benefits is that he doesn't have to battle jet-lag.
" For the last few years I've been traveling to the States all the time," explained Tszyu;" and I got used to traveling and right now I feel great because you have to take five to seven days to adjust the time zones. This time I don't need to do this."
And not fighting in an arena that will be filled with empty seats and with some actual energy in it will only help his already laser sharp focus. And in Jesse James Leija, he's facing a respected veteran whom he respects.
" I never take any fight lightly," he says." That's the reason why I'm training so hard for this. I'm sure Jesse's going to be an aggressive and exciting fighter; he's a warrior. I've watched many of his fights and even when he's lost some of his fights, he never gives up. That's the reason why I think he's going to be a great fight for me in front of my people."
And while Leija seems to be cannon fodder, he shouldn't be taken lightly. Yeah, he's in his mid-30's and winding down his career- but so is Tszyu. And think about this, outside of Oscar De La Hoya in 1995, Leija has given a good account of himself against every other blue-chip boxer he has run up against. He would go 2-1-1 against future Hall of Famer Azumah Nelson, he would give a respectable effort against Shane Mosley in 1998 before getting stopped late, he downed Ivan Robinson convincingly in 2000, many thought he was robbed against highly ranked lightweight Juan Lazcano before that, then he was on the verge of downing Hector Camacho Jr. before Camacho decided to quit, and he beat Micky Ward in his only appearance of 2002.
For Tszyu, Leija represents another challenge to his jr. welterweight supremacy and his goal of being consistently good time and time again. At one time his goal was to unify his division, with that out of the way, he now focuses on staying king of the hill.
" I think you need to defend your title when you climb to the top of the mountain," he says." You have to stay there; one mistake and it's a long way down. It's extra pressure but I learned to control any pressure and learned to control all the emotions and I can focus on one thing."
And this time, there will actually be some people in the audience to witness it.
I can honestly say I'm not the least bit surprised that Johnny Tapia has awakened from his coma after a weekend in intensive care and on a life support unit.
It was quite a week for Tapia. First, on Friday night, he was in a standoff against police with his cousin that ended with the arrest of two men and Tapia being given a citation for possession of drug paraphernalia. And then on early Saturday morning his wife Teresa had to call 911 after he fell in his Las Vegas home and lost consciousness.
At that point it was thought that his life was in jeopardy- but remember, this guys been pronounced clinically dead three time before, so it should be no surprise that he regained consciousness on Monday afternoon.
But do the math, Tapia, who has battled substance abuse for years, needs more help. Sorry, but it just sounds fishy that he would suddenly collapse and lose consciousness a day after having drug paraphernalia. And other sources tell me that Tapia had been going through some emotional distress since his bout with Marco Antonio Barrera in November.
From start to finish (whenever that may be), his life will always be a rocky road; hence the nickname,' Mi Vida Loca' (my crazy life). But it is clear that not only does he need more drug rehabilitation, but he could use also some psychiatric counseling.
Don't be stunned if Lennox Lewis decides to bypass a fight with Vitaly Klitschko and go right ahead to a rematch with Mike Tyson. Lewis and the Klitschko's promoter, Peter Kohl, are still far apart in consummating that deal, and if you really think about it, why would Lewis even agree to that bout?
After all, this is a guy that got knocked out by the likes of Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman, why jeopardize a huge payday (in a much easier fight, no less) by taking on the hard-punching Klitschko? If McCall and Rahman can starch Lewis, it stands to reason so could Klitschko if he landed a big shot.
Also, Lewis has been waffling on his decision for quite awhile, so it's pretty clear that he himself is having second thoughts of facing the big Ukranian.
Getting knocked cold is akin to having your material bomb in front of a live audience. Being dazed and dizzy from a left hook would be like hearing the uncomfortable and long silence of a joke gone badly. In boxing you perform basically naked with the exception of your trunks, in doing stand-up, you bare your soul completely.
Whether it's taking and giving a punch or delivering a punch line, there isn't really that much that separates the two endeavors.
DaVarryl Williamson, a heavyweight prospect with a record of 17-1-1, who takes on Robert Wiggins this week on ESPN2's 'Friday Night Fights' has done both. So what's tougher, doing stand-up or standing up to heavyweights?
