The 77th Round

You know, there's nothing like a few quotable quotes —

“Don't taint my business. It's an honorable business. It's not a joke. It's noble. I hate people making a mockery of my business.”
— Teddy Atlas, as told to Hal Bock of Associated Press, for March 6, 2003 article, entitled “Atlas might be boxing's conscience”

“I love boxing, it's how I make my living. That's why I can't just quietly watch it be corrupted, over and over.”
— Teddy Atlas, as told to Phil Mushnick of the New York Post – February 7, 2003

“We need to eliminate the 'Dodge Cities' of boxing and chase out the 'gun-slingers' and create a town that can grow and flourish”
— Teddy Atlas, in his written statement submitted to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, concerning the improvement of boxing, entered May 22, 2002

The following excerpt appeared on the CompuboxOnline website (http://www.compuboxonline.com/column/8_23.shtml) on August 23 of last year:

“As the opening bell sounded for the Rhosii Wells-Bernard Gray middleweight bout, ESPN2 COLOR COMMENTATOR TEDDY ATLAS OFFERED A LENGTHY APOLOGY TO VIEWERS AND A VERBAL INDICTMENT AGAINST THE FLORIDA BOXING COMMISSION FOR APPROVING WHAT HE FELT WAS A MAJOR MISMATCH. It took just a matter of minutes to prove that Atlas was absolutely correct in his assessment.”

It was followed closely behind by this, written by Phil Mushnick of the New York Post, in an August 30, 2002 column with the headline “Classy Atlas Does Right Thing”:

“Good-faith TV, as opposed to the other kind, is hard to find. Recent examples of both:
Good – ESPN2's “Friday Night Fights” ringside analyst, Teddy Atlas, last week prefaced the middleweight bout between highly regarded Rhoshii Wells and 39-year-old, short-notice pay-dayer Bernard Gray (last fight, 1997) with an apology.

ESPN (on behalf of promoter Don King), said Atlas, owed its viewers – and the sport – better than the slam-dunk mismatch they were about to witness. Minutes later, Wells won a second-round KO…….”

And so it occurs to me that maybe we SHOULD talk a little about some things to apologize for.

Me first. A few years back, when I was involved with former WBA cruiserweight champ Robert Daniels, he went with his manager to Iowa to fight someone else, only to find himself, unbeknownst to me, in the ring with Stan Johnson, a veteran loser from Wisconsin who occasionally fought under different names, allegedly went in the tank every so often, and had dropped 17 of his previous 18 fights. Daniels KO'd him in the first round – a state of affairs that was certainly not unusual for Johnson, and the whole thing was embarrassing enough that I wished it could have been taken off Daniels' record, which didn't need to be padded like that.

That having been said, now it's Teddy Atlas' turn.

You know, sometimes it's the fights that ALMOST happen that get us the most outraged.

Let's go back to February 21 of this year, and the undercard of the WBC cruiserweight title fight between Wayne Braithwaite and Ravea Springs, a bout that was televised on ESPN2, live from Miccosukee Indian Gaming in Miami.

Atlas, in town for the broadcast, had managed to secure a spot on the card for his light heavyweight, Elvir Muriqi, who was 25-1 as a pro at the time.

His scheduled opponent, weighing in at 186-1/2 pounds the night before, was Delfino Marin, a veteran who had driven down from Winter Haven, Fla.

This fight card was taking place during a period of time when Atlas was making regular tirades against the Nevada State Athletic Commission, and in particular, Dr. Tony Alamo, who was in a position of conflict of interest as a member of the commission. Atlas made generous use of the material that sparked this controversy – which was contained in Rounds 21-23 of “Operation Cleanup 2” – and appropriated it as his own.

Because Atlas' presentation was less even-handed than my own, everyone in Nevada was properly peeved at him. And of course, if you have some dirty linen under those circumstances it's going to be exposed. To exacerbate things, people from the ESPN public relations department were shamelessly pushing Atlas as a “reformer”, going so far as to try and bully boxing writers into penning stories to that effect. They had already succeeded with several poor schmucks in the New York area, who went along for the ride.

