This is one of my favorites, if only that it was the night that finally convinced me that if there was any more combat in my future, I sure as hell would not want Lennox Lewis on one of my flanks. For his inauguration, President George W Bush is having nine balls; if Lewis had been elected president, he still would have none. Also, it was a few nights before the fight that my buddy, Fast Eddie Schuyler, elected to order a martini in a Welsh restaurant. “Are you nuts,” asked Ken Jones of the Independent (London). Jones is a patriotic as any Welshman, but he knows where to draw the line. “Nobody in Wales knows how to make a martini.” Undaunted, Schuyler, a beer and Jack Daniels drinker, told the waitress he wanted his straight up, no ice, two olives. After a long wait, she returned with God only knows what in a tall water glass. Schuyler took a tentative sip of the evil-looking concoction and then spit it on the floor. “God, I’ve been poisoned,” he shouted.
Cardiff, Wales, October 1993 - Settled in among the other 20,000 fans in the Cardiff (Wales) Arms Park arena last Saturday morning was Tommy Virgets, the trainer of Tommy Morrison, the muscular American heavyweight who will get the next shot at Britain's Lennox Lewis. Virgets was there in the cold damp night air to see Lewis defend his WBC heavyweight championship against Frank Bruno, another in a lengthy chain of lumbering British giants with Wedgwood china chins. When the last cannon had been fired, and after referee Mickey Vann had taken Bruno into protective custody to prevent more serious damage in the seventh round, Virgets found it hard to believe that Lewis, while remaining undefeated, could be so limited in skills.
"I came over here wondering if Tommy was ready for Lewis," said Virgets. "Now I wonder if Lewis is ready for Morrison. If this doesn't motivate Tommy to keep away from the booze and women for the next six months, nothing will."
Ten hours after the fight it was announced that Morrison and Lewis would meet March 5 at the new MGM Grand in Las Vegas, which could put a serious dent in the plan to have the British boxer go against Riddick Bowe, the heavyweight champion, in a unification fight late next year. "Lewis is made for Tommy," said Virgets. "Tommy loves a war and Lewis obviously doesn't. He retreats under the slightest pressure. If anything, he has gone backward, back to fighting like an amateur."
Before Lewis, Morrison has another fight scheduled, against young Michael Bent Oct. 29 in Tulsa, a match up that should put a dent in nothing but Bent's undefeated record. Bent is a skilled boxer, but is short of power and has a delicate chin. While no doubt now wondering if he has delayed too long to put Lewis on his dance card, Bowe will defend his title against ex champion Evander Holyfield in their rematch Nov. 14 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. He has another defense scheduled against Michael Moorer in April.
"People want to see Bowe fight Lewis," Seth Abraham, HBO's chief executive for sports programming, said late Saturday morning, "but if they fool around and delay it much longer, nobody will care. The public has begun to lose interest already." No matter what happens, Abraham hopes to force the winner of Morrison Lewis to fight the winner of Bowe Moorer to unify the title next October or November. "Enough is enough," he said. "I don't want any more interim fights."
Seven rounds of two British heavyweights fighting for anything on a cold and damp Welsh early morning is more than enough. Not in this century, or any other, have two Brits fought for a heavyweight title, and now we know why. Somewhere Tommy Farr, the great Welsh heavyweight who gave Joe Louis all he could handle for 15 hard rounds, is trying not to weep.
"I have nothing against Bruno," on Friday said Wale's Lord Brooks, the senior steward of the British Boxing Board of Control, "but for the credibility of British boxing, I have to hope that Lewis hits him on the chin in the first round."
A magnificently built man without a suggestion of malice outside of the ring, which has made him greatly adored by the British public, Bruno's record of 36 victories in 39 fights was vastly misleading. Most of the men he hammered to the floor could not have survived two minutes in a Philadelphia gym. When he moved up in class against Americans, Bruno's carefully woven reputation came unraveled.
Bonecrusher Smith, then a fighter of no reputation with a bleak future, lost most of nine rounds to Bruno. Bonecrusher knocked out the big slow muscular Brit in the tenth. It took Tim Witherspoon 11 rounds to find that porcelain chin when the pair fought for World Boxing Association title. Mike Tyson needed only five rounds to end Bruno's challenge for the undisputed crown. Alas, one good shot on that fragile jaw leaves Bruno with the survival capability of an ant in the middle of a Mummer's parade.
At a luncheon in Cardiff the day before the fight, the British Boxing Board of Control auctioned off a pair of boxing gloves signed by Lewis and Bruno for the benefit of young Welsh athletes. (Because Bruno had been asked to sign the gloves first, Lewis at first refused, but later relented.) The enterprising Welsh auctioneer, a desperate when the bidding stalled at $2,400, offered to erase Bruno's name.
"Stop that," said Lord Brooks, trying not to laugh.
Bruno's reputation as a fighter took another dip when he retired briefly four years ago to concentrate on a stage career in pantomime. In the tradition of pantomime, men play the women's roles; the women play the male parts. One of the 6'3" 238 pounder's more vivid roles was Juliet, which makes you understand why Romeo, after seeing Bruno in a pink dress, killed himself.
Lewis, a 4-1 favorite, was under pressure to end it quickly and violently. His credentials as a champion were shaky at best in Britain, non-existent in the rest of the world. Born in England of Jamaican parents, in 1988 he had won an Olympic title while fighting as an amateur in Canada. Ignored by the major American boxing players, he had returned to England to fight as a professional; many Brits still look upon him as a Jamaican by blood, Canadian at heart, and only British for financial considerations.