" I think being a stand-up comic (is tougher)," answered Williamson, with a laugh." because if you're in boxing you're gonna get hit anyway. The comic thing is just something you really got to have the goods for, you've got to have the timing, the atmosphere, the crowd has to be feeling you. Sometimes if you have a slow start in boxing, you've got a couple of rounds to make it up and the crowd is pretty patient with you.
" Right here, in comedy, if you don't have two good one's coming out, you don't get that attention, then you lose the whole night and you may even have some boo's or some tomatoes coming at you. Fortunately, I didn't have any of those things happen because I was just a warm-up act. People didn't have very high expectations of me to begin with so I made them laugh a little bit and I was happy with that."
Williamson, who, for the record, says that Eddie Murphy and Robin Harris are his two favorite comedians, has one of the most interesting biographies in the sport of boxing. In a sport that is littered with interesting stories, he stands out.
Williamson was a quarterback at Wayne St. in the early 90's and tried out for the Indianapolis Colts, and he was able to obtain his masters degree while attending Northern Michigan during his amateur career that saw him post a record of 120-17-1. Which is even more impressive when you consider that Williamson began boxing at the ripe old age of 25.
He is now 34 and he knows he's got to move fast in his professional career.
" I feel like I'm in position because, number one, I got the talent and I have the goods. By me coming out in 2000, I probably should have come out in 1996 but I wanted to stay in school and to obtain my masters degree. So I hung around till '98, I looked up and said,' Wait a minute, it's only about a year before the Olympics, let me give that a shot' and that's why I kinda got a late start." But he has no regrets, " It's something I couldn't beat with a baseball bat by getting another diploma."
But it could also be argued that Williamson, who's nickname is 'Touch of Sleep' because of his powerful right hand, needed that extra seasoning to make up for his late start in the sport.
" Maybe I needed another year or two," stated Williamson." but I don't know if I needed the whole duration of those three or four years that I stayed in. Some people say, 'You stayed in too long, you did this, you did that, for me', I thought it was time well spent. I can't over-emphasize about obtaining a masters degree, I can't over-emphasize the experience in the international fights and all those good things. Because what I don't have in rounds as a professional, I made up for it with the amateur experience all over the world."
With his relative inexperience and his advanced age, Williamson wasn't considered much of a prospect coming out of the amateur ranks. Also, his reputation for having a soft chin wasn't helped when he was stopped by Willie Chapman in his fourth professional outing; but he opened up more than a few eyes when he knocked out the gargantuan Corey 'T-Rex' Sanders this past summer. He would go from suspect to prospect with that big win. But Williamson believes that his transformation and development was a longer process.
" I think that particular fight helped out but I also think the Dale Crowe fight, the Kevin McBride fight, the Andre Kopilov fight, Antuan Shazell- I think I did a good job of connecting the dots," Williamson explains." If you know DaVarryl Williamson, you know these things happened in a chronological order and the Corey Sanders fight just happened to be a fight that a lot of people got a chance to see."
And those in the industry took notice, as his new manager Garry Gittelsohn would buy out his release from his promoter Cedric Kushner and sign him over to Lou DiBella, who just recently obtained his promoters license.
In that watershed victory over Sanders, Williamson would overcome some shaky moments in the early rounds, something he says he owes to time he spent in camp with other heavyweights.
" Oh, man, I gotta tell you, working and sparring with Hasim Rahman and Chris Byrd, those guy push me to the limit, even a Lawrence Clay-Bey, sometimes you're gonna get hurt in this game. Nobody said you weren't going to get hit. And that was just a part of the process, I got hit, I kept my composure, I held him, I tied him up and I went right back to work, because what happened from me getting hit the first time, I was just starting to feel my rhythm right before I got caught with the left hook."
" Other than that, that was the only big moment that he had. I was in control of the whole fight."
And for Williamson, spending time in training camps, like he did when Rahman was preparing for his two bouts in 2001 against Lennox Lewis, has made him a more mature and seasoned fighter.
" Oh, absolutely, absolutely," he agreed." these camps are priceless. As a young heavyweight coming up, you're trying to make a mark on the heavyweight division, trying to get the knowledge, the experience; you can't over-emphasize the possibility of going to someone's camp. Hasim Rahman was getting ready to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world- he won it and brought me back again. So I felt very honored and privileged to be a part of that."
And that's no joke.
WBO jr. welterweight titlist DeMarcus Corley was efficient and effective in taming the hard-punching Randall Bailey this past weekend. But he didn't exactly set the world on fire or put on the type of performance that will have people clamoring for a fight with Kostya Tszyu.
Corley is the type of fighter that not only needs to win, but to look good in doing so. Yeah, winning is the most important thing, but in the position that 'Chop Chop' is in, there is no doubt that he's in a beauty contest with other blue-chip jr. welters like Arturo Gatti, Zab Judah, Sharmba Mitchell and Vivian Harris to get a shot at Tszyu.
Corley, doesn't get high marks for his win over Bailey.
In an interesting move, Main Events has signed trainer Buddy McGirt to a deal to train their stable of fighters. McGirt, a former two-time champion in his heyday in the ring, can still train other fighters with the permission from Main Events.
McGirt has impressed observers with the work he's done with the likes of Arturo Gatti, Antonio Tarver and Angel Mandfredy among others.
I guess Main Events feels as though they have found their new Georgie Benton, who trained so many of their boxers during their great run in the 80's and early 90's.
Let me try to illustrate this through a story culled from personal experience.
I was approached once with an offer to become the president of what would be considered a "minor" sanctioning body. We'll call it the XYZ. On the surface, it sounded pretty good - after all, I figured this might present an opportunity to establish a little credibility in the ratings system (at least as much as I could), and to demonstrate that some "clean" business could be conducted for a change within the sordid structure of boxing at the championship level. Oh, and I almost forgot - to travel to some exotic places too.
As the conversation progressed, I inquired as to what this job entailed. The answer, coming from the guy who basically "owned" the organization, was that "you've got to get us some XYZ title fights", which meant, in essence, that it was a matter of contacting various promoters with the intention of "selling" title fights to them.
So what it really amounted to was a sales job. In fact, one that paid a commission.
And of course, with a situation like that, it naturally occurs to you - the difference between, say, one of the "off-board" sanctioning bodies and the four that can be considered majors - the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO - is that if you are running one of the majors, promoters are pitching YOU to out on title fights, whereas if you're with one of the "minors", YOU are pitching THEM.
If you understand boxing, that difference is HUGE.
Because in the latter scenario, you are going to making concessions to promoters on a continuing basis. Because your championship does not bring with it the "respect" that comes with a "major" title, you are in a position where you need THEM more than they need YOU. The promoter gives the sanctioning body credibility, much more than the other way around. In point of fact, the cooperation of a promoter is NECESSARY for the fledgling organization to make any strides at all. That constitutes a degree of DEPENDENCE that is considerably greater than the majors feel toward anybody, regardless of what your ideas are about payoffs and kickbacks.
As a result, the minor sanctioning body is going to bend over backwards even more than usual - and very cheerfully, I might add - to accommodate those promoters who have been "helpful", in the way of doing fight that generate sanctioning fees. This would include rating certain fighters favorably, or bending the rules in such a way that it would put the "friendly" promoter's fighter in a position to fight for a title.
After all, if you're a sanctioning body without any real clout, what kind of fighters are going to be rated more favorably - those fighters you DON'T have access to, or those fighters you DO have access to, handled by a promoter who is willing to scratch your back if you scratch his?
So when one of these "favored" promoter gets their hooks in such an organization, they're likely to go down a slippery slope in terms of their capacity to say "no".
Does all this sound horrible and corrupt? Well, if it were a much bigger sanctioning organization that was accorded a greater degree of credibility, or one that is attached to or supported by a television network, the practice would probably be considered a lot more egregious. As it is, it's just kind of hokey - not to be taken even semi-seriously. When you come to grips with the fact that the "governing bodies" are a business just like anything else, you realize that it's simply a matter of financial survival.
Of course, since Section 11 of the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act requires sanctioning bodies to explain their ratings, if asked, I'm going to be assume that goes for ALL sanctioning bodies, regardless of how big they are. A set of championship rules is also supposed to be on file with the Federal Trade Commission and/or the Association of Boxing Commissions.
If that's the case, I wonder how some of these organizations can stand up to scrutiny.
An ideal example of this is the International Boxing Council (IBC), an organization that was founded by people like Marty Cohen about 15 years ago, subsequently operated by the late former manager and Ohio commissioner, Blackie Gennaro, and is now run by his son. The last available ratings on the IBC website are from September 2002 (I guess that, in and of itself, is an Ali Act violation, isn't it?).
In those September ratings, the IBC listed seven champions. And five of them were from Denmark - heavyweight Brian Nielsen, super cruiserweight Tue Bjorn Thomson, welterweight Thomas Damgaard, lightweight Dennis Holbaek Pedersen, and bantamweight Johnny Bredahl. There were also an abundance of Danish fighters rated in various divisions - Mads Larsen was the #1 super middleweight, Mikkel Kessler was #10 in the same division, Steffan Nielsen was #10 at heavyweight, Mikael Rask was listed #7 at junior middleweight, Rudy Markussen was tenth at light heavy, Steffan Norskov was the #3 flyweight, and Spend Arazi checked in at #10 in the featherweight class.
Not to say these Danish fighters were not capable. But they had one overriding thing in common - they were all managed by either Mogens Palle or his daughter, Bettina Palle. Basically, they were handled by both.
Since those last ratings were posted, three of the Palles' fighters won IBC titles. Abazi won the vacant 126-pound crown on September 13 over Giovanni Andrade, who was NOT rated in the IBC's Top 10. Norskov won the vacant flyweight belt on October 4 with a sixth-round TKO over Dominick Guillen, who was NOT rated in the IBC's Top 10 in September. And Rask captured the vacant junior middleweight title on October 25 with a decision over Alfredo Mosquera, another fighter who was NOT in the latest IBC ratings.
This gave the Palles eight "world champions" out of the ten crowned by the IBC. Think it's because they were one of the few entities willing to do business with the IBC?
Brian Nielsen had beaten Troy Weida for the vacant title in January of 2000. Honestly, I don't know if Weida was rated in the IBC's Top 10 at the time, but if he was, he was misplaced - Weida had to that date beaten only one fighter with ten pro fights a winning record. After losing to Nielsen, Weida went on to be knocked out in one round by Rob Calloway, Dale Crowe, Ray Mercer, and Tino Hoffmann. And he just recently lost to clubfighter Russell Chasteen in a bid for a WBF Intercontinental title.
The biggest joke of all was in the IBC's September cruiserweight ratings. Argentina's Dario Matteoni, a former world contender with a 41-2-1 career record, was listed as the #1 contender for that vacant title. The problem is, Matteoni is 42 years old and hadn't fought since May of 2001. And in that particular fight, he scored an eighth-round TKO over Perfecto Gonzalez, who had come to Argentina billing himself as Uriah Grant, but who in fact had an 0-9 record with nine KO losses, one of them, ironically, suffered at the hands of Grant.
I doubt the organization followed any rules at all when it came to the process by which they were to fill these titles, or whether there are rules governing this process at all, as would seem to be prescribed in the Ali Act. If they didn't, isn't this something that should be examined by those eager beavers in the ABC?
Oh, incidentally - in the way of disclaimer, I should mention that I was involved with the management of an IBC champion, Robert Daniels, who beat Kenny Keene to win the vacant cruiserweight crown in March of 1997. Things were slightly different then - Blackie Gennaro was still alive and running the organization. Daniels was, at the time, a rated contender by the IBC.
I'm more than a little uncomfortable with these kinds of arrangements, and with good reason. Perhaps it wouldn't be overly surprising that Max Kellerman, who has brought his public access shtick over to ESPN, trumpeted this as a tremendous hire; he doesn't really grasp the issues at hand here. But I think it's unconscionable that Teddy Atlas, who's supposed to be an advocate of fighters, and therefore should know better, didn't speak up when it was being discussed.
The question before us - should promoters be hiring and paying the people who train the fighters they have under contract?
To answer this question honestly, you simply can't avoid finding the elements of a conflict of interest that result from that kind of relationship.
When you look on the surface, of course, it seems like a positive on all sides - the promoter wants a top-notch trainer for the fighters it is ultimately looking to cash in with. And I guess you can't blame a fighter who feels he's found a trainer who represents on opportunity for improvement.
For all I know, the Main Events-McGirt deal is completely well-intentioned.
My concern, though, is, what happens in those cases where it is NOT so well-intentioned, or when the parties involved in such a deal haven't foreseen situations where a conflict could manifest itself.
I don't want to single out McGirt, because there are similar scenarios elsewhere. Don King, for example, has trainers on his payroll. So do other promoters. Hell, Main Events already had two other trainers in its employ - Mark Breland and Ronnie Shields.
In fact, when I first got into boxing full-time, the promoter I worked for, Phil Alessi, had hired a trainer named Jimmy Williams to run his gym and work with all the fighters. A second trainer, Henry Grooms, was later added.
