LAS VEGAS, July 3 – June went out reverentially with my buddy Royce Feour being inducted into the Southern Nevada Hall of Fame, a somewhat constricting view of someone who deserves more widespread acknowledgement. However, with July’s orderly succession, this is a good time to stop and smell the roses with my first half-ass half-year awards for TSS, to which Dear Reader, you are invited to participate.
But since this also coincides with a telephone call from my trainer of the half-year, let me give the first of my imaginary trophies to Patrick Burns. In fact, he was the nontrainer of the half-year as the victim of the worst backstabbing of the half-year. But the way he quietly handled it with great dignity gets him the nod also as the class act of 2006 so far.
Trainers are my favorite people and I’ve been lucky to have had long, one-on-one discussions with some of the greats, especially Eddie Futch, but also including George Benton, Gil Clancy, Ray Arcel, Jackie McCoy, Freddie Brown (Canastota, you’ll never see me until he gets admitted to the hall of fame), Wesley Mouzon, Quinzel McCall and the thankfully not late Angelo Dundee. I’d rather listen to Al Certo, Freddie Roach, Don Turner, Buddy McGirt, John David Jackson, Richie Giachetti, Lou Duva, Victor Valle and, of course, Emanuel Steward, than do my homework or mow the lawn.
Some were better than others. Some were willing to coerce a fighter from one gym to another. Others were more than willing to complain about that. Patrick Burns proved this half-year he was special.
Patrick got more out of Hector Camacho than probably all the above could have, got the aging Macho Man to go the distance with Oscar de la Hoya and knock out the even more aged Sugar Ray Leonard. Unfortunately, Patrick’s greatest work of art, the still-in-progress Jermain Taylor, was taken from him. He did not cry. There’s enough crying in boxing.
No, he did not watch Taylor escape with a lucky draw against Winky Wright, but it wasn’t because of tears in his eyes. He was busy with one of his other boxing projects. Besides, he said, “I didn’t want to watch it.” The wound was still very sore.
“I saw the replay,” he said. “I thought Jermain won by one round, but remember, I’m biased.”
Emanuel Steward had a leg up on trainer honors until Taylor-Wright. He managed to resurrect the careers of Wladimir Klitschko and Kermit Cintron. But he must lose points for Taylor’s performance against the smaller Wright. No knock on Steward, as expected, in only six weeks he could not fix all the leaks in Taylor. The balance was still bad, the hands still down, all the things that Burns was working on, too. But I thought Steward might have some kind of insight in how to neutralize Wright’s southpaw jab. He did not. It wasn’t long before Winky had stripped Taylor of one of his prime weapons, his own jab. Burns would not get into whether he thought Jermain might have won if he hadn’t switched trainers.
When he said, “I know Jermain better than anyone,” his point was that he understood why he still hasn’t heard from the fighter about the change in trainers. “Jermain,” he said, “is a nonconfrontational guy.”
The original idea, it was believed, was to add Steward to the corner. Burns didn’t treat it as an insult. He didn’t react publicly. But there were forces in Taylor’s life – and not necessarily Steward – who felt that Burns had to go. Burns doesn’t think it was promoter Lou DiBella, who he said called him to say he wasn’t taking sides. But it was known that Ozell Nelson, Taylor’s father figure who got the kid started in a Little Rock gym, and Burns were not getting along. And Norm Horton, who was brought in as a publicist, was a big Steward fan.
The point, though, is that even now, when Steward didn’t perform any miracles for the Wright fight – most of the ringside press whose opinions I respect had Winky winning clearly, though from television I had it a draw myself – Burns has maintained a dignified posture.
“People were a lot more upset about it than I was,” he said. “The way it went down. But I’m not going to cry in my beer,
“I’ve been through a lot tougher things,” said the Marine who was covered with shrapnel in Vietnam and then made a career of being a Miami cop.
He said Taylor was “a work in progress,” an Olympian, yes, but one who left the amateurs with little ballyhoo. He was not a “can’t-miss” future star. He was green and after 20 fights, Burns had him beating Bernard Hopkins twice – okay, if Taylor didn’t win either of those fights, how many other opponents took that many rounds against the longtime middleweight ruler? Burns will concede the first Hopkins fight was close, but he thought his guy won the second clearly.
“I must have been doing something right,” he said.
He’s been doing something right ever since he’s been stabbed. He refuses to bleed. He said he has a family to feed. He’s working as a coordinator/matchmaker for a Florida promoter, Big Star Productions. He said five or six established boxers have contacted him about the possibility of working their corners. One is reportedly Oscar de la Hoya, who hit 1992 Olympic gold with Burns a coach of the United States team, just in case Floyd Mayweather Sr. decides against working against Floyd Mayweather Jr.
“Jermain Taylor does not define who I am,” said Burns. “I wish the best for him. He’s a very good guy.”
Now, on to the other half-ass half-year awards, but first, let me point you to the TSS Forum on the Message Board. Anyone with an idea for either a category or a nominee can join the fun there. Do not, I repeat NOT, reply to me directly. The way I operate computers, there’s a good chance your brilliance will be forwarded to empty cyberspace.
