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Muhammad Ali: A Life – Insights Culled from a New Documentary

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documentary entitled Muhammad Ali

ALI — Last year, I was involved in the making of a documentary entitled Muhammad Ali: A Life that will be televised by Epix on January 17 to mark the 75th anniversary of Ali’s birth.

Robert Lipsyte and Randy Roberts are featured prominently in the documentary. Lipsyte covered Ali as a journalist for the New York Times and other publications from the early 1960s on. He was present at the Fifth Street Gym when Cassius Clay met the Beatles; at Convention Hall when Clay dethroned Sonny Liston; and at Ali’s home in Miami when Muhammad uttered the immortal words, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.”

Roberts is a Distinguished Professor of History at Purdue University with books about Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, and Mike Tyson to his credit. Most recently, he co-authored Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X.

The quotes below are from Lipsyte, Roberts, and others in the boxing community who were interviewed for the documentary. Some of these quotes are in the final version of the film; some aren’t. All of them offer insight into the extraordinary life of Muhammad Ali.

 

Randy Roberts: “Here is this guy who emerges from the 1960 Olympics with a gold medal in the light-heavyweight division. He wants a tomato-red Cadillac. He wants to be rich. He wants to become heavyweight champion by the time he’s twenty-one or twenty-two years old. This is what he stands for. This is what he wants. I don’t think there was a whole lot more than that. I don’t think he ever saw the direction he was going to go in. He wanted what all great athletes want. Money, riches, fame. But en route to that goal, a life happened.”

Robert Lipsyte: “It’s instructive to go back to the movie with Will Smith – Ali – which gives the impression that he came out of the womb, this man of principle, who was going to remake the world. That’s not true at all. He was, I think, an intelligent but ignorant and totally uneducated, barely literate kid who, from the age of twelve on, really did nothing but box and was in that tunnel. He evolved into this fighting machine who was totally suggestible on so many levels to his boxing trainers, to the Nation of Islam, to the currents of the society around him. He became Muhammad Ali incrementally over a number of years. The idea that anybody is the picture on the dollar bill at birth is insane. We learn this in sports, where Michael Jordan didn’t make his junior high school basketball team. He didn’t start in high school until late. He had to work hard and develop. We understand that. Sometimes it’s harder to understand how people mature and develop socially, politically, and emotionally.”

Randy Roberts: “When he burst on the world stage, it was all about, ‘Ain’t I pretty? Ain’t I the prettiest?’ He never said, ‘Ain’t I handsome?’ But he was able to get away with it. Take a look at those early images of him. Very few athletes, if any, look that good. And there have been none that looked that good and were that good.”

Robert Lipsyte: “Let’s remember that Muhammad Ali came out of an unstable abusive home. His father was violent. His mother was ineffectual. He lived in a segregated city. When he came back from Rome with the Olympic gold medal in 1960, he still could not go to every restaurant he wanted to go to. But here was a group, the Nation of Islam, that said, ‘You’re beautiful. Black is beautiful. We are the real people. White people were carved out of us by an evil scientist.’ Elijah Muhammad became his surrogate father. He had all these brothers and uncles within the Nation of Islam. He had an enormous support system of people who believed in him in ways that gave him real inner strength.”

Randy Roberts [to Lipsyte]: “The reality is that you didn’t meet Ali in the 5th Street gym [in 1964]. He was still Cassius Clay at that time. Then you started to cover Muhammad Ali. In many ways they are two different figures.”

Robert Lipsyte: “I don’t think that there were many reporters sitting at ringside [for the first Liston fight] who thought Cassius had any chance. But something kind of clicked in the back of my mind when the bell rang and they came out. I suddenly realized, Cassius Clay is bigger than Sonny Liston. We’d all been writing David versus Goliath. But David was taller and he was big, and we had to now start re-evaluating a little bit. Then, within the first couple of rounds, it was very clear that Cassius Clay had a script. He was following his script. He was moving faster and he was taking control of the fight. Except for that moment when he was blinded in the fifth round, he was in total control of the fight.”

Teddy Atlas: “He was the first guy that did things wrong in a ring and made it right. It’s pretty special that he could write his own textbook.”

