Last weekend, the post-fight period provided as much action and intrigue as the fights themselves, with Floyd Mayweather trying to verbally rip Larry Merchant a new one for hatin’, and Shannon Briggs admitting that he once came very close to physically tearing interrogator supreme Jim Gray a new one.
We can hope that the action on Saturday evening’s heavyweight title scrap between the Punching PhD, the Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko, and the Boxing Banker, undefeated American Calvin Brock, will not need to be augmented by post-bout interview beefs.
The final press conference, held on Wednesday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, was an ordered, almost genteel affair, so perhaps the writing is on the wall: these two heavies won’t do their best work before the bout, during the hype-weeks preceding the battle. They won’t talk a good game, and then deliver a pedestrian, or even putrid, outing.
We can hope, as fans, that Klitschko, the 6-6 hitter from the Ukraine, will continue his improbable climb from tender-chinned underachiever to odds-on favorite to emerge as the division’s standard-bearer. He is favored, heavily in some quarters, to hand the 2000 Olympian Calvin Brock (29-0, 22 KOs) his first loss as a pro.
We can hope, as fans, that Brock will show the all-around skills and fistic ambidexterity that he’s exhibited intermittently since turning pro in 2001.
We will hope, as fans, that we’ll tune in to an entertaining fight when we turn to HBO on Saturday night, and miracle and of miracles, won’t be forced to pony up $50 for the privilege. After all, who amongst us will have any money left over after we break down and buy the Holyfield/Oquendo PPV extravaganza on Friday evening?
Anyone looking to get an insight into the Saturday heavyweight faceoff might have noted that while Brock won the war of apparel yesterday (in a sharp blazer/slacks ensemble), he appeared to be harboring some butterflies in his belly. When his time at the podium came, Brock stuttered, and then grasped for a word that never did come to him until another person on the dais filled in the blank for him.
Klitschko, in contrast, appeared in a black workout outfit, with his big bro Vitali in tow at a respectful distance. Wladimir’s ever-improving English was delivered without stumbling, in the confident, graceful manner he’s honed in the last couple years as he’s climbed back from his 2003/2004 Corrie Sanders/Lamon Brewster chin-check fiascos.
Michael Buffer, the golden throated, mystery-aged announcer, presided over the PC, and deftly shifted the spotlight to Klitschko, Brock, Laila Ali, her new trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr., Kevin Kelley, Manny Medina, Carl Moretti, Tom Loeffler, Bernd Boente, Manny Steward and Kery Davis.
The younger Klitschko, who last fought on April 22 (TKO 7 win over Chris Byrd), came off as properly focused and confident during his turn at the mike.
“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,” said the 30-year-old, who is drawing praise for setting up a charitable drive from his portion of the ticket-sale proceeds for a United Nations education and health care effort in Africa.
“Madison Square Garden is the Mecca of entertainment. I know it, I see it. Such a press conference I have never seen,” Klitschko said, as he marveled at the top level nature of the promotion in New York. “Everyone gave their best performance talking, and I wish Saturday all of us give a performance as good as we talked.”
The boxer, who secured the IBF belt with his win over the crafty but undersized Byrd, said he got goosebumps on the stage as he pondered fighting in the Mecca, home to memorable bouts featuring Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano.
Calvin Brock, who last laced up against Timor Ibragimov on June 24 (UD12 win), said that the time is right for him to notch an upset win.
A year go, he explained, efforts were made to match him with big brother Vitali, who was trying to overcome an assortment of physical woes that eventually convinced him to retire. The time didn’t feel right, he said, but now, he says, it’s different.
“That was not God’s timing because it fell through,” he said. “This is God’s timing.”
“It’s the best camp I ever had,” he continued. “I’m ready mentally, physically, emotionally and skillfully,” he said. “I’m altogether prepared.”
“After I win, I don’t want to hear any excuses people saying maybe Wladimir wasn’t the real champ, the Real McCoy. He’s the most legit and well-known and that’s how I should look after I win. I look forward to a great boxing match.”
