In the Lewis fight, with his gallant showing, Vitali erased the stench of his loss to IBF heavyweight champ Chris Byrd a few years back. After losing to Byrd, many questioned Klitschko's heart and character due to his suffering a shoulder injury during the bout and then requesting it to be halted. His showing against Lewis proved all those who questioned his manhood and character wrong. Lewis-Klitschko, although sloppy with many lulls in the action, was still a battle of attrition. Both fighters showed championship caliber courage in the bout.
It's been two months since the fight and Klitschko has been given the green light by the doctors to go ahead and fight again this year. Lewis has announced that he definitely will not fight again this year, if ever again. With Lewis unsure of his plans, this could be an indication that he's leaning towards retiring. That's a decision only he can or should make.
With the impending retirement of Lewis, Vitali Klitschko has to be the heavyweight who is viewed as the hottest fighter in the division. I believe most boxing fans want to see him fight again based on his showing against Lewis. Klitschko showed he has a good chin, punching power, and some boxing ability. No, he's not going to make anybody forget Holmes, but he has some basics.
Its been reported that he has agreed to fight on his network, HBO, on December 6 versus an opponent to be named later. An opponent to be named later? Herein lies the problem. Now, I'm not picking on Vitali. He certainly is not the only fighter who has done this, and he definitely won't be the last. The problem I have is that I know what "an opponent to be named later" means, as do most boxing fans, I'm assuming. "An opponent to be named later" means that the next time we see Klitschko in the ring it will be against a fighter who has virtually no shot to beat him. Again, I'm not taking a shot at Vitali Klitschko; mostly all of today's fighters follow the same script.
I also can't let HBO off the hook because they will have final say in accepting or rejecting the opponent. Oh, but they don't act as a promoter or matchmaker? Rest assured that HBO will want an opponent with some name recognition, who will put up a decent fight and give them some rounds, but who also has no chance of winning. There's no way they want an opponent who can realistically score an upset, no way. With the threat of Lewis hanging up the gloves, they'll want to protect their investment.
Though the opponent hasn't been officially announced, we can assume some things about him regardless of his name. First and foremost, we can bet our life that the fighter who faces Vitali on December 6 is a fighter who can't punch. This assures that if Vitali is upset it won't be via a knockout. We also can be assured that it will be a fighter who doesn't have a lot of money behind him and isn't well connected with the powers that be. This is an unwritten insurance policy that if things don't go well, Vitali losing a decision is just about out of the question, short of him being beaten half to death.
I haven't a doubt that the "opponent to be named later" will fit into at least one of the two mentioned scenarios, but most likely both. Again, I'm not picking on Klitschko, mostly all fighters today take this same path. I don't care what Klitschko's manager Klaus-Peter Kohl says about seeking a top ranked fighter. No doubt that when the fighter is named, the first thought that will come to your mind is, "Oh, Klitschko will definitely beat him." The only way this won't be the case is if it's for a title that was vacated.
From a boxing standpoint, what good does it do Klitschko to go in against a fighter who has no chance to beat him? I don't want to hear the crap that he needs to get the feel of being back in the ring; He's been a professional fighter going on eight years, and fought the best heavyweight in the world in his last fight. Now that he's gained acceptance as one of boxing's top heavyweights, why tarnish it with an easy win or struggling with an opponent who is perceived to be an easy win? Wouldn't a solid win over another top ranked heavyweight strengthen his hold on being the man to beat in the heavyweight division, outside of Lewis?
Do boxing fans have to be subjected to another setup? Didn't we see enough of that with Tyson? Most fighters' careers are built on setups on their way to becoming ranked or fighting for the title. There's nothing wrong with that early in a career, it's how fighters gain experience on the way up.
Vitali has fought three name heavyweights in his career, Byrd, Donald and Lewis. He was winning the Byrd fight when he called it off, though in my opinion, not by as much as the scorecards indicated. He is the only fighter to stop Larry Donald, and he gave Lewis quite a scare before the fight was stopped. The next time we see Vitali fight, it should be against one of the world's top heavyweights!
Come on Vitali. I dismissed you before the Lewis fight. You proved yourself to be worthy of high praise and should be included among the world's best big men. The next time we see you in the ring, let it be against a formidable fighter, who is a threat to beat you or, at the least, compete. If you score an impressive knockout against another fighter who is no more than a propped up opponent, what will it prove? I will start asking myself a question I thought you answered in your fight with Lewis. That is, "Are you a legitimate title threat when Lewis is gone, or did you catch him on an off night at the end of his title reign?"
You've yelled and screamed for Lewis since the doctor ended your fight with him. Don't contradict yourself and fight just an opponent in your next fight. Show the boxing public that you're for real and are willing to fight the very best. By fighting and beating the best you'll gain the respect and admiration of the fans.
The boxing establishment might opine that since the fighter negotiated and accepted that $100,000 purse, any further discussion is moot. Maybe, and maybe not. If the fighter were aware that there was going to be another $80,000 out on the table, it would have changed the nature of the negotiation entirely. And you can't fault the fighter too much for not knowing, since there has been what seems like an institutional resistance to disclosing financial details on the part of both promoters AND television networks. Non-enforcement of the Ali Act has not helped very much either.
Nonetheless, there is more awareness of this situation - something that can be attributed in no small part to the enactment of the federal legislation.
The way I see it, a fighter, when he starts his career, "owns" 100 percent of himself. When he signs a managerial contract, he is more or less parceling out a piece of himself, whether it's sold, or offered in exchange for services a manager will render. But he isn't dealing ALL of himself away. He still owns at least two-thirds of his own managerial rights, and is entitled to participate, to some extent, in the process of stewarding his own career, if he so wishes.
Certainly the same holds true, at least to an extent, for the fighter's promotional rights. Before the fighter signs a promotional contract, is it not true that those rights are his to sell? In other words, theoretically, he owns 100% of his own promotional rights going in. The difference is that when he makes a deal with a promoter, he is signing away ALL of those rights.
Let me offer an alternative approach, albeit a radical one.
And it's based on the fact that there are different kinds of promotional deals - the most common of which is where the promoter is in fact "steering" the fighter, in a quasi-managerial capacity, in which it is in his interest to make the fighter as valuable commodity as possible.
According to Section 5 of the Muhammad Ali Act, under FIREWALL BETWEEN PROMOTERS AND MANAGERS, the Act "does not prohibit a boxer from acting as his own promoter or manager".
So then, what would be wrong with the fighter taking the position that he begins the process as HIS OWN PROMOTER? And that when he sits down and makes a deal with a promotional outfit, what he's doing is not granting ALL of his promotional rights to that outfit, but instead entering into what, in effect, is a CO-PROMOTIONAL agreement; a "promotional partnership", if you will.