Robert Lipsyte [on the day after Liston-Clay I]: “This kid who’d been so garrulous and loud and brassy was very subdued and very quiet. I remember the press conference the next morning. He said, ‘The fight is over. Now I can just be polite.’ All the older reporters were kind of, ‘Yeah, I knew it was just an act.’ They were all very satisfied because it somehow reaffirmed their conservatism, their idea that we’re not really up against something new or different here. It’s just some flashy guy who tried to pull the wool over our eyes. But now that he’s won the championship, he’s going to be like everybody else and show us respect and be calm. They went off to write their stories and left a group of younger reporters. We were dissatisfied. Somehow, we felt betrayed because we had a different idea of who Cassius Clay was. He was the future. He was a revolution. He was different from every athlete who’d ever lived. People kept pressing him. Young reporters kept pressing him. ‘So, this was all an act? What about the Muslims? Is there any connection between you and the Muslims?’ He kept deflecting and moving. Suddenly, somebody asked, ‘Are you a card-carrying Muslim?’ That was a very evocative cold war line, because of ‘Are you a card-carrying communist?’ Great implications. ‘Are you a card-carrying Muslim?’ He kind of jumped back and said, ‘Red birds stay with red birds, and blue birds with blue birds, and lions with lions, and tigers with tigers, and I’m not going to go any place where I’m not wanted.’  Somebody said, ‘What about integration? What about the civil rights movement?’ That’s when he made his declaration of independence. He said, ‘I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be who I want.’ That was the story. He said a lot of other things later that have been chipped onto the wall of history. But that declaration of independence was very powerful and has resonated up to this day.”

Bernard Hopkins: “Muhammad Ali was our face. He gave us a voice to be able to speak boldly and proudly about what we believe we can do. At that time when it was so easy to compromise, so easy to say okay, he stood up.”

Paulie Malignaggi: “He was a person that made lot of people believe in themselves when maybe they had a reason not to believe in themselves. He was a person that showed just how mentally strong you can be. He stood for something and he wasn’t going to give up what he stood for no matter what the price would be.”

Robert Lipsyte: “The use by the media of his name, Muhammad Ali, became a kind of political litmus test. There were some people who just could not say ‘Muhammad Ali.’ They couldn’t give it to him. But by 1965-1966, if you went up to him and said, ‘Hey, Cassius,’ he wouldn’t talk to you. The reporters who couldn’t get ‘Muhammad Ali’ out of their mouth would say, ‘Hey, champ.’ And he would give them that lizard eye because he knew what that was all about. It took a long time before people were able to call him Muhammad Ali. I know, I had a really hard time getting ‘Muhammad Ali’ into the New York Times. In the beginning, they wouldn’t do it. They said, ‘Well, unless he changes his name in a court of law.’ I said, ‘Come on. This is about him choosing his own name. We don’t bother Cary Grant and Rock Hudson or John Wayne with what’s your real name? But the Times wouldn’t do it. After I made enough of a fuss, it was ‘Cassius Clay, who prefers to be called Muhammad Ali.’ And then, after a while, ‘Muhammad Ali, also known as Cassius Clay.’ I remember really being embarrassed, writing these stories in which he would refer to himself as Muhammad Ali and the desk would change it to Cassius Clay, which wasn’t what he said. Once, I apologized to him. I said, it was out of my control. He patted me on the top of my head and said, ‘Don’t worry. I realize you’re just a little brother of the white establishment.’”

Paulie Malignaggi: “Muhammad Ali versus Cleveland Williams, I don’t know of any heavyweight in history who beats that Ali. When I watch that fight it’s the most amazing thing. He’s just blitzing him with speed, timing, angles. You don’t know where it’s coming from and it looks effortless. They took that away from him. They robbed him of what would have been his greatest years in the ring. They robbed us of seeing something so brilliant.”

Roy Jones: “He stood up for right. He’s the best example of that you’ll ever see.”

Robert Lipsyte: “There was something almost innocent about Muhammad Ali. Dick Gregory called him the baby of the universe. Even at his vicious worst, there was an innocence about him and kind of an absorption of the ills of the world in his willingness to embrace everyone. There was something glowing about him. He was one of those people to whom we can attach our needs. We need a hero to be brave. We need a hero to have principle. We need a hero to understand us. He seemed to have all those things.”

Randy Roberts: “He gave everybody around him the same amount of him. He didn’t reserve himself for the rich, the famous, the influential.”

Paulie Malignaggi: “When he came back, you now had to respect how mentally strong and how much of a competitor he was. Before, he made it look easy. Now you got to see how badly this guy wanted to win. And when you show how badly you want to win, no matter what price you have to pay, that shows character. So we started to learn about the character of the man inside the ring, not just the character of the man outside the ring. This man stood for something and he was willing to fight for it no matter what outside the ring. And then he was willing to fight for what he wanted inside the ring. In both situations, he was willing to accept the consequences, no matter what, to achieve what he wanted and needed to achieve. That’s a rare kind of man.”

Teddy Atlas: “It’s a paradox. It’s a struggle. It’s alternating currents as far as what Ali means to me. He means that, if you believe in something, you stick to it no matter what the consequences are. So that’s one thing. But then the paradox of it is that sometimes I look at him and he wasn’t quite as sparkling as I wanted to believe. He was mean-spirited to Frazier. He did a lot of mean things there, and that went in contrast to what brought me to Ali’s side, a guy that loved all people, a guy that believed in remaking the world in the right way. To have the beautiful image that I want to have of him, I have to forget about how he took apart Joe Frazier and how it affected and impacted Joe Frazier with him being so mean towards him.”