"Bruno worked very hard at being popular," said Lewis, who denied a charge by Bruno that he had called his rival for British affections an Uncle Tom. "He did a lot of things I wouldn't do. I certainly wouldn't wear a dress."
Lewis had taken the title as a gift, after Bowe had tossed it aside, and while he won his first defense, a boring 12 round affair with Tony Tucker last August, he had displayed few championship qualities. Against Bruno, until he found that tortured chin with a left hook early in the seventh round,, he displayed even less.
"He pushes his jab," said Viruets. "He doesn't throw combinations. He doesn't attack. When he did get aggressive, Bruno came right back at him and he immediately backed off. He just doesn't want to get hit."
Bruno came in wearing large plastic bags over his shoes, with The Real Brit stitched across the rear of his boxing trunks, and to the tune of Land of Hope and Glory, an English patriotic song that excludes the Scots, Irish and Welsh. Lewis was more considerate of his surroundings; he entered to reggae music under both the British Union Jack and the Welsh Red Dragon flags.
The decidedly anti-English crowd was unmoved by the challenger's gaffe and the champion's gesture. The cry went up for the challenger: Bruno, Bruno, Bruno deep and drawn out. Only the Welsh national anthem Land Of My Fathers was sung. Lord Brooks wisely had ordered that the British anthem not be played. "The crowd will only boo," he said. "It would not be fitting."
With everyone casting an anxious eye at the sky, the start of the fight was delayed when the ring physician failed to arrive, among his duties was to bring coagulants for each corner's cutman. A suggestion from the press row that they use model airplane glue went unheeded. After the physician arrived, there was a further delay when he had trouble prying the tops off the tiny bottles.
Finally, under a black but arid sky, the fight began. In the early rounds, Bruno built a comfortable lead with a hard and accurate jab, which if the rain had fallen as feared, could have turned the outdoor fight into an even greater farce. It had showered hard and often, always with swirling winds, in the small Welsh capital most of the week, and the prediction for more of the same during the outdoor fight was 40 per cent.
If it was raining at the scheduled 1 a.m. start, the promoters had provided for a 24 hour postponement. The ungodly late start was so that HBO could telecast the fight live back to the United States, where the time in the Eastern portion of the country is five hours earlier.
The joker in the rules would appear only if the rain began falling after the fight had started. Left to the referee's judgment, if the fight was halted before three rounds had been completed, it would be ruled a technical draw. If Mickey Vann halted the fight after three rounds, the man leading on the scorecards would have been judged the winner.
If it had rained after the third round Saturday morning, Frank Bruno, the mute Juliet, would have been the WBC heavyweight champion of the world. After three rounds, he led on all three cards 29 28. In the eyes of many, although the judges disagreed, which seems to be the fashion in WBC judging circles these days, he was still well ahead after six.
While Bruno's crushing jab turned the left side of his face swollen and bloody, Lewis operated in retreat behind a pushing jab and an occasionally thrown overhand right, most of which followed a Western Union message announcing their departure. The few attacks Lewis made seemed spurred by anger, like a man goaded by a bully until he can take no more. When Bruno responded to the assaults with a barrage of his own, Lewis quickly backed off.
And what were the WBC judges watching? After six rounds, Adrain Morgan, a Welshman, had Bruno ahead 59 55, the same as Sports Illustrated. The two Americans, Jerry Roth and Tony Castellano, had it 57 57, which would have made it a majority draw, another WBC bad habit of late.
No matter. At that point, Bruno's chin got in the way of a Lewis left hook and the sound of glass breaking echoed throughout the lovely 99 year old rugby stadium. "I saw him pulling back to throw a right hand," said Lewis, "and I hit him with a perfect hook, which everybody said I didn't have."
The result was stunning. Once hit, Bruno—the almost world champion—stands stark still, as if suddenly beset by paralysis. Most fighters, at least the good ones, when hurt will grab their opponent in a bear hug, or quickly retreat, or fire back until their heads clear. Tommy Hearns once when stung hard by James Kinchen, snared both Kinchen and referee Mills Lane in a bear hug and refused to let go until his head cleared.
With his opponent suddenly little more than a heavy bag, Lewis turned vicious. Right hand after right hand slammed against the unmoving head. As Bruno began to sag under the savage barrage, Vann moved in, pushed Lewis away—and warned the champion for hitting with an open glove. "I knew I was giving Bruno a few extra moments to recover," said Vann later, "but a foul is a foul."
When Lewis was released from the penalty box, Bruno just stood there waiting, defenseless, his hands down, a motionless mime playing Marie Antoinette wondering why it never rains when you need it. After a few more needless punches, Vann stepped in again, this time to negotiate a lasting peace.
An hour later Bruno was on his way back to London, where it had rained all night.
Ramos, forty-four years old today, did manage to win the USBA Middleweight Championship - in a grueling twelve round decision victory over Philadelphia's Curtis Parker (this war was voted 1984 "fight of the year), and compiled a stellar professional record of 39 wins against 10 losses and 2 draws (25 knockouts). As an amateur Ramos amassed an unbelievable 189 victories (132 wins by knockout) with only 9 losses, also won an unprecedented four New York Golden Gloves Championships and was touted to win an Olympic gold medal - had President Carter not boycotted the 1980 games in Moscow.
While these achievements would make any person proud, they actually pale in comparison to the work that Alex "The Bronx Bomber" has been accomplishing outside the boxing ring.
