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Articles of 2002

ESPN'S STRATEGIC PARTNER CENSORS THE PRESS – WITH SOME DEGREE OF SUCCESS

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The 5th Round

 We've recently learned something very interesting – that ESPN's strategic partner, Bjorn Rebney of Sugar Ray Leonard Boxing, has pro-actively made an attempt to jeopardize the employment of a Buffalo News writer who has, in the recent past, seen fit to criticize his operation.

On April 5 of this year, Tim Graham, who has been the News' regular boxing writer for the past three years, pointed out, correctly I might add, that Rebney, ESPN's strategic partner, had falsely advertised and promoted a blackout in the Buffalo area, both in radio ads and through public relations man Mike Billoni, for its “Buffalo Blast” show (which took place that evening), and had continued to mislead the public about a blackout during the week leading up to the event.

In a subsequent interview with the website Boxingtalk.net, Rebney, ESPN's strategic partner, admitted that he knew there was no blackout, and in fact claimed to have pulled the radio ads early in the promotion. However, Billoni, a member of “Team Mesi” who was working under Rebney's direction for purposes of the event, continued to inform the press that a blackout would be in effect unless the arena at the University of Buffalo, where the fight was being held, was sold out.

This chain of events was covered in depth within Chapter 16 of “Operation Cleanup”.

On September 24, Rebney, ESPN's strategic partner, sent a “Memorandum” to Steven Bell, the managing editor of the Buffalo News, and one of Graham's superiors, which made certain assertions as to Graham's “motivations”.

“For reasons we understand, but are not yet in a position to irrefutably prove, the boxing writer for the Buffalo News (Tim Graham) has chosen to repeatedly and untruthfully attack our company”, is what Rebney, ESPN's strategic partner, writes in the letter. It goes on later to say, “Graham's attacks on Sugar Ray Leonard Boxing have been vicious, untrue and (we believe) based on motivations having nothing to do with actually reporting the news.”

Toward the end of the letter, Rebney, ESPN's strategic partner, gets deeper into the insinuations and also adds a threat for Graham's employer:

“Since the first article that Graham wrote about Sugar Ray Leonard, it was clear to us that his attacks were intended to damage our company and were not based on fact or opinion, but were instead based on something else. Our knowledge and further investigation into the motivation behind Graham's attacks has resulted in our being satisfied that we know why Graham has taken the action he has. Unlike Graham, until we have irrefutable evidence supporting our beliefs, we will not make those beliefs public. And, out of respect for the alliance/partnership we have formed with the Buffalo News, we will come to you and your staff to lay out our findings and information prior to sharing them with anyone.”

The “alliance/partnership” that Rebney, ESPN's strategic partner, refers to is something that deserves some elaboration. You see, on both cards SRL Boxing has promoted in Buffalo involving heavyweight Joe Mesi, SRL has entered into its own “partnership” of sorts with the Buffalo News, in which the promoters were given substantial print ads in the newspaper free of charge, in exchange for numerous marketing considerations, including appearances by Leonard on behalf of other advertisers in the Buffalo News. Indeed, Rebney, ESPN's strategic partner, appears to be attempting to leverage this relationship in his letter to Bell.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, and in fact, rather suspiciously, Graham, who is one of the better boxing reporters in the country, has been more or less taken “off” the boxing beat when it comes to the SRL cards in Buffalo. He has been supplanted in favor of Rodney McKissic, a capable writer, but one who, previous to the arrival in Buffalo of ESPN's strategic partners – SRL and Rebney, had not written a story on boxing since the 1988 Adirondack Games. McKissic, in fact, has written the lion's share of all pre-fight stories regarding both SRL Boxing and Joe Mesi.

 On September 24, Rebney, ESPN's strategic partner, sent a “Memorandum” to Steven Bell, the managing editor of the Buffalo News, and one of Graham's superiors, which made certain assertions as to Graham's “motivations”.

“For reasons we understand, but are not yet in a position to irrefutably prove, the boxing writer for the Buffalo News (Tim Graham) has chosen to repeatedly and untruthfully attack our company”, is what Rebney, ESPN's strategic partner, writes in the letter. It goes on later to say, “Graham's attacks on Sugar Ray Leonard Boxing have been vicious, untrue and (we believe) based on motivations having nothing to do with actually reporting the news.”

Toward the end of the letter, Rebney, ESPN's strategic partner, gets deeper into the insinuations and also adds a threat for Graham's employer:

“Since the first article that Graham wrote about Sugar Ray Leonard, it was clear to us that his attacks were intended to damage our company and were not based on fact or opinion, but were instead based on something else. Our knowledge and further investigation into the motivation behind Graham's attacks has resulted in our being satisfied that we know why Graham has taken the action he has. Unlike Graham, until we have irrefutable evidence supporting our beliefs, we will not make those beliefs public. And, out of respect for the alliance/partnership we have formed with the Buffalo News, we will come to you and your staff to lay out our findings and information prior to sharing them with anyone.”

