It was already past midnight Sat. night/Sun. morning as the formal Rahman-Toney post-fight press conference at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, NJ, was winding down. The fighters had left without saying much significant after their 12 rounds of work in the ring. Everyone was getting tired, but no one seemed particularly satisfied. It was like leaving your 20th date with a prospective significant other after a hundred-dollar night of drinking and dancing, only to be sent off with a peck on the cheek.
So I saw Don King hurrying to exit this dwindling gathering and, microphone and recorder in hand, asked him what he thought that this fight did for the heavyweight division.
He replied, almost whimsically, “Nothing.”
Well, at least one world record was set Saturday night: the shortest meaningful Don King interview.
(By the way, this quote by King was reported in a post-fight article in The New York Times, but without identifying me other than as a “reporter.” What I want to know is why the hell we even need these print fossils anymore when the meatiest and most salient questions are being asked by us Internet journalists?)
You don’t have to comb your hair straight up, be an ex-convict, and identify yourself as a Republicrat supporter of George Walker Bush to agree with King on this one.
We didn’t have an exceptional fight to exhume fan interest in the dying heavyweight division. Viewers watching this fight on that free HBO weekend weren’t especially enticed to pay for future boxing shows if the lures of “The Sopranos” and “Real Sex” haven’t already persuaded them to subscribe to this premium network. We weren’t taken a step closer to the emergence of an undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. And we didn’t even have a decisive winner in the ring.
In fact, there was little agreement about what all of us had just seen. While most of the ringside media (including me) scored the fight for Rahman by close margins such as 115-113, there were some journalists who, like two of the judges, had it a draw, and some who even had Toney winning, 115-113.
It was that kind of a fight, back-and-forth with few rounds where one man easily dominated the other. And those who ended up with the same tally often differed on individual rounds, including the two judges who had it 114-114.
According to the Rahman-Toney scorecard, judges Tom Kaczmarek, John Stewart, and Nobuaki Uratani agreed on only five of the twelve rounds. They all gave round 1 to Rahman, round 3 to Toney, round 4 to Rahman, round 9 to Toney, and round 12 to Rahman. And of the two judges, Kaczmarek and Uratani, who had it 114-114, they only agreed on six rounds: those five rounds already listed, plus round 10 for Toney. So much for all the work to standardize the admittedly subjective scoring in boxing.
Yet this majority draw decision, though maddeningly frustrating to many, may have been the fairest verdict. Most of the boxing journalists who had it for Rahman sounded less than passionate and firm when revealing their views to each other. That usually signifies that one guy did not beat up the other.
The only thing that the outcome of this fight guaranteed (other than a miserable, late night trip back from Atlantic City) was that the heavyweight division would continue to flounder en route to a coma. The latter part of the post-fight press conference saw a discussion of just who the WBC will allow or order Rahman to fight next, a near-tantrum by WBC mandatory Oleg Maskaev’s promoter Dennis Rappaport, and threats of legal action over something no one has decided yet or is even clear will happen.
This whole affair only reinforced a view which should have been obvious for some time, and insisted upon by those who claim to want to help boxing: The fractured heavyweight division badly needs a title unification tournament, and now.
Blame for this near-debacle is shared. But it would be too easy to pin all of it on the WBC, although they have long since earned a trip to Sisyphus. The various alphabet soup sanctioning bodies all collect fees even from these unification fights. Even the individual promoters of the top heavyweights can collect more from a few big fights than a series of smaller mismatches.
The one entity which is in a position to organize a heavyweight unification tournament tomorrow is HBO. Yet they continue to fail to do so.
HBO ended up as one of the biggest losers of the weekend anyway. Both King and Bob Arum joined forces to dump on them at a joint press conference Saturday afternoon at Bally’s called ostensibly to hype the April 8 Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Zab Judah fight on HBO Pay-Per-View. Instead it turned into a tag team of these two 74-year-old millionaire promoters against the billion-dollar Time Warner-owned HBO.
King accused these television networks of being “very niggardly with their checkbooks.” (And if you don’t know what that N-word means, turn off that cacophony and find an online dictionary).
Both Arum and King lambasted HBO for not having a preview show to publicize the Mayweather-Judah pay-per-view, as they have done with many other pay fights. Although the room was filled with many HBO people along with a good portion of the boxing media, no one rose to defend HBO, even about a fight already tarnished by being billed as for the welterweight title lost by Judah on Jan. 7. This battle against HBO was more one-sided than Tyson-McNeeley.
HBO, it seems, is looking at boxing for its general entertainment value first, and only as a sport second. It is as if they are looking for the same qualities they seek when casting shows like “The Sopranos” or “Oz”: people who best play the role of tough guy, whether they are or not. But boxing is for real, whether the fights present memorable drama or create somnolence. Bad games haven’t hurt the popularity of the Super Bowl too much; the absence of a boxing equivalent, especially among the heavyweights in America’s bigger-is-better culture, has been calamitous.
King, who has long advocated a heavyweight tournament, is so disillusioned with HBO that he announced last year that he wants to start his own boxing television network, and repeated that desire at this press conference. He even used this occasion to issue a public invitation to Arum to help provide programming for it. King has also been involved in promoting a number of recent title fights, such as Ruiz-Valuev, Brewster-Krasniqi, Adamek-Briggs, and Collazo-Rivera, which have never been shown on American television.
When I asked King after the joint press conference with Arum about the potential for such a new channel to televise such fights, however, he replied, “I would like the people to see it,” but quickly added, “I don’t have the channel yet.”
He then remarked, “I’m working for a network and I don’t have no status because they block me on everything I try to do. I know that. So the less I say, even a fish wouldn’t get caught if it kept its mouth shut.”
And it was for all this nothingness that I missed being at the 2006 NCAA Div. I Wrestling Championships in Oklahoma City this same past weekend.