Mesi insists that many of the post-fight reports that circulated about the injury he incurred in his bout with Vassiliy Jirov were not accurate.
“A lot of people reported on ‘secret’ information about the injury I suffered in the Jirov fight, and those reports were far more hurtful than any punches I took inside the ring in my climb to the number one ranking.”
Mesi reports that leading neurologist, Dr. Robert Cantu, has declared the heavyweight boxer medically sound and ready to return to the ring.
Dr. Cantu has reportedly concluded that the subdural hematoma Mesi suffered during the Jirov bout left no permanent residual damage and that the vein that bled has dissolved and no longer exists. In fact, Dr. Cantu, according to Mesi, has concluded that the Buffalo heavyweight would be at no greater risk than any other boxer were he to return to the ring.
Mesi hopes to meet the Nevada State Athletic Commission to review his status next month, at which time he hopes his suspension will be lifted.
The Marquez camp want a guarantee of $1.5 million, and according to reports have only been offered half that amount for the hotly anticipated rematch.
Beristain hopes to have a deal concluded in the coming weeks, but warns if a deal satisfactory to the Marquez camp cannot be struck then the fight could be cancelled.
Marquez - a noted fitness fanatic - is reportedly now deep into training, reports which are cause for concern for some of those surrounding the Phillipine featherweight.
Reports from the Phillipines have indicated that there is concern about Pacquiao’s dedication to the task, as evidenced by the fact Manny Pacquiao is not due to report to trainer Freddy Roach in the USA until January 8 to begin preparations for the rematch.
Probably not far off the mark, Maccarinelli suggests it could be a slugfest.
"This could be a real tear up against LaMontagne,” said Maccarinelli.
The Welsh cruiserweight then hopes to move on to WBO cruiserweight champion, Johnny Nelson. The veteran, Nelson is still considered the class of the British cruiserweights.
Nelson has suggested the young Welshman is not ready for him yet, but Maccarinelli disagrees.
"It's the fight the public wants to see and I believe that I am ready to face him - contrary to what he has been saying.”
"I respect and admire everything he has done throughout his career and I want to fight him while he is still recognised as the best to test myself and find out just how good I am or how far I have to go.”
The Golding right cross was the stuff of legend for a time in London amateur circles after it claimed a long-forgotten victim in sensational style at the York Hall, Bethnal Green, the Mecca of East End boxing. Such was the effect of the punch that people routinely said it was the only real-life re-run of the scene in Raging Bull when Jake LaMotta parks the nose of the handsome Tony Janiro on the other side of his face and a spectator comments: “He ain’t pretty no more.”
I say all this because just last week I heard that Val – he was never addressed as Valentine – had died some three years ago in very unfortunate circumstances. He was only in his 30s. I knew him well for several years. He was in the same stable as a boxer I represented, Colin ‘Sweet C’ McMillan, who won a version of the world featherweight title. They were both trained by a friend of mine named Howard Rainey, an ex-heavyweight who doubled as a rather impressive autodidact philosopher in the classical fight-game mould.
Howard supervised his fighters’ roadwork on the running track at Battersea Park, South London. Being only a mile from Chelsea, over the river, the track sometimes attracted celebrities as well as Howard’s motley crew. There were a couple of actors and also Morrissey, the singer from The Smiths, who based an entire album called ‘Boxers’ on his observations of Howard and his men in the park. Blithely unaware of Morrissey’s million-strong fan base, all Howard would say was: “Nice fella, that Morrissey.”
Val was the closest to Colin in the group that trudged round the track in the mornings, always led by Colin, a fine runner. Sometimes I would give my smoke-filled lungs a spin along with them. Then I would join Howard – a heavy smoker if one sporting a whistle – in the grassy centre for a cigarette. Colin would come up and say: “I can’t believe you two.”
In a never-to-be repeated performance I once beat Val in a 100-metre dash. Colin reprimanded Val: “We’re supposed to be professional athletes, Val. Tsch, for Jon to beat you…”
That is to give a wrong impression of Val’s fitness and attitude. He was a fighter, not a runner. No one tried harder. He lived for boxing, and indeed for Colin. Once, sitting on the grass after running, he said to me: “I’ll never be a champion, Jon.”
“Of course you will, Val,” I lied. A justifiable lie, though, I feel.
“No I won’t,” Val said. “Colin’s special. I’m not.”
We stuck together as a team throughout Colin’s career. As well as running together, we showered together, went to the gym together and ate together at Caesar’s American restaurant on Waterloo Road after the weigh-ins on the days of the fights. On the night Colin won the world title Val was caught cold and knocked out in one round by a so-so boxer named Kevin Sheeran. There had been talk of a bout with Steve Collins beforehand. It was a bad blow for Val’s career but despite it he could not have been more pleased about Colin’s victory. His favourite film was ‘Homeboy’ starring Mickey Rourke as a fighter. I can’t tell you how many times Val told me the plot of that film or re-enacted parts of it. I remember one day at a gym in Wapping that we briefly used, and that was all he did, all afternoon.
For all these intimacies Val remained something of a man of mystery. He was always impeccably dressed and was known for living very cleanly. I didn’t know if he was married or had a job or where he got his money from, and he didn’t volunteer the information. All I knew was he lived in Croydon. I don’t think Colin or Howard knew much, if any, more. Val was a private man. He was just there when he was with us and then he was gone. I never asked. Why should he have answered? There are a lot of people like that in boxing.
The last time I spoke to him was on the phone about six years ago. I was inviting him to the launch of a book in which he featured. He said he would come but didn’t turn up. He sounded the same Val. After that Colin lost contact with him. Val stopped boxing and disappeared, apparently. But he still phoned Howard intermittently, and it was from Howard that I found out. I had lost contact with Howard for a few years. He and Colin went to Val’s funeral but didn’t know where to find me. Like Val I had disappeared. I suppose that is the cruellest test of life, to find yourself disappearing and then come back. There is so much luck involved, and Val didn’t have it.
Howard and Colin told me what happened. Val met someone and they had a kid, a boy. Then the boy was run over and killed. Val went to pieces. He died alone, from an overdose. I don’t know of what. Some say it was heroin, others that it was something to do with steroids. I don’t want to know, or rake over it. The last time Val talked to Howard he was in despair. Howard invited him to come and stay and Val said he would, but he didn’t turn up again.
I was walking down Waterloo Road the other day and saw that Caesars had gone. So has Val. I was going to go on the wagon after Christmas but am making one exception. Cheers, Val. I am so very sorry. And this one’s for you.
Ouma (20-1-1, 13 KO’s) has not lost a bout in five years and is ranked #1 by Ring magazine. The 26-year-old Ugandan native has won nine of his last 10 bouts. The sole blemish on his record during this time span was a no decision against Darrell Woods on October 4, 2002. On May 30, 2003, Ouma earned the vacant USBA light middleweight title, defeating Angel Hernandez by split decision in a bout that also served as the IBF light middleweight title-eliminator (W 12). In his last bout on October 2, 2004, Ouma captured a unanimous decision over Verno Phillips to win the IBF jr. middleweight crown (W 12).
Jantuah (28-1, 18 KO’s) has knocked out his last seven opponents and is ranked #8 by Ring magazine. On May 7, 1999, the 30-year-old Ghana native knocked out current WBO jr. middleweight champion Daniel Santos (TKO 5). In his last bout on September 18, 2004, as part of the televised portion of the Oscar de la Hoya-Bernard Hopkins PPV broadcast, Jantuah blitzed highly-touted prospect Marco Antonio Rubio, annihilating the undefeated Mexican in one round (KO 1).
“Two world championship bouts featuring four of the world’s most exciting fighters,” said Duva. “Jan 29 is virtually guaranteed to produce 2005’s ‘Fight of the Year.’ “
“This is the toughest first defense Ouma could have other than a mega-fight,” said Russell Peltz, President of Peltz Boxing Promotions, Inc and promoter of Kassim Ouma. “But he [Ouma] has been doing that his whole career. He came up fighting all the best guys, so why change now?”
