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Articles of 2002

WE LEARN AS WE GO

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About three-quarters of the way through this thing, somebody asked me, “In the process of compiling 'Operation Cleanup', who has your opinion changed about the most?” The question was simple, yet I was stuck for an answer.

For one thing, I hadn't really thought about it in those terms before, though I don't know exactly why. For another, my opinion has changed, I guess, about a lot of things.

You can probably glean the answer by reading one story after another throughout this series. There is no question that I have demonstrated a reversal of field on some topics. And that's happened for no other reason than that when one writes as many chapters as I have, one has to do a certain amount of research along the way. As a result of such a process, a certain transformation naturally takes place; you're definitely going to learn something you didn't know before.

When I started all this – and I don't mean Operation Cleanup specifically, but most of the serious investigative writing I did online – I considered the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC), for the most part, to be an ally that was focused primarily in the same direction I was. You'll see that reflected in some of the early stuff.

The truth is, I hadn't paid a lot of attention to it before.

So I suppose they're as good a place as anywhere to start.

THE ASSOCIATION OF BOXING COMMISSIONS

— I always knew that in addition to the outstanding administrators, there were a number of inept, uncaring, ever corrupt people in the category of state boxing commissions, but until I started to look more closely at it, I have to admit didn't realize how widespread the problem was, or how bad some of the people could be. And I was just a bit naive as to some of the political motivations of the people involved.

Still, I was willing to give the ABC every benefit of the doubt. I lined up with them when the WBC was meddling without justification in the selection and appointment of officials for the July 20 fight between Vernon Forrest and Shane Mosley, something you can find documented in

Chapter 35

. But along the way they completely lost me. A couple of incidents contributed to it.

One was when the ABC took the extreme position that they – and ONLY they – would take charge of the appointment of championship officials, without any input from ANY sanctioning body, and with absolutely no oversight as to what they were doing.

While I agreed that the WBC incident gave them sufficient justification to be concerned, the only way this process could really be done in a way that was equitable and satisfactory for all parties involved was to have some degree of cooperation; some collaboration, so as to produce a system of checks and balances that would make everyone act responsibily.

What I didn't expect was that the ABC would use the incident to do something which is just as potentially dengerous as what the WBC did – attempt to seize control of the entire process by itself, without responsibility to ANYONE.

Another thing, of course, was that Jack Kerns, someone who had done boxing irreperable harm by completely ignoring minimum safety standards that were set forth by federal law, would remain on the ABC's board of directors despite an opportunity to take him off. The ABC would have been completely justified in taking such action, and Kerns wasn't going to be suing anybody. In fact, ironically, the ABC was protecting Kerns as he was BEING sued by Greg Page for his shameful neglect.

As I wrote in

Chapter 49

of this series:

“Making Kerns look more credible for the sake of his lawsuit should not be the ABC's responsibility. By allowing him to stay on in a position that is supposed to mean something in the organization, the ABC is, in effect, contributing to the facade of respectability Kerns is trying to create. Therefore, they are aiding in his defense, and giving tacit approval of his actions, which have been demonstrated to be dangerous for fighters and contrary to the best interests of the sport. So maybe these guys just don't care………………Until such time as they are prepared to do the RIGHT thing and get rid of the albatross that continues to eat away at any credibility it may have, I can't fully support, believe, or trust the ABC.”

SENATOR JOHN McCAIN AND HIS BAND OF MERRY MEN

— At first, I thought McCain was a well-meaning guy whose “campaign” for boxing reform was sincere, if a little misguided. Then it became apparent that he was not really interested in receiving quality advice in order to put together a realisitic piece of legislation that could actually DO something, but had more of an interest in escaping from the process with a minimum of effort and a few cheap hadlines, some of which could be used to get him on talk shows so he could sell his new book.

Now I suspect there are other motivations at work, all political in nature and having nothing to do with sheer ignorance, that have caused him to shape his bill the way he has. It's something that deserves further exploration, and you can count on that being done.

BOXING COMMISSION POLITICS

— More than I had even imagined. The poster boy for this, and one guy about whom I developed an opinion about early on and felt consistently throughout, is Greg Sirb, the former president of the ABC. In Sirb, we have a guy who is ALL about politics. It's no secret to anybody that his life's ambition is to be named the national “czar” of boxing, and has lapsed into that pattern where everything he says and does that concerns business outside his own justification seems connected to a political motive. It's not that I think he's a bad guy or a bad commissioner. Not at all. But he's too transparent, too programmed, too idealogically unsound, and too much of a political animal to provide the kind of vision boxing needs to make a real transformation. He's done nothing to dissuade me since. And in a scary development, I also discovered that he is more or less dictating what has gone into McCain's bill, which may explain in part not only why it is ineffective, but why it treats various interests with “kid gloves”.