Upon his retirement from boxing in 1995, Ramos - like so many boxers - encountered his hardest fight of all. The cheering stops, the phone doesn't ring, and all those so-called friends or "hangers-on" have moved on.
Without any "real-life" acquired skills, having to deal with unscrupulous managers, promoters, etc., as well as battling depression and the effects of pugilistic dementia (the medical term for "punch drunk"), the outside world can be a very rough, cold and scary place for the unprepared retired boxer.
Determined to make a difference Ramos founded the Retired Boxers Foundation, which was formally incorporated in 1998 as a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation. Helping hundreds of fighters annually the "RBF" has been able to secure medical services, housing, rehabilitation and emergency assistance for these former great athletes.
Restoring the pride and dignity to all ex-fighters who have lost hope; helping those who are suffering medically or financially; or just getting the word out to the young and current boxer that there are services available; keeps Ramos, Jacquie Richardson (the RBF Exective Director) and all the RBF volunteers very busy.
Still, too many of these fighters who have thrilled us over the years - whether on HBO or SHOWTIME fighting for a championship belt or at a local arena fighting a four rounder - face retirement without any kind of financial assistance or access to medical care. Unfortunately, some will become statistics in crime reports and listed among the homeless and indigent.
If you would like to help the Retired Boxers Foundation (all donations are 100% tax deductible) give Alex Ramos a call: (805) 583-5890. Wish him a happy birthday.
Happy Birthday Alex Ramos - a champion in and out of the ring!
Undefeated British hopeful - by way of Guyana - Adrian Dodson was crushed by Wright, who seemed with that December, 1997 win, to certify his top form as a world class fighter. Expectation follows upon diligent competence and by 1997 ‘Winky’ Wright was consistently making good on his quiet confidence. A ranging fighter with punctuating pop on his combination punching, a guy who was effective on the counter or working on the inside, Wright was versatile and confident. At least he tried his best to look and act confident.
When he was beaten on points by Harry Simon in August of 1998, surrendering his WBO jr. middleweight title in a controversial bout held in South Africa, Wright suddenly had to face up to more than his first career loss or even a title fight defeat. Even those who felt that Simon was ceremoniously gifted the decision and Wright had deserved the judges professional discretion, the result highlighted pre-fight criticism that maybe ‘Winky’ Wright didn’t have the mental toughness to go with all that ring talent. Aspersions were seemingly justified critiques, when Wright followed up the Simon fight, coming up short over the championship rounds against the division’s other young gun, Fernando Vargas, on December 4, 1999.
And yet from defeat is often sown the seeds of ultimate success. We now understand more fully how Vargas, caught later for steroid enhancement, might have managed to overcome Wright physically down the stretch. Was Wright simply a victim of unethical manipulation, branded unfairly as a fighter who didn’t have the intangibles, that crucial x-factor for taking championship rounds? If we factor in Wright’s subsequent performances, we may then see the transparency of our question. Wright, having endured the disappointment and stigma of having lost his first legitimate super fight to Vargas, reacted by moving past his failure, dispensing with rationalizations and founding the era of his final evolution.
Nine months after the Vargas loss, Wright simply outclassed a game Bronco McKart over 12 rounds, retooling his long range combination hitting and fine tuning his body punching from inside positions. At 29, Ronald Wright was more fit than ever, his rhythmical punching endurance becoming, for the first time in his career, a signature characteristic, to the point of a dominating advantage. He didn’t have to pretend to be the boss at 154, he knew he was. Fighters from Felix Trinidad to Oscar De La Hoya, who had bounded up from welterweight, strategically avoided fighting Wright. He’d become the ultimate big risk with medium reward fighter of his era. Pleasant, mild mannered in public, honestly differential to opponents he generally respected as fellow professionals, Wright had no biographical wrinkles. Being branded the rugged nice guy put a damper on his economic viability and none of the ‘big names’ could be convinced or embarrassed into taking up the challenge of ‘Winky’.
Wright had to content himself with beating former champions such as Keith Mullings and annexing ‘minor’ title claimants such as Robert Frazier, defending against no-names like Jason Papillion, Juan Carlos Candelo and even rehashing against McKart yet again in September of 2002. His patience tested year after year, legendary fighters moving off to middleweight, it seemed a fruitless strategy to camp out at 154, even with the IBF crown, acting the role of a champion remaining in the mix of elite fighters and ultimately trusting in the laws of averages as measured over time. For who was going to come calling?
Finally, the overflow from the Forrest, Mayorga, Mosley wars at welterweight sent the beaten and humbled ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley into Wright’s port of call. And his first vested, HBO certified rivalry-of-a-kind came to pass. What beating Mosley twice - once with authority and once almost despite himself - did for Ronald Wright was allow Team Wright and his promoter Gary Shaw and manager James Prince to sell the fiction of Wright as a fighter of market bearing relevance. He beat Mosley, thus he’s a legitimate boxing star, well worth 5 million for his services; that’s the current self-invested linear logic coming out as Team Wright and Felix Trinidad’s brain trust and Don King spar over just what to pay the ‘other fighter’ in this case that means Wright. What is ‘Winky’ Wright worth as a subcontracted fighter in relation t the overwhelming reality of such a promotion: namely that Felix Trinidad and his cross over demographic star power will supply almost all the voltage this fight can and will generate.
Fighters with belts have to try to appear imperial, no matter the status of their economic viability. The great Donald Curry, in 1985 when everyone thought of him as a superlative talent, couldn’t understand why he wasn’t being paid like a Roberto Duran or a Sugar Ray Leonard or a Thomas Hearns. Being the best in your division doesn’t mean you are a media star, he was told at ringside after stopping Colin Jones in Birmingham, England. You can substitute Winky Wright after the Mosley rematch for Mr. Curry, the general comparison holding sufficient currency.
Everyone in boxing knows who the star is in a fight between ‘Winky’ Wright and Felix Trinidad. The essential question will come down to how much Trinidad wants Wright as his next opponent, Wright and no one else but Wright. Is Wright the perfect pre-Hopkins opponent in terms of preparation logistics? Certainly he is. Thus, what leverage does that give Team Wright? More than one might, at first, suspect. The fact that Don King is fouling up a deal for the signing because he’s demanding, of Wright’s future ring services, his famous ‘options’ clause is just business in the age of King.
Ironically, Wright himself must now look to the middleweight division, if he hopes to maximize his late-career earning potential. At just under 5'11', most boxing analysts believe that Wright’s final departure from jr. middleweight up to middleweight will be a non-issue. And he must play out the bluff of his being a critical player in the upper echelons of the sport. Not that bluffing one’s position, for advantage, ever put Don King off his relentless course of action: exploiting domination. The contention of Winky Wright as a super-somebody in world boxing because of belts obtained and Shane Mosley overcome, that, Team Winky are trying to hold out as common sense necessity. Necessity here meaning the payment for his services being valued between 4 ½ to 5 million; the five million offered in 2004 reduced now to a post-Mosley ‘slap in the face’ 2½-plus million.
Not that this is passing state secrets, but surely it’s obvious that no one, outside of Florida, really believes Winky is worth anything more than what Team Trinidad, HBO and Don King happen to bottom-line him to be worth. Fighting Trinidad is, except for Oscar De La Hoya, all about Trinidad. That includes Bernard Hopkins, their mythical rematch still a burning hypothetical, suspended by a webbing of intermediary events and career decisions now being hotly debated, pointed and counter pointed in Cupey Alto, Philadelphia, New York City, Los Angeles and Miami.
Winky, the nice guy, comes in as a sub-contract-able item for Trinidad’s pleasure; being a nightmare of an opponent and holder of a ‘universal’ recognition as a world champion is beside the bottom line point.
To paraphrase Don King: Only in America and only in boxing.
Still, leverage is one thing, needing big fights to make big dollars and leave big footprints is also on the table now and forever more for Ronald Wright. 2005 will say a lot about Wright or end in December leaving us with little left to say about him, maybe for good.
For twenty years the film-maker Ken Burns has turned his Midas touch upon some certifiable American icons. It started with Brooklyn Bride in 1981 and it’s been a nonstop ride ever since. The Civil War, Baseball, JAZZ, Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain, Frank Lloyd Wright, Huey Long, Thomas Hart Benton, Lewis and Clark, The Shakers and The Statue of Liberty are just a few of the subjects that have inspired Ken Burns.
And now it’s Jack Johnson’s turn.
Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, beautifully written by Geoffrey C. Ward, gives Burns an opportunity to do what he does best: weave archival material, still photos and old time black and white footage into a vibrant patchwork quilt, and bathe it all in the era’s jazzy syncopations.
The life of Jack Johnson is the Great Man Theory of History in action and has been the subject of books, Broadway plays, films, operas, you name it. Jack Johnson: The Movie is coming to a theater near you. The Jack Johnson documentary is here now.
The new Ken Burns film provides commentary by Stanley Crouch, Gerald Early, James Earl Jones, Jack Newfield, George Plimpton, Randy Roberts, Jose Torres and Bert Sugar. The Unforgivable Blackness soundtrack is by Wynton Marsalis, ably seconded by the likes of Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton. Keith David narrates the film. Samuel L. Jackson provides the voice of Jack Johnson. The voices of Billy Bob Thorton, Ed Harris, Courtney B. Vance, Studs Terkel, Eli Wallach, Joe Morton, Kevin Conway and Amy Madigan add to the choir.
Ken Burns performs his magic and makes everything milkshake smooth. Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson doesn’t feel like history. It goes down like dessert.
According to Burns, “Johnson in many ways is an embodiment of the African-American struggle to be truly free in this country - economically, socially and politically. He absolutely refused to play by the rules set by the white establishment, or even those of the black community. In that sense, he fought for freedom not just as a black man, but as an individual.” Unforgivable Blackness is not geared for fight fans, let alone boxing historians. Its audience is inner city kids who don’t read, won’t read, can’t read, but who need to know about a proud fighting black man named Jack Johnson.
The President and CEO of PBS, Pat Mitchell, said this: “Once again Ken Burns has helped us look back into the history of our country to understand its promise and its failings. Here, in the remarkable story of the life of Jack Johnson, the brutality of boxing pales compared to the brutality of racism. Because of the strength of his character and the level of his skill, Johnson was literally able to fight back, setting an example for so many others. Unfortunately it is a story that has been largely lost. PBS is proud to present this film, and we hope that Jack Johnson and his accomplishment become a lesson for future generations of Americans.”
James Earl Jones, who played Jack Johnson in “The Great White Hope” on Broadway and in the film, said “(Johnson) wouldn’t let anybody define him. He was a self-defined man. And this issue of his being free . . . was very relevant.”
Ken Burns added: “Johnson’s story is more than the story of a tremendous athlete, or even one who broke the color line. It is the story of a man who forced America to confront its definition of freedom, and that is an issue with which we continue to struggle.”