I was always a little uneasy with that concept, but at 24 years of age, what the hell was I going to say?
Naturally, over the course of time it became obvious to me that the ultimate responsibility the trainer felt was not to the fighter he was working with, but to the guy who was signing the paycheck. And that was the promoter. There wasn't even a question about his loyalty. And you know what? That's human nature.
There are two parties in a boxing relationship who are supposed to be employees of the fighter - the manager and the trainer. As it has been traditionally established, the fighter pays his manager a commission up to a legal limit (in most places) of 33-1/3% of his purses, while the trainer gets paid 10%.
That means that if the fighter makes $3000, the trainer is supposed to get $300. If the purse is $100,000, the trainer would get $10,000. We're speaking generally, of course - all kinds of alternate arrangements can be made, depending on what level of purses the fighter is getting. And sometimes the manager pays the trainer a salary, which means that the trainer is an employee of both the manager AND the fighter.
But the bottom line is that when the trainer has made his deal with the PROMOTER, it's a different ballgame entirely. When a trainer is under contract to, and receives a salary from, a promoter, he is not exclusively an employee of the fighter, but instead, of the promoter. And if our intention is to follow the law, I can't see where it would be acceptable that the trainer be contracted to both the fighter and the promoter simultaneously.
If we are to define the adjective "fiduciary" as "relating to, or involving a confidence or trust", as it reads in the dictionary, there would seem to be little doubt that the relationship of a trainer to the fighter is fiduciary in nature. The fighter places his physical well-being, to a considerable extent, in the hands of the trainer, both in the gym and in the corner, and relies on that trust, just as he trusts his professional and financial well-being with a manager.
And I've got news for you - any trainer who claims he is not in a position of trust with his fighter - and this includes McGirt, Atlas, or whoever you want to name - shouldn't be licensed as a trainer to begin with.
The promoter is NOT a fiduciary - we went over this in depth in "Operation Cleanup".
In case you missed it, let me grab a few lines from Chapter 51, as I was trying to describe the relationship between Don King, a promoter, and John Ruiz, a fighter:
"Don King does NOT have a fiduciary duty to the fighter. He simply has a CONTRACTUAL relationship with him.
King is not Ruiz' manager - in fact, in many ways, his function is actually AT ODDS with that of the managers of Ruiz.
You see, the obligation of Stone and Cardinale is to secure, for their fighter, the best price possible with the promoter, who happens to be King. That creates, by definition, an adversarial relationship - not in the sense that they are enemies, but hopefully - ideally - in the healthiest sense possible, in that they are both negotiating in good faith with each other, with each having objectives that are not necessarily mutually inclusive of each other.
For example, if King wants Ruiz to fight "Fighter X", and offers $1 million to Ruiz, and Stone and Cardinale come back and they want $2 million, they will negotiate back and forth over the figure, until a deal is made in which both parties are satisfied. The less Ruiz takes, the more money King will make, at least theoretically. Likewise, the more money Ruiz is able to negotiate for himself, the LESS money King will make."
Someone who is a FIDUCIARY for the fighter can not work for the promoter, because he functions as an EXTENSION of the promoter, and it's simply against the fighter's best interests for regulators to allow this as a common practice.
And let me put this into further perspective for you - the trainers who were working for Phil Alessi back in 1986 were getting 10% of the fighters' purses as well. In fact, in some cases it was actually specified in the promotional contract.
If the trainer is involved in that kind of scenario, he has a financial interest in a fighter, and as an employee of a promoter at the same time, it can argued - strongly - that it's a violation of the Ali Act.
Of course, back in 1986, there was no Ali Act. But there is NOW. And it's pretty clear what the intention is.
Look at Section 15, covering "Conflicts of Interest", which actually amends Section 17 of the Professional Boxer Safety Act -
FIREWALL BETWEEN PROMOTERS AND MANAGERS-
`(1) IN GENERAL- It is unlawful for--
`(A) a promoter to have a direct or indirect financial interest in the management of a boxer; or `(B) a manager--
`(i) to have a direct or indirect financial interest in the promotion of a boxer; or `(ii) to be employed by or receive compensation or other benefits from a promoter, except for amounts received as consideration under the manager's contract with the boxer."