LET THE GAMES BEGIN: The George Kimball Fighter of the Half-Year is open to debate. My leader in the clubhouse, unfortunately, might not leave the clubhouse for the second half of the year. This is Joe Calzaghe, and maybe I’m giving him too much credit for his 12-round shutout of Jeff Lacy, who in retrospect was nowhere as good as I suspected. Still, Lacy was a lot more proficient than the Antonio Tarver who was dominated by Hopkins, so the grand old warrior goes off into the sunset without my half-award. Similarly, his old dancing partner and current business partner, Oscar de la Hoya, can’t be given too much credit for beating Ricardo Mayorga. I don’t care how Oscar looked, he still was beating a guy who had lost to Cory Spinks.
No, the only competition I see right now for Calzaghe must be Manny Pacquiao for his fiery vengeance against Erik Morales. The Pac Man, who brought in July with a very workmanlike battering of tough Oscar Larios, is now looking at a November rubber match with Erik Morales, whom he stopped in January.
Unless Floyd Mayweather Jr. beats a reputable opponent, his victory over Zab Judah will not get him any kind of award, except maybe nonfighter of the year. But for the first six months, that award – and granted Timor (The Timid) Ibragimov gave him some competition last month – must still be Jose Luis Castillo. Scott Harrison gets dishonorable mention.
Clerical error of the half-year: The California commission lady who mis-read the two judges who scored the final round 10-10 in the Marcos Antonio Barrera-Rocky Juarez fight, causing the result to be first announced as a draw. No wonder there is no longer a California commission.
Dennis Rappaport Bad Sport Award: Okay, first he doesn’t train and loses to Carlos Baldomir and then blames Don King for making him do interviews to hype the fight. Then he loses to Floyd Jr. and, sensing the end, hits Mayweather in the family jewels, following with a chop behind the neck – thus causing one of the Mayweather family jewels, Roger, to enter the ring and, with the ensuing entrance of Yoel Judah, starting a riot. Zab Judah’s worst behavior, though, was when he reportedly became physical with King – the promoter graciously denies this story – a 74-year-old man in poor health and who was already suffering from wounded ribs following a Ricardo Mayorga inspired melee at another press conference. As King once said when Mitch (Blood) Green chased him into a Madison Square Garden kitchen, “This is getting to be a dangerous business.”
Tony LaRussa Mismanager of the Half-Year: Nacho Beristain, of course, for turning down $700,000 for a rematch with Pacquiao and then taking Juan-Manuel Marquez to Indonesia to lose to Chris John for two cents.
Thomas Dewey Upset of the Half-Year: Starting with Baldomir over Judah, and continuing on the same card with O’Neil Bell over Jean-Marc Mormeck, there has been Sergei Liahkovich over Lamon Brewster and Carlos Quintana over Dandy Dan Rafael’s latest young superstar, Joel Julio. But I’m betting there’s at least one muck-raking wretch who thinks it’s Bob Arum escaping indictment from the Feds.
Dick Tracy Crime Stoppers of the Half-Year: I guess Clifford Etienne’s meltdown – armed robbery, kidnapping, attempted murder of a couple of cops etc. – that got him back into the pen, this time for life, takes the cake (with no knife) over Andrew (Foul Pole) Golota’s arrest for illegal possession of firearms. Sadly, Peter McNeeley – the poor guy who was given up as the human sacrifice to be Mike Tyson’s first opponent after three years plus in prison – was busted for allegedly driving the getaway car in an armed robbery. Always like Peter, hope it was all a mistake. If not, maybe when he gets out, Tyson can be his first opponent….Speaking of which, belated happy 40th birthday to Mike. There was a time when many thought he would never make the “over.”
Eugenia Daniels Award for Worst Judging: Hell, according to the Los Angeles Times “expose” of Las Vegas courts, it could be any of my hometown jurists.
Marc Ratner Award for Biggest Loss: No, it’s not the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which I’m sure will do fine with Keith Kizer as Ratner’s replacement. It was when I had half the world searching for my hearing aids after an MGM fight, only to learn when I went home, that they were exactly where I left them.
Anyway, you should have the idea by now. Contribute. It’s a good cause.
PENTHOUSE: No, I didn’t forget Carlos Quintana’s scintillating performance against Joel Julio – and let’s not banish Julio to the OUTHOUSE, either. He’s still a fine prospect. But fresher in my memory is Pacquiao, surviving a rough patch early in the third round, and showing much improvement in beating Oscar Larios. It looks like Freddie Roach finally has the Pac Man using both hands, plus there were some wonderful little feints – taking a Jersey Joe Walcott step to the right, then throwing a straight left to the whiskers – and moves against a sturdy foe who went to Manila not for the payday to score the big upset. By the way, though the fight was held at the same arena which housed the Thrilla in Manila, the graphics pointed out that the real location was Cubao, Quezon City. It should be hereby known, then, as the Thrilla in Cubao, Quezon City, Manila….One of the more delightful reasons to pick up the $40 pay-per-view was to hear the Colonel, Bob Sheridan, doing the blow-by-blow, ably assisted by Dave Bontempo. Sheridan has worked for Don King for a million years, and would never say a bad word against the man who has fed him so amply, without losing his neutrality. He had Meldrick Taylor way ahead of Julio Cesar Chavez, Buster Douglas virtually shutting out Mike Tyson. He really should be promoted to General….Congratulations, of course, to my buddy Royce Feour, but also to Richard Steele, who was one of the inductees to the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame. On Aug. 5 in Johannesburg, Steele has been asked to referee a Laila Ali fight by Nelson Mandela, in what is expected to be the former South African leader’s last public appearance. Mandela gave great applause to Steele for refusing to work in South Africa while apartheid was the law of the land.
OUTHOUSE: King George III. I just thought we should remember why we’re celebrating this long weekend.