Boxing thanks Ken Burns for his efforts on behalf of the champ and the sweet science. His Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson may not break new ground, it may not win boxing many new adherents, but it revives a major figure in the history of the fight game, who was also a major figure in the history of race relations. With an open heart, a great story and dazzling digitized footage, Ken Burns brings Jack Johnson to life, smartly, aesthetically, honestly.
David Tua is scheduled to face journeyman boxer Talmadge Griffis in Auckland on March 31 in his return to heavyweight boxing.
Though he has shed significant pounds recently, Tua has admitted his weight is currently still close to 265 lbs. as he plots his ring return in anticipation of one last charge at a heavyweight title.
The New Zealand Sunday Star-Times has reported that Tua recently put out feelers to a top US-based trainer, but was turned down. The former heavyweight title challenger has, as a result, had to rely on a local fitness conditioning coach and has been sparring against his brothers in the leadup to his return to the ring in late March.
"There is a lot of work left before I am back to what I was before, but the important thing for me now is to feel good on March 31 in whatever shape I can get myself into," said Tua. "I have been away for a long time and I'm ready."
Brower was never a world beater but he was good enough to be trained by Charley Goldman, who a decade before he started working with Brower had guided Rocky Marciano to the heavyweight championship of the world. At one point, Brower, whose nickname “The Jewish Bomber” garnered him no shortage of New York press, was undefeated in 15 fights, nine of which he won by knockout.
Even in the sport considered by many to be the most sordid of all, Brower was a breath of fresh air. He had graduated from the University of Connecticut with a degree in zoology. As the school’s social chairman he had hosted the Connecticut governor and the Miss Israel beauty pageant winner when they visited the campus. As enigmatic as the clean-cut, well-spoken Brower’s involvement in boxing was, he made no secret of the fact that once his sporting career was over he planned on embarking on more cerebral pursuits.
“The papers made a big deal over the fact that I was Jewish,” said Brower, now 64 and a Manhattan resident. “There was plenty of pressure just being a boxer, so I tried not to let it bother me. What I liked about going to the gym was that everybody was equal there.”
Although many of Brower’s fights took place in the New York area, including several at the old Madison Square Garden, he was not averse to taking fights on the road. He laced them up throughout New England and as far away as Miami, Detroit and Paris, France. He sparred regularly with the murderous punching future light heavyweight champion Bob Foster, earning ten dollars a round. He more than held his own against Foster, who often pleaded, “You gotta stop hitting me in the ribs.”
Brower’s biggest fight was against Tom McNeeley at the Boston Garden in February 1965. Four years earlier, McNeeley had unsuccessfully challenged Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight title, and 30 years later his son Peter would face Mike Tyson. McNeeley stopped Brower in the tenth round.
“At that point I think I lost a few fights in a row, so his manager figured he could put a name on his record by throwing him in with me,” said McNeeley. “He was tough and determined and really tried to win. But I had way too much experience for him. It was a matter of too much, too soon.”
“That was the worst fight of my career,” said Brower. “Mentally and emotionally I was under a lot of strain. Looking back, I could’ve handled things better. But nobody knows how to do that when they’re young.”
Retiring from the ring for good with a record of 26-6-2 (17 KOs), Brower moved to Los Angeles where he ran a lucrative tool company, selling and renting everything from engine hoists to hydraulic presses. After the breakup of his first marriage, which produced a daughter who is now a high school principal and with whom he has no contact, he and the woman who would become his second wife moved to Montana.
Like modern-day homesteaders they bought a house near Missoula and got a 100-year lease on their land. They bought a horse, Brower sold real estate, and things were wonderful even though Brower jokes, “I was the only white man on the reservation and one of the only Jews in the state.”
“Arnie is the most atypical Jewish guy you’ll ever meet,” said boxing historian Mike Silver, who as a teenager was a diehard fan. “He’s a walking contradiction, and he defies anybody’s perception of convention.”
After a bitter divorce from his second wife in 1990, Brower left the Big Sky country and moved back to New York. As anonymous as he was broke, but still blessed with good looks and the body and athleticism of a man 30 years younger, Brower found himself battling crippling depression as he floundered through the city’s labyrinthine social services system. He lived on the street when it was warm, and in shelters when it was cold.
Social services enrolled him in an automotive trade school, where he met some new friends who introduced him to crack cocaine. Now in his early fifties, Brower became an unlikely addict. “The friends that introduced me to it were black and the first few times I tried it, it had no effect,” he said. “They used to joke that the drug was only made for black people. But after two weeks I got high and it was an instant cure for my depression. I never felt happier in my life.”
As Brower soon learned, the highs were no less intense than the lows, which started to come with alarming frequency, especially when he couldn’t find the wherewithal to get himself a fix. Moreover, he found himself traveling to places he never could have imagined to feed his habit.
“Buying drugs is not like shopping at Woolworth’s,” he explained. “For a while it was hard convincing dealers I wasn’t a cop. I’ve been in cop (buying) lines in the ghetto, hellholes, places anyone in their right mind wouldn’t go. But I have an addictive personality. I always liked walking a tightrope, living on the edge. When I trained, I overtrained. When I worked, I overworked. When I got involved with crack, I went over the edge.”
What makes Brower’s story so inexplicable is the fact that he’s not slurring his words or walking on his heels. He is vigorous and alert and his body is still lithe and muscular. He downs several vitamins a day and works on keeping himself fit. At first glance no one would take him for an ex-pug or a senior citizen with a monkey on his back.
