Muhammad Ali crossed so many paths, that in one way or another he touched all of us. Like former heavyweight champ and Ali foe George Foreman has often said, limiting Ali to a boxer is an insult. He's much bigger than that. Over the course of the last 40+ years, Ali has made us all think and debate many touchy topics.
He was a lightning rod on race and religion. He made us debate politics and war. He brought huge money into sports, not just boxing. Ali made athletes in all sports realize that they were the true stars. Ali realized that the people paid to see the athlete perform. Without Ali, there is no Sugar Ray Leonard, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, or Tiger Woods. And think about it, Ali was that huge before the media explosion had taken place before the ESPN SportsCenter era. Imagine if he was around today with talk radio, 24 hour cable news, and ESPN? It boggles the mind to think how big he'd be today.
Over the years many have tried to duplicate and copy the Ali persona, but they have all failed miserably. In Hollywood their is a saying that ask whether or not the entertainer has it. Nobody has really defined what it is, but it is for certain that Muhammad Ali had it! Whether you were black or white, man or women, there was just something about the guy that just drew you to him. Think about it, how many people in their lifetime can go from being the most hated, to being the most loved? I can't think of anyone else who that can be said about other than Muhammad Ali.
I remember in 1970, I was 10 years old and totally bitten by the boxing bug. I had been totally taken by this guy who I saw on the 6 o'clock news who was yelling at Sonny Liston by the name of Cassius Clay. From that moment on it was over for me. I have often asked myself over the years what came first, my love of boxing, or was it my fascination with Ali that drew me to boxing. I'm still not sure I know the answer?
Back to 1970. It was October and Ali was coming back to fight second ranked Jerry Quarry after a forced 43 month exile for refusing induction into the U.S. Army. At that time I was a huge Quarry fan, mainly because he was tough and could fight, and also because he was the best white heavyweight fighter around at the time. Being white, I must admit that I did want to see a white guy do good and possibly win the title. On the day of the fight I pleaded with my father to take me to see the closed circuit showing of Ali-Quarry. I remember thinking to myself, who should I root for? I kept telling myself that I should probably be rooting for Quarry, however I knew that if Quarry would've beat Ali, it would have devastated me. Where if Quarry lost, I could have lived with it, and on top of that, I expected Quarry to lose to Ali.
Needless to say, once Ali came into view my blood was pumping and I cheered for him louder than anyone in the arena. I lived and died with every punch and was ecstatic when Quarry couldn't come out for round four. That was probably the moment in my life that I realized Ali was colorless. It didn't matter what color or country the opponent was from, Ali was Ali and that was all that mattered
Over the years so much has been written about Ali. I am no where near the caliber writer to write about him and do him any real justice. This is strictly from the heart! That being said, there are many things about Ali the fighter that make him special. Forget about his speed and physical gifts, how about the intangibles? Oh, before I mention the intangibles, I must convey that in my opinion Muhammad Ali was a very overrated boxer, not fighter, but boxer. He broke every rule in the book, and never learned basics and fundamental defense. Yet he still dominated the best heavyweight era in boxing history, despite missing the best 43 months of his physical prime.
Back to Ali's intangibles and admirable traits. One thing that can never be taken from Ali is the fact that he fought everybody. From 1964 through 1977, there isn't one period that he hadn't fought and defeated at least 5 of the top 10 ranked heavyweights in the world. In most cases he fought 6 or 7, and in some instances he fought as many as 9 of them. When Liston, Frazier, and Foreman were thought to be unbeatable, Ali was the one who sought them out in order to make the fight.
After upsetting Liston in 1964, he made his first defense against Liston. He could have fought two or three easy touches to pad his record and bank account. Instead he fought the biggest and baddest fighter around. After splitting two very close fights with Ken Norton, a fighter who was always difficult for him, he defended his title against him. After winning the title back from George Foreman in 1974, he defends it against top contenders Lyle and Frazier in 1975. After beating Norton in their third fight in September of 1976, he was willing to give Foreman a rematch, however Foreman lost to Young in March of 1977. So Ali fights the next toughest and biggest hitter around in September of 1977, Earnie Shavers.