"When he knocked out Marco Antonio Rubio, Kofi proved that he is one of the most exciting Junior Middleweights in the world. On January 29th, he will prove that he is also the best," said Lou DiBella, President of DiBella Entertainment and promoter of Kofi Jantuah.
The Ouma-Jantuah bout is being presented by Main Events, Bally's Atlantic City, and Caesar's Atlantic City, in association with Peltz Boxing Promotions, Inc and DiBella Entertainment.
Tickets, priced at $400, $200, $150, $100, and $50, can be purchased through Ticketmaster at 1-800-736-1420 or Bally's show & reservations desk.
Griffith was born on February 3, 1938 in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands and was athletic from the start. “I was a baseball player,” he told me. “I was a catcher.”
The fact that Griffith played ball was of some minor interest, but nothing compared to the fights.
“When I was in the Virgin Islands, I would fight when I had to fight. When they pick on me, you know, I had enough of it,” Griffith said. “But I never wanted to be a fighter, to tell you the truth.”
Emile Griffith moved to the New York when he was a teenager and “stayed with my grandmother in Harlem.” He also began working in midtown Manhattan.
“I was working for Howard Albert in designer ladies hats,” the champ said. “He was my boss at the job. It was a little hat factory. I was working for him and one day I asked him if I could remove my shirt because I was hot, and he told me yes and started questioning me. He asked if I ever play sports. I told him yes to all that. And then he asked if I ever boxed. I told him ‘no, I never boxed,’ which I didn’t. And then he took it from there.”
I spoke with Howie Albert and asked if he remembered that moment with Emile.
“He was a delivery boy at my millinery factory. It was hot in the factory. We didn’t have any air-conditioning. So he took his shirt off and he had the most amazing build of any person I ever saw. He had a 44 shoulder with a 26 waistline,” Albert said. “I was a frustrated boxer. I brought my boxing gloves and boxing shoes to the factory and, funny, they fit him, so I brought him to meet a guy named Gil Clancy. Gil had a great amateur team that had won awards everywhere and he was training fighters at a gym on 28th Street, the Department of Parks.”
Griffith said of Howie Albert: “He took me to Gil Clancy’s gym at 28th Street and Ninth Avenue and every day after work he would take me there. And that was it.”
Gil Clancy was one of the game’s great trainers. He worked with Ali, Foreman, Frazier, Quarry and De La Hoya, among others, but Emile Griffith was his pride and joy.
I asked Griffith what it was like when he first entered Clancy’s gym.
“When I started boxing and training, oh man, it was rough,” he recalled. “They all wanted to fight me and everything else. But that thing was okay after that.”
I asked Albert what Clancy first thought of Emile Griffith.
“When I brought him to Gil, he says ‘you know, Howard, I never put a guy in the Gloves the first year. I like to keep them in the gym for a whole year.’ But then what happened was he never saw improvement in a fighter like Griffith. He was amazing,” Albert said. “He not only could box, but he could punch. I mean he was beating up the pros he had there! ”
Clancy became Griffith’s co-trainer and co-manager. With his help, Emile won the New York Golden Gloves. “Gil Clancy kept me very busy,” Griffith said, “and I enjoyed it too.”
Griffith turned pro on June 2, 1958, at the age of twenty, with a win over Joe Parham at St. Nick’s Arena. He had six fights in ‘58, nine in ‘59, and nine in 1960, including a big win over Luis Rodriguez in New York City.
On April 1, 1961, Griffith kayoed Benny (Kid) Paret in Miami with a left hook followed by a straight right to win the welterweight title. “I got lucky,” Griffith said. After one defense of the crown against Gaspar Ortega, Griffith fought Paret a second time in September and lost the split decision and title. Most people, including Griffith, think he was robbed.
Griffith met Paret for the third time six months later in Madison Square Garden. Paret dropped Griffith early, but Emile controlled the action. In the twelfth round he caught Paret in the corner and landed eighteen punches in a row. The referee that night, Ruby Goldstein, seemed glued to the spot. When he finally stepped in to stop the action, it was too little too late. Benny (Kid) Paret slumped unconscious to the canvas.
One of America’s best writers, Norman Mailer, who is also one of boxing’s best friends, was at the fight and wrote about the bout:
“Paret lay on the ground, quivering gently, a small froth on his mouth. The house doctor jumped into the ring. He knelt. He pried Paret’s eyelid open. He looked at the eyeball staring out. He let the lid snap shut. He reached into his satchel, took out a needle, jabbed Paret with a stimulant. Paret’s back rose in a high arch. He writhed in real agony. They were calling him back from death. One wanted to cry out, ‘Leave the man alone. Let him die.’ But they saved Paret long enough to take him to the hospital where he lingered for days. He was in a coma. He never came out of it. If he lived, he would have been a vegetable. His brain was smashed.”
The death was blamed, at least in part, on Paret’s manager, who let his fighter fight too soon after a beating he got from Gene Fullmer three months earlier. But the way Griffith won the fight, and the tragedy that followed, wore heavily on his mind. “I would have quit,” Griffith said, “but I didn’t know how to do anything but fight.”
So fight he did. But after the Paret incident, Griffith “changed my style of fighting and everything else. I didn’t have to punch somebody. I didn’t have to knock no one out to win a fight,” he said. “I could go the fifteen rounds or ten rounds or how many rounds it was. I could do it just by boxing.”
Griffith defended his welterweight title one more time that year, before winning the junior middleweight belt from Teddy Wright in Austria by decision. Emile lost his welterweight title to Luis Rodriguez via decision in Los Angeles on March 21, 1963, only to regain the crown three months later from Rodriguez at the Garden.
“He was a very good boxer,” Griffith said about Rodriguez. “I learned a lot on how to box a little bit more from him, just by boxing him.”
The champ had six fights in ‘63, six fights in ‘64 and seven fights in ‘65. On April 25, 1966, Emile Griffith moved up in weight and decisioned Dick Tiger to win the middleweight title. “I did a little more boxing than he could have done,” Griffith said. Two successful defenses against Joey Archer in New York led to the first of three fights with Nino Benvenuti. Griffith lost the first in 1967, regained the crown five months later, before losing it for good in March 1968 at the opening of the new Madison Square Garden.
Griffith fought for nine more years, including bouts with Jose Napoles, Carlos Monzon, Benny Briscoe and Vito Antuofermo. Emile Griffith had his last fight on July 30, 1977 against Alan Minter in Monte Carlo. He retired with a record of 85-24-2 (23 KOs).
"I have a lotta fights and a long record. You name them and I think I fought them,” Griffith said with a laugh. “I really enjoyed what I used to do. But I still like boxing. Boxing helped me along in my life and I still like it. As a matter of fact, I love it now. I go to the fights every chance I get. I watch the fights on TV. And I train some of the guys I’m with right now. Boxing was very good for me, so I figure if there’s anything I can do to help any one of the kids out there, I try to help them with it - if they want to do it.”
The boxing manager has become, for the most part, an endangered species over the last twenty years or so. As promoters ventured beyond just staging events and packaging them for television, and became knee-deep in the ‘steering’ of talent, there was less of a role for the manager, both as a decision-maker and influential player in the general machinery of the business. With the reticence of promoters to give featured fighters work unless their promotional rights are tied up, there is no ‘shopping’ to be done and less and less leverage when it comes to choosing opponents.
As a result, and with very few exceptions, the manager's function has been reduced to one of the following categories:
1) A ‘scout’ who signs a fighter with the sole purpose of immediately plugging him into a promotional contract with somebody, then puts his job on 'auto-pilot' while the promoter makes all the decisions.
2) Somebody who actually works for the promoter or is related to him in some way.
3) A guy with some money to burn who looks at the whole thing as something of a hobby.