And earlier in that section, it specifies that a promoter cannot require a fighter to be trained by a certain individual:
"(b) EMPLOYMENT AS CONDITION OF PROMOTING, ETC- No person who is a licensee, manager, matchmaker, or promoter may require a boxer to employ, retain, or provide compensation to any individual or business enterprise (whether operating in corporate form or not) recommended or designated by that person as a condition of-- `(1) such person's working with the boxer as a licensee, manager, matchmaker, or promoter; `(2) such person's arranging for the boxer to participate in a professional boxing match; or `(3) such boxer's participation in a professional boxing match."
Now, although that may be going on in some places, it may not be what's going on with the Main Events deal. At least not overtly. Indeed, if the press release is to be taken at face value, it is strictly an option for the fighter:
“Main Events is excited about giving our current fighters, and any fighters we sign in the future, an opportunity to work with McGirt should they choose,” said Main Events CEO Kathy Duva, according to the release.
By the same token though, I have never met a big-time promoter who would pass up an opportunity to have a greater degree of control over a situation. And make no mistake - having the trainer on your payroll offers the possibility for that kind of control, whichever way you try to "spin" it.
Let me go back to the passage in the press release I quoted at the beginning of this story:
"The agreement allows McGirt to train non-Main Events promoted boxers, but only if given clearance by Main Events."
Here's the problem with that - let's suppose I manage a promising young fighter, and I consider Buddy McGirt to be the best trainer in the business. I want my fighter to be able to work with him - very much. And the fighter agrees with me. So while we may CHOOSE to work with McGirt, he can't choose to work with US, unless (a) we sign a promotional contract with Main Events, or (b) McGirt gets special clearance from Main Events to work with us. If we are signed, or if we are entertaining signing with, say, Don King or Cedric Kushner or Gary Shaw or Bob Arum, we're not going to get the opportunity to work with the trainer we want because that arrangement couldn't possibly help Main Events.
Maybe that's a restriction that should be addressed in the Ali Act as well. In other words, it's not that we can't get a particular fight; we can't get a particular TRAINER - a guy who should, by rights, be able to make up his mind independently if he wants to work with a fighter in a fiduciary capacity - unless we sign a contract with a particular promoter.
Promoters shouldn't be permitted to tie up people who perform in that kind of role.
I don't think it's a stretch at all when I tell you that if there good reasons why the MANAGER shouldn't be an employee of a promoter, that same rationale should apply to a TRAINER.
And in those cases where the trainer is NOT getting his 10% - in other words, where the promoter is the only party who is paying him - it means that he is exclusively the employee of the promoter, and most definitely NOT the fighter, which makes it improper for him to be acting in a capacity that is normally fiduciary in nature. He's simply getting his money from the wrong end.
You think all this is strictly theoretical?
Let's just say......
The promoter has quite a bit invested in a certain promotion which involves a fighter who is trained by that promoter's employee. The fighter may not be in top physical condition, or may have a slight injury that would affect him in a fight. In other words, he is not 100% ready to fight, and would be against his best interests to do so. However, he does, as a rule, rely on the direction the trainer gives him as far as these matters are concerned.
Will the trainer, who spends the most time with the fighter in the gym and who would seem to be the most intimately acquainted with his condition, force that issue with the guy who is signing his paycheck, if that employer (the promoter) pressures him to make the fighter available, insists on it, or otherwise emphasizes strongly how important it is that the fighter takes part, regardless of his condition? If it's a matter of the fighter having to lose a lot of weight on short notice, will the promoter's trainer advise him to do that, even if it may not be a healthy thing to do?
The promoter is doing a televised main event in which he has both of the contestants under promotional agreement (something which is not illegal). Fighter "A" in that main event bout is trained by the promoter's employee, while Fighter "B" is not. It would be to the promoter's great advantage in terms of future income if Fighter "B" won the fight. Could it affect the training regimen, or the advice that Fighter "A" gets from his trainer? Could we ever really know? What if it turns out to be a scenario like we described in the previous paragraph? Could a fighter truly rely on the advice he gets from his trainer under these circumstances?
What if a promoter orders a trainer NOT to work with a fighter anymore, but to turn his attention toward someone else - maybe a "more promising" guy the promoter wants to put in the ring with that fighter? Doesn't that leave a fighter high and dry?
Hey - sometimes a fighter serves as his own manager, meaning the trainer is the only "buffer" between himself and the promoter. What do we do then? After all, the trainer knows which side his bread is buttered on. And this is often a "push-comes-to-shove" business.