Throughout his entire career, Ali fought everybody, and gave many of them rematches. His heart and will to win are equal to or better than any fighter in history. Ali sometimes looked ordinary against second tier opposition, but he was brilliant against the best of the best. Nobody sucked it up in the big spot like Muhammad Ali. Like him or not, that can never be denied. Without question Ali fought and defeated the overall best grade of fighter during his career. More so than any other heavyweight in history. The bottom line is that Ali the fighter had more ways and weapons to beat great fighters than any other heavyweight in history. He ate up the big punchers, frustrated and muscled the boxers and counter punchers, and always had an extra gear late in a tough fight to break his opponents will. He also had a cast iron chin and an indomitable will to win.
All that being said, I left out Ali's greatest attributes. He was a truly a great man. Oh some may say he was too mean with his tongue vs Frazier, and he humiliated Patterson and Terrell. However, even Ali was not perfect. He recognized those short comings and made amends for them. Which is the true mark of a big man, admitting you were wrong, and not gloating when your right. Anyone who is truly a student of Ali knows that the man had time for everybody. Black or White, Rich or Poor, Big or Small. No athlete or entertainer has given more back to their fans than Muhammad Ali. He is the most accessible superstar in the world. He has never turned anyone down for a picture or an autograph. He understood that without the fans, he wouldn't have mattered at all. And to this day, he still knows it.
Ali also did something else that stands out. When he was at his physical prime and at the point of his career where his earning power was at its peak, he stood by his convictions. He gave up the biggest prize in sports for his Religious beliefs, something he still lives by 40 years later. In the biggest spot of his life he didn't falter a bit when challenged by the U.S. Government. Typical Muhammad Ali! Happy Birthday Champ! You Are The Greatest!!
The career of Muhammad Ali was too big to capsule, plus everyone knows it. This was just to honor and recognize his 62nd birthday. The writing is not my best, but it came from the heart. It was just my small way of honoring one of the most important people of the 20th century. I just skimmed over many things, mainly because mostly all know the Ali story. There is nothing new or more to add. Just one man's small acknowledgement and remembrance.
Gatti (36-6, 28 KOs), who fights out of New Jersey, has acquired a special knack for being the lead man in a string of appearances that have earned "fight of the year" honors. He's already been a participant in four and there are still a few good years left in his career.
He doesn't win the award alone. It takes two to make a fistfight. But he is the star attraction, the big name that draws crowds and keeps popping up at the top of the marquee. It's not coincidental that he was won it that many times.
Still, the guy who came up with the catchphrase describing Gatti as "the human highlight film," didn't do him any favors. That's a heavy load to shoulder. Expectations are always high. We want to see Gatti in a war, when all he wants is a simple win.
That's what he hopes to get Jan. 24 when he faces undefeated junior-welterweight contender Gianluca Branco of Italy (32-0-1, 15 KOs) for the WBC title at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. It would be Gatti's second world title.
"I'm looking forward to being world champion again," he said on a conference call Thursday, promoting the fight that will be televised on HBO. "I'm going to walk out of that ring with a world title no matter what it takes."
You don't argue with a guy's history or his heart. Besides, he got the blessings of the man who shared the ring with him in two of his "fight of the year," appearances.
"How's your golf game, Arturo?"
It was former contender and retired fighter Mickey Ward. The first person to ask Gatti a question, Ward faced Gatti three times in the ring. And those fights will always define both fighters.
"Hey, Mick," Gatti said. "I can't wait to see you at the fight."
"You know I'm behind you," Ward said.
Ward, who recently played a round of golf with Arturo in Florida for a feature in a golf magazine, jokingly asked Gatti how tough it was going to be to make 140 pounds.
"You fought me at 142," he said.
"I'm going to lose those last two pounds on Friday," Gatti said.