“I’ll beat this someday, I know I will,” Brower, who sometimes delivers flowers and liquor for local merchants in his Upper West Side neighborhood, says soulfully. “I always thought you had to be crazy to be in the ring. If you think surviving in the ring is tough, surviving in the ghetto is even tougher. It makes sparring with Bob Foster seem like kid stuff.”
"Quartey's jabs are unbelievable. I believe he'd become a world champion again," said McNeil after the fight.
Quartey was cautiously optimistic about his performance. He said that he needs at least a couple more tuneup bouts before he could consider opponents such as Felix Trinidad or middleweight king, Bernard Hopkins. A former welterweight, Quartey is targetting a move up in weight class as he charts the second phase of his boxing career.
I know, I know… stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
But talking to the Zab of today, one gets the sense that for the first time in a long time he now finally realizes that he is not living up to his full potential. He also realizes that, especially in today’s market, you only get so many chances before you are permanently written off in the public eye.
“The moment I even heard rumors about this fight happening, me and my pops (trainer Yoel Judah) hit the gym and prepared for war,” Zab told TheSweetScience.com during a recent exclusive interview. “Ever since my last fight (KO1 Wayne Martell – October 2, 2004), the only thing I wanted was a rematch with Cory Spinks. Nobody else wants to fight me, which is fine because the Spinks fight is the only one that matters to me, anyway. Now I can start off 2005 by getting revenge.”
Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that his latest – and perhaps last – shot at greatness comes in Spinks’ hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, with Missouri of course being known as the “Show Me State.” Many critics have insisted that it’s high time Zab shows them that he’s still worthy of the early hype that surrounded his career. More than just proving the critics wrong, Zab feels that he now has all the motivation he needs to live up to the early press clippings.
“They messed up big time by putting this one in his hometown. When they first asked me where I wanted the fight, I told them I didn’t care, so long as it wasn’t in Vegas. So when they chose St. Louis… that was all I needed to hear. I already knew going into the rematch that I have to knock him out just to win. With the fight in his backyard, now I know what I have to train for. An early night.”
Perhaps not as early as his last fight – a first round stoppage over cannon-fodder Wayne Martell last October in Madison Square Garden. But after dropping a heartbreaker to Spinks and then following it up with a closer-than-expected fight with Rafael Pineda, Judah is no longer interested in allowing his opponents to last the distance or fighting in Sin City anytime soon.
“What bothers me about the fight with Cory is that the eleventh round knockdown took the fight off of the table for the judges. I was winning the round, and simply got caught. No big deal. I got right back up and finished the round and took it to him at the end of the fight. But even putting him on his butt didn’t matter, because the judges had me way behind somehow. I didn’t think it was a fair decision. Nor was that crap the judges came up with a month later.”
The “month later” fight he refers to is the Pineda fight, which also took place in Las Vegas. Wanting to head into the summer on a winning note, Judah agreed to take on Pineda on very short notice. In fact, it came after he was willing to accept a short notice fight with WBA “regular” welterweight champion Jose Rivera, only to have Rivera to pull out because of the money being offered. Instead, Judah wound up with Pineda, and as the fight wore on, there was little motivation to go full throttle.
“I admit, one major flaw I have is that I get too comfortable in the ring at times. When I got a cat like Pineda, I know it won’t take much to beat him, so I get a little lazy and lose focus. My dad was there to let me know that I was slipping, at which point I responded by putting him on his butt. But I knew that fight was just to get me a win, and the Martell fight was for me to end the year with a knockout while waiting for this rematch to pan out. Knowing that Cory is in the other corner, there’s no excuse for me to not be focused for this one.”
Perhaps not, but many critics will quickly point out that his penchant for losing focus is not so easy to correct. After all, it has nearly plagued what was once considered a gleaming bright career, one that was jumpstarted by an incredible run in the amateurs, where he racked up numerous Golden Gloves titles en route to finishing with an eye-popping 110-5 career record in the non-pay ranks.
The suspicions started in his twenty-third pro fight. It was also his first world title fight, and his first appearance on Showtime Championship Boxing, having appeared on SET-PPV the year before. And despite cruising to a fourth round stoppage of Jan Bergman, he suffered the first knockdown of his career. It was a flash knockdown that came in the second, but he was able to bounce right back up and take care of business. It wasn’t good enough, though, as people suddenly questioned his chin, and mental makeup.
Two fights later, Judah was once again reacquainted with the canvas, when power puncher Terronn Millett dropped Brooklyn’s Finest in the first round of their August 2000 encounter. Millett had come to reclaim what he felt was stolen from him – the IBF junior welterweight title. Unfortunately for him, Zab got up and for the next three rounds proceeded to beat the truth into him – that the belt was his and was heading back to Brooklyn with him, stopping Millett in the fourth round of what was Judah’s first main event on Showtime.
Subsequent stoppages of Hector Quiroz and Reggie Green would feature moments of disinterest on the part of young Judah. So much so, that toward the latter stages of the Green fight, Hall-of-Fame referee Arthur Mercante, Sr. had to urge both fighters to mix it up, and for Judah to stop clowning. Zab heeded the words of wisdom and blasted out Green shortly thereafter, as if upon request. It seemed to carry over in his next fight, a third round stoppage over mandatory challenger Allan Vester. Of course, on the line in that fight was a potential undisputed showdown with then WBC and WBA champion Kostya Tszyu. The thought of becoming the division’s first ever undisputed champion was all the motivation Judah needed in order to take care of business as fast as he did. Ironically enough, it was Tszyu who struggled mightily in his fight; a closer-than-expected points win over then-undefeated but unknown mandatory Oktay Urkal.