4) A guy with some money who lays out for the fighter's house, car, and other living expenses and has no clue that he'll never get his investment back.
5) A gym owner who winds up with a fighter just by virtue of the fact that he is a gym owner, but otherwise has little in the way of connections.
6) Someone who possesses no other motivation than to conspire with others in an effort to make more money than the fighter - here, there, and everywhere.
7) Someone who meets a distressed fighter in a gym or elsewhere, befriends him, and tries to help him out but doesn't quite know how.
It would be fair to say that about two decades ago, I fell into Category #7. I had a part-time relationship with the game, writing about it, on and off, for a few years. One night I was in a bar and I noticed something very familiar about the guy drinking next to me. Finally I figured out that it was Teddy Mann, at one time a ranked middleweight who had made numerous appearances on ESPN and a couple on NBC. I introduced myself to him, and it just so happened that a mutual friend of ours had brought him to that bar. So we got to talking. Then we got around to drinking Long Island Iced Teas. Then, as we were both presumably sloshed (the legendary oddsmaker Bob Martin once told me, 'When you're drunk, you usually can't tell when someone else is drunk', and he proved to be right), Teddy tells me, "Hey, I need a manager."
And so it was settled, sometime around 4 AM.
Precisely WHAT I was managing him at was nebulous, at least at first. In those days I liked to drink a bit. Don't get me wrong; I was never as bad as George W. Bush, but I was known to imbibe now and then. Teddy was a lot of fun to hang out with; we staked out a couple of regular watering holes and generally raised hell. We stayed out all night most of the time and once in a while even talked boxing. Teddy was very easygoing, but he also had a temper, and it came to the surface sometimes when he drank. On one occasion, he discovered he had lost his watch, which his late father had given him and thus had tremendous sentimental value. He obviously didn't know what had happened to it, so he simply went ballistic. He thought it might be in the lost and found, so he went to the office of this nightclub we were in and nearly tore the door off its hinges.
One time we were out till the wee hours partying, and I had to go to work in the morning. A casting director I knew had gotten me a gig as an extra on a new NBC series called "Miami Vice" and I had a 7 AM call at a location where they were doing that day's shoot. I got there on time all right, but that's because I arrived straight from our last stop of the evening, with Teddy in tow. I actually tried to get him on the sheet for the day, but as it turned out, they didn't need either one of us (I got paid anyway - that's the beauty of show business).
Word must have gotten around the gyms that Teddy was staying in Florida, because one day I got a call from a matchmaker in Fort Lauderdale named Norm Schulberg, who explained that he was putting a show together for ex-featherweight champ Pete Scalzo's son, an aspiring promoter, and he'd be willing to put Teddy into the main event, against an opponent he could beat, if he'd accept short money.
How short? Well, $750.
That was a little shorter than I would have expected, but my fighter said okay.
Teddy was what you would call a high-level middleweight opponent. He had fought a lot of the tough 160-pounders on the east coast, including Bennie Briscoe, Ernie Singletary, Vinnie Curto, Bobby Czyz and John LoCicero, among others. Cable TV gave him a break; he made great fights and never quit, often absorbing a pasting, whether it was in victory or defeat. So he continued to get work on television. A ten-round decision win over world-rated Robbie Epps on NBC in March of 1982 got him installed as the #9 world contender in the WBA ratings, but after losing to a succession of contenders - James "Hard Rock" Green, John Collins, Doug DeWitt, Robbie Sims and Juan Domingo Roldan - his career was effectively at a standstill.
And so I started to plot the grand comeback.
Teddy had put on some weight. Schulberg asked me how he stood in that department, and I told him Mann weighed about 169 pounds. I asked him about the opponent, Rocky Fabrizzio. "Well, he's about 150," Schulberg said, "but don't worry. We can stuff some rocks in the guy's pockets at the weigh-in."
Well, that was already a slick managerial move on my part. And I didn't even have to do anything.
I was pretty excited, and anxious to get started setting up the interviews, putting my fighter in the gym, and hanging out my shingle as a ‘boxing manager’.
Teddy told me he was going to take a quick trip to New Jersey to see his son. Then he would come back and start training for the fight.
I never saw him again.
And so there it was - in my initial effort as a manager, I couldn't even get ‘on the board’.
Years later, I was talking to Cedric Kushner when he mentioned the name of the first fighter he ever handled - a fellow named Teddy Mann.
Teddy, it appears, had been a high-maintenance project for him. He used to call Cedric late at night, because he would need a washer-dryer or a refrigerator or something like that. And Cedric, a concert promoter who hadn't been properly indoctrinated into the boxing business yet, would buy it for him.
So I guess you could say I got off cheap.
Shortly after Teddy disappeared on me, I got another chance to take a fighter under my wing.
Robert Pew, a hard-hitting middleweight out of South Carolina, had chalked up nine straight wins in Florida. My friend Brad Jacobs was the matchmaker for Phil Alessi, the promoter in Tampa, and he was running out of opponents for Pew. Well, I had one. His name was Jean-Pierre Dawe, and believe it or not, I met him in the same bar I met Teddy Mann. Dawe, a short, stocky guy with a karate background, was not in the same league as Mann as a fighter. In fact, he was almost completely devoid of boxing skill. But like Teddy, he was tough as nails, had a great chin, and was utterly fearless. Known as "Jonathan O'Hara" around New Jersey, he was once plucked out of an Atlantic City casino on an hour's notice to fight once-beaten Indianapolis junior middleweight named Donald King, and with just four pro fights under his belt, he went the full ten-round distance.
Against Pew, Dawe took an amount of punishment that was painful to watch. But he just kept taking it, coming forward and launching haymakers. And in the corner he told me he wanted even more. Pew, who ultimately went nowhere in his career but still possessed far too much class for this foe, mercifully ended things with a right hand in the third round. To show you how sick my guy was, he seemed to thoroughly enjoy the experience. "When can I get another guy like that?,” he asked on the long drive home.
Dawe's half-brother, a welterweight named John Savage, was another guy I tried to do a few things with, but after I had been scheduled him for a fight, he went off and shot someone. Someone I knew.
Needless to say, that relationship never really got off the ground.
It was kind of a thrill just to be around the fight game then, and you're usually willing to put up with quite a bit of chaos and inconvenience in order to keep your foot in the door.
In the years that followed, I became involved with much better fighters, namely Robert Daniels, the former IBF cruiserweight champion who captured the IBC title under my ‘direction’. Even so, I had less patience to deal with the minor annoyances associated with managing a fighter. I wasn't a big fan of handholding or babysitting; I preferred to tell guys the truth rather than blow sunshine up their ass, and bailing them out of jail or getting them out of other kinds of scrapes just wasn't my idea of enjoyment. And the more ‘colorful’ the characters were, the less I appreciated it. For instance, one promising female fighter I got involved with needed a place to live, and problems developed when she drank up the entire liquor cabinet at the apartment we put her into, since, well, it brought a rather negative response from the person who actually owned the apartment.
The more I dealt with fighters, the greater the tendency I had to be rather impersonal, taking an approach to things that could be characterized as ‘strictly business’. From that perspective, I suppose I didn't have the ideal temperament to be a top-flight manager.
But I wasn't completely wrong.
I used to relay, to people I did business with, an old saying that had been handed down to me by folks much wiser than me: "Don't fall in love with your fighter." In other words, don't get so emotionally immersed in his life that it clouds your own judgment. That’s easier said than done. One of my ex-partners, Mike Frost, used to buddy up with Daniels. He brought him virtually everywhere he went, introduced him to all his friends, lent him money, and became concerned with his private and family life. Meanwhile, I always kept some distance. I knew Daniels did not have a good history with managers, so I told Mike he could wind up having his heart broken in the end, and sure enough, it was. The reaction was somewhat predictable - after Daniels left him, all Mike wanted to do was make the guy's life difficult, because he was so hurt.
Many fighters will end up biting the hand that feeds them. That's just a fact of life in this game, and an occupational hazard for the manager. But some fighters will not do that. They understand loyalty when it is shown to them, and know how to reciprocate. Those guys prove to be worth the time, and then some. Maybe that's a special skill of an effective manager - enough knowledge of human nature to be able to scope out the right guy to deal with.
There's a line one has to straddle; one that is not so clearly defined. And that's why I say there's probably a distinction to be drawn between a successful manager and a GREAT manager. The great manager is not only successful, but also knows how to strike that delicate balance between doing business the right way on behalf of the fighter - and in turn himself - and forging enough of a personal bond with his client to develop the kind of trust that keeps the relationship thriving.
That takes an awful lot of patience. It also takes a genuine love for not only the sport, but also the LIFE associated with the sport - something that can't be manufactured.
It also takes the ability to recognize an opportunity and strike when the iron is hot. Let me tell you what can happen when one doesn’t have that ability.
Back in 1994 I became involved in a promotional agreement with a fighter named Classius Ali, who was getting ready to embark on a pro career. As an amateur, competing under his given name, Wayne Blair, he had won several national tournaments; among the people he knocked out in the non-paid ranks was Lonnie Bradley, who went on to win the WBO 160-lb. title.
Classius may not have been the greatest prospect ever to come out of the amateurs, but he was a pretty good one, and had a legitimate chance to become a money-making contender someday, if things were handled right.
Handling things right was one thing we certainly intended to do. We had someone designated to carefully pick out his opponents. We had a casino interested in attaching him to all its fight cards.
And it seemed there was a management team that realized what had to be done to move this young man up each rung of the ladder. Ali's principal manager was his brother, a private investigator in the Miami area who appeared to have been working a lifetime on the press materials he handed me when we first got together. These guys had all the standard components - the nickname ("Electrifying” Classius Ali), the persona, and the biography, which may have been substantially embellished, for all I know. They even had a name for themselves - "Team Ali".
It’s one thing if you just want to bring someone along as a fighter. It’s quite another to embrace the idea of spawning a marketable ‘product’, capable of taking things to a much higher plane.
These gentlemen not only wanted to embrace it; they wanted to put it in a bear hug.
They had a great rap, speaking in abstract terms about how Classius Ali was going to storm his way to a world title and transcend the sport of boxing. They talked about merchandising, marketing, endorsements, I liked their level of enthusiasm, and that they conveyed an understanding that meeting the super-objective meant doing as much out of the ring as inside of it.
We got the young man a couple of wins to start off his career. Then we were hit out of left field with something that was totally unexpected.
Call it a godsend.
At a weigh-in for one of Ali’s fights in Mississippi, Jacobs, who by this time was the Director of Boxing Programming for USA Network, informed me that the producers of MTV's "The Real World", one of the shows that began the new wave of reality television, were looking for a young professional athlete to insert into the cast for the upcoming season, which was to take place in London.
If Classius Ali was interested, he thought he could help us make it happen.
Well, my partner and I were doing cartwheels. Not only was this going to give the fighter regular exposure on national television, as well as a chance for people to get to know him in a way that would otherwise be impossible, it was also a golden opportunity to put him before an entirely new audience. You've seen more recently where HBO's "KO Nation" and Kushner's "Thunderbox" failed to come up with the right formula to reach the younger demographic. Well, placing Classius Ali on MTV would do just that, within the context of one of its existing programs, without having to force it down anyone's throat. We envisioned the kinds of scenarios that could unfold. The cameras could document him as he was preparing for fights. They would follow him to the arena. They would capture the thrill of victory, though hopefully not the agony of defeat. If Ali was popular enough, perhaps MTV might want to become involved with televising his fights, even after he left the show. The possibilities were endless. You have to understand - "The Real World" was a big hit for the network; several of the participants went to do much more substantial things.
I felt if we got creative enough, we could possibly, through this charismatic, good-looking kid, introduce boxing to a new generation; something the sport badly needed, and in fact still needs. And then we could truly talk about ‘transcending’ boxing.
I huddled with my partner and we began to strategize. Was there any way we could work hand-in-hand with the MTV people? How would we work out the logistics of the fighter training for each fight? Could we get him some fights in England? There’d be a trade-off, but would it be worth it for him to be a little less active during the year the show was being shot, for the sake of having all that exposure? Should we hire a special publicist? Ideas were flying around, fast and furious. Really, whether it was ultimately going to pan out or not, there had never been an opportunity quite like this.
To me, it was an obvious no-brainer. If somebody wants to place something like this in your lap, you're a fool not to take advantage of it.
We decided to schedule a special meeting with Team Ali and tell the guys about this fortuitous turn of events.
Their response, to say the least, was underwhelming.
They came up with every conceivable reason not to do the show. Classius' brother said their mother was not feeling very well and that the kid shouldn't be straying too far from home. The show would upset his training regimen. It would interfere with his development. He would not have his ‘support structure’ with him. He felt strange about living with other people.
In the end, they basically said thanks, but no thanks.
Later we found out the real objection. Ali's trainer saw the show as a threat; he feared if he let the fighter slip out of his hands and go somewhere else that he would lose him entirely. So he recommended against it. Of course, if he'd had an open mind about it, we would have explained to him that we would have arranged for the fighter to prep with him to some extent, and that he would be in the corner, doing whatever he'd been doing all along. And besides, this was only a temporary thing anyway. But apparently that wasn't going to satisfy him. He was not interested in relinquishing even partial control, and must have surmised that if Classius Ali got out to see the rest of that big wide world, he wasn't going to want his trainer anymore.
The fighter went along with it. The brother went along with it. And that was that.
So much for transcending boxing. So much for their PR presentation. So much for marketing, merchandising, and endorsements. So much for packaging the sport to a new demographic. So much for the "A Star Is Born" scenario we envisioned.
And as far as I was concerned, so much for "Team Ali".
I was deflated, and let's just say my interest in the fighter dwindled after that. While it's true that this opportunity might never have come our way in the first place, the fact is that it did. And the incident proved to be unusually instructive.
My diagnosis was that they weren't as serious as I was.
They wanted to play the part, but when it came down to it, they were afraid of success, or in taking the steps that were necessary to attain it. And to my way of thinking, knowing they had fumbled this, they were invariably going to fumble something else down the line.
Once they missed their best chance, what could I possibly have done with them in moving ahead?
Not much. I became wary about investing the time, not to mention the money, in getting the 15-20 wins that were going to be required just to get the fighter to the middle of the pack. And I was firmly convinced they were going to put the brakes on anything that would potentially have propelled us into the rarified air.
It's not that I was ever mad at those guys. Far from it. But my partner was a little sore, and relations quickly became strained. Eventually they wanted to be released from the promotional contract. My partner was absolutely dead set against it; he sounded like he was intent on keeping Ali from fighting if he didn't fight for us. To me, this was silly. What did we really want to keep him for? He passed on the best marketing hook of his life. His management was not about to go the extra mile. That was not a formula to get us a return on our investment. I told him we needed to let Ali go, rather than throw good money after bad. And aside from that, the contract was in my company's name, so I had the final call.
Classius Ali never did very much with his career. He lost the only meaningful fight he had - dropping a 12-round decision to Lionel Ortiz in January of 1998. The last time he fought was 1999. I heard occasionally about him hanging around gyms in Miami, but little more than that.
Things could have been different. Dramatically different.
All his people had to do was make the right decision at the right time.
But we'll never know about that, will we?
It just goes to show you - being a real fight manager is not conducive to a casual level of commitment. It's not for ‘posers’.
And it illustrates that fighters need to know what they're looking at when a prospective manager approaches them.
I intend to expand upon it in detail later in this book, but suffice it to say that if a fighter is serious about his career, he not only has to find a manager who cares about his well-being, but, even more than that, he needs to realize that he's more wisely served by a pro than by an amateur, better off with a doer than a talker, more judicious in following those who are expert than those who are naïve.
Having said that, let me tell you the story of a guy who possesses the qualities - patience, personality, ingenuity, sincerity, savvy, common sense, and compassion - that represent the best of what the managerial role has to offer.
In a sport that has more than its share of scalawags, connivers and con artists, Henry Foster is a breath of fresh air. In an industry where you have to constantly look out for land mines, Henry is one of the good guys - the antithesis of the prototypical hustler who gives you the inviting smile while aiming a knife squarely at your back.
A veteran of the heating oil business who has also owned and operated a trendy restaurant called "Mulberry Street" on Miami's South Beach, Foster originally got into boxing as a hobby. But as happens with a lot of part-timers, the bug bit him hard. He got into it more and more seriously, and a few years ago he collaborated on building a gym that eventually became known as Fight Club Miami.
Foster is no different from many managers in that he has experienced his share of heartbreak with fighters. I met him when he was handling Juan LaPorte, the former WBC featherweight champion. With Foster, LaPorte had received shots at IBF and WBO titles, and along the road, Henry and his wife Margaret had taken LaPorte into their home. Like all of his fighters, Henry had made this ex-champ a very personal project.
That's why it was a bit surprising when LaPorte, who I didn't really know, came up to me at a Larry Holmes card in Mississippi (he was working with an undercard fighter named Tomas Rodriguez) and asked me how he could go about putting together a fight at the casino, like everybody else was doing in those days. I asked, "Isn't Henry Foster your manager?." He just shrugged; the kind of shrug that tells you a guy’s got other designs for himself. Later, I found out that LaPorte took a WBO title fight against Zach Padilla without Henry's knowledge, and Foster had one heck of a time collecting the managerial share that was due him.
Fortunately, he wasn't discouraged by that disappointing episode.
Henry's not necessarily a slick dealmaker with network connections like Shelly Finkel; he's not a hyphenate like an Emmanuel Steward, who handles training duties as well. He's not a Frank Maloney, who brings years and years of experience to the table, or a Bill Cayton, who, when he was alive, had millions to invest if need be.
But he's a grinder. He just keeps plugging away, spurred on by faith in his fighter, faith in the sport, and faith in his own judgment.
There are a lot of managers who couldn't get a fight for anybody unless he signed that fighter's rights away to a promoter. What I always admired about Henry is that he has been able to bring fighters along, to a significant extent, without having to tie up those rights with someone from the get-go. And believe me, it’s not an easy thing to do. There is value to that kind of independence. You certainly have to concede in this day and age that in 99.5% of the cases, a fighter is going to have to align himself with a promoter sooner or later in order to get involved in the more meaningful fights. But the longer a fighter can successfully stay away from that, the better off he is.
The vast majority of managers don't even want to make that effort: they move toward the path of least resistance. And if you're in an area with any boxing to speak of, any fighter who shows some ability is likely to be approached about signing a promotional deal. Because promoters don't normally use fighters without ties of some kind, it takes genuine skill and resourcefulness to get a fighter to the ten-round level as a virtual independent. I give Henry all the credit in the world for having been able to do that. And he has made a habit of taking a shot with guys no one else has a particular interest in.
I was briefly involved, in a small way, with one of Foster's fighters - a heavyweight from Miami named Jorge Valdes. Without any real amateur background, Valdes was unpolished, clumsy, and certainly not in demand as he turned pro. But moving slowly, Henry nurtured Valdes' career, maneuvering him into a position where he was 15-1-1 and ready to go to the next level. At that point, Valdes was a promotional free agent, because through perseverance, Foster had built him virtually all by himself. Henry eventually came together with Kushner on a deal and Valdes crept into the Top 20 before losing to the likes of Larry Donald, Axel Schulz and Shannon Briggs. Even so, Henry has able to get him a WBU title shot against Corrie Sanders, which turned out to be the last of Valdes' career, actually long after the fighter had lost interest.
Henry turned around and did something similar with another heavyweight named Sherman Williams. A complete unknown who came to Miami from the Bahamas, Williams had an uninspiring 1-2 record when Foster took him over. Few managers and even fewer promoters would have had any interest whatsoever in a fighter like that. But Foster carefully guided Williams to twelve straight wins, showcasing his punching power and instilling much-needed confidence in his charge. Williams attained ten-round status, beating Alfred Cole and fighting a draw with Jameel McCline. And if he hadn't been robbed against Obed Sullivan, he would have won the NABF title; one can only speculate as to what could have happened from there.
To the casual fan, these might not sound like rousing successes, but one has to put it into perspective - it was really quite an accomplishment for these guys to get as far as they did, and represents notable work on the part of the manager. They were fighters nobody else wanted, and it took a lot of ‘sweat equity’ to make them viable. The world is often wide open for the guys who have won a slew of amateur titles, but for the ham-and-eggers, negotiating the rough waters up the ranks in boxing is a much greater challenge.
But I'll be damned if Henry didn't do it again, and this time he hit a home run.
Some people who follow boxing closely have become conversant with Glen Johnson's story. But the great under-reported part of that story is the role Henry Foster has played in it.
And it's a participation that absolutely cannot be discounted.
When Henry first told me he had signed Glen Johnson to a management deal, I remember asking myself why in the world he would do that. This is nothing if not a business of front-runners. The culture of the industry is that the only thing worth going after is what is "hot", what is unblemished, what has a name. Glen Johnson was a capable fighter, but he did not fit any of those categories.
Plus, the guy needed money. Badly.
Johnson had a hard time paying his bills. His electric would go off from time to time. There were some personal complications as well; for one thing, there was a daughter out there that he couldn't find. He had no fan base; local wins were going to be hard to come by, since Miami was just not the kind of market where fighters had hometown followings. Having lost seven of his last twelve fights after beginning his career 32-0, he was, to the boxing world, long past his sell-by date.
Given these parameters, experienced observers would see red flags all over the place. If this was a project at all, it was one for a hobbyist, not someone who truly understood the dynamics of the industry.
There wouldn't seem to be a manager in this business who would even consider investing time, effort and money in a fighter like that, much less one who has never held a world title.
That's why it's so extraordinary that Henry Foster stepped up to the plate.
At first glance, the two did not seem to be an ideal match. Johnson had a well-earned reputation for going into his opponent's backyard, time after time, and coming away on the short end of bad decisions. What might be most appropriate was a handler with some ‘juice’ to help reverse that trend. But Henry has never been one to roll over and ‘play the game’; he's not a tool for promoters, even when he's got a fighter signed with one of them. In the past, he and I have had long conversations about his struggles over purses, opponents, and contractual obligations. Everything was a negotiation, and getting promoters to follow through is often quite arduous. But Foster is no one's rubber stamp. People in the boxing establishment generally aren't interested in going out of their way to do favors for people like that.
Indeed, Johnson's first fight with Henry looked for a while like a microcosm of everything that had come before. He went to Germany and pulled off a huge upset in knocking out Thomas Ulrich, the WBO's #1 light heavyweight contender. But even then, they were trying to take it away from him. Ulrich had a ‘manager’ of sorts - his promoter, Klaus-Peter Kohl - and so after Johnson and Foster returned to the U.S., they found out that Johnson had failed a "drug test" it turns out he never even took. Ultimately, the effort at thievery did not succeed.
Did things get easier? Hardly.
There was a decision loss to Derrick Harmon, who actually beat him going away.
There was a very questionable majority decision defeat to Julio Cesar Gonzalez (in Gonzalez' hometown, naturally), followed by a draw with Daniel Judah, after which Judah reportedly admitted he probably lost.
This was leading up to a moment of truth for Johnson, and his manager. The fighter needed to know that someone wasn’t going to abandon him once again after yet another setback; that he still had a backer and a booster; that he wasn’t the only one who could see some light at the end of the tunnel.
At the critical time, Henry Foster stuck to his guns and stood by his fighter.
Then he found a southpaw who was world-rated, and vulnerable. And Glen Johnson went back to work.
In a fight that (no surprise) was supposed to be a vehicle for his opponent, Johnson scored a clear win over Eric Harding and got back into the world championship picture.
After boxing to a draw with Clinton Woods for a vacant IBF title, Johnson came back to win a decision in the mandated rematch and capture something that had eluded him in two previous attempts - a world championship.
If the story ended there, it would have been happy enough. But Johnson, as we know by now, kept going. Another underdog win - this one over Roy Jones Jr. - prolonged his improbable comeback tale.
Now he has taken the ball and crossed the goal line. Refreshingly, Johnson at last wound up on the positive side of a disputed decision, getting a split nod over Antonio Tarver and in the process becoming what amounts to the "people's champion" in the light heavyweight division.
As for the coup de grace, Henry's even gotten him an endorsement deal, for an energy drink. That puts him one endorsement ahead of his former amateur teammate, Classius Ali, and for that matter, nearly everyone else in boxing.
Things are good. Things have come full circle.
And things aren’t finished just yet.
This is a great story, to be sure, but to leave it at that would be to miss some of the point. We can learn a few lessons here as well - about faith; about the value of determination; about character; about looking below the surface and finding what's real, what's solid; about the fact that it's never too late to blossom; about what is possible if we believe in ourselves and have others who believe in us; about staying loyal to someone who IS worth the time and effort.
Undoubtedly, these are lessons from which we can all benefit.
Accordingly, the people who teach us lessons like this need to be acknowledged.
I was originally going to write this chapter before the Tarver-Johnson bout, in the way of a pre-fight piece, but the more I thought about it, the less the result really mattered. I was going to write it either way. In a time when the proliferation of sanctioning bodies churns out ‘champions’ who, depending on their connections, may not ever have to face a serious challenge en route to a title, saluting people who have taken the hard road to the top is not just a good idea; I felt it was mandatory.
In a sport where we can find as many ‘downers’ as we want if we look hard enough, we can sure use some stories of genuine uplift that need not be contrived.
With his wins over Woods, Jones and Tarver, Glen Johnson has positioned himself as a front-runner for Fighter of the Year honors.
And there's no question in my mind about the Manager of the Year.
As someone who has spent some time in the boxing business, I feel the obligation to enlighten my colleagues a bit. No one should become deluded about this – it’s not the slickest trick in the book to sign an Olympian or to take someone on who is at or close to the mountaintop. There are dozens and dozens of managers who can do that. I could find them all day long. Granted, there is a certain talent that is needed to carry things out - some of them do it well; some do it badly. But in the final analysis, all of them are, by design, playing the percentages.
The real achievement lies in bucking the odds, finding value where no one else did, and scoring big. That’s the kind of thing that places someone head and shoulders above the pack.
And then there are those intangible elements that can’t possibly be ignored.
I remember meeting Angelo Dundee many years ago, and asking him who he was going to be pulling for in some mega-fight that was upcoming. He gave me his answer, and his rationale – a statement that was so beautiful in its simplicity: "I root for nice people."
I will be the first one to admit that Henry is my friend, and that factors into why I'd be pushing him for that award. But you know, there was a period of time when I stood up to some of the more corrupt powers-that-be in boxing, and was blackballed by some of them because of it. But when I was abandoned by most of the people in this industry I thought were my friends, Henry never abandoned me. It's just not part of his makeup.
That kind of credibility counts for quite a bit on my scorecard.
So yes, I'm feeling happy that Henry Foster finally had some good fortune with a fighter.
But I entertain the proposition that maybe - just maybe - Glen Johnson is the one who really got lucky.
Mike Tyson "The lonely one offers his hand too quickly to whomever he encounters." (Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche 1844-1900)
It is true to say that we haven't seen the infamous black garb for the last time just yet, but as a heavyweight of any significance his flame was extinguished for good this year. The blinkered Tyson fans still exist, not as publicly or in the same numbers as they once did, but they're out there still believing that even without Christopher Lloyd and a DeLorean Tyson could still roll back the years. Believing he could muster two rounds of the 'old' Tyson to dethrone Vitali Klitschko, if he could just go back to Kevin Rooney or get his weight down or move his head or train harder they say. Ignoring the 15 years of decline and neglect and the series of pummelings the 38 year old has endured since the halcyon days of the 80’s.
Only the delusional are prepared to believe, to buy the excuses. And not too many will be buying Tyson PPV in 2005 either.
However, to remember Iron Mike as the sad, forlorn curiosity he's now become would be to do the man a great disservice. It would be churlish to forget his illumination of an entire decade, the fact he brought a whole new audience to boxing, secured the heavyweight crown at just 21 and was arguably the most entertaining heavyweight to ever lace the gloves.
Thank you and goodnight Mike.
Evander Holyfield ”Some have been thought brave, because they were afraid to run away.” (Thomas Fuller 1608-1661)
Arguably the most maligned heavyweight of recent times, but only because the sport and the fans love him so much, the Real Deal really has stayed on too long and only the man himself believes the downward spiral he's been fighting for the past decade can be overcome.
Ugly points defeats to heavyweight belt-holders are one thing, stoppage defeats to super-middleweights and a shutout points loss to a 37 year old fringe contender both testify to the chasm that exists between now and Evander Holyfield's long lost prime. Of course, Holyfield's story should have ended with his defeat and knockdown to the game, but limited Ruiz three years ago. Honourable though Holyfield motives are - he fights for glory, not for money, having accumulated in the region of $200 million in his career - it doesn't make his quest any less ludicrous.
But like archrival Mike Tyson, boxing historians will fail Holyfield if he's remembered for recent results and not for his dominance at cruiserweight, his rise to the heavyweight summit and his willingness to tackle heavyweights against whom he was nearly always physically out-gunned. His trilogy with Bowe stands comparison with any modern day series and his exposure of the Tyson myth when supposedly finished is testimony to his technique, strength, work ethic and willpower.
It appears a suspension for his own protection is the only way to keep the 42 year old from continuing on his quest for a fifth world title and thankfully somebody has now given it a try. Inevitably, Holyfield has challenged it.
Thanks for the memories Evander.
Roy Jones Jr. "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." (Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss 1904-1991)
Will we ever see the jewel of the nineties back in a ring? His ego and history dictate that we will, but as a stellar attraction he's as done as done gets. But lest we forget just 18 months ago he was being mentioned as the greatest fighter ever to grace a ring. In the UK, respected Boxing News editor, Claude Abrams, for one, proclaimed that he was following the historic victory over John Ruiz.
The cynics heckled from the sidelines, waiting and watching patiently for either Father Time or a big puncher to finally catch up. Sadly they both did and on the same night, and Glen Johnson, a fighter Jones would have toyed with in his prime, repeated the trick just to be sure the message got home. Sadly for Roy the inescapable truth was his unorthodox style, built on the quicksand of reflex and youth, would eventually leave him up to his neck in the sticky stuff if he stayed too long. And so it came to pass.
It’s sad that the final memory of Jones will be of him prone on the canvas, a crushing reminder that nobody can escape the clutches of Father Time indefinitely. But to remember the consensus future hall of famer in this way would be cruel; a man who barely lost a round for a decade, who turned back the challenge of contenders as capable as James Toney, Mike McCallum, Bernard Hopkins and Virgil Hill and did it all with dazzling panache.
Cheers for the artistry Roy, and farewell.
As you reach for the 2005 wall planners and indigestion tablets this Christmas, remember this trio of ring greats for whom 2004 represented the final curtain and for the joy they brought.
The good news was that, despite his last fight ending in a draw, he was still in line for another shot at the vacant IBF Light Heavyweight title. The bad news – he had to once again travel to Clinton Woods’ hometown of Sheffield, England if he wanted to avenge the draw and claim the crown. Having never shied away from a challenge in or out of the ring, Johnson gladly took to the task. This time, he did enough to convince all three judges that being at home just wasn’t good enough for Woods not to lose. In a fight that historically was not meant to go Johnson’s way, he left the ring and England as champion for the first time in his career.
When he returned home to Miami, he found himself overshadowed by two other Florida-based light heavyweights – none other than longtime pound-for-pound king Roy Jones Jr. and his new archrival, Antonio Tarver. Not only was Johnson still considered no better than third best in the division, he was still only the third best light heavyweight in his own state as a result. But that wasn’t why his winning efforts were paid little mind. It was because Jones and Tarver were bracing for a rematch of their own – a rematch to their November 2003 contest, one day after Johnson’s first fight with Woods, no less. In fact, it was before that very fight when Tarver decided to vacate the IBF crown, thus upgrading Johnson-Woods I – and eventually II - from an elimination bout to a vacant title fight.
Seeing as how Jones and Tarver were considered by all to be the top two light heavyweights in the world who fought to near even terms last year, all eyes were focused on their May rematch in Las Vegas. Once Tarver knocked Roy out with a single counter left, nobody cared that Glen Johnson was able to win a world title after 11 years and 51 fights in the paying ranks. Nobody except Roy Jones, that is.
When Jones announced that he’d be looking to explore other options rather than gun straight for a rubber match with Tarver, Johnson’s name entered the mix. But it was only after Fabrice Tiozzo – the current WBA champion – had been “frowned upon” by many as a potential opponent. Regardless, Johnson could care less how he got there. All he knew was that he wasn’t going anywhere, except into the ring for a dream fight and a career-high payday to boot.
All Johnson was supposed to do on that late-September night in Memphis was show up with his IBF strap in tow. Be introduced as the champion, and then allow Roy to do his thing. That’s what many so-called experts throughout the industry figured anyway. Hey, it’s Roy, so it must be a well-calculated “risk”, right? That is apparently what every boxing newspaper writer in the country thought, as not one showed up.
Those among the internet media that decided to come out that night witnessed a piece of history. They watched as Glen sprinted out the gate and swarm a seemingly shell-shocked Roy throughout the fight. Where in most cases skill overcomes will, nothing of the sort would occur this night. Johnson had come too far in his career to blow the biggest opportunity of his life. No, this would be a night where Roy could not turn back the clock and prove that he’s still good enough to rank among today’s best. It would be a night where Roy, who many had figured would have his arm raised in victory for the fiftieth time in his career, would instead end the night flat on his back and completely knocked out. For the first time in five years, it would be a night where Glen Johnson would have his arm raised in victory for the second straight fight.
Had the year ended at that point, many would have considered Antonio Tarver’s previous win over Roy to be the more significant of the two. Such was apparent when, after the fight, the two main names being thrown around for Fighter of the Year were Tarver and Diego Corrales, whose calendar year boasted wins over Joel Casamayor and previously unbeaten two-division titlist Acelino Freitas. Nobody was mentioning Johnson’s name, except to refer to him as “that other guy that knocked out Roy this year.”
But in late October, everyone would soon be mentioning his name. Tarver was mentioning him as the next opponent he faced, even willing to give up his WBC title in order to make the fight happen. Quite fitting, as it was when Tarver gave up his IBF title a year prior that made it possible for Johnson to become a serious player in the division. Though, he would no longer be playing with the IBF. They decided that since he was facing Tarver, and not their mandatory Rico Hoye, that it be best if he were to be stripped of the title. Forget that a Tarver fight would generate far more revenue, and that Hoye was damn lucky to even be given the decision in his IBF elimination bout with Montell Griffin – the IBF decided that the right thing was for Hoye to be fighting for the title next, and that was that. Rather than wait out what would have been at best a modest purse bid, Johnson dumped the belt and opted for the million dollar payday and shot at becoming the division ruler, alphabet hardware notwithstanding.
As a result of the fight being made, many in the industry decided that the winner would be considered Fighter of the Year, or at least be the strongest contender to Corrales for such honors. As with many of his previous bouts, Johnson was written off even before the fight started. For when many had said “the winner”, they had already pre-determined that Tarver would conquer Johnson just as easily as he had the almighty Roy Jones. Some had even gone as far as to say that while Johnson should be commended for overachieving, his luck would simply run out on December 18. He lacked the punch to hurt Tarver, the skills to keep up with him… despite the fight being between the best two fighters in the division, many considered the gap between one and two to be much larger than the 3-1 odds that came with the fight.
But beating the odds was nothing new to Johnson. Not in his life, not in his career, not even in 2004. Very few figured him to leave Sheffield as champion. Even less figured him to give Roy Jones a tough fight, much less knock him out cold. Finally, even less than that expected him to leave Los Angeles and end 2004 having won three in a row. In fact, only two of the twenty-two writers for TheSweetScience.com who offered predictions for the fight had believed Johnson could take a decision. (Guess who was one of those writers.)
After twelve hard fought rounds in perhaps the best light heavyweight fight of the year, Johnson proved those two writers right and disproved many, many scribes around the boxing world wrong. The fight was close enough to where many believed that Tarver in fact deserved the nod. After all, he was the busier of the two and according to CompuBox numbers landed quite a few more punches than did Johnson. But punchstat numbers do not measure a fighter’s heart. They do not always indicate who is dictating the terms of the fight, even if the other fighter is the busier fighter. Two of the three judges did witness as such that night, and as a result Johnson was able to avoid the ugly trend that had preceded him and finally walk away from a close fight with his hand raised in victory. After a career filled with turmoil, Johnson completed 2004 by beating three top-ten fighters, including the division’s two best, and now sits atop the light heavyweight division with endless opportunities lying ahead for 2005.
The only thing left for this year is to determine whether or not he did enough to beat out Chico Corrales, Winky Wright and Jose Luis Castillo, among others, for Fighter of the Year honors. His overall career suggests that he goes down in a disputed decision and is forced to settle for bridesmaid. 2004 suggests that he will no longer allow himself to lose – in the ring and hopefully at the awards table.
For your consideration; Glengoffe Johnson, 2004’s Fighter of the Year.
You'll hear it from people who are familiar with my work, whether they're fans or not, whether they understand it or not. Don't get on the bad side of this guy. You've got trouble if CJ's writing about you. This is the meanest, angriest guy in boxing. He's mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore. He'd be the first guy to say "Bah Humbug". The guy would rather write a piece called "'Tis the Season.....To Be a Real Son of a Bitch".
Yes, it's true that I sometimes go overboard. I have no tolerance level for the kind of corruption that finds its way through the corridors of power in this game. I see no place for ineffectual politicians in a sport they know very little about. I have no patience for mediocrity, and no problem letting people know about it. I'm here to drive the fight-fixers like Robert Mittleman and the self-important knuckleheads like Greg Sirb away from boxing, because that will have long-run positive effects. And yes, I don't much care how I get it done. I make no excuses, and offer no apologies.
So you guys think I'm mean-spirited, right?
Well, Charles Jay is about to go soft on you.
There's that side of me, you know. I admit that I cry whenever I see certain movies, like "It's a Wonderful Life". I'm virtual putty in the hands of my six-year-old niece. Uncle Chuck gives her pony rides. I buy her gifts almost weekly, and have become well-acquainted with the likes of Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob Square Pants, Bob the Builder, Oswald the Octopus and of course, Clifford the Big Red Dog.
I seem to get emotional, even sentimental, about a lot more things these days, which, if nothing else, might be a sign that middle age is creeping up on me.
So excuse me for being a little sappy here.
I've hung around boxing, in one way or another, since 1981. Like a lot of people, I got into it somewhat by accident. I would say, on balance, that it's been a happy accident.
Of course, you never forget some of those accidents destiny steers you away from.
In 1996, as I was readying myself to start a new radio program, I made plans to travel to North Carolina and interview former heavyweight champion Buster Douglas at his training camp. The trip had a dual purpose, as my friend, a collectibles dealer, was going to get a bunch of photos and other items signed by Buster. We made arrangements to get to this ski resort where Douglas was training - the idea was to fly from Miami to Atlanta on a Saturday, then rent a car and take the three-hour drive to our final destination, which was, to say the least, out of the way.
But a problem developed at the last minute, because my friend couldn't get anyone to watch his store for him that Saturday, and we had to change the flight to Monday.
Imagine what I was feeling when I woke up on Saturday morning and found out that the flight we were previously booked on - ValuJet 592 - crashed in the Florida Everglades.
That's the kind of thing that makes you take stock of your own existence. Isn't it funny that at Christmas time you start putting all that stuff into perspective?
I put this business in perspective from time to time as well.
For example, I've come to the realization that boxing fans and boxing people are different than those in other sports. Think about this - if you're at a football game, and the home team wins a game due to a series of bad calls on the part of the referee, the fans really don't care, as long as they get the "W". It's fair to say the same holds true in the other team sports.
But I have been to venues, more than once, where the hometown fighter won, as the beneficiary of an awful hometown decision, and the reaction ranged from widespread booing to near-rioting. It seems the boxing audience instinctively empathizes with what fighters go through, both in their preparation and in the competitive ring itself, and partisanship takes a back seat to justice. In that way, the boxing fan has a sense of fair play that is unmatched anywhere else.
Now, I'm not going to sit here and insult your intelligence by telling you the people in the boxing industry, by and large, have that same sense of fair play. We all know there are some really bad apples in this business. There's no escaping that. But there are plenty of people at the opposite end of the spectrum as well; in fact, some of the best people you'll ever meet. People who get going when the going gets tough. People who stare adversity in the face and laugh at it. Engaging people. Selfless people. People with a lot of heart and a lot of soul.
I've seen trainers travel a thousand miles to make $200 or less, just so some of their fighters can put food on the table.
I've seen the efforts of organizations like the Retired Boxers Foundation, who work 20 hours a day, with little or no funding, to come to the aid of fighters who are down and out.
I am grateful for the doctors who probably could make a lot more money being somewhere else, but who give of their time so that boxing can be as relatively safe as it is.
I've witnessed promoters stepping forward and going above and beyond the call of duty for the benefit of families of 9/11 victims.
I've seen fighters visit kids in the hospital, where it wasn't for the sake of a photo op.
I know some managers who look at their fighters as more than just a commodity; who do as much for them outside the gym as inside it, and I thank them for it, because they make this sport a better place to be. You'll be reading about one of those people in the next chapter.
I'd love to be able to recognize all of those people in and around boxing who put a lot more into the game than they get out of it, and keep doing it anyway, but I would never have the space or the time to do it.
The truth is, compassion is not hard to find in boxing, and you don't even have to look that hard for it.
There was a fellow I worked with about fifteen years ago by the name of Hackie Reitman, an orthopedic surgeon who had embarked on a dream of becoming a heavyweight fighter. Hackie knew he wasn't going to be the world heavyweight champion, but he had a good time with his career. And we managed to get most of the people in the South Florida market to write about it.
Hackie was a brilliant guy and very successful in his 'other' career. He was also a gentleman. When my father was a cancer patient lying in the hospital, enduring his final days, Hackie insisted on coming with me one day to visit him. And he was always a favorite of my mom.
When I finally lost my dad, in April of 1991, we had the funeral in New Jersey. As I'm sitting at the wake, I'm told there's someone waiting outside to see me.
The gentleman introduced himself as a friend of Hackie Reitman who lived in the area. He had come by, at Hackie's special request, to offer condolences in person. I was shocked, and moved.
Flowers or a card weren’t going to be enough for Hackie. He actually sent a live human being to me as a way of paying his respects.
No one's going to tell me there's no class, no brotherhood in this game.
Still, I never fully realized how much goodwill there really was until years later.
In July of 2001, I was hit by some devastating news. My brother had slipped into unconsciousness in an Indiana hospital; for years he had colitis, and as I found out later, about a dozen other ailments, including diabetes, glaucoma, and congestive heart failure, and some of the medication he was taking had caused massive complications. He had developed something called sepsis, which is defined as "a severe illness caused by overwhelming infection of the bloodstream by toxin-producing bacteria."
A person afflicted by sepsis can easily die, and things had degenerated to the point where his doctor was calling the family in, and a priest was on standby to administer the last rites.
The family was in a panic, and I had to jump on a plane from Florida to Indiana. As I got ready to make that trek, I knew I wasn't going to be able to keep up with the daily linking of boxing stories I was doing as part of my "Fight Page" at TotalAction.com, which had become quite popular. Since I didn't want to disappoint my regular visitors, I felt I had to offer an explanation. I didn't want to get personal, but "technical difficulties" would have strained credulity; after all, if there were technical difficulties, how was I going to be able to put a message up there, you know what I mean?
So I just told them the truth:
"Those of you who visit us on a regular basis at THE FIGHT PAGE have grown accustomed to timely updates and comprehensive material on a daily basis. And we indeed appreciate your visits.
However, over the course of the next week, I am afraid that our ability to keep the site fresh on a regular basis may be compromised to some extent.
At this moment, my brother is very ill; in fact, fighting for his life in the intensive care unit of an Indiana hospital. As his condition is literally day-to-day, and I will be going to his aid, I may not be able to keep my regular schedule regarding the updating of the Total Action site.
I don't mean this to inconvenience anyone, but I hope you can understand. In the meantime, we will continue to do whatever is possible under the circumstances, and hope to be functioning on a normal schedule again as soon as possible.
Please say a prayer if you can.
Charles Jay Editor/Publisher TotalAction.com"
I was not prepared for what happened afterward.
In the next hour or two, a few consolotary e-mails came in. After that, a few more. Then, as it turned out, a whole lot more. They just kept coming and coming and coming. By the time I got back from Indiana five days later, I discovered an outpouring, the likes of which I'd never seen before. There were about 250 messages in my e-mail box wishing my brother well. They came from all over the world - Italy, Germany, Denmark, France, Mexico, Britain, South Africa. They came from people I knew in the industry - promoters, matchmakers, fighters, managers, even direct competitors. Boxing writers. The famous and not-so-famous. Friends and fiends alike. Lots of fans. People I didn't know. People I hadn't heard from in years. People I had FEUDED WITH in the past. They sent letters. They sent encouragement. They sent their prayers. They sent hope.
In doing so, they also sent the very clear message that what I was doing meant something to them. I'll remember it as long as I live. I've never had the chance to thank everyone for that, but I'm doing it now.
My brother pulled through, just barely. There was, however, going to be a period of convalescence, which wound up lasting almost two years. He's got a wife and two kids in Indiana, and I also had a disabled mother there. They needed help, and so I packed up everything I owned and started a new chapter of my life in the Hoosier State.
Somehow in the transition from one locale to another, and in the process of switching service providers, I had lost track of each and every one of those e-mails. As a result, I never got to show them to my brother. He wasn't really in the kind of condition where he could sit and read, but I thought he should see them nonetheless. I thought he should know he wasn't alone in that intensive care unit. He never really had much use for boxing, but I wanted him to understand that my sport wasn't all about slugs and thugs.
He's a cardiologist, and probably won't be able to work again at his chosen profession. But these days my brother is up and around. He walks. He can drive a car. He eats up a storm and fancies himself something of an amateur photographer.
His doctors tell me his recovery has been nothing short of miraculous. And now, as my immediate family gets ready to sit down for its first Christmas dinner alone in many years, I'm going to try and dig those e-mails out of some deep, dark corner of my old hard drive and let my brother see them for the first time.
Because I want him to know about another family. A family he never even knew he had.