What's interesting is that I've never heard this argument brought up by anyone before. And shame on ME for not thinking to bring it up before this. Indeed, it was a pure revelation to those commissioners I've had the opportunity to mention it to.
But it's not a huge surprise - we have become so de-sensitized to conflicts of interest in this industry that some things never even get a thought.
Yes, I've heard the arguments that represent the other side:
"The trainer has enough integrity that he would not let a conflict get in the way of his duty to the fighter"
. Well, not always. And though I haven't taken a scientific sampling, maybe not even half the time. And besides, how a trainer manages that potential conflict shouldn't be left to the trainer's discretion - it should be governed by rule and law.
"The reality in boxing is that the promoter is really the manager of the fighter anyway, so what's the big deal?"
. Well, that may be reality in some cases, but it's not a reality we should be embracing. In fact, the law tells us that. We should be moving away from such "vertical integration" and toward the policy of separating the roles of promoter and manager.
"Who says the trainer is supposed to be working on behalf of the fighter anyway?"
. Well, I do. Most state attorneys general would, if they read my rationale. And I'm confident almost any court in the United States, if necessary, would say the same thing.
"If there's disclosure, why shouldn't the fighter make his own decision about who trains him? And a manager can always say no to that kind of thing if there's a problem"
. Yes, but I doubt that fighters - and even their managers - know the ramifications of this kind of deal the way it has been spelled out in this story. And regulators shouldn't be in the business of PUNISHING people for not foreseeing problems that may arise out of something they haven't foreseen either.
My contention is that, in cases where trainers are working for promoters, and especially where they are taking their money from both ends, a commission may want to strongly consider whether those trainers should even be licensed to work with a fighter. At the very least, it violates the SPIRIT of the Ali Act. And isn't that federal law supposed to mean something?
That’s it. The well is dry, the party over. There are no more names on the list, no more lonely guys at the top. Roy Jones Jr. would make it a happy trio if he hadn’t been stripped of the IBF title for failure to meet certain obligations, like continuing to fight as a light-heavyweight instead of a heavyweight. He’s an undisputed champ; but he’s only got two belts now, and he really shouldn’t be in the undisputed champions class photo if he’s fighting as a heavyweight.
As for Tszyu (29-1, 23 KOs), he fights Jesse James Leija (43-5-2, 17 KOs) in Melbourne, Australia on Saturday night, though it will be Sunday afternoon in Australia. Barring a big upset, Tszyu will still be an undisputed champ regardless of what day of the week he wakes up after the fight.
Still, Leija has played giant killer before. He was never supposed to beat Azumah Nelson, but he’s 2-1-1 against the former champion in four fights. “Jesse thinks he has a chance or he wouldn’t have taken this fight,’’ said Leija’s manager, Lester Bedford, on a conference call late last week promoting the fight on Showtime. “He was an underdog to Zumah and there have been probably 20 fights in his career that he wasn’t supposed to win. This is a great opportunity Kostya Tszyu has given him.’’
Leija, who missed the conference call because he was given the wrong time, isn’t a walk-over and Tszyu knows it.
“When you are the undisputed champion you can chose who you want to fight. There is not a mandatory defense,’’ Tszyu said. “That’s why we chose Jesse James. He is a great fighter and he’s going to give me a great fight.’’
Giving great fights is Leija’s trademark. A former super-featherweight champion, he’s not known to go away easy. Tszyu knows it. He also knows Leija doesn’t have the natural gifts Tszyu was blessed with. Leija’s biggest weapon is his will. Heart is a great tiebreaker, but it can't throw a right hand. Sometimes it just isn’t enough.
“I never take a fight lightly. That’s why I have been training so hard,’’ Tszyu said.
“Jesse is a warrior. He never gives up.’’
Respect. That’s what you like about Tszyu. He’d never make it on the pro wrestling circuit. He doesn’t trash talk any of the guys he fights. He just removes them of their senses and then helps them back to their corner.
So how come your neighbor across the street knows who Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr., are, but he’s never heard of Kosta Who? Because Tszyu is a Russian now living in Australia and if you’re a fighter and you don’t have a U.S. zip code, no one really cares who you are.
On top of that, nice guys don’t make great headlines. Sometimes, they just make great champions.
A common quote I hear is, "If fights turn out to be mismatches, just yank the matchmaker's license from him. But let him do his job."