Randy Roberts: “The language he used [to demean Joe Frazier] was unforgivable, but somehow it was forgiven. If your politics allied with his, you tended to say, ‘Well, it’s a show.’ You know, one of the most mystifying aspects of Ali is, some of the things that he did and some of the things he said were absolutely repugnant. But the love for him seemed unconditional.”

Roy Jones: “You got to have courage, but you also got to have faith. If you don’t have faith, then you won’t have courage. Ali wasn’t sure he could beat George Foreman. But he had an idea. He challenged him. He felt he would figure out a way or God would give him a way. That’s courage and faith combined, and that’s where Ali was best.”

Bill Caplan [George Foreman’s publicist in Zaire]: “George loves Ali. But at that time, he didn’t like him. Ali had this plan of walking around with the crowds, saying ‘Ali, Bomaye,’ which meant ‘Ali, kill him.’ You can’t really like a guy who was asking the people of Kinshasa to kill you.”

Teddy Atlas: “Ali reminds me that there’s a price for greatness. And it also reminds me that what makes you great, that great drive, that great ego, that great belief that you can do anything, that nothing is going to stop you; that can wound you if it’s not controlled.”

Robert Lipsyte: “I talked to George Foreman in the late-1990s. By this time, he was totally lovable. It was a TV interview and I had everything I needed. So I asked, ‘How do you feel as Muhammed Ali deteriorates further and further, knowing that you did a lot of the damage to him?’ And George said, ‘You know, I think about the old veterans of American wars who protected us. They take off their hands or their legs or their eyes that they lost in this war, and all you can do is thank them for what they did for us. And that’s the way I think about Ali.’ Now George didn’t actually answer the question. But I thought that was a beautiful way to think about Ali and to think about his damage now as part of his sacrifice for us.”

Randy Roberts: “His whole life is a product of choices. Good choices, bad choices, I don’t think he made a whole lot of conscious choices where he went home and agonized, ‘What am I going to do?’ I don’t think there was that cerebral quality of trying to think through choices. I think he made most of his choices ad hoc, and he usually made the right choice. If you go back and look at the big choices – maybe not some of the personal ones – he tended to make the right choice. His position on Vietnam turned out to be the right position on Vietnam. His declaration of independence turned out to be the right declaration. The really big choices that he made, he tended to be on the right side of history.”

Robert Lipstye: “You think of Ali with all the hopes, dreams, aspirations, sentiments that we put on him. He became for us the model, the symbol, the trailblazer of courage, the great hero athlete, the man who sacrifices, gives up for principle. Whatever it is you want him to be in your mind, he can be that. He’s such a great love absorber that he can represent all of us in so many different ways. But I think it’s what the watcher saw rather than the watched. Do you think that there’s less there than we want to believe was there?”

Randy Roberts: “We can criticize Ali in a thousand different ways. But he cared about people. He truly cared about people.”

Robert Lipstye: “His legacy was sanitized, partially by time and partially, I think, by his current wife, Lonnie, who is the curator of his legend and business activities. It’s not to anybody’s advantage who has a financial stake in him now to remember that, once upon a time, he was threatening and a great deal of America, black and white, was frightened of him.”

Gareth Davies: “Muhammad Ali spoke like a poet. He fought like a warrior. He made black beautiful. He made boxing beautiful. He oozed charisma and was probably the most beautiful man on the planet. He always had time for people. He was a people person, and people loved him. He never ever stopped being a man of the people. He’ll be remembered as the greatest character we’ve had in boxing and, probably, the greatest character in sport.”

 

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – A Hard World: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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The BWAA Shames Veteran Referee Laurence Cole and Two Nebraska Judges

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In an unprecedented development, the Boxing Writers Association of America has started a “watch list” to lift the curtain on ring officials who have “screwed up.” Veteran Texas referee Laurence Cole and Nebraska judges Mike Contreras and Jeff Sinnett have the unwelcome distinction of being the first “honorees.”

“Boxing is a sport where judges and referees are rarely held accountable for poor performances that unfairly change the course of a fighter’s career and, in some instances, endanger lives,” says the BWAA in a preamble to the new feature. Hence the watch list, which is designed to “call attention to ‘egregious’ errors in scoring by judges and unacceptable conduct by referees.”

Contreras and Sinnett, residents of Omaha, were singled out for their scorecards in the match between lightweights Thomas Mattice and Zhora Hamazaryan, an eight round contest staged at the WinnaVegas Casino in Sloan, Iowa on July 20. They both scored the fight 76-75 for Mattice, enabling the Ohio fighter to keep his undefeated record intact via a split decision.