This is not to say that the promoter will only have 50% of the rights to promote the fighter's bouts, but that both sides agree to bring something equally valuable and essential to the table as part of this "promotional partnership" - the promoter naturally takes the responsibility of staging the shows, and provides the kind of unique expertise in the industry that will facilitate the fighter developing, growing, and maximizing his earning potential. The fighter brings services that are "of a special, unique, unusual and extraordinary character, giving them peculiar value", as you often see referred to in promotional contracts.
The fighter also pledges to put forth best efforts to promote and publicize himself, and to make any promotion he is involved with a success, since after all, he has a very definite stake in this regard.
Understand - I'm not contending that the fighter splits everything down the middle with the promoter in terms of revenues and/or profits; whatever is negotiated between the parties is going to vary, when it comes to guarantees, number of fights, how many years, etc. Obviously, the fighters with the most market value are going to be the ones with the most leverage. My understanding about Eric Lucas' deal with Interbox, for example, is that he receives percentages from television, gate receipts, and other things.
I have also seen, as a part of some promotional contracts, provisions for the division of net revenues at the championship level, with the fighter's income level usually measured against a guarantee.
What I AM saying is that under my model, there is a virtual partnership between the parties right from the outset. And what it does is put the promoter in a position where he actually has a certain fiduciary duty to the fighter - not just in terms of doing what is in the fighter's best interests INSIDE the ring, but in making available all relevant financial details, including television revenues, gate receipts, promotional fees, expenses, sponsorships, even a profit-loss breakdown on individual shows the fighter is involved in. In saying that, of course, I'm operating on the principle that in a business partnership, one party naturally has a duty of disclosure to the other partner(s).
The DeLaHoya-Mosley fight was very close through round six. However from the seventh round on, it was Mosley's fight. I don't know how the judges scored it a split decision, I thought it was a clear Mosley win and should've been unanimous. The win catapulted Mosley into being recognized as one of top pound for pound fighters in the world, (I hate the pound for pound mythical ratings crap) and the defeat raised some questions about DeLaHoya's future.
Since their first fight, their careers have gone in opposite directions. DeLaHoya seems to have rounded out his overall game, and has grown more confident since losing to Mosley. On the other hand, Mosley has stumbled and seems a little unsure of exactly what he wants to do and what style he wants to fight.
In the three years since DeLaHoya lost to Mosley, he's fought four times, going 4-0 (3). Two of those wins were against fighters who had no chance to beat him. In stopping Arturo Gatti and Yory Boy Campas, he beat a fighter who he had a significant size advantage, (Gatti) and another fighter who has been on the wrong side of the hill for at least the last seven years (Campas). The other two wins were over solid legitimate world class fighters. In winning the IBF junior middleweight title from Javier Castillejo, DeLaHoya displayed his boxing ability, and an improved right hand. His other win was over long time rival Fernando Vargas in September of 2002. The Vargas fight may be one of his best overall performances.
In the Vargas fight, DeLaHoya faced a world class fighter who was young and hungry, and who also had longed to get Oscar in the ring. Vargas showed up in great shape and definitely gave it his best shot. The difference in the fight was that DeLaHoya was the better overall and more complete fighter. Some have speculated that DeLaHoya performed well against Vargas because the Trinidad fight softened Vargas up some. Though I don't believe all of that, I'll concede that it may have been a minor factor.
Since taking DeLaHoya's title, Mosley has gone 3-2 with one no contest. In Mosley's three wins, he stopped Antonio Diaz, Shannan Taylor, and Adrian Stone retaining his WBC welterweight title. Obviously those three are not in the same class as Forrest or DeLaHoya. In his fourth title defense Mosley was beaten soundly over 12 rounds by his long time nemesis Vernon Forrest. In their rematch six months later, Mosley put up a much better fight in losing a close decision, (I scored it 7-5 Forrest). In the rematch with Forrest, it was obvious that regardless how well prepared Mosley is for Forrest, he just doesn't match up well with him. Forrest's height and jab seem too big of an obstacle for Mosley to penetrate.
Mosley's last fight ended in a no contest when he accidently head butt Raul Marquez in the third round. Though three rounds is hardly enough to judge any fighter on, it's at least safe to say that Shane's showing vs Marquez was less than stellar.
A Lot On The Line For Both
The rematch between DeLaHoya and Mosley could possibly be the most important fight in the careers of both fighters. It's a fight that neither can afford to lose. A loss in this fight will be monumental to both, and will be very hard to comeback from. For DeLaHoya, a loss to Mosley could not come at a worst time in his career. DeLaHoya is finally getting respect from even his harshest critics. DeLaHoya is one of the few fighters of today whose fought the best available. In my opinion, Mosley is the only fighter who has clearly defeated him.
That's why he has to beat Mosley. If he loses to Mosley, it will haunt him the rest of his career. No matter what he does, it will be said, yea, but he couldn't beat Mosley. There are potential huge fights out there looming with Mayorga, Forrest, and Hopkins. It wouldn't surprise me a bit if we end up seeing DeLaHoya fight and defeat both Mayorga and Forrest thus pushing the calender along aging Hopkins.
When it comes to DeLaHoya, I believe that Hopkins views him with the same disdain Marvin Hagler viewed Sugar Ray Leonard. Hagler looked at Leonard as a pretty boy media creation who got everything his way. Hagler didn't think Leonard was tough and would never agree to fight him because he thought Leonard feared him. That mind set probably cost him the fight. Leonard waited just long enough to challenge Hagler. Leonard saw some slippage in Hagler in his last fight against John Mugabi, and then jumped up and challenged him. Leonard knew that Hagler couldn't resist the money and a chance to have his name on his win column. By Leonard running the clock out, he caught Hagler at the perfect time.
I can see Hopkins making the same mistake against DeLaHoya. DeLaHoya is in no hurry to fight Hopkins. He knows that fight will be there when ever he wants it to happen. He knows that there are plenty of name fighters who he can be paid millions to fight while he's keeping Hopkins on the shelf getting older. He knows that the chances of him challenging Hopkins, and Hopkins refusing the challenge are virtually non existent. For this strategy to play out, he must get by Mosley to move on to the next phase.
In Mosley's case the fight is even bigger. If he loses to DeLaHoya in their rematch, he'll basically become a trial horse for up and coming fighters. A loss puts Mosley in a tough spot. He'll be to risky for established fighters to fight because he's still good and capable of beating them, and a win over him won't really guarantee you a spot at the top.
A Mosley defeat by DeLaHoya would make him 0-3 in his last three big fights. All of the sudden we'll be hearing how his only signature win out of the lightweight division was over a DeLaHoya who fought the wrong fight against him coming off the loss to Trinidad. Fighters like Vargas, Mayorga, and Wright will have no interest in fighting Shane. They'll look at him as a big risk without much to gain, where he'll look at them as a chance to get back in the title picture.
On the other hand, a win over DeLaHoya resurrects Mosley's career. Having beaten DeLaHoya twice will all but erase the two defeats by Forrest. Most will accept that Mosley is a better fighter than Forrest, but just doesn't match up with him. If Mosley can get by DeLaHoya than Mosley-Mayorga, Mosley-Vargas become huge fights and they are fights he would be favored in if he were to beat DeLaHoya.
The winner of the DeLaHoya-Mosley rematch puts himself in a tremendous position to continue on. With so many worthy opponents out there for him to fight, this is a must win. The sky is the limit for the winner, and the fall could be horrific for the loser. Obviously a loss for Mosley is much worse. No way Mosley will be afforded the cushion that DeLaHoya will most likely get if he loses.
Me talking about womens boxing is like Rush Limbaugh extolling the virtues of a Bill Clinton. Well, you may want to keep this column as a collectors item because trust me, it may not happen again.
It's not that I have anything against women or them boxing. It's just that I don't find it particularly entertaining. For me, there was never a novelty appeal, it was a sideshow that I would routinely side-step. It's like this, I'm a basketball fan but I don't watch the WNBA. No offense to the gals that shoot those deadly accurate set-shots and shoot a wide array of layups, but I want to see the best in the world ply their craft on the hardwood, which means guys like Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Paul Pierce and Tracy McGrady not Lisa Leslie and.... well, quite frankly I don't know of anymore women hoopsters, like I said, I don't watch it.
But when Laila Ali and Christy Martin fight this upcoming weekend in Biloxi, Mississippi, it is arguably the most high profile fight for the month of August. Which says a lot about the two women and how promoters treat the late summer months. But there's no two ways about it, Ali and Martin have the center stage. There are no major bouts scheduled on either HBO or Showtime until mid-September when Oscar De La Hoya looks for revenge against Shane Mosley on HBO Pay-Per-View.
And if there are two female fighters that deserve the spotlight to themselves it's these two. And in many respects it's the old guard against the new upstart. You all remember Martin when she burst onto the scene in March of 1996 when she won an exciting six round decision against the tough Deidre Gogarty on the pay-per-view broadcast of Mike Tyson's easy win against Frank Bruno. She basically stole the show that night at the MGM Grand and with the promotional pull of Don King, she became the first superstar in womens boxing. It wasn't long before she was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, which nowadays does as much positive coverage on the sport as the AMA.
And she has had a successful career in almost every respect, except for not fighting Lucia Rijker, long considered the biggest threat to her throne, she has put together a string of victories over carefully chosen opposition and 'the Coal Miners Daughter' was for all intents and purposes the face of womens pugilism.
While Martin's prime was winding down, Ali's daughter was just getting started in the business. What looked at first to be something that couldn't be taken seriously, has actually turned into a serious and lucrative career. She has steadily improved her skills and more importantly, she has become an attraction. As it stands right now, Ali is the proverbial 'A'-side in this fight. It was her commercial appeal that made this promotion happen.
And speaking of commercials, outside of a certain retired heavyweight pitchman that hawks his own grill on late night TV, what other fighter has national endorsement deals with companies like Cadillac and Dr. Pepper? Laila Ali, that's who. And that's not exactly ' Chico's Bail Bond's' sponsoring her, that's the big leagues.
Another feather in her cap is that she actually has a pay-per-view history, her scrap with Jacqui Frazier- yes, the daughter of 'Smokin' Joe'- did very well in 2001 and there's really no reason why this event shouldn't do just as good. The press conference melee that they got into awhile ago made national news- hey, maybe this womens boxing is becoming more and more like the men!!!- and as was mentioned above, it is the only game in town this week. For a suggested retail price of $29.95, you can satisfy your 'Boxing Jones'.
But this point has to be made- for most of her career, Martin has fought around 140 to 147 pounds and she's no taller than 5'6. Ali, on the other hand is a statue-esque 5'10, 168 pounds. In other words, at their natural fighting weights there is at least a discrepancy of three weight classes. Did you happen to catch their little altercation at the press conference, it looked like Muggsy Bogues attempting to post-up Wilt Chamberlain. It just looked like a physical mismatch.
Such a disparity in weight in the mens game would not be allowed- and please don't even use the Roy Jones-John Ruiz fight as an example, your comparing apples to frozen oranges, there- and you wonder if Martin, who is past her prime will be competitive at all. Johnny McClain, the husband and promoter of Ali- now there's something you don't see and hear of everyday in this game- has carefully matched Ali with a roster of smallish, undersized women with little or no skill. Now, Martin definitely has skills but they are eroded to a certain degree and even on her tippy-toes would only come up to her opponents neck.
This could be a big event, but it's even bigger physical mismatch.
Do you remember when Laila's father went up against Larry Holmes in 1980 as a sacrificial lamb. Well, I think in this case, Martin plays the role of Muhammad Ali.
I spent two days in Big Bear for the media days of both Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosley, staying over the night on Tuesday.
Neither fighter worked out a second for the gathered throng- forget about sparring, that seems taboo, now- but my question is this, if all the fighters are going to do is answer questions from the assembled media and not even shadow-box, how is that any different than a conference call.
I mean, other than the fact that in a conference call you can do it in the comfort of your own home with a simple telephone and not have to make the treacherous drive up to Big Bear and then pay for a hotel room and stuff.
The level of paranoia of fighters has reached an absurd level. I know fighters want to keep their strategies and game plans secret, I understand that, but shouldn't experienced world-class fighters be able to just 'move around', as they say in the gym, with sparring partners in a public setting? After all, both Mosley and De La Hoya are world-class fighters who have gone through thousands of sparring sessions and trust me, they know how to carry guys or get through rounds by doing very little.
The least these guys could have done is shadow box a few rounds, hit the heavy bag and then hit the mitts. Guys, there really aren't any more secrets in this game and with the advent of video tape, you know what your opponents are bringing. Seriously, you would have thought that by breaking a sweat in front of the media this past week that they were giving away nuclear secrets to the Chinese government or Al Queda.
Swimming in the deepest of waters is Kostya Tszyu (30-1-0) – one of the top 5 pound-for-pound boxers on anyone’s list. Tszyu is scary in that he carries sleep drops in both hands and has actually made an effort to become a better boxer as opposed to just a puncher. Other than being upset by power punching Vince Phillips, Tszyu has taken on and defeated the best fighters at 140. Looking at his resume, you see the names Sharmba Mitchell, Jesse James Leija, Ben Tackie, Oktay Urkal and Zab Judah. Pretty heavy stuff, and even more so when you consider he has fought these guys back-to-back-to-back-to . . . well you get the idea. Next on deck is likely a rematch with Mitchell or perhaps taking on Judah again. That takes us to Judah and Mitchell.