Ward is the reason Gatti is so confident against Branco. He said when you've fought the "greatest warrior out there (Ward)," you're ready for anything.
"I'm always prepared for the worst," he said. "After three fights with Mickey, that's how I feel. Hopefully, it won't be another war."
But if it is, it won't break a lot of hearts.
"When you're promoting Arturo Gatti, you just announce when he's fighting and where he's fighting," said Carl Moretti of Main Events. "And then you let the ball go."
Morretti said the only question fight fans ask is when is Arturo fighting.
"They'll call back later and ask 'who is he fighting,' after they've already bought their ticket."
His name is Gianluca Branco and he should expect a long night on the 24th.
An unnamed member of the FBI had told a reporter from the New York Daily News that they had some evidence that September's rematch between Shane Mosley and Oscar De La Hoya was rigged.
Sorry, but that's just a smokescreen to illicit bigger headlines on this 20-month investigation into the dealings of one of boxing's major promotional outfits. Oh, yes, there are fixed fights involved, but it has nothing to do with that particular fight.
Think about it, a 20-month investigation for a fight that took place about four months ago? It's an even more dubious claim when it was Mosley who won the fight, not Top Rank's fighter, De La Hoya. There was absolutely no upside for Top Rank or for the business of boxing in a Mosley victory. If this fight was rigged( which it wasn't), it sure was a poor job of execution I'd say.
In fact, Bob Arum, the CEO of Top Rank was so outraged by the outcome of that fight, not only did he promise to leave the sport, he and De La Hoya called for an investigation of the fight. Hey, be careful of what you wish for, I guess.
But the crux of this investigation and this raid really centers on the action of Arums employees and associates. From head matchmaker Bruce Trampler, Sean Gibbons, Cameron Dunkin, Pete Sousens and manager Bob Mittleman, all sorts of malfeasance has been uncovered. From fixed fights, altered medical records, funny bookkeeping, drug trafficking and bribing judges, what comes out of this probe will shock observers.
One of the major subjects of this investigation centers around a fight involving Joey Torres, who after more than two decades in prison for a murder he says he did not commit, made his pro debut under the Top Rank banner on April 27th, 2002, after being paroled.
Torres, was used by Arum's organization to sell tickets to their show which was taking place at the Anaheim Pond. His story of reclamation was something that was pushed hard by the Top Rank public relations staff, who was able to get Torres on various media outlets across the country.
Torres, was slated to fight an Oklahoman by the name of Perry Williams, who not-so-coincidentally, had Sean Gibbons in his corner. The fight itself was a farce. Williams after knocking down Torres in the opening seconds of the bout, would proceed to not throw another meaningful punch the rest of the fight until he flat out laid down in the second round.
Yes, a guy that was there to throw a fight, had nearly scored a knockout. And up to that point, I thought I had seen it all. But the crowd recognized the sham that had taken place and booed lustily. Eventually, Torres would call it a career and work his way into the Top Rank circles.
How you may ask? Well, somehow, while behind bars, Torres had struck up a friendship with professional athletes like Paul Molitor and Eric Davis. Trampler, a known baseball aficionado, was drawn to Torres and the contacts he had. Pretty soon, Torres has brought his cousin 'Big Franky' from New York inside the inner realm of Top Rank. Hearing stuff nobody else heard, knowing about things that nobody else had knowledge off.
It turns out that they were both working for the feds undercover. And from that time in May of 2002, to now, they had wires, video surveillance and other incriminating evidence against Top Rank. This truly was boxing's version of Donny Brasco.
I've been told that more than 20 indictments will be forthcoming and you know some of these characters involved will be chirping at the first sign of heat. And there are already stories coming out from the likes of Mitchell Rose that he was offered a bribe to take a dive against Butterbean in 1995. For all intents and purposes, it could be the end of Top Rank boxing. Even if this company does survive this storm, what credibility could it possibly have?
And of course, some in the media have trotted out that tired old line of this being another 'black eye' for the sport of boxing.
Perhaps, but it's certainly not the end of it. To the contrary, this could the seminal moment in time when real changes and reform takes place. People in the sport always give lip service about wanting to clean up this business- but the reality is that they don't because that would mean they themselves would have to comply with changes that might not suit them- but now this could be the impetus where the sport takes a real step to right it's wrongs.
If this game is truly serious about changing it's protocol and it's image, this is the perfect place to start. Arum, despite his own checkered history had time and time again painted himself as the victim to the evil and corrupt Don King. Well, it turns out that his own organization was probably just as corrupt and deceitful as he made King's organization to be.
You could just hear King bellowing," LIGHTS ARE OUT IN ARUMVILLE!!!" And what will be interesting is how the media- how has largely given Arum a free pass despite his own unsavory past, while persecuting King at any cost- will cover the upcoming events. It simply hasn't been convenient to call out Arum, while focusing largely on King as the symbol for what ills boxing.
But now this is a pivotal time for the game. This is a perfect time and place for true change and for this game to be taken seriously once again by the general populace. If the status quo exists after what has happened and what will soon become public, then maybe, just maybe, the game doesn't deserve to be taken seriously, then.
This could be the end of Top Rank. And a new beginning for boxing.
If we are discussing the fastest route home, her new hairstyle, or whether a dress "makes her look fat" or not, I simply can't win when it comes to the lady. When it comes to a boxing pound-for-pound list she can argue, but I can't be wrong. Am I? 1. Floyd Mayweather - An undefeated fighter is a nice place to start with a pound-for-pound list, right honey? Okay, so we already agree on something. Mayweather has fought, and beat, the best fighters that were available to be put in front of him. This is a minimum requirement for a P4P champion. There isn't a fighter who you could say Floyd has ducked, and defeating the likes of Diego Corrales, Jesus Chavez, and many others in the way has dominated them is testament to how skilled he is. With age, power and speed on his side it seems that only troublesome hands can keep Mayweather from being a mainstay at the top of our list. Bernard Hopkins - Hopkins seems to be like fine wine, very unlike my lady-friend, in that he keeps getting better with age. Physically he is an incredible specimen and is nothing but business inside the ring, and nothing if not outspoken outside of it. Some people let their bodies deteriorate as the calendar changes - no honey, this is not about you - while others find ways to eat themselves into the next division - yes James Toney, that is about you. 'The Executioner' delivered a pure beating on Felix Trinidad, and the way he dominated Antwun Echols with just his jab for nearly an entire round (after hurting his right) in their rematch was the sweet science at its sweetest. Erik Morales - 'El Terrible' is another fighter who has really delivered a whoopin' on some fighters much like my Momma did to me. You know . . . the kind you remember for a long, long time. I still wince sometimes when I sit down and while my lady thinks the mark on my butt is a cute birth mark, well, all I can say is that I must've been born with a wooden spoon on my fanny. As far as Morales is concerned, you could argue that his decision loss to Marco Antonio Barrera could have, or even should have, been a decision win. Other than that blemish Morales is an undefeated boxer with a 75% KO percentage, and he hasn't slowed down as he has stepped up his opposition. Roy Jones Jr. - Jones is deservedly on everybody's pound-for-pound chart, but not many have him this low. Moving up in weight to beat heavyweight John Ruiz was not as impressive as one might think and coming back to squeeze out a decision over Antonio Tarver leaves some ammo for his detractors. Jones has suffered from a lack of top-notch opposition which isn't his fault, but the way he sometimes carried opponents leaves a sour taste for some people. If he hadn't recorded a rap CD we may have Jones rated a bit higher, but he did . . . and he's not. Kostya Tszyu - "The Thunder from Down Under" makes this list because of a moniker like that, and the kid has some skills too. Coming up Tszyu was thought of as a big banger and not much else but his stellar amateur background and recent display of boxing ability show the Russian-born Aussie is definitely one of the pound-for-pound best. While his 'Russtralian' accent is often near impossible to understand he leaves little doubt when he gets in the ring and let's his fists do the talking. Now if we could only get someone to cut off his Samsonesque ponytail we may have reason to move him up the list. Note: Knish has now used ballet and bible references in boxing articles, a literary first! (The Samson reference being from the 'Samson and Delilah' stories in the bible, of course, but you knew that). Manny Pacquiao - The PacMan simply walked through Marco Antonio Barrera, and it says here would do so again should the two meet again. Pacquiao carries sleep drops in both hands and that, couple with his shaky chin, means he will never be in a bad fight. Unlike Ricardo Mayorga who landed on the boxing scene with a bad attitude, poor habits, good punch and not much else - Manny has devastating power, a good trainer, and can box. Mounting problems with local tax authorities suggests we will get to see more and more of the Philippine slugger. Oscar De La Hoya - Based on market power and his overall attraction to even the slightest boxing fan Oscar has to be on the list. The three losses that stain his resume were all of the "controversial" type. Every fight he is in is a 'mega fight' and the level of opposition has been very, very good. Not much more needs to be said, he's Oscar De La Hoya damn it! Juan Manuel Marquez - Another fighter who you could say has never lost a fight. My wallet and his record each took a hit when Marquez was jobbed of a decision versus Freddy Norwood and the previous loss was a DQ in his first professional appearance. The only knock you might make against him is that he doesn't have star-studded list of opponents. Problem is that with 33 whacks in 42 wins not many bigger names wanna tangle with him and those that do run like Gainer did. Shane Mosley - Okay, so to be the man you have to beat the man and using that analogy Mosley should be ahead of Oscar. Well, he isn't. Shane has incredible speed and strength but he struggled mightily with Vernon Forrest twice and Forrest lost to Mayorga, also twice. If we played 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon' we would therefore have to make a case for Forrest being on the list and he lost to Mayorga. That means putting Mayorga up here too and a fighter who lost to the waiter at my favorite pizza joint (Humberto Aranda) just isn't going to happen. Wayne Braithwaite - We may have saved the best for last. Wayne Braithwaite is a monster, period. The "Big Truck" has rolled over all 20 opponents he has faced and 17 of them were sent to Queer Street, most of them all the way to the last house on the block. While most opponents have bowed out early, Vincenzo Cantatore lasted until the 10th round when he made the mistake of turning to the ref, seemingly to complain about how hard and often Braithwaite was hitting him. Braithwaite showed what he was made of and clocked the defenseless Italian until the ref stepped in and did what Cantatore wanted, stop the fight. It says here that Braithwaite would beat Toney at 190.
Toney is the guy who would have sold you snake oil from the back of a covered wagon 150 years ago, convincing you his magical elixir cured baldness, head colds and the heavy guilt associated with infidelity.
A former middleweight champion, Toney (67-4-2, 43 KOs) is a big talker who now goes to bed dreaming of someday becoming the heavyweight champion of the world. It's a logical step up for a man who loves to eat and talk trash, and Toney is experienced and gifted in both areas.
Someone who doesn't understand the concept of pulling a punch, he always comes at you armed and dangerous, beating you silly with verbal jabs if you leave yourself open.
When he fights Jameel "Big Time" McCline (30-3-3, 18 KOs) on Feb. 7 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, we'll find out if this crazy dream of his really has a chance of some day becoming a reality. At 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds, McCline fits comfortably in the division and will offer the final proof of whether Toney is a legitimate heavyweight contender or just a guy who moved up in weight class because he likes his pasta spicy and in large portions.
Toney's recent win over Evander Holyfield didn't tell us much about how he'll fit in with the rest of the heavyweights. Long overdue to be put out to pasture, Holyfield is to the heavyweight division what Anna Nicole Smith is to Playboy magazine. They both looked great in their time, but they're not much fun to watch anymore.
Despite giving up about 40 pounds and eight inches in height, Toney doesn't appear to be intimidated by McCline. Of course, an Army of attacking Huns would have a hard time intimidating Toney.
"I never thought about fighting this guy," he said this week at a press conference at Mandalay Bay attended by both fighters. "He is not on my level."
C'mon, James. Narrow it down for us. Who is?
Toney also said he was going to hit McCline so hard to the body that he'd do the Heisman Trophy pose.
"He's going to do a Heisman right up there in the ring," Toney said. "I'm going to hit him so hard he's going to ..."
It wasn't a pretty image.
But that's just James Toney taking over, putting on a show and selling tickets, taking some shots at McCline four weeks before they really count. But maybe it gives him an edge he needs.
As for McCline, he said he feels like a "kid in a candy store." It's not an original line, but McCline knows he can't beat Toney in a battle of words. It's foolish to try.
"This is part of who James is," McCline said. "I won't let it bother me. Talk is cheap."
The positive aspect about the heavyweight division dominating the other weight divisions, is that it takes the spotlight off of them when they are bad. Which has been the case over the last 10-12 years. The dearth of outstanding fighters in the middleweight and light heavyweight divisions has not been a focal point. But the fact is these two glamor divisions are very bad at this time.
Today's boxing landscaped is stacked with quality fighters from featherweight to junior middleweight. From 126 to 154, boxing is littered with some outstanding fighters and a few greats. However, if you take a close look at the middleweight and light heavyweight divisions, the same cannot be said. The middleweight and light heavyweight divisions feature two all-time great champions in Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones, but that's it.
I have often heard it said that these two divisions look so inept because Jones and Hopkins are so terrific. There may be something to that, but I don't buy it totally. Granted, Jones and Hopkins are both great fighters, but other past great light heavyweight and middleweight champions have dominated in much deeper eras. Michael Spinks and Marvin Hagler to name two.
Today when there is a light heavyweight fight that features two of the top contenders, it's actually hard on the eyes. In his title winning effort prior to fighting Roy Jones, top contender Antonio Tarver decisioned former title holder Montell Griffin. This fight typifies the so so standard of boxing that has become the norm for fights in the light heavyweight division not involving Jones. In the Tarver-Griffin bout, Tarver did nothing but lunge forward throwing nothing but one-twos, in hopes of ending the fight with one punch. Griffin did nothing but lay back and try to counter Tarver with big overhand rights, again, in hopes of ending the bout with one punch. Griffin, actually fought as if he didn't find out that Tarver had the much greater height and reach advantage until standing at ring center listening to the referees instructions. Neither Tarver or Griffin did anything in this bout to distinguish themselves as anything more than two main event fighters.
The scenario in the middleweight division is the same as it is in the light heavyweight division. When there is a fight between two of the top contenders, the two fighters look nothing more than ordinary. In his last major fight before fighting undisputed middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins, former champ William Joppy decisioned undefeated contender Howard Eastman. This fight was nothing more than a fight and was just as hard on the eyes as the Tarver-Griffin fight. Again, neither fighter did anything to stand out, and most likely all that saw it had forgotten it by the next day?
The fact of the matter is the light heavyweight and middleweight divisions today are dreadful. If you really think about it, they are only one fighter deep. The light heavyweight division's outlook really looks bleak. Most fans and writers today look upon Ring Magazine's rankings as the best and most legitimate. As of this writing, Ring Magazine's top 5 ranked light heavyweights after Roy Jones are, 1-Antonio Tarver, 2-Julio Gonzalez, 3-Dariusz Michalczewski, 4-Glencoffe Johnson, and 5-Eric Harding.
The best of those five is Tarver. However, at age 35 Tarver's best days are probably behind him. And there have been some rumblings that he's going to challenge Chris Byrd sometime in 2004. Forget about Michalczewski and Johnson. Michalczewski is 35 and shot, and never was that spectacular. Johnson is 34 and has shown at best, he's a good fighter. Gonzalez, at 27 is probably the brightest star in the light heavyweight division. He has been in with the best, and outside of Jones has held more than his own with them. But after Gonzalez, who is there? That's been the problem with the light heavyweight's since the mid to late eighties.
