“No more Mr. Nice Guy
No more Mr. Clean” – Alice Cooper
I was thrilled to learn that DaVarryl Williamson would be challenging Chris Byrd for Byrd’s IBF title on October 1. Byrd and Williamson are two of the nicest guys you’ll meet in any sport. Articulate and loaded with charisma, they make fans and media feel like the most important person in the room during a conversation. Other top heavyweights have similar traits. Jameel McCline and both Klitschko brothers quickly come to mind. The “Boxing Banker,” Calvin Brock, is a well-rounded individual who can talk about other subjects besides hitting people in the mouth. Lamon Brewster and David Tua are also known for their personable ways as much as for their punches.
Perhaps one reason that the heavyweight division is languishing is the absence of villains. It seems that many of the champions who have captured the attention of fans were not usually confused with Mother Theresa. Now that Mike Tyson really is done (whether he comes back again or not), the only guy out there to love to hate or hate to love is James Toney. But at age 37, there are probably not many years of villainy left. Of course, Clifford Etienne or Ike Ibeabuchi would be terrific villains, but it doesn’t look like they’ll be boxing anytime this century.
Heavyweight champs don’t always have to wear the black hats. Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano were two of the most popular champions in history and both were considered great Americans. But look back at some of the great ones in history and many of them were either downright bad dudes or perceived to be.
The heartwarming story of bad-kid-makes-good evaporated quickly for Mike Tyson. However that had little effect on his popularity. In fact, the more bizarre he became, the more the fans loved him. He became one of the most popular champions in history. People still cheer loudly when he walks into an arena as a noncombatant. And should he do anything other than sit quietly and pay his taxes, he still remains tabloid fodder. To this day, there are people who want to believe that Iron Mike can make it all the way back.
Now that we’ve had time to reflect on Larry Holmes’ career, most boxing fans appreciate just how good the Easton Assassin was. He dominated heavyweight boxing in the ‘80s, yet never achieved the popularity he deserved. For that reason, Holmes was always ornery and seemed to have a chip on his shoulder. Perhaps that lack of recognition motivated him to greatness.
Speaking of greatness, while Muhammad Ali is one of the most beloved athletes on the planet, he didn’t start out that way. Many hoped that Sonny Liston and then others would shut Ali’s loud mouth. Refusing to go into the army certainly didn’t help his popularity at the time. It wasn’t until years later, arguably after his defeat of George Foreman, that Ali became loved as well as respected.
Anyone who witnessed the George Foreman of the ‘70s must shake their head in disbelief at the cuddly grandfatherly figure they see now. During his prime, George Foreman was bad, real bad. He was angry and powerful. Richard Pryor used to do a routine about Foreman. While pretending to be George, he asked, “Which one of you is the referee? ‘Cause I’m gonna kill the other mother——-.”
Sonny Liston was perhaps the baddest man to ever wear the heavyweight belt. Before opponents trembled in fear against Foreman and Tyson, there was Sonny Liston. A bona fide thug with a rap sheet to prove it, boxing fans loved the havoc he could cause in the ring.
Jack Dempsey was certainly no angel. And of course perhaps the most hated (and loved) and also one of the most dominant champions was Jack Johnson. The first black heavyweight champion was despised by much of white America simply because of the color of his skin. Then again, he didn’t do anything to ingratiate himself. I’m not suggesting that he should have, just that his actions fed an already stoked fire of hatred. But Johnson was a tremendous celebrity while he was drubbing all of his opponents.
A quick look at some of the good guys who became champion includes Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe, Floyd Patterson, Joe Walcott, Max Baer and Jim Braddock. While Patterson enjoyed some popularity, I’d argue only Holyfield really became a fan favorite.
So does that mean James Toney needs to win the title to rescue the heavyweight division? A quick run down of the top 30 names doesn’t point to any boxers who immediately strike fear in the citizenry’s hearts. Would you be afraid of running into Shannon Briggs in an alley? The guy is as charming as he is powerful. Lance Whitaker? He would sooner help you carry your groceries across the street than he would insinuate any harm. Perhaps it’s time to embrace the good guys and let the heavyweight champion be a role model for once – someone you can point out to your kids and say, “if you work hard and stay in school, you can be just like him.”
Nah. On second thought it’s much more fun the other way around.
* Daniel Santos defends his WBO title on September 30th against Joe Wyatt. Who? Wyatt is currently ranked eighth by the organization. How did he achieve that ranking? Presumably by beating 20-8-3 George Klinesmith on a technical decision. Boxrec ranks Wyatt 151. That’s not a typo. The WBO becomes more of a joke every year.
* Nice job Ray Austin. Despite being exhausted, he did what it took to pull off the upset against Own “What the Heck (Happened)” Beck. Maybe Austin will turn out to be a thug. We can only hope.
* Actually, I was disappointed that Beck didn’t turn out to be the fighter he was hyped up to be. He is another very decent guy that could have given the sport some positive publicity.
* I can’t believe how into the cruiserweights I am. Mormeck, Bell, Braithwaite and now Guillermo Jones are exciting and explosive fighters. Put Dale Brown and Sebastian Rothman back into the mix and you have some great fights to last until John Ruiz finally loses his belt for good.
Until next time, obey my commands and protect yourself at all times.