BOXING FANS

— I wish I could sit here and tell you that a whole bunch of boxing fans have rallied around the cause of boxing reform. But honestly, I don't think the average boxing fan really cares very much about it. Yes, they'll complain about the usual targets like Don King and the sanctioning bodies, but it's with the same level of perspective with which many people in the media have attacked them. In general, I think that they're only really concerned with what goes on inside the ring, which to an extent is the way it should be. But what has to be understood is that perhaps more than any other sport, what happens OFF the “playing field” has an awful lot to do with what happens ON it. That message has gotten through to some people, but not most. That's unfortunate.

THE MEDIA

— What I have found intriguing is that many of the mainstream boxing writers have shown complete indifference in the substantive issues that would shape any boxing reform effort. Oh, I understand that they reflect what their readers are interested in, and the readers, for the most part, are not interested in boxing reform. And their editors would rather pass a kidney stone than devote space to any reporting that was investigative in nature. Therefore, you're not going to see much material in the newspaper.

When something IS written it's usually an item about what a terrible human being Don King is, what thieves and crooks the sanctioning bodies are, and how altruistic a human being John McCain is for being so “concerned” about boxing. Generally, it's the product of cliche, and fails to look below the surface. I would be lying if I said I wasn't disheartened by this spirit of “non-examination”. In compiling this series, I couldn't afford to look at things with a myopic point of view.

That having been said, I wish the level of curiosity has been a little higher on the part of what you might refer to as the major print media. Perhaps that's because there are very few writers in this country who spend most of their time covering boxing; however, one would think that if you were writing about boxing and getting paid for it, you'd want to know as much as you could about the industry. I still have faith in them, though.

Now let me tell you about some things that have been pleasantly surprising. Those print writers who ARE genuinely concerned about the future of boxing reform have been more than just a little helpful – in fact, they have offered substantial insight and information.

And a lot of the better internet writers, who take a lot of criticism and don't get much respect from their print “brethren”, have shown much more interest. I've developed rewarding alliances out of the feedback I've received through “Operation Cleanup”, in large part from those who cover boxing simply for the love of the sport.

INDUSTRY PERSONNEL

— When I embarked on “Operation Cleanup”, a friend of mine told me that I would probably burn many bridges in the boxing industry. I left myself wide open for that possibility. But the opposite has actually been true. I must say, even after spending over two decades in and around boxing, I was not prepared for the groundswell of support from within the industry itself. I simply did not realize that there were so many people working in boxing who, when confronted with the introduction of brutal honesty to the discourse for a change, were sincerely behind any efforts to make the sport, and the business, better.

Of course, when I thought about it, it's perfectly logical – the axiom in boxing is that less than 1% of the people in it make over 99% of the money. That means the vast majority of people are going to feel unfairly disadvantaged by the system, and would like to see the field of play evened out to some extent.

Maybe the best way to put it is that I probably haven't burned any bridges that were worth building in the first place.

THE SANCTIONING BODIES

— I have never been a great lover of them. I think for a while, I probably had some of the same cliche-ridden thoughts that most fans and writers have about them. Once again though, if you look below the surface you can see some things that surprise you.

First of all, every one of the sanctioning bodies is different in some regard. So it doesn't make sense to make blanket statements about them. And within the sanctioning organizations you can actually find some people who genuinely care about the sport. That just stands to reason – hey, if a promoter is going to pay off a sanctioning body with $100,000, it's not as if that money is going to be divided twenty different ways. Not everybody is on the “pad”. So I guess the lesson to be learned is that there are some good things and some bad things about each sanctioning bodies, and this whole culture of sanctioning fights in general.

You can look at it from various perspectives – for example, no matter what you say about the alphabet groups, I haven't seen any specific evidence that they've destroyed boxing in an entire area, like the New York commission has done in that state, or the way the commission has polluted things in Kentucky.

On balance, I've found that the sanctioning bodies have been a lot more willing to listen to ideas than most people from commissions or the ABC are. And they recognize more readily that they need certain changes to save them from extinction. For that reason, I've become a lot more willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

In fact, the conclusion that I've developed along the way is that between the ABC faction (commissions and its directors, like Kerns) and the sanctioning organizations, I'd say the alphabets are probably the lesser of two evils. Of course, there are glaring exceptions to that rule – they've been explored in the past and will continue to be explored in the future.

We've still got a ways to go in this mission. And unlike the John McCains of the world, I'm always willing to learn a little more. Feel free to contact me at your convenience.

fightpage@totalaction.com

Copyright 2002 Total Action Inc.

Articles of 2002

$*%@#!

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Walk the dog, stroll through the park, have a picnic at the lake.
There are safer things for IBF cruiserweight champ Vassily Jirov to do this month than defend his title against James “Lights Out” Toney.
Barbecue, play softball, fish, visit the zoo. Thank his lucky stars.
Jirov, who lives in California, won’t be fighting Toney on HBO on Jan. 25.
Something to do with his insides.
Ask Toney why Jirov pulled out of their fight and he’ll tell you it was Jirov’s heart that let him down, his backbone that went soft, not his banged-up ribs. Ask Toney and he’ll tell you about heartbreak and lies and revenge and fighting anybody in the universe if it means another title. Jirov claims he suffered the damage while sparring. Maybe. But it’s the fourth time Jirov has found a reason not to fight Toney. How many times you got to be told to go home before you realize the guy doesn’t want to come outside and play? How many times you got to be bit by the same dog before you realize it wants to be left alone? Jirov has more excuses than a politician caught with a hooker on his lap.
In his own eloquent way, Toney recently described how disappointed he was in the cancellation of their title fight on the undercard of the Vernon Forrest – Ricardo Mayorga welterweight title fight.
“The @#%$%*&#@,’’ Toney said after learning of the postponement on Christmas Eve. “Jirov can @&%$#% and then he can @%$#@#$. He’s nothing but a #$%#@#.’’ That said, it doesn’t brighten up the New Year in the Toney household.
“I’m done with it,’’ said Toney, sounding like a guy who finally gets tried of being stood up by the same girl.
As of Dec. 30, there was still no word of an opponent for Toney, though he’s still making regular trips to the gym.
Merry Christmas, James. Have a Happy New Year.
“Bah, humbug,’’ said Toney’s promoter Dan Goossen. “We didn’t have much of a Christmas. I got the news on Christmas Eve. But you just have to bounce back.’’ Funny thing about fighters. Some make excuses, some fight through them. You get the feeling Toney could have cracked five ribs and his right tibia and still climbed into the ring against Jirov.
It raises a lot of questions. What’s Jirov got against fighting? After a busy 2001, he hasn’t fought since last February. How do you hold a title after you’ve gone into retirement? Just who is this guy and why does he like to hide? Is there really a Vassily Jirov out there, or is he a creation of the IBF, a shadowy figure who won the title and decided it was too big a risk to keep defending it? The bottom line is, Toney may be left with a lot of unexpected free time on his hands if they don’t find him another fight, though he knew better than to mark the date on his calendar in ink. There are no promises in boxing. When dealing with a guy like Jirov, all bets are off. But Toney can still hope. The name O’Neil Bell – the WBC’s No. 1 challenger – has been knocked around, and Toney said he doesn’t care what contender or champion he knocks out on Jan. 25. “#@#$%$#,’’ Toney said.
You can say that again.

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Articles of 2002

New Year's Resolutions

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A new year is upon us, which means it's time for new years resolutions. Yeah, never mind that most resolutions are broken, oh, around the third week of January; everybody still makes them.

Here are my resolutions that I'd make for some of the luminaries in the sport of boxing.

* Floyd Mayweather: No more excuses. Anyone else sick of listening to 'the Pretty Boy' whine about what ailments he came into the fight with? Whether it's his fragile hands, a bum shoulder or his squabbles with his promoter Bob Arum, he always has an alibi. Hey Floyd, nobody cares, you get paid plenty to perform and those that buy tickets don't care that you might have a hangnail; they want nothing but the best effort out of you.

Mayweather reminds me of former Los Angeles Dodger slugger Mike Marshall, who's second home seemed to be the disabled list. The bottom line is this guy is lucky to be a boxer where he only has to perform once every 6 months- he simply couldn't handle the rigors of an NBA, NFL or baseball season. Ask any athlete if they are ever 100-percent healthy after the first day of training camp or spring training and they'll laugh at you.

Injuries and ailments are a part of the job, overcoming them is what makes a true professional. Mayweather still hasn't grasped that concept.

* Jim Gray: Respect. I guess this little weasel is whom Aretha Franklin was talking about in her song. Think about it, have you ever seen a guy be so disrespectful to fighters in post-fight interviews like this guy. Don't even mention HBO's Larry Merchant- he isn't afraid to ask the tough questions like a true journalist and he's consistent. Gray looks at boxing as a secondary gig and looks down on boxers in general.