On the surface, this is a point well-taken. After all, when you license certain individuals the way boxing commissions do, you are, in a way, relying on their professional expertise and judgment, and to a certain extent, you are actually CERTIFYING that professional expertise, at least to the point where you are permitting the licensee to practice.
It would follow that you are also granting a certain amount of latitude by virtue of this licensure. Some say if a matchmaker or promoter were to abuse that latitude, there would then be sufficient justification to revoke a license, but not until then.
I guess I could go along with this train of thought, if not for a few things:
1) It's too easy for a matchmaker to turn around and operate through other people, and without a license.
2) A lot of the suspensions and revocations that are not medically-related, and don't involve boxers, are not honored in reciprocal fashion by other boxing commissions.
3) Experience has taught me that most promoters will do exactly what they can get away with in the process of moving a fighter's career along.
4) Experience has also taught me that padding a fighter's record on the way to a prospective payday is a much more important consideration for most promoters than the interests of a live audience at a club show.
5) It's a lot more difficult in boxing to protect the consumer after they've already been duped.
I also hear the argument that "the marketplace should decide". Well, the problem there is that, although there may not be blatant false advertising, there may indeed be certain vague misrepresentations, or omissions. For example, a poster promoting a fight has the fighters billed without their records being listed. One of the fighters may even be touted as "tough contender", or some kind of nonsense like that. He may have an 0-15 record, but that's obviously never mentioned. So theoretically, the public is being asked to make a buying decision, yet does not have all the necessary information at its disposal. That more or less violates the rules of the "marketplace".
There simply has to be some recourse available.
So if I were a commissioner, I could probably agree to divorce myself from being involved with vetoing certain matches submitted to me by matchmakers/promoters. But this is the complete set of conditions under which I would do it, and it's what I would suggest for all commissioners whofind themselves faced with this decision:
* I'd require all promoters to deposit the purse money into my custody, or take a property bond for the amount of the purses, so that fighters would have the security of knowing that no matter what happens, they'll get paid.
* I would require that all advertising related to the fight include the records of fighters when their names are prominently featured, and records posted next to fighters' names when undercard bouts are listed.
* I would reserve the right to "red-flag" certain matches submitted to me by the promoter. These are the matches that I feel I would not normally have approved. This puts me, as a commissioner, on record in finding certain fights questionable, and at the same time, puts the matchmaker on notice - up front - that this is one of those instances where I'm relying strictly on his professional judgment.
* For fights like these, I would make it a point to have designated representatives of my commission watching for two things, so as to have corroboration - lack of performance, and signs of ARTIFICIAL performance, out of the contestants, as I am evaluating every fight.
* For every show, I would require ALL gate receipts to be surrendered to the custody of the commission until such time as I authorize them to be released to the promoter for the purpose of paying fighters.
* If, at the conclusion of the show, I, as the commissioner, have determined that enough horrible, inexcusable, and avoidable mismatches have taken place so as to be offensive to the public interest - and paying particular attention to those fights that were "red-flagged" - I have the right to seize the microphone, and make an official announcement that anyone in the crowd can, right then and there, avail himself/herself of a full refund, as long as he/she has a PAID ticket stub.
* If such a situation occurred, I would reserve the right to revoke the promoter's and/or matchmaker's license.
* I would create the mechanism by which I would formally request that all suspensions or revocations of licenses in connections with such an action be reciprocated by ALL boxing commissions.
* I would make sure I was in a position to enforce further suspensions against promoters or matchmakers who might operate while still under disciplinary sanction within my jurisdiction.
* I would impose fines on the offenders as I see fit.
* I would dare any of them to sue me.
So what would all this accomplish?
Well, it would, almost without question, drive shamelessly bad promoters and matchmakers out of business. At the very least, it would cause them to be a lot more careful in terms of taking "liberties" with the quality of their fights.
Imagine if a promoter is put into the position where he has to refund money to any customer who wanted it, while at the same time, he has already guaranteed the fighters' purses with the commission. This supplies the consumer protection component and is a potentially disastrous turn of events for any promoter who doesn't put forward a quality product. And it could bring up an ironic reversal - in a matter of moments, it can go from a situation where the public is at the mercy of an unscrupulous promoter to one where that promoter is completely at the mercy of the public.
For all scam artists who choose to disguise themselves as boxing promoters, that's a delicious irony, isn't it?