As they say, a win is a win is a win, and a pair of wins on that June, 2001 Showtime telecast meant a November showdown was looming. Zab came fully prepared, giving Tszyu a boxing lesson in the opening round. Holding his own in the second round, Judah was out to prove that he was ready to take over. Then suddenly - it happened.
“Even now, I still can’t explain it. I knew I was in control, I knew I could beat him and take all those titles. Then, you slip up for a second and BAM!”
The BAM came courtesy of a big right hand from Tszyu that sent Judah crashing hard to the canvas. It would be the last punch landed in the fight, but not the last time that Zab would hit the canvas. Determined to prove that he wasn’t hurt, Judah got up immediately after he hit the deck. Unfortunately, his head was not aware that his legs were out of the office, as he stumbled across the ring in a sequence that to this day is still discussed – though mostly in mocking fashion – on boxing message boards throughout the cyber world. Despite having not yet reached eight in his count, referee Jay Nady viewed the dance-like action as cause enough to stop the contest.
Vehemently opposed to the stoppage, Judah then set his sights on the referee, who he nearly choked. Zab also threw a stool at Nady after the bout was stopped. His actions cost him $75,000, a six-month suspension, and, apparently, a rematch with Tszyu as well.
“To this day, it pisses me off that I never got that rematch against Kostya. Perhaps there’s still time – maybe he’ll either move up to ’47, or will finally come around and fight me should I ever decide to drop to 140. But until I can get that rematch, I will never be able to fully redeem myself in the eyes of the haters. It sucks.”
A few months after his “comeback” – a ten round points win over rugged Omar Weis – Zab decided that his career needed to go into a different direction. Facing yet another trip to the inactive list, Judah put his career on hold, and allowed his promotional contract to run out before signing with Don King. The nine-month layoff was well worth it, according to Judah.
“Having sat out for seven, eight months, I really wasn’t thrilled about having to go that same amount of time without fighting. But the moment me and my pops met with Don, we knew that was the move. And despite what everyone else got to say about him, he’s done right by me ever since I’ve been back in the ring. This will now be my sixth fight in less than three years, and the third time I’ll be fighting for a world title fight.”
The first came against WBO junior welterweight champion DeMarcus “Chop Chop” Corley, though it took for some creative marketing to make that fight happen. While in attendance at a post-fight press conference following undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins’ defense over Morrade Hakkar in Philly, Corley decided to introduce himself to Judah, letting him know that he heard rumors of Zab talking junk. Judah responded Brooklyn style, cracking one on his jaw, which set off a brief scuffle. Once order was restored, King was quoted as saying, “Well damn, looks like I’ll have to go ahead and make that fight happen for real.”
Living up to his word, King was able to get Judah both the bout and a slot as co-feature to the Ricardo Mayorga-Vernon Forrest rematch on HBO. Judah dropped Corley in the third round, but injured his hand two rounds later, and had to settle for a less-than-thrilling, albeit decisive points win.
Fully recovered, and now one quick knockout win later, Judah abandoned the junior welterweight division, having grown frustrated in being unable to secure a rematch with Tszyu, or a meaningful fight against any other top fighter in the weight. Upon moving up seven pounds, Judah would be presented the most meaningful fight in the division – a shot at newly crowned undisputed welterweight kingpin Cory Spinks. But once again, an old “friend” would come back to revisit.
“If there is anything that I could change – and believe me, I definitely plan on fixing it for the rematch – it would be that I got off to such a slow start. Once I got going, I took over big time. But spotting a world champion like Cory three or four rounds made things that much tougher for me, and ultimately cost me. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Whatever it was he was thinking, he apparently changed his mind midway through the fourth round, picking up the pace considerably. Once he got going, he seemingly took over, until he got careless once again late in the fight. This time, it resulted in the first of two knockdowns in the bout. Though according to Zab, everyone knows which of the two knockdowns was the more effective.
“Everyone saw that I wasn’t hurt by the shot. He touched me, and then practically pushed me down to the canvas. It was nothing. I got right back up and then went ahead and took care of business in the very next round. In the end, I lost, but now he knows that I’m capable of hurting him. All I need to do is get off to a quicker start this time, and the rest will fall into place.”
Ah, but what will make this opportunity different from any other?
“There’s too much at stake for me to come in and make the same mistakes I’ve made in the past. Besides Cory, Oscar may be coming back to the division. That’s huge money right there, and what better way to position myself for the jackpot, than by having all three belts around my waist. Even more so than the money, is the fact that he beat my idol, Pernell Whitaker. So, once I get my revenge here, I can avenge that one for Pete.”
Focus, Zab. Focus!
“Don’t get me wrong, though. First thing’s first. I got my business to take care of on February 5. Cory is too good a fighter for me to even worry about anything else right now. I’m feeling good, I’m whipping’ some ass in sparring, and I’m ready to go. I promised everyone that one way or another, 2005 is going to be my year. Once I do my thing with Cory, everyone else after that can either come get me, or get out my way. But make no mistake about it. February 5 will be the night it all comes together. I know that if I blow this, then that’s it. And I’m not ready yet to quit. Not by a long shot.”
And while maintaining his unique relationship with wife Teresa and creating more Tapias may be personal goals, the five-time world champion hasn't abandoned his professional boxing career. He'll meet Mexican slugger Nicky Bentz on January 22 in Hidalgo, Texas, then shoot for IBF junior featherweight champion Israel Vasquez this summer.