In the middleweight division, the theme is repeated. Ring's top 5 ranked middleweights behind Hopkins are, 1-William Joppy, 2-Howard Eastman, 3-Robert Allen, 4-Rodney Jones, and 5-Sergey Tatevosyan. Of those five, who is the fighter that can carry the interest in the division after Hopkins? Joppy is 33 and is probably going to retire after being taken apart by Hopkins in his last fight. Howard Eastman is 32 going on 33, and he has nothing for Hopkins. And even without Hopkins in the division, Eastman is nothing close to being a special fighter, let alone outstanding or great? Third behind Hopkins is Robert Allen. Allen has already lost to Hopkins twice, and at 34, where's he going? Rodney Jones is a former junior middleweight who figured he could advance better fighting in the no-name middleweight division. On top of that, he couldn't get past Harry Simon? Sergey Tatevosyan has beaten nobody, and lost to the best fighter he fought.
That leaves number 6, Jermaine Taylor. Unlike the light heavyweight division which shows no signs of life after Roy Jones, the middleweight division does have life after Bernard Hopkins. He is Jermaine Taylor. Taylor is 18-0 and has shown all the things you could ask for in an up and coming prospect. As long as Taylor is not matched with Hopkins any time soon, the middleweight division could be his. The problem is other than Taylor, who is there?
For any division to garner the publics attention, there must be some compelling match-ups that can be made. With only one outstanding fighter in the division, it's impossible to have a Super-Fight. Today's light heavyweight and middleweight divisions are in bad shape. After Jones and Hopkins, there is no reason to watch or care about them with maybe the exception of Taylor. Even at that, who can Taylor fight down the road which could create fan Interest? Maybe fellow former Olympian Jeff Lacy, but Lacy will probably end up fighting at 175. And if Lacy goes to 175, he'll face the same dilemma Taylor will be facing at 160? Not enough challengers to capture the interest of the boxing public?
'Popo' has now won world titles at 130 and 135 pounds and has a sparkling record of 35-0. So he has to be one of the games best fighters pound-for-pound, right? Well, in a word, nowayinhell.( Yeah, that's one word to me). In watching him defeat Grigorian you came away unimpressed by either his skill or his once vaunted power.
Yeah, you could argue that he beat a guy who held a major world title for over seven years and had made 17 successful title defense of that crown. But here in lies the rub, have you seen who this guy was beating in the safe cocoon of Germany under his promotional outfit Universum, that basically controls the WBO?
In his title run, Grigorian had to stave off the likes of Marty Jakubowski, Raul Balbi, David Armstrong, Marco Rudolph, Giorgio Campanella, Oscar Cano, Michael Clark, Sandro Casamonica, Zoltan Kalocsai, Antonio Pitalua, Angel Perez, Aldo Rios, Rocky Martinez, Stefano Zoff and Matt Zegan.
Off those names, only Balbi, Clark and maybe Rios could be considered solid guys. Fighters like Campanella and Martinez are recognizable to boxing fans in the states because they have lost to more recognizable names in the past on network TV.
Like many other WBO champions of the past, Grigorian was with a promoter that was very influential to that sanctioning body( like the above mentioned Universum) and fought in the safe harbor of his home turf for the most part. In other words he was just a smaller, lesser known version of guys like Dariusz Michalczewski, the Klitschko brothers and to a certain extent Joe Calzaghe.
And did we mention that Grigorian is now 36? Nope, it wasn't exactly Roberto Duran or Ike Williams that Freitas was downing to capture his newest trinket. Which continues a trend for Freitas, since beating Joel Casamayor in January of 2002 in a close decision, Freitas has taken an extended victory laps of sorts by taking on the likes of Daniel Attah, Juan Carlos Ramirez and Jorge Barrios in his last three bouts at 130 pounds before beating Grigorian for his latest world title.