Judah (29-1-0) has to be considered second man in the water closely followed by Sharma Mitchell (52-3-0) who dives in right behind him. Judah was dunked by consecutive right hands (courtesy of Tszyu)and then decided he would rough up ref Jay Nady afterwards. That blemish aside, Judah has continued to paddle forward and can see Tszyu splashing about right in front of him once again. Mitchell also dove in with Tszyu and did well in treading water with Tszyu and causing the Aussie some trouble with his speed and angles. In the end a bad fin got the best of Mitchell and he has to retire on his stool after the 7th with a partially torn knee ligament. Mitchell has gone on to give a boxing lesson to Tszyu’s conqueror (the aforementioned Phillips) and did something Tszyu could not do in knocking down the iron-jawed Tackie. Clearly when Tszyu looks back, the two making the biggest splashes are Judah and Mitchell.
As we gaze into the middle of the pool, but making their way to the deep end, is a pod of fighters making waves. The biggest star of that group is none other than Arturo Gatti, coming off epic wars with Micky Ward. Gatti is a lot like Tszyu now, in that he has a ton of power and has learned at a later age to become a better boxer. Gatti has a headlong lead over the rest of the crew that consists of Vivian Harris, hard-hitting Ricky Hatton, slick Paul Spadafora, flawless Miguel Cotto, vet Jesse James Leija and solid Ben Tackie. Looking at the ten fighters mentioned so far there is some very strong competition here, were any of these to face each other, it would make for a highly competitive bout.
Just making their way out of the shallow end and moving deeper is the likes of Otkay Urkal, who gave Tszyu a lot of trouble and lost by the slimmest of margins. Fitting in here is also fellow European Junior Witter (26-1-2) who has also lost just once – a decision to Judah. Following along are title contenders Diobelys Hurtado, Omar Weiss, DeMarcus Corely and perhaps Michael Stewart.
Finally, the pool gets filled with a young group jumping in with arm floaties keeping them up as they learn to tread water. Brazlian KO artist Kelson Pinto, ever-exciting Francisco Bojado, Mohamed Abdulaev and Terrance Cauthen make out this solid group moving deeper.
Looking back at the depth of the 140-pound division (as noted above) there is obviously a ton of talent. Tszyu, Judah and Mitchell rule the deep end but the drop off to the middle and shallow ends is not really that big of a drop at all. Perhaps more terrifying to any newbies looking to jump in the water is what is coming up in weight and entering the division. Diego Corrales and Floyd Mayweather are the top fighters at 135 and would immediately cannonball dive straight into the deep waters. Scary indeed.
What stumped me with Jones was that I've always been more impressed with fighters who won close fights against great opposition, than with those who dominated second and third tier opposition. I'm from the school of thought that believes who you beat is more a testament to greatness than how many you beat. Whenever I watched Jones fight, I thought to myself, "What would Michael Spinks or Dwight Muhammad Qawi have done to those same light heavyweights?" Every time, I came away thinking they would've won just as impressively, just maybe not as flashy.
I still believe Jones has gone through the worst era in the 100 year history of the light heavyweight division. To anyone who doubts this, I suggest you go back and research some of the past light heavyweight generations. The Roy Jones era makes Bob Foster's era look like murders row. What further convinces me of this is how ordinary some of the other contenders look against each other. It's not just that Jones is so good and made them look bad, though I'll concede it is a factor.
The fact is, the light heavyweight division has been in the doldrums since the '80s. Look at the Tarver-Griffin title fight; tell me you can picture either of them surviving Foster, Spinks, Galindez or Qwai? And a quick review of Jones' record indicates that he beat Hopkins at middleweight and Toney at super-middleweight. His list of light heavyweight challengers is very thin, but he did what great fighters do, beat the fighters who were put in front of him. And he did it with relative ease.
Jones has backed me into a corner where I am hard pressed to come up with 10 past light heavyweight champions who I would pick to beat him. Yes, Jones is an all-time great at light heavyweight, although I have no doubt that still isn't high enough praise for some, but it is for me. That being said, I'm still more impressed with Spinks beating an old Larry Holmes and think it's more significant than Jones beating any version of John Ruiz.
Now that I've come around on Jones, what if Ruiz gets killed in his next fight (if he fights again). Or, what if Jones never fights at heavyweight again. The way it looks now, Jones is going to fight Antonio Tarver in his next fight. Tarver has as much chance of beating Jones, as Jones does of starting at point guard for the San Antonio Spurs! There is no need to get into the X's an O's for a Jones-Tarver match-up. Jones is a great fighter and Tarver is a good fighter. Jones wins going away!
Jones May Need Another Win vs. a Top Heavy
Here's where it gets tricky for Roy. What if he never fights at heavyweight again and Ruiz gets demolished by one of the top ranked heavyweights in his next fight? I can hear it now, "See, I told ya Ruiz was a bum. Look what a good heavyweight did to him. He's nothing but a journeyman and that's why Jones picked him. He made his name off of being competitive with a shot Holyfield." Does any fight fan have the slightest doubt that will be echoed by those who still question how good Jones is? Obviously if Ruiz scores an impressive win over one of the top ten heavyweights, Jones' stock will soar even higher.
Lets say Ruiz does get beat convincingly by one of the upper tier heavyweights. Will that water down Jones' victory over Ruiz? Although the question would be a legitimate one, here's, why it shouldn't hold water. Look, nobody thought Ruiz was a great heavyweight when Jones fought him. In fact, Jones was almost a 2-1 favorite in the fight. However, Ruiz was still one of the ten best heavyweights fighting at the worst when Jones beat him. The fact is Jones went from light heavyweight and fought a legitimate top ten heavyweight and won 35 minutes of a 36-minute fight. In my book, there is a lot to be said for that.
If there is one thing that we know about boxing, it's that you're only as good as your last fight, or sometimes your opponent's last fight. That is why if Ruiz gets tuned up if he fights again, Jones will almost have to fight and beat one of the perceived top heavyweights in the world. It may not be fair, but that's just the way it is. A Ruiz loss will put pressure on Jones. There will be a faction out there that will insist that Ruiz was a handpicked stiff and Jones proved nothing in beating him. It's an overstatement, but it's not totally without merit.
Jones shut me up and proved to me he is worthy of the praise as an all-time great. However, I have plenty of friends and colleagues who accuse me of going soft on him. They say I can't believe you're swayed by his win over a stiff like Ruiz. So obviously there is still a faction that exists, who still question him. I don't think I was fooled. That's why Jones has to go out and beat one of the top heavyweights in the world. A win over one of the top active heavyweights will shut everybody up for good, but it has to be over one of the two or three best out there!
To give you a quick background, Echols was attempting to get out of promotional contract (which he eventually succeeded in doing) with Banner on two grounds - that the contract contained "indefinite terms", and that Pelullo had concealed the substance of a fee arrangement put forward by German promoter Wilfred Sauerland, by which Echols would step aside and waive his right, as a #2 contender, to fight Marcus Beyer for the WBC's "interim" 168-pound title, which was in "in play" after champion Eric Lucas had pulled out of a scheduled December 7 mandatory defense against Beyer, citing a thyroid gland problem.
The Germans preferred that for this interim title, Beyer fight the #3 challenger, Britain's David Starie, because that would bring more international television interest. Hence, the "step-aside" process became operational.
To make a long story short, the claim on the part of Echols was that even though he accepted a figure offered by Pelullo for this step-aside fee, it was based on a figure Pelullo represented as the entire fee he collected from the Germans, which was $30,000. Echols later learned, incontrovertibly and not through Pelullo, that the real step-aside fee was $40,000, which would have meant that not only had Pelullo lied about the disclosure he made to Echols, but that he had pocketed an extra $10,000 on the side. Echols also questioned whether Pelullo was entitled to any portion of the step-aside fee at all, based on the terms of the promotional contract.
Echols alleged a violation of the Muhammad Ali Act in one of his claims, citing this paragraph in the Act:
"SEC. 13. REQUIRED DISCLOSURES FOR PROMOTERS. (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."
On June 3, Judge Clarence C. Newcomer (U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania) issued a ruling in which he denied the Ali Act claim, on the grounds that the step-aside fee was not in connection with a professional boxing match in the United States. Indeed, the prospective Beyer-Echols fight from which Echols was stepping aside was something that would have taken place in Germany.
However, at the same time, the judge indicated that had the event been slated for the U.S., the Ali Act could certainly apply, because, in effect, the money Pelullo collected from the promoters was subject to disclosure regulations:
"II. THE MUHAMMAD ALI ACT DOES PERTAIN TO STEP-ASIDE AGREEMENTS
Defendant's first contention, that the Muhammad Ali Act does not pertain to step-aside agreements, is incorrect. Plaintiff bases his Ali Act claim on § 6307e(b)(1) which states, "(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.....". With no caselaw to assist this Court in interpreting § 6307e(b)(1), the Court must base its findings solely on its interpretations of the language used by Congress. In doing so, the Court focuses on the pivotal language of the provision which reads, "directly or indirectly in connection with a boxing match." The use of the terms "indirectly" and "connection" connote a meaning less restrictive than that suggested by Defendants. Through use of these terms, Congress indicates that the provision itself applies to compensation from more than simply a boxing match itself. Any other interpretation would run contrary to the intent behind the legislation. Allowing promoters not to report compensation earned as a result of side deals surrounding a boxing match while requiring them to disclose compensation earned directly from the match agreement itself makes little sense.
Given the above interpretation, it is clear that Congress intended to include step-aside agreements in those activities regulated by the Act. After all, step-aside agreements constitute little more than side deals to a boxing match. In essence, a step-aside agreement is formed in order to postpone a match. Therefore, Defendants' contention that the disclosure requirements under the Muhammad Ali Act does not apply to step-aside agreements is incorrect. Step-aside agreements are clearly covered by the Act."
The judge's ruling is somewhat self-explanatory, but there are a couple of passages I'd like to expand upon.
"ALLOWING PROMOTERS NOT TO REPORT COMPENSATION EARNED AS A RESULT OF SIDE DEALS SURROUNDING A BOXING MATCH WHILE REQUIRING THEM TO DISCLOSE COMPENSATION EARNED DIRECTLY FROM THE MATCH AGREEMENT ITSELF MAKES LITTLE SENSE." Clearly the judge understands that side deals provide the avenue by which promoters earn compensation from fights, in many cases. And if simply constructing a deal by which money was paid to the promoter on the side, with no disclosure to the fighter, was justifiable and immune from coverage under the Ali Act, it would facilitate a lot more concealment.
"AFTER ALL, STEP-ASIDE AGREEMENTS CONSTITUTE LITTLE MORE THAN SIDE DEALS TO A BOXING MATCH". The judge is perceptive enough to recognize that side money is side money, and will not make a technical distinction by separating step-asides from the general classification of side deals. He is correct in this approach.
"WITH NO CASELAW TO ASSIST THIS COURT IN INTERPRETING § 6307E(B)(1), THE COURT MUST BASE ITS FINDINGS SOLELY ON ITS INTERPRETATIONS OF THE LANGUAGE USED BY CONGRESS". Apparently this was the first time anyone ever made a ruling on this clause in the Ali Act.
This judge seems to make it loud and clear that side deals are to be subject to disclosure as they are laid out in the Ali Act, whether it's a situation where the promoter collects side fees on a step-aside that would normally go to the fighter; or where a promoter accepts a "promotional fee" when assigning rights to, or "subbing out" a fighter to another promoter for a given fight; or those instances where a network pays a promoter for the services of a fighter or for delivering a specific bout with that fighter in it. The money a promoter makes as a result of these transactions is obviously the kind of "compensation" the judge is referring to in his opinion.
The ruling by no means establishes legal precedent. But it is a landmark, in that it appears to be the first decision made about "disclosure by promoters", and as such provides persuasive authority for cases of this type that may be contested in the future.
Which could, over the course of time, change the landscape of boxing.
It would be the humane thing to do. Old dogs who are just hanging on - limping, deaf and half-blind - shouldn’t be allowed to suffer.
Still, it’s sad when you remember how good Fido used to be in his prime, how he was the fastest dog in the woods, the best hunter in the county and the best tracker this side of Davy Crockett. But that time is passed.
Same with the heavyweight division. It used to be the best dog in the hunt. Now it’s the runt of the litter.
When a guy like Andrew Golota - who hadn’t landed a low blow in almost three years before landing a couple last week against Brian "Big Man" Nix - can make heavyweight headlines, you know the division is wobbling and about to take a ten count.
Golota’s seventh-round TKO of Nix - a club fighter who somehow beat an old and fading Tim Witherspoon this past March - drew almost 2,000 fans to the fight mecca of Dover, Delaware.
It was Golota’s first fight since he was pounded by Mike Tyson inside three rounds in October 2000. Of course, that fight was later changed to a no contest when Tyson tested positive for the demon drug, marijuana. Tyson is probably the only fighter in the world who smokes a little reefer before a fight and still turns nasty.
Golota’s fight with Nix was reportedly attended by fans of mostly Polish descent who came out to welcome Golota back after the native of Warsaw apparently looked out across the heavyweight horizon and discovered it was barren.
The top of today’s heavyweight division would have been at the bottom of the division 30 years ago.