On the afternoon of Muriqi's scheduled fight, Marc Ratner, executive director of the Nevada commission, was on the phone with Russell Peltz, the “consultant” for ESPN's boxing telecasts. Ratner happened to mention in passing that Marin, the opponent for Muriqi, hadn't fought in about a year and hadn't won a fight in a while.

That was putting things mildly. In point of fact, the 36-year-old Marin had lost ten fights in a row, with no victories over nearly a ten-year period. He had won just one of his last EIGHTEEN fights, dating back to May of 1992, when he was stopped by Buddy McGirt. And Marin had won exactly THREE fights since April of 1989 – that's three wins in FOURTEEN years.

Marin, possessing a career record of 14-28, had scored his professional wins against opponents with a combined pro record of 24-106-2. I distinctly remember giving Marin his first amateur fight, and making a couple of his early pro fights. And I can personally tell you he's been “shot” for the last dozen years, at least. Marin's weight of 186-1/2 was rather excessive, considering he never had a win above the welterweight level.

This was the kind of fighter “boxing's conscience” decided to put in with a supposed “hot prospect” – a rated fighter with a 25-1 record.

Whether it was the intention or not, this crime against boxing, and a very possible ring tragedy, was ultimately avoided by way of Ratner's casual revelation to Peltz. What happened after that is rather cloudy, but apparently Peltz, or someone from ESPN, must have looked into the details of Marin's pitiful ring record. Peltz, who was also in Miami as part of his position with ESPN, let Atlas know that someone was on to him. The truth is that several people were on to him. I got a phone call from someone completely unconnected to the events, who had all the details, and I embarked on writing a story at that time – ready to publish it that day if the fight indeed happened.

As it turns out, Muriqi's fight was more or less “buried”. It was off television – WAY off – and in fact may have been slated to be first on the card. Intended to be over and done with before anyone really noticed. Another quick “W” on the Kosovo Kid's record.

But as soon as he found out this wasn't going over so quietly, Atlas pulled Muriqi off the show, just a couple of hours before he was supposed to step into the ring. This had the effect of creating the embarrassing situation where, after the card had started, Marin was running all over the venue, looking to get paid. He was completely justified – after all, he had a signed contract for the fight.

Of course Atlas panicked. I like to think he remembered when I caught him red-handed before, when he was all set to put the heavyweight he was training, Michael Grant, in a fight with Thomas Williams, who had been indicted some eleven months earlier on a charge of fight-fixing – a case that's still pending. When word got around about Grant's opponent, the fight had to be made an exhibition (you can read all about it in Chapters 28-34 of “Operation Cleanup: A Blueprint for Boxing Reform”).

At that particular time, I was willing to give Atlas the benefit of the doubt. But not now.

That's because I've taken the grand tour through Muriqi's roster of opponents. Let me share some of these Showdowns in Dodge City:

On March 26, 1999, Muriqi, in his fifth pro fight, scored a one-round knockout over ERIC RHINEHART, a fighter who was three months shy of his 40th birthday. Rhinehart had been winless for the previous five years and four months, losing SIXTEEN fights in a row – twelve of those by knockout. After getting starched by Muriqi, he has since compiled a 2-18 record, bring his overall total to 14-52-1.

Two fights later, in May of '99, Muriqi posted another one-round knockout – this time over someone named MARVIN LADSON. Ladson, who was about to turn 42 years of age, had lost TWENTY-ONE fights in a row – and 16 by knockout – over a period of seven years before facing Muriqi, and had emerged victorious in just THREE of his last 48 fights, stretching back to April of 1987. At last glance, his record was 12-66-2.

Muriqi's ninth and 12th pro fights – both decision wins – were against ANGELO SIMPSON, who, after getting off to a 5-2 start as a pro, was just 6-16-1 going into his first fight with Atlas' guy. Simpson has now gone 0-26-2 over his last 28 fights, bringing his running total (he's still active) to 6-34-2.

STEVE USSERY had been knocked out in all four of his pro fights, lasting a total of just five rounds, when he stepped in with Muriqi in August of 1999, in Portsmouth, Virginia. You can guess the result of that fight – Ussery once again went down and out in one round. Since that fight, Ussery has won just one out of 13 fights. His record now is 1-17, with 16 KO losses – 13 of those losses in the first round, and three in the second.