Which brings us to a larger issue that has become more and more prevalent in the sport in recent decades. Since the advent of multiple sanctioning bodies and their championships, it's become much easier for lesser talented fighters to call themselves 'champions'. Think about it, back in the era of one undisputed champion, you either had to beat guys like Joe Louis or Sugar Ray Robinson to become the champion, or you were just another contender. Now, with four major organizations( WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO), you can basically cherry pick a title and milk it.
Seriously, how much credit can you give Roy Jones for beating John Ruiz, no matter what the difference in size. But in todays day and age, that win allowed Jones to be called a 'heavyweight champion.' Hell, if you think about it, in todays watered down era of multiple titles, it allowed a mediocre talent like Ruiz to be called a heavyweight champion in the first place. Guys like Ernie Shavers, Jerry Quarry and Ron Lyle, it seems, were born about a quarter of a century too early.
And remember all those heavyweight 'champions' of the 1980's not named Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson? I know you do, so they wont be mentioned here.
So how in the world does this all relate to Freitas? It's simple, if you look at the lightweight division it's clear that Floyd Mayweather is by far and away the best at 135 pounds. For all intents and purposes he is THE champion. But his status as a lightweight is unclear as he might be moving up and vacating his WBC belt. Fine, so there was no way Freitas could fight him even if he wanted to. But just below him are two very tough guys in Jose Luis Castillo and Juan Lazcano-who will be fighting for his belt if Mayweather does indeed vacate the crown. Lazcano just beat the always game Stevie Johnston for the right to box for the vacant belt. Castillo, lost two relatively close fights to Mayweather to earn his ranking, in addition to downing Johnston twice.
Leonard Dorin, will be moving up in weight soon to face Arturo Gatti, but had a grueling bout with then-IBF champion Paul Spadafora last year that was a draw. Javier Jauregui just stopped the dangerous Leavander Johnson for the IBF belt that was vacated by Spadafora. And on top of all them is Mayweather, who more than any other blue-chip prizefighter, had knocked off one top rated and respected challenger after another the past few years.
So in other words, all the best lightweights had been knocking heads and knocking each other for the right to call themselves the best lightweight in the world. What a novel concept.
All of them, save for one notable exception, Arturo Grigorian, who we talked about earlier. So when Freitas, who'd been ducking a rematch with Casamayor and every other credible 130 pound fighter for the past year decided to make his move up and fight for a title, guess who he goes after?
Hey, Ray Charles could see this coming from a mile away. He chose Grigorian, he beats Grigorian and now, tada, he's a champion. And you can bet that a familiar pattern will be taking place- for both Freitas and the WBO- easy title defenses, one after another. After all, doesn't it seem like every other threat at 135 pounds is fighting for other title belts? And isn't that the way Grigorian held his belt for so long?
Having multiple title belts, some argue( and maybe rightfully so) creates opportunities for more fighters to make money and get fights. True, but on the flip side, when this process is abused so much, like it was by Grigorian and Freitas at 130 pounds in his last three title defenses, it has the same effect on boxing as expansion has had on other sports like baseball and basketball- it hurst the overall quality of the game. Like the fourth or fifth starter on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who gets shelled in every start, has no business of being in the major leagues and wouldn't have been 30 years ago. There are plenty of guys with titles that wouldn't have in a by-gone era.
And in todays landscape, where boxing is being squeezed by the networks one way or another, it's imperative that the best fighters of this era fight each other on a regular basis. The bottom line is that Showtime has been waisting plenty of money and the viewers time by showing Freitas' last several bouts. They would have been better served by showing a combination of bouts featuring the above-mentioned lightweights. Those were real fights, not showcases.
But now with Freitas picking up another WBO belt, it seems that he'll be sequestered away from the other world class lightweights. This isn't to castigate all the fighters who currently hold or have held WBO titles in the past, guys like Marco Antonio Barrera and Naseem Hamed have taken on all comers in their divisions.
But they proved that a champion makes the belt, not the other way around. Unless Freitas goes about challenging those other lightweights, he's just another guy with a belt around his waist.