Start with WBC heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis. A former legitimate heavyweight champion, Lewis continues to tease us by saying he might quit. Or, maybe he’ll fight Vitali Klitschko again. But maybe not. Mike Tyson? Who cares. Yeah, maybe he’ll retire.
"Lennox Lewis never fought the guys he was supposed to fight when he had all three belts," said former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield. "Now he has only one belt and says he wants to retire. Well quit talking about it. If you are going to retire, then retire."
That moves us over to WBA heavyweight champ, Roy Jones Jr. You remember Roy. He used to be a middleweight champ and then he was a super-middleweight champ then he was a light-heavyweight champ and now he’s a heavyweight champ who is apparently going to drop down again and fight a light-heavyweight champ: Antonio Tarver.
Jones is good enough to beat a lot of the top heavyweights. He’s just not big enough to beat the best of the top heavyweights.
Next up is IBF champ Chris Byrd, who in a former life was one of the Radio City Rockettes. The guy has slicker moves than a Times Square pickpocket. He can’t punch his way out of a knitting class, but he doesn’t have to. You can’t beat him if you can’t catch him. He’s the Willie Pep of the heavyweight division. But he isn’t going to make anyone forget Rocky Marciano.
Finally, in the WBO, there is Cornelius Johannes Sanders, the champ from-out-of-nowhere who won the title with a stunning second-round TKO of Wladimir Klitschko in March. Before the fight with Klitschko it was "Corrie who? How do you spell that?"
Since winning the WBO title, Sanders has been mentioned as a possible opponent for Jones, but this is the heavyweight division where nothing is done without fanfare, name-calling, back-stabbing and deal breaking.
"The heavyweight division is at a standstill," said Holyfield, who sees through all the bull.
But taking my experience in and around boxing (close to twenty years' worth) into account, and adding in the time, effort and research that was required to put together a rather intensive study of the issues relative to boxing reform, I started to drift further and further away from that point of view. Since I'm assuming this is not the opinion of the majority, I feel it incumbent upon myself to offer a full explanation.
You're about to get that, and then some.
So what would be the case AGAINST a national boxing commission?
Let's talk about the little things first. Obviously, there is the question of state's rights. Let me quote a letter sent by Tim Lueckenhoff to Senator John McCain on October 11, 2002:
"Commissions opposed to the creation of the United States Boxing Administration fear their states' rights will be infringed upon with the passage of this legislation. In essence they will lose their autonomy. There is (sic) concerns by commissions that the legislation does not go far enough to strictly enforce the clauses contained therein. Some commissions also feel, that club shows will be adversely effected with the minimum criteria for medical testing not to mention the payment of licensee fees to the Administration. Which will ultimately put fewer dollars in boxer's pockets."
Yes, there's some hot air in that message, especially with regard to the medical testing. But there's a little substance as well.
I wouldn't deny that you'd have a bunch of commissioners fearing they will lose their gratuitous state jobs, or that their state commissions may be eliminated entirely if as bill is passed calling for national regulation. To a degree, it's self-preservation. The problem is that it might manifest itself into something that can effectively create a quagmire.
Please keep in mind that we're talking about a dual national-state system, in which the states would have a significant amount of autonomy. But, if a state were not a supporter of a national commission on the basis of assertion of states' rights, would we have to constantly worry about them enforcing the federal laws in their area, or would they implement the regulations they thought were useful and discard those they felt unnecessary? Don't tell me this couldn't happen; I've examined enough pages of depositions from Greg Page's lawsuit against the Kentucky Athletic Commission to know that the Kentucky people don't even bother obeying their own STATE law, much less the federal laws that apply to them through the Professional Boxer Safety Act, which they STILL don't believe they have the obligation to follow,
So now you want to create MORE laws, with MORE bureaucracy, giving them MORE reason to ignore the rules?
In between battles of ego, more fighters are likely to get hurt.
I'd be much in favor an educational process in which commissioners, executive directors, and commission attorneys were schooled on what the laws were. You wouldn't necessary need a national board for that - just maybe a more efficiently-run ABC, or a private organization. At that point, it would be the state's obligation to make sure all those laws were being carried out. You probably wouldn't want to have a situation where, if an "accident" happened as a result of neglect, the federal government would be exposed to the liability.
I know this may sound irreconcilable with some of the points made above, but the fact is, when you look at club shows, and I mean SMALL club shows, there is a very compelling argument that regulation on the state level is going to be more effective than it would be if the state were independent, but still taking directives from a national board, if that's the way this ultimately evolves. After all, locally-based regulators generally know the fighters in that area better, and know the "operators" better. I couldn't see a national commission passing judgment on what kind of fights would be allowable on a show like that. In fact, I don't know ANY useful place they would have on a show like that. I think that a state commission, if they were acting responsibly (and I concede that's a big IF), would naturally perform better.
If a centralized structure was going to be given ultimate authority over local fights, it would have to be staffed by a lot of people - perhaps dozens. Remember, there were an average of 2.3 cards PER DAY in the United States last year - that's a lot of activity for one office to handle, even if it's getting some help around the country. It brings to mind the question as to whether, as inefficient as some state commissions have proven to be, whether a national structure would actually exacerbate the situation, by creating less of a hands-on situation, more distance, and less overall efficiency.
I also wonder whether those geniuses, Ken Nahigian (McCain's aide) and Greg Sirb (Pennsylvania's commission head), who are behind the new Boxing Amendments Act, have studied whether there are laws in certain states that would not necessarily be superseded by a federal law, and which might present a conflict with the regulatory power of a national commission in a particular jurisdiction? Has the proper due diligence been performed? With those two guys pulling the strings, don't bet on it.
And speaking of geniuses, let me reiterate something I have said all along in the "Operation Cleanup" series - your laws are only as good as the people you have enforcing them. It is mandatory that I take into account the quality of people who could be running the show, along with the evolution that a national commission could take over the course of time.
What we might see eventually is a national hierarchy, with regional or state "directors" - responsible to the federal level - who pay particular attention to boxing in their respective areas. Of course, the most seamless way to do something like that is to draw from the people who are currently involved with state commissions. More to the point, they would be those who were able to lobby most effectively, which means it's likely we would see the same bureaucracy of incompetent regulators.
As we mentioned a few moments ago, the way the bill is laid out now, states would still retain an autonomous position, but there would be national oversight, either in the form of one person, or, if a compromise between McCain and Harry Reid is reached, a committee. Absent any radical and innovative thinking, what you're going to be faced with, in effect, is that the same folks who were failures on a state level will be elevated to positions where they can be failures on the national level. Do you see any progress in that? I surely don't.