In November of 1999, Muriqi won a six-round decision over FERMIN CHIRINO, who actually used to be a pretty decent fighter. Chirino began his career with a 9-2-1 record, and at one time held the Venezuelan middleweight title. But he had lost 17 of his last 18 bouts going into the bout with Muriqi, and at the time of the fight, he had just one pro victory in the previous 8-1/2 years. Chirino's pro mark: 13-25-2.

In his 15th pro fight, and apparently looking for another soft touch after Muriqi had suffered his first pro loss, Atlas had his fighter in with ADRIAN MILLER, a fighter who may or not have ever had gloves on, other than for his all-too-brief ring appearances. Muriqi knocked Miller out in one round, which was no surprise – Miller's six pro fights have all resulted in KO losses, with only one of them going as far as the second round.

ERIN FITCHETT was perhaps only marginally better than Stepin Fetchit. He came into a January 2002 bout with the 20-1 Muriqi with a record of 7-3-4. But he hadn't won a fight in over two years. And the composite record of the fighters he had beaten was 16-130-1. Muriqi won the fight on a fifth-round disqualification.

On April 23, 2002, Muriqi chalked up another one-round knockout, this time over a fighter named MIKE COKER in New York. With nine wins, four losses and two draws, Coker, in fact, did not have such a horrible record. But for some reason, Muriqi's connections, including Atlas, felt it would be appropriate for a rematch to take place. It did, nine months later, at the Mohegan Sun Casino. Naturally, Muriqi knocked Coker out in the first round again. It is obvious that Coker is not nearly as “good” as his record indicated – ironically, one of his losses was a one-round KO defeat at the hands of the aforementioned Eric Rhinehart, thus providing Rhinehart with one of his two wins in the past ten years.

On March 19 of this year, Muriqi registered a third-round stoppage of TIWON TAYLOR, a fighter who came into the fight with a generally salable record (24-8-1, 18 KO's). But that resume had been artificially built up against a collection of has-beens and stiffs – people like Andre Crowder (6-39-3 at the time), Jack Jackson (0-16), Mario Hereford (currently 0-20), Danny Wofford (15-54-2), and Dwayne Smith (7-39-3) were among his “victims”. How proficient is Taylor? Well, let's put it this way – in March of 2001, just four bouts removed from his fight with Muriqi – Taylor lost to North Carolina's Frankie Hines, whose record was 14-109-5.

Even the fighter who beat Muriqi was intended to be another walkover. DAN SHEEHAN was 7-4 when he scored a DQ win over Muriqi in March of 2000. He later dropped a decision in the rematch, which began a string where Sheehan has now lost 19 of his last 21 fights. Currently, he sits with a 9-23 record.

When I reached Joe DeGuardia, CEO of Star Boxing, who had Muriqi under a promotional contract early in his career, he indicated that to his knowledge, any and all of Muriqi's opponents for the shows that took place in the New York-New Jersey area were used contingent upon Atlas' knowledge and approval. DeGuardia told me he never heard an objection from Atlas about the quality of an opponent on the basis that it was “making a mockery of boxing.”

As far as the fighters like Rhinehart, Ladson, and Ussery, all of whom Muriqi fought in the South, DeGuardia says he had little or nothing to do with those fights; rather, “Muriqi's guys got the opponents themselves.”

It bears mentioning that Teddy Atlas makes a generous weekly salary to train Elvir Muriqi – reportedly it's in the neighborhood of $1000 a week – so the motivation to put Muriqi's in with competitive fighters who might curtail his career, and that weekly arrangement, is exceedingly low.

My friend, the respected Pulitzer Prize nominee Thomas Hauser, recently did a story on SecondsOut.com entitled “Professional Losers”. I would suggest perhaps the more appropriate story might be about the fighters who artificially build their records against this circuit of losers, and the people – like Atlas – who enable this farcical process to take place.

You see, I blame those people more, because at least they're empowered with more options.

And when we see the choices those folks eventually make, it tells us an awful lot about them, doesn't it?

(Note: information about records comes from http://www.boxrec.com)

fightpage@totalaction.com

Copyright 2003 Total Action Inc.