Don't believe me? Just compare and contrast his softball interviews that he does for NBC and the hatchet jobs he does on Showtime.

* Max Kellerman: No more over-hyping New York boxers. Look, I get along and respect Max, but when you look up the term 'East Coast Bias' in Webster's, his picture may be used as the definition of it. From Zab Judah to James Butler and to Tokumbo Olajide, he'll have you enshrined in Canastota if you come out of the Big Apple.

What's worse are the excuses he'll come up with for his New Yorkers when they fall on their faces. Max is great for boxing but he's gotta realize New York hasn't been a player on the boxing scene for at least 20 years.

* Crocodile: A new catchphrase. You know Crocodile, right? He was Mike Tyson's hype-man for all these years…the guy with the menacing shades and the army fatigues who used to scream, “GUERILLA WARFARE” at the top of his lungs over and over again.

I've heard that enough and it's about as played out as 'Whoop, there it is' and it's time he came up with a new one. All the great ones can add to their repertoire.

* HBO: Admit they acknowledge the titles. Stop being the Hypocritical Boxing Organization and just stop saying that you don't recognize these organizations. The latest example of their double-talk? Well, for years they dogged John Ruiz and his WBA title, suddenly Roy Jones challenges Ruiz and HBO is hyping this up as some sort of historic challenge of a light heavyweight trying to capture a heavyweight title.
Yeah, the same title they had basically trashed for years.

* Joe Cortez: No more over-officiating. His line is that,' He's firm but he's fair'. I'd argue about that the last couple of years but my biggest gripe with him is that he seems to make himself waaaaay too visible during fights and gets too involved. Nobody is there to watch him and he should just let the fighters fight.
Too often I see these fights with Cortez lose their flow as Cortez continually interrupts the action with his admonishments and warnings. Joe, take a step back and let us watch what we came to see.

* Don Turner: Stop living off of Holyfield-Tyson I- If you ever talk to this guy, he'll talk as though he invented boxing. And his big coup was co-training Evander Holyfield against Mike Tyson. 'The Real Deal' upset Tyson and suddenly Turner was being hailed as the new Chappie Blackburn and he became a media darling.

My question is this, did he suddenly teach Holyfield how to fight 35 fights into his career? Also, I contend that my mother and I could work Holyfield's corner and he would whip Tyson everyday of the week and twice on Sunday. And ask yourself this, when was the last time he was in the winning corner for a big fight?

* Newspaper writers: Start crediting the Internet. Ok, this is a sore subject with me, but too many times I've seen stories from the major newspaper scribes who amazingly have stories that are eerily similar to stories that I've read on the internet (or that I've written myself) and use quotes that I got in one-on-one interviews and they don't attribute their sources- the internet.

When I take quotes or info from a story I make a point to give credit where it's due. Now, I just wish these guys would do the same.

* Roy Jones: no more hip-hop entrances. Roy, you're a magnificently gifted prizefighter, you can also play just a bit of hoops, but your rhyming skills are that of Shaquille O'Neal. In other words, you're doing street nursery rhymes not Nas.

Please, oh please, stop embarrassing yourself and the sport with your cheesy as nacho's attempt to become a hip-hop performer. His last entrance/performance reminded me of one of those really bad Sir-Mix-Alot videos of the early 90's.

* Panama Lewis: an exit out of the game. You remember Lewis right, the guy who gave Aaron Pryor the mysterious white bottle before the 14th round of his bout against Alexis Arguello, which seemed to give 'the Hawk' a sudden burst of energy that enabled Pryor to brutally KO Arguello. Afterwards, Pryor would skip out on his post-fight drug test.

Then there was the fight with Luis Resto, where he would tamper with his gloves between rounds, and bearing the brunt of this tomfoolery was Billy Collins who's faced was turned into a bloody mess. Collins, in the aftermath of this brutality committed suicide. For this, Lewis was banned permanently from working a corner. But that doesn't mean that he can't go into the gym and train fighters and even attend fights.

The bottom line is simple, this man has no place in the game of boxing and boxing shouldn't tolerate him in any way.

* Cedric Kushner: no more gimmicks. This guy has tried everything from the disastrous 'ThunderBox' to one-day $100,000 heavyweight tournaments- and all have failed miserably.

He can put on a boxing version of 'Survivor' or 'Real World' if he wants but the reality is, boxing fans want good fights and interesting fighters, nothing more, nothing less.

Stop with the shenanigans and stop with the junk.

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Articles of 2002

Dream Fights of 2003

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Hey, we can all dream, right? Isn't it our God-given right as boxing fans to think about fights that should happen – but often times don't?

And not just fights that have the highest profile or the biggest names – because sometimes those fights, like Lewis vs. Tyson – are nothing more than high-profile mismatches. I'm talking about fights that are evenly matched between the game's best and are the most intriguing inside the ring.

Here are some fights I'd pay to see in the upcoming year; full well knowing that most of these fights are pipe dreams as the business end of the sport would bog these fights down quickly. But hey, we can dream right?

* Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Erik Morales or Marco Antonio Barrera: Name me another fighter that has never won a world title belt that is better than Marquez? You can't and this guys been ducked and dodged long enough. On February 1st he takes on Manuel Medina for the vacant IBF featherweight title and it says here that he should face one of the game's best known 126-pounders, either Morales or Barrera. Marquez is a master boxer with great counter-punching skills and his hand-speed would give either one of his Mexican compatriots fits. There are some in the industry who have been saying for a while that Marquez is already the game's premiere featherweight; I'm not inclined to disagree that strongly.

CHANCES OF HAPPENING?: With Barrera, not good, as Ricardo Maldonado sees no real upside in this match-up and would most likely take an easier fight on HBO for about the same amount of money he could make facing Marquez.

With Morales, the logistics are much less complicated. Both of them are promoted by Bob Arum and there is some talk that they could face each other in May if a Morales-Barrera III isn't made.

* Bernard Hopkins vs. Roy Jones: Not only because it's a match-up of two of the very premiere fighters in the world, but Hopkins needs to resume his career with some meaningful fights and Jones should be fighting guys like 'the Executioner' instead of participating in novelty acts like his proposed bout with John Ruiz.

And don't think for one minute that this would be a blowout. Jones couldn't blowout a green Hopkins in 1993 and won't be able to do it now. Hopkins, unlike most of Jones' opponents, isn't in total awe of Pensacola's finest.

CHANCES OF HAPPENING?: Not good, Sharon and Arafat will find a common ground regarding the Middle East before these two proud and stubborn men find one in contract negotiations.

* Oscar De La Hoya vs. Vernon Forrest: For fans of pure boxing and strategy this is a fight that can't be missed. Both men have strong jabs and match-up well physically. 'The Golden Boy' has the better left hook and 'The Viper' has a more effective right hand. Between these two well-schooled boxers you can expect a tense and tight boxing match with subtle momentum swings round by round.

CHANCES OF HAPPENING?: For 2003, not very good because it looks like Oscar will be fighting once in the upcoming year – a September rematch against Shane Mosley – and Bob Arum has stated that Forrest simply brings nothing to the table promotionally. This can be interpreted as another way of saying that he's not Latin, too dangerous or just another black fighter who can't sell a ticket. The bottom line seems to be that unless Forrest raises his profile in the upcoming years, De La Hoya will be facing guys that make economic sense.

* Floyd Mayweather vs. Kostya Tszyu: This would be a face off of the sport's premier lightweight against the game's best jr. welterweight. 'The Pretty Boy' would bring speed, quickness and boxing ability to the dance. While Tszyu would bring a decided edge in strength, size and punching power. They say styles make fights and you have two contrasting ones here.

CHANCES OF HAPPENING?: Not likely. This is for a couple of reasons. First, Vlad Wharton who promotes Tszyu, is seemingly deathly afraid to take any risks with Tszyu, who's basically his cash cow. Secondly, Mayweather got a reality check from his two bouts with Jose Luis Castillo, who at 135 pounds was able to muscle him throughout their 24 rounds they fought in 2002. And Tszyu is faster, sharper and just as strong as Castillo. I'm not sure Mayweather is in any rush to make the move up to 140-pounds.

* Lennox Lewis vs. Wladimir Klitschko: The industry is always better off when there is action in the heavyweight division. So why even mess around by having Lewis take on 'the other' Klitschko or knock out Tyson again; getting right in there with the man most pundits are claiming is the heir to his throne in Wlad Klitschko?

The time is now, Lewis is getting up there in age and really doesn't have that much left in his gas tank anyway and it would be prudent for him to face Klitschko now before he gets any better. Remember, that's the tact they took in facing Michael Grant when they did – but it has to be noted that Klitschko is much better than Grant.

Lewis would have the advantages in experience and savvy, but for one of the few times in his career he would be facing a disadvantage in size and perhaps power. The two best big men on the planet squaring off, what else could you ask for?

CHANCES OF HAPPENING: Actually pretty good, since Lewis himself has stated his plans to take on both Klitschkos in between his rematch with Tyson. But with Don King now making a full court press to garner the services of Lewis, who knows what direction he goes to now.

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