Brock, a North Carolina resident who believes he was called to pugilism by God at age eight, isn’t a runaway fan fave. He hasn’t shown the level of passion or finishing ferocity that most fans of the division want to see in a titlist, even in this Heavyweight Bronze Age Era. But, he hasn’t lost as a pro, and we don’t award style points. His trainer, Tom Yankello, said that his guy has pop in both hands and is a multi-dimensional boxer, as opposed to Byrd, and Sam Peter, Klitschko’s last two foes.
“I don’t think they realize what they’re up against,” young Yankello said. “Calvin is great inside and outside.”
(Who am I dispute Yankello, but I have trouble thinking that the 6-2 Brock, who will be outweighed by around 20 pounds come fight time, will be able to get inside on the Ukrainian.)
Emanuel Steward, Klitschko’s trainer (he’s no longer sharing billing with Fritz Sdunek) doesn’t seem to be looking past Brock to a partial unification date with the Giant Valuev, or Oleg Maskaev.
“Brock is a balanced boxer who doesn’t get hit much,” Steward said, “and he’s very good defensively. He doesn’t get tired, so we got a solid fight on our hands. I have a lot of respect for this fighter.”
But Klitschko, Steward said, “prepares better than any boxer I’ve ever had. He’s the fastest I’ve seen since Ali of anyone who has power. He’s on his way to becoming one of the greatest heavies of all time.”
SPEEDBAG The fiercely telegenic Laila Ali was utterly charming during a one-on-one session; I can’t decide if she’s mellowed a bit with age and maturity, or I’m being swayed by being so close to her. Regardless, she resisted the urge to ream HBO for it’s debatably sexist practice of not showing female fights, preferring to take the high road and talk about what a joy it will be to fight in front of her pop, The Greatest.
I’m not insulted (that HBO will only show excerpts of her bout against Shelley Burton),” Ali said. “I don’t take it personal.”
Ali is looking forward to showing her dad how much she’s learned from Floyd Mayweather Sr. (who delivered a pro-Laila poem that her dad wouldn’t have sneezed at): “I love after fighting seeing his cute little face and getting a kiss, it’s so gentle.”
This year has been spent on personal matters (she got divorced from Johnny McClain, who has been her promoter her whole career), and next year, Ali said, hopefully she’ll get one of the women who have called her out but haven’t gone the whole nine and signed to fight her to put up and shut up.
Laila finished by tossing her parents props for her accomplishments. “The genes have a whole lot to do with it,” she said.
Consider me a covert to She Bee Stingin.’
—Kery Davis said that HBO will show PBF’s rout of Baldy at 10 PM on Saturday, before Klitschko’s title defense.
—Manny Medina showed a better-than-expected grasp of English when he talked about his bout with the Queens talkmaster Kevin Kelley. An interpreter was left hanging as Medina talked for a minute. The boxer then switched to Spanish…
—Kevin Kelley said he and Medina, who he labeled one of his idols, met up in Vegas not long ago. They both marveled that they never hooked up. Now, viola. Kelley promised to try and steal the show in the IBF super feather title shot eliminator….
—Burton’s trainer, Don House, said he’s pumped to be in NYC. Not for the reason you think, though…House is psyched to attend a Maury Povich Show taping on Thursday….
—Burton did the right thing, and remembered to thank her sponsors. Then she realized that she only had one sponsor. It’s the thought that counts….
—Ali cut-minder Cassius Green publicly chided HBO for not showing Ali’s fight. “A low blow,” Green called the decision…
—Ali was charming towards Burton, but still promised her a beating….
—Ali revealed that PBF Sr. dissed his brother Rog when he started her camp. “You don’t know sh–,” he bellowed when he checked out her game. “I’m a hundred times better now if that’s what Senior tells you,” she said.
—Main Events Carl Moretti represented that entity. Buffer said that he was in ‘aw shucks’ mode, which means he’s confident about his guy’s chances.
–Steward started his remarks by lauding Laila, saying that he became a believer when he saw how hard she works in the gym.
–Dino Duva, Peter’s promoter, paid respects to Vitali. “I voted for you,” said Duva, referring to Vitali’s unsuccessful bid for the Kiev mayoralty. “You should have brought some of your friends,” Vitali said, laughing.