I can say with some degree of conviction that we can do without people like former Kentucky's Jack Kerns, primarily responsible for Greg Page's physical state, who was First Vice-President of the Association of Boxing Commissions for nearly two years, working for a prospective national agency. He's a horrible exemplar, but that's exactly the kind of thing you're looking at - the only difference is, instead of Kerns, you'd have Kerns "wannabes". Believe me, there are plenty of them.
Let's face it - the guys who are being looked at for these national posts are the "usual suspects" from the Association of Boxing Commissions. And if you take a step back and think about it, if they had ever been able to get their act together, or persuade others to do the same, no conversation about a national commission would even be required.
Truth be known, the people in the ABC have not shown the vision or competence to assume any kind of leadership role in a national commission structure. They're just not strong enough. And I'm thoroughly convinced it wouldn't guarantee any improvement whatsoever in the quality of boxing regulation.
You'd be hard-pressed to get the best available people from the various commissions to leave positions with their respective states and take a job that may or may not work out for them. You've got to understand - many of them not only run their commission, they also are involved simultaneously with other state agencies, or have been in the past. They've got attractive benefits packages and many years toward their state pension. The best people are not useless political appointees, but skilled administrators who have built a certain record of efficiency. Some of those guys - and I'm talking about people like Marc Ratner (Nevada), Tom Mishou (Georgia), or Larry Hazzard (New Jersey) - are not particularly attracted to the job of national boxing "czar".
That leaves you with people like Sirb, a blindly ambitious political creature whose major qualification for the job is that he has ingratiated himself to the right people in McCain's office. But he's part of the same ineffective bureaucracy, and in fact, has been a ringleader of it.
If you're going to embark on making changes to the structure, you're not accomplishing anything unless you change the PEOPLE who constitute that structure.
And I don't see anyone being creative or resourceful enough to make a clean sweep, bringing fresh, new people in. And even if that was their intention, would they know how to go out and find those people? Don't leave that kind of thing up to politicians like McCain, who think in cliches when it comes to the boxing business.
What is of ultimate importance here is that I have to fashion an argument for or against a national commission based largely on a contemplation of the actual bill that would create the centralized national structure.
And so that brings with it the matter of accountability to taxpayers.
To ask, "why should taxpayers shoulder the burden for subsidizing the regulation of boxing?", is a legitimate question, especially as taxpayers in each state are already doing it. I don't think the general public cares about boxing. I don't think many politicians in Washington, outside of McCain himself, find this an interesting or particularly useful issue.
Coming up with a rationale for the kind of expenditure necessary to run a national board is a subject of great concern to Wally Jernigan, Nebraska's commission director.
"At a time when the budgets of every state and the federal government are upside down, I can't justify new taxpayer spending with no return for the dollars allocated", says Jernigan. "You might want to get the Commerce Budget Office Estimate Report for a complete review of cost. There is an estimate that there will be 3 executives, and 27 additional employees with an anticipated budget for salaries and benefits of $3 million per year. So looking at the big picture, where is the justification for such financial un-soundness?"
I agree with that observation. I think anyone in favor of advancing an entire structure based on this bill should have had the foresight to at least be creative in coming up with a formula to make it pay for itself. There are probably ways to do this. In fact, there are some states who have to reconcile their budgets through revenues. Absent that, since as it is we are looking at an Ali Act that no representative of the Justice Department seems anxious to enforce, an alternative that deserves to be explored is to introduce model legislation, or for all states come to an agreement on at least SOME standards that everyone, individually can adopt, operating on the premise that a STATE law is a lot easier to prosecute and/or implement on the state level than a federal law that in the end amounts to an "unfunded mandate", and may never have teeth.
As I mentioned in the previous chapter, there are standards that can be adopted and implemented on a nationwide basis without having to establish a national commission - things like uniform rules, consistent norms for medical testing, standard forms for boxer-manager and boxer-promoter contracts, requirements for sanctioning bodies, minimum safety provisions, and more - all of which can be done through legislation, as it would have the effect of overriding state law.
But there are many things that could be part of an effective centralized regulatory structure that are NOT dealt with in the new Boxing Amendments Act . Like the oversight of networks in the role they play. Or federal disciplinary actions against state commissions that break the law. Or disclosure requirements for managers who may be hiding money from their fighters. Or the nationwide ban of dangerous Toughman contests and variations thereof. Or provisions for reciprocal suspensions for non-medical reasons, including those against promoters, managers, agents, etc. Or a database for fighter records that doesn't cost customers nine dollars a pop.
Those things don't seem to be on the agenda. And if they're not going to be, I really don't see any reason to back the new McCain-sponsored bill, and in turn, a national commission, within the present frames of reference.
What do we need it for? To provide an incompetents' full-employment program?
I don't think so. Don't despair, though. Viable alternatives will come, a few chapters down the line.
Mike Tyson also doesn't match up with either Holyfield or Lewis. Based on career achievements and head to head confrontations, both surpass Tyson. They are more complete fighters than Tyson and have faced and defeated better fighters than he has. Holyfield and Lewis have also handled adversity better than Tyson and have never ducked any fighter who was a perceived threat to them. There's no doubt that the battle for who is the best heavyweight champ since Larry Holmes is between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis.
When it comes to evaluating who should be ranked above who, it comes down to personal preference, since a substantial case can be made for either fighter. Both fighters have fought the best fighters of their era, have stood the test of time and demonstrated longevity. Also, both Holyfield and Lewis have fought their way back to the top after suffering major setbacks. The most compelling argument as to the greatness of these two is that neither was accepted by the mainstream media and public early in their championship reign. However, considering the passage of time, one would now be hard pressed to make a compelling argument debating the greatness of either fighter.
Who Fought The Better Opposition?
I have spent much time going over their records in trying to make a case for one over the other regarding who fought the better opposition. Holyfield and Lewis have fought everybody. It's actually easier listing the fighters they didn't fight and working from that vantage point than going over all the fighters they did fight.
Concerning Holyfield, the only fighters he didn't fight from his era were Ruddock, Morrison and Golota. As for Lewis, he didn't fight Bowe (although it wasn't because of Lewis; it was Bowe who avoided the fight), Foreman and Moorer. The fact that Holyfield fought and beat Foreman should not be scoffed at. When Holyfield and Foreman fought in April of 1991, Foreman was the most formidable contender at the time. Lewis was only a two-year pro and was nowhere near the threat of Foreman of 1991. Tyson's confidence was shattered and he wanted no part of Foreman, especially after being knocked out by Buster Douglas (that is a fact). Bowe was just a couple years into his pro career and Ruddock was just starting to make his mark in the heavyweight landscape. Foreman also went on to capture the linear title three years after losing to Holyfield, further justifying his ranking.
When comparing the fighting ledgers of Holyfield and Lewis, a case can be made for both fighters as to who faced better opposition. The case for Holyfield is that the Bowe of 1992-93 is better than any fighter Lewis has ever shared a ring with. A good case can also be made that the Foreman of 1991 is better than any opponent Lewis has faced in a title fight. Holyfield also had Mercer down and beat him much easier than Lewis did, and Holyfield beat a better Tyson.