"We want to win our sixth world title and ride off into the sunset," Teresa Tapia, Johnny's wife, said.
That may be easier said than done. The effects of a 17-year boxing career are becoming obvious in the ring performances of the soon-to-be 38-year-old Albuquerque hero. And when you factor in his well-documented substance abuse problems, another world title - or even a shot at another world title - becomes less likely.
In his last fight Tapia lost a decision to Frankie Archuleta in Las Vegas, NM. It was the first time in 59 fights that the man known as "Mi Vida Loca" lost to anyone other than an elite champion. His previous losses were to Paulie Ayala (twice) and Marco Antonio Barrera.
But, Tapia says, after a career that produced a record of 53-4-2 (28 knockouts) and included championships at junior bantamweight, bantamweight and featherweight, he doesn't view the ring as a proving ground.
And he insists Archuleta caught him on an off-night.
"I hope and pray he shits and gets off the pot and comes and fights me again," Tapia said. "And really do it the way we're supposed to, instead of going out and saying, 'I beat Johnny Tapia' - when (Johnny Tapia) really wasn't at his best. I'll even put an extra $200 (for him) to fight me."
Whether he fights Archuleta again or not, Tapia certainly expects to be better prepared under new trainer Oscar Suarez. Suarez, who previously trained "Prince" Naseem Hamed and Acelino Freitas, was handpicked by Tapia after the release of previous trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad.
"We were watching one of his fights and I told my wife 'I want this trainer'," Tapia said. "Before we started training, we became friends. And after that he became my trainer. And I want to retire with him. What better way can you go out, with someone that cares for you, and not just for the money? You don't see that too often in a lot of trainers. I speak because I've had a lot of them."
Suarez said Tapia is a remarkably fresh and, perhaps more importantly, still willing to put in the work.
"I have a Latin American style; Johnny's got a Mexican-American style," Suarez said. "A little bit of each will mold a better Johnny. Johnny has great experience. But, above that, he loves to learn everyday. And I'm thrilled about it. Here I am working with a five-time world champion. And yet, he still wants to learn. And he is learning."
Suarez seemed to poke fun at the recently inactive Hamed in his praise of Tapia.
"You don't see many 37-year-olds motivated like (Tapia)," he said. "You don't see many 25-year-olds motivated like that. The hunger he's got, I wish some of my fighters - and I'm not going to mention names - would have. Honestly."
But, now, Tapia knows he has to produce in the boxing ring if he has any hope of that sixth title.
Bentz, at 36-3-2 (29 knockouts), is no pushover. He was 30-0 with 25 knockouts in 1997 and '98 before leaving Mexico and losing a pair in the United States.
"I have to watch this guy's right hand," Tapia said. "He hits real solid with is right hand. He's going to freak out when he hits me and I laugh. And then we're going to go to war."
Then he pauses. And the newer, calmer Johnny Tapia intervenes.
"I don't have to do that no more," he said. "We're working on a lot of sticking and moving. Counterpunching. That's really the Johnny Tapia people want to see. I have to be calm, pick my shots, catch him at the end of my shots. I want to hurt him right off the bat. But I can't afford to let him catch me, either. And how many people will go to somebody's backyard after a loss?"
Tapia has been training for six weeks and weighs 130 pounds. The contract weight for the Bentz fight is 126 pounds - give or take a pound.
Johnny says he's done fighting bigger men. He lost to Barrera at 126 pounds. Barrera recently won a title at 130 pounds.
"(Barrera) challenged me," Tapia said, "and he wanted to, but 130 pounds is too big for me . . . Look, I was born at night, but not last night. I'm not as dumb as I look. 130? Uh-uh. I wouldn't do it. Money's not my god. (Barrera) could call me tomorrow and say, 'Hey, we'll make $2 million.' I'd say no."
Recently moved from Albuquerque to Las Cruces, in the southern part of his home state, Tapia said he is more clearheaded than ever before, because he is surrounded by family and friends.
"I love Las Cruces," he said. "When I won here in 2000, they opened their arms to me. And I wanted to give back. I really want to retire (in Las Cruces). People are just so friendly."
When he does finally retire, Tapia says he may follow Suarez into the training profession.
"As a trainer, I'm pretty strict myself," he said. "Because I want them to be better than I was. And I probably will get a lot of fighters. Some make it, some don't. But they can still come to the gym and be happy. It's all about having fun."
His current training camp is loose like that. For Tapia, that is important.
"It's not a training camp where you go in all serious," he said. "We go and we have fun. I just love it."
What is serious is the length of Tapia's career - a career that has included victories over Henry Martinez (his first world title and fondest memory in 1994), Albuquerque rival Danny Romero in 1997 and Manuel Medina in 2002.
Wife Teresa, who also serves as his manager, knows that her husband can't climb into the ring much longer.
"I would have liked to have seen him retire years ago," she said. "But if I see that any of his talent has diminished - his speed, reflexes, legs - I'll pull him out. You're only as good as your last fight."
Teresa Tapia knows what she is talking about. And Johnny Tapia knows it. During Wednesday's press conference, he constantly looked to her for the right words. Sometimes he clasped her hand.
Sometimes he just gazed at her.
Has Johnny Tapia - the man who witnessed his mother's kidnapping at age eight and who turned to drugs to cope with her grisly murder - finally found some peace?
"I have everything I want in life," he said. "Give me 18 months and I'm done. If we get the world title, if God's willing, we'll go for it. If we don't, we'll just put money in the bank and let it go."