The “alliance/partnership” that Rebney, ESPN's strategic partner, refers to is something that deserves some elaboration. You see, on both cards SRL Boxing has promoted in Buffalo involving heavyweight Joe Mesi, SRL has entered into its own “partnership” of sorts with the Buffalo News, in which the promoters were given substantial print ads in the newspaper free of charge, in exchange for numerous marketing considerations, including appearances by Leonard on behalf of other advertisers in the News.

Indeed, Rebney, ESPN's strategic partner, appears to be attempting to leverage this relationship in his letter to Bell.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, and in fact, rather suspiciously, Graham, who is one of the better boxing reporters in the country, has been more or less taken “off” the boxing beat when it comes to the SRL cards in Buffalo. He has been supplanted in favor of Rodney McKissic, a capable writer, but one who, previous to the arrival in Buffalo of ESPN's strategic partners – SRL and Rebney, had not written a story on boxing since the 1988 Adirondack Games. McKissic, in fact, has written the lion's share of all pre-fight stories regarding both SRL Boxing and Joe Mesi.

Upon being contacted by us, Graham was not aware of any correspondence sent by Rebney, ESPN's strategic partner, to Bell, and indicated he was “very surprised” that such a letter existed. Inasmuch as we originally spoke to Graham on October 21, it seems as though 27 days had gone by and still, neither executive who, to our knowledge, has seen the letter – meaning Bell nor executive sports editor Howard Smith – ever apprised Graham of these developments.

Naturally, the content of the letter raises questions as to exactly what Rebney, ESPN's strategic partner, plans to spring on the Buffalo News in the way of concrete evidence about Graham's alleged ulterior motives. Certainly, the letter would seem to be rather defamatory in nature, since it is directed toward those people Graham is responsible to in the way of his employment.

We endeavored to get answers from Rebney, ESPN's strategic partner, by way of a questionnaire sent on October 23, which read like this:

“* Even if, for the sake of argument, some reporting inaccuracies existed, what is it that tells you there was a clear ulterior motive on the part of Mr. Graham?

* Instead of simply threatening the Buffalo News with such an implication, would you be kind enough to furnish the evidence that would justify sending a letter, clearly designed to damage Mr. Graham, to his superiors?

* Is there, in fact, any evidence at all?

* If you were going to warn the Buffalo News that such evidence existed, why would you hesitate for a moment in revealing it to them, or to paraphrase something you have stated, “share it with anyone”?

* Is your overall objective to get Mr. Graham off the boxing beat?

* Haven't you tried to have Mr. Graham “sanctioned” before, using your “alliance/partnership” with the Buffalo News as leverage?”

Unfortunately, no answers have been forthcoming.

One might also be curious as to whether ESPN, with whom Rebney and SRL Boxing have touted a “strategic alliance” and “strategic partnership” in the process of recruiting investors, was involved in the machinations that led to Graham being more or less “benched” by the Buffalo News. And it would be quite ironic, given the fact that in addition to his duties at the News, Graham also writes for the ESPN.com boxing web page. It certainly gives rise to all kinds of speculation, including the possibility that, given the relationship that Rebney claims with the network and ESPN acquiesces to, it could be part of an overall “strategy” between the two “partners”.

Let's put it this way – Graham has not been asked to write a story for the ESPN website since September 9.

For his part, Bell told us that he invited Rebney – ESPN's strategic partner – to discuss his charges against Graham, but that Rebney never took him up on that invitation.

Of course, there's a very plausible reason for that. Truth be known, Rebney has absolutely nothing in the way of evidence. His desired result, it goes without saying, was to “scare” people like Bell and Smith into either firing Graham or disciplining him in some way, banking on the strength of Leonard's name and the “marketing relationship” between the News and SRL Boxing to carry some “juice”.

Judging from the subsequent managerial decision made by Bell and Smith regarding the boxing coverage, that may in fact be what happened, at least to some degree.

It's disconcerting, to be sure. There is obviously nothing a boxing commission can do to intercede when promoters seek to manipulate the way coverage of their activities is delivered to the public and exercise control over those who would cast a critical eye toward them. That's simply not within their jurisdiction.

So the press has to serve as a guardian of credibility; the last line of defense, if you will. To put it bluntly, it must serve as the filtration system through which all bullshit must flow, before being regurgitated in the form of something that bares some resemblance to the truth. In a way, the media more or less becomes a de facto agent of reform.

And when the press casts this responsibility aside for the sake of engaging in a commercial “partnership” with an entity it is supposed to be covering with some level of objectivity, it becomes a “win-win” deal for everyone – except the public. Under this set of circumstances, there is no telling what kinds of misdeeds an unscrupulous promoter can get away with while going unchecked.

I wonder what other members of the “legitimate” press think. After all, if it could happen to Tim Graham, it could happen to them too.

That, for sure, will be the subject of a future chapter down the line.

You can count on that.

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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