The case for Lewis is that he held the title longer without losing it and winning it back. After Lewis regained the title from McCall in their rematch, he made nine successful title defenses before losing it to Rahman. Lewis also faced more of the supposed up and coming young heavyweights (Briggs, Morrison, Grant, and Tua to name a few). Lewis also defeated Tyson more soundly than Holyfield did (although he faced a more eroded version).
The fairest conclusion I can make as to who fought the better fighters is Holyfield fought more established fighters who were considered threats. Lewis fought more up and coming fighters who were considered as viable threats. The conclusion is that it's a wash; no fighter has a distinct advantage. They both fought the best available during their era.
Who Had The Better Career?
This is another category in which Holyfield and Lewis are pretty close. Holyfield is a four-time heavyweight champ and is 10-5-2 in heavyweight title fights, (6-0 in Cruiserweight title fights). Lewis is a two-time heavyweight champ and is 15-2-1 in heavyweight title fights. Lewis has been the more consistent champ. Holyfield has won the title more times, but he had to because he lost it more.
Lewis ranks fourth in heavyweight title fight wins, something for which he never receives enough credit. Only Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes have won more. He has definitely been the more dominant champ compared to Holyfield. However, the fact that he's been counted out twice in heavyweight title fights during his prime hurts his legacy somewhat. Some try to gloss over it, but it can't be ignored, although it may not be fair, it just can't be omitted. Even though Lewis has avenged both defeats, his title tenure is never mentioned without the inclusion of these two devastating defeats.
The two times Lewis lost the title were the result of one-punch knockouts. Lewis is the only heavyweight champion in boxing history about which that can be said. His two conquerors in those fights, Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman, are not known for their punch. Some have tried to justify them as big hitters, but the fact of the matter is that they definitely are not (who have either McCall or Rahman KO'd that resemble anything close to a special fighter besides Lewis?). As humbling as these two defeats have been, they should never diminish Lewis' 15 heavyweight championship victories.
Although Holyfield was not as dominant as Lewis, he was never blown out in a title fight. He also faced better punchers in title fights in Foreman, Bowe and the Tyson of 1996-97 than Lewis has (compared to a one dimensional Tua, an eroded Tyson of 2002 and Vitali Klitschko). His record in title fights is not as good as Lewis', but it's a little misleading. In my opinion, he was shafted in the first Moorer fight and the third Ruiz fight. However, he was the benefactor in one of the worst decisions in heavyweight history in his first fight with Lewis, a fight he definitely lost. In my view, Holyfield's title fight record should be 12-5, and Lewis' should be 16-2. In trying to justify who had the better career, you must split hairs. I say career accomplishment is a tossup; a compelling case can be made for both fighters.
Unlike hypothetical fights, Holyfield and Lewis have fought. Let's be honest, Lewis won the first fight (I scored it 9-3 Lewis), but was shafted out of the decision, and Lewis won the second fight by a unanimous decision (I scored it 7-5 Lewis). Although Holyfield and Lewis have fought, are their two fights a true indicator as to how the fights would have turned out if they both were at their peak? I don't think so. Lewis was definitely at his peak when he fought Holyfield. I believe Lewis' peak was 1997 thru 2002, and Holyfield's peak was 1990 thru 1993. The Holyfield who fought Bowe in '92 and 93 was superior to the Holyfield who faced Lewis in '99. The last time Holyfield was anything close to being a great fighter was 1997. Holyfield has been outweighed in all but four of his fights as a heavyweight. Being the smaller fighter in all those heavyweight wars definitely took their toll on him. There can be no mistaking that Holyfield was on the wrong side of the hill by 1999.
By the time Holyfield faced Lewis, he was only capable of fighting in spurts and not able to fight an entire round. This made it virtually impossible for him to win a decision. Going into the first fight with Lewis, Holyfield questioned Lewis' heart and character. Although it was a mistake, he still had disdain for Lewis and didn't approach the fight with the fear and urgency that he normally did against other top fighters. Remember, Holyfield predicted that he would knock Lewis out in the third round. Something he never did before any fight in his career.
Holyfield was clearly beaten by Lewis in their first fight. However, he was basically outworked and couldn't sustain any offense. Yes, Lewis had a lot to do with that, but Holyfield was in awful condition and barely put forth any real effort. As bad as Holyfield was, he was never hurt once during the fight, even in the controversial fifth round (the round judge Eugina Williams scored for Holyfield) although it was Lewis' best round.
In the rematch, Holyfield showed up in the best possible condition he was capable of being in at the time. Although I scored the fight 7-5 Lewis, there are more than a few knowledgeable boxing writers and fans who scored the fight for Holyfield. The problem I have in the rematch is that Lewis was so tentative against a focused Holyfield. With all the physical advantages that Lewis holds, Holyfield pushed him all over the ring and was never close to being shaken or hurt. It was obvious that when Holyfield was able of sustaining any offense, Lewis was either out-fought or tied him up. The problem was that Holyfield of 1999 was not capable of sustaining an all out offensive assault.
If I had to enter the best Holyfield or the best Lewis in a heavyweight tournament versus the greatest heavyweight champions in boxing history, I would pick Holyfield. I must admit that I am swayed by his mental toughness and better chin, and I'm not convinced Lewis is stronger physically (a harder puncher, yes, but not stronger). If you want to say Lewis' chin only failed him when he was not in top shape, it's true. However, he has been wobbled and shook more than Holyfield, even when Lewis was in top shape. Lewis' chin has betrayed him enough that it scares me off from picking him against the greatest of the greats. His chin has proven to me that he's capable of being stopped by any top fighter on any given night. In my opinion, the best Holyfield would decision the best Lewis. Holyfield at his peak would've been capable of throwing punches the entire round as long as the fight lasted. That would have been enough to keep Lewis on the defensive, enabling Holyfield to outwork Lewis and win the decision.
Who Should Be Ranked Higher?
This is such a tough call. I respect and admire both Holyfield and Lewis. As to who should rank higher between the two, I think it's a toss up. A good case can be made for either fighter. This is so close that I don't think there is a right or wrong answer. In this writer's opinion, I give Holyfield the nod, based on the fact I think he would win in an actual confrontation if both were at their best. I would also give him a slight edge in head to head match ups versus other all time greats, mainly because of his chin and warrior mentality. That being said, I have not a single issue with anyone who thinks Lewis should be ranked above Holyfield. As I said, I don't think it's clear-cut either way. Two things are certain; there can be no question that Holyfield and Lewis are the two best and most accomplished heavyweights since Larry Holmes, and they're both all-time greats.