Although Mattice vs. Hamazaryan was a supporting bout, it aired live on ShoBox. Analyst Steve Farhood, who was been with ShoBox since the inception of the series in 2001, called it one of the worst decisions he had ever seen. Lead announcer Barry Tompkins went further, calling it the worst decision he has seen in his 40 years of covering the sport.

Laurence Cole (pictured alongside his father) was singled out for his behavior as the third man in the ring for the fight between Regis Prograis and Juan Jose Velasco at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans on July 14. The bout was televised live on ESPN.

In his rationale for calling out Cole, BWAA prexy Joseph Santoliquito leaned heavily on Thomas Hauser’s critique of Cole’s performance in The Sweet Science. “Velasco fought courageously and as well as he could,” noted Hauser. “But at the end of round seven he was a thoroughly beaten fighter.”

His chief second bullied him into coming out for another round. Forty-five seconds into round eight, after being knocked down for a third time, Velasco spit out his mouthpiece and indicated to Cole that he was finished. But Cole insisted that the match continue and then, after another knockdown that he ruled a slip, let it continue for another 35 seconds before Velasco’s corner mercifully threw in the towel.

Controversy has dogged Laurence Cole for well over a decade.

Cole was the third man in the ring for the Nov. 25, 2006 bout in Hildalgo, Texas, between Juan Manuel Marquez and Jimrex Jaca. In the fifth round, Marquez sustained a cut on his forehead from an accidental head butt. In round eight, another accidental head butt widened and deepened the gash. As Marquez was being examined by the ring doctor, Cole informed Marquez that he was ahead on the scorecards, volunteering this information while holding his hand over his HBO wireless mike. The inference was that Marquez was free to quit right then without tarnishing his record. (Marquez elected to continue and stopped Jaca in the next round.)

This was improper. For this indiscretion, Cole was prohibited from working a significant fight in Texas for the next six months.

More recently, Cole worked the 2014 fight between Vasyl Lomachenko and Orlando Salido at the San Antonio Alamodome. During the fight, Salido made a mockery of the Queensberry rules for which he received no point deductions and only one warning. Cole’s performance, said Matt McGrain, was “astonishingly bad,” an opinion echoed by many other boxing writers. And one could site numerous other incidents where Cole’s performance came under scrutiny.

Laurence Cole is the son of Richard “Dickie” Cole. The elder Cole, now 87 years old, served 21 years as head of the Texas Department of Combat Sports Regulation before stepping down on April 30, 2014. At various times during his tenure, Dickie Cole held high executive posts with the World Boxing Council and North American Boxing Federation. He was the first and only inductee into the inaugural class of the Texas Boxing Hall of Fame, an organization founded by El Paso promoter Lester Bedford in 2015.

From an administrative standpoint, boxing in Texas during the reign of Dickie Cole was frequently described in terms befitting a banana republic. Whenever there was a big fight in the Lone Star State, his son was the favorite to draw the coveted refereeing assignment.

Boxing is a sideline for Laurence Cole who runs an independent insurance agency in Dallas. By law in Texas (and in most other states), a boxing promoter must purchase insurance to cover medical costs in the event that one or more of the fighters on his show is seriously injured. Cole’s agency is purportedly in the top two nationally in writing these policies. Make of that what you will.

Complaints of ineptitude, says the WBAA, will be evaluated by a “rotating committee of select BWAA members and respected boxing experts.” In subsequent years, says the press release, the watch list will be published quarterly in the months of April, August, and December (must be the new math).

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In Boxing, the Last Weekend of July was Chock Full of Surprises

The first upset of last weekend occurred in an undercard bout on the big show at London’s O2 Arena. David Allen, a journeyman with a 13-4-2 record, knocked out previously undefeated

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The first upset of last weekend occurred in an undercard bout on the big show at London’s O2 Arena. David Allen, a journeyman with a 13-4-2 record, knocked out previously undefeated

The first upset of last weekend occurred in an undercard bout on the big show at London’s O2 Arena. David Allen, a journeyman with a 13-4-2 record, knocked out previously undefeated Nick Webb (12-0, 10 KOs) in the fourth round. Allen said that he intended this to be his final fight, but will now hang around awhile.

In hindsight, this was an omen. Before the show was over, upsets – albeit mild upsets – were registered in both featured bouts. Dereck Chisora, trailing on the scorecards, stopped Carlos Takam in the eighth. Dillian Whyte outpointed Joseph Parker. And later that same day, in Kissimmee, Florida, Japanese import Masayuki Ito made a big splash in his U.S. debut, beating up highly touted Christopher Diaz.

– