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Articles of 2002

OUTSIDE THE LINES WON'T CROSS THE LINE – ESPN KILLS STORIES ON BOXING REFORM

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The 9th Round

ESPN had an opportunity, quite some time ago, to put forth a meaningful statement that would have told me they were sincere – truly sincere – about addressing an issue such as the proper reform of boxing.

Needless to say, the network failed that test, tucking its tail between its legs and running to some safer pastures.

As you know, on March 9 of 2001, Greg Page wound up in a coma, and subsequently brain damaged as a result of a fight in which the Kentucky Athletic Commission failed to have any of the proper safety requirements in place (ambulance and/or paramedics, stretcher, licensed physician, even insurance) that were prescribed by federal law, with the finger pointing squarely at Jack Kerns, the chairman of the commission, who would later become First Vice-President of the Association of Boxing Commissions.

About a month later – on Easter Sunday, in fact, an ESPN “investigative” show called “Outside the Lines” explored the Page situation with a trio of guests – Ron Borges of the Boston Globe; Greg Sirb, then-president of the ABC, and Lou DiBella, who had just resigned as head of boxing at HBO to go out on his own.

There was a pre-produced package, where the ESPN crew went down to Kentucky, interviewed Nancy Black, the executive director of the commission, along with Manuel Mediodia – the unlicensed doctor who was at ringside that night, and Patricia Love-Page, soon-to-be wife of Greg.

The ESPN crew made a few discoveries – though not many that weren't previously reported by other sources such as the Cincinnati Enquirer , for example.

What was considerably more significant was what they missed.

When I was doing my research for a special report entitled “Horse Manure Isn't The Only Thing That Stinks in Kentucky” (included in the 'Operation Cleanup' book), in the space of about a week I had managed to find out a whole host of things that the ESPN report did not contain – things that were not inconsequential, either.

For example, at the time of the Page fight, Dr. Mediodia had not just been put on probation twice by the state of Ohio for questionable practices, he was UNLICENSED in the state of Kentucky to boot. This not only conflicted with the federal law, it was contrary to Kentucky's STATE law as well.

That's serious business, and considering that Mediodia is said to have turned and ran out the door EVEN BEFORE PAGE'S FIGHT ENDED, it's probably one of the more serious acts of malfeasance in this case.

It surprised me that an ESPN “investigative” team would miss this rather crucial piece of information. And I was more than just a little curious about it.

So I placed a call to Andy Lockett, an ESPN producer who was in charge of doing the Kentucky piece for “Outside the Lines”.

He told me that it was just assumed that Mediodia was licensed in Kentucky if he were working a Kentucky fight. After all, why would a doctor even attempt to practice in a state in which he did not hold a license? That would be absurd, wouldn't it? In fact, almost too absurd to follow up on.

I guess I agreed, to a certain extent, although I reminded him that this was boxing, and one should never make ANY assumptions when it comes to the ineptitude of a boxing commission.

Then our conversation kind of went like this:

ME: “Well, don't you think, in light of some of the irrefutable things we've managed to find out, that this is well worth a follow-up piece by you guys?”

HIM: “Absolutely. We already tried to do it.”

ME: “Then why didn't you do it?”

HIM: “Because……well, because, and I hope you wouldn't mention this, but (pause)…….we were pressured by programming to back off.”

ME: “Programming? I thought you guys WERE programming.”

HIM: “No – I mean they figure they do boxing, and that's their product – it's part of programming, and they had a show coming up in Kentucky, and well,………”

Yeah, I know.

Indeed, ESPN went to Owensboro, Ky. on March 23 – just two weeks after the Page fight – to do a fight card featuring Bones Adams in a WBA 122-pound title fight against Ivan Alvarez, although I'm not quite sure why that should have impacted on anything investigative that they did or could have done. But then again, we're dealing with Disney here.

Oh sure, ESPN did what they considered to be a “follow-up” on the Page story. It focused in on the human interest angle of Page's friendship with Kentucky heavyweight Dale Crowe, his opponent in that fateful match. The piece, which was terrific, was produced by Lockett, but it intentionally sidestepped some of the substantive issues that prompted Page to file a lawsuit against the Kentucky commission, and what make that suit potentially an important one for anyone concerned with boxing reform.

I bet Lockett, if he had his choice, would have done something different. My assumption is that he would have wanted to explore the issues of negligence a little further, or at least revisit some of the things we found. After all, one would imagine that would be more in keeping with what the purpose of “Outside the Lines” is – to present a “hard-hitting” sports editorial and news magazine program.

But hard-hitting it isn't.

I suppose it's not all that shocking that when Lockett had the audacity to want to be a newsman, his colleagues and/or superiors would slap that notion down. Just like HBO's “Real Sports”, in which “nothing is out of bounds” except when it
deals with sensitive areas of company business, commerce and conscience just don't seem to mix at the “Worldwide Leader in Sports”.

And “conscience” is absolutely the right word, because when the ESPN “boxing personalities” decided they wanted to go into the business of influencing minds, and influencing federal legislation, they sent out a gold-plated invitation for the kind of scrutiny I have been putting them through.

And if you're familiar with the network at all, you realize it could never hold up to such scrutiny. Not now. Not ever. And the evidence to that effect continues to roll in.

We caused our share of controversy with our reports about the corrupt, inept, indifferent, imbecilic Kentucky commission back in the fall of 2001, and have forced a lot of commissions to take a very long look at what they are doing. I know it, because I get the phone calls.

But let's face it – I may get a lot of intelligent boxing fans, media members, and industry people to come to the TotalAction website, and read the “Operation Cleanup” books, but that's absolutely nothing compared with the kind of audience ESPN has.

If the network had decided, even before I had become well-acquainted with the Page story, to make a major issue out of the horrible, and avoidable, chain of events that led to the near-fatal injury of Greg Page, it probably could have created enough of a snowball effect to get the ball rolling on some positive national regulations that may have precluded me from ever having to write “Operation Cleanup”.

But it didn't, and so now you're discovering that it's because it was more important to televise a Bones Adams fight from Kentucky than it was to affect some positive long-term change for the sport, which – and here's the really ironic thing, something ESPN doesn't seem to “get” – would make boxing, in the end, a more attractive product for consumers.

Instead, the ridiculous circle just keeps going round and round. What we've got is ESPN “commentator” Teddy Atlas, who's in bed with John McCain, who's in bed with Greg Sirb, who's in bed with Kentucky's “Minister of Maim”, Jack Kerns.

You'll want to remember that.

But don't be overly surprised, or even disappointed. I'm not.

It's what I've come to expect from the network of Mickey Mouse, Russell Peltz, and Bjorn Rebney – the most dangerous, disingenuous, hypocritical of all the alphabet soup organizations.

E-S-P-N.

fightpage@totalaction.com

Copyright 2002 Total Action Inc.

Articles of 2002

$*%@#!

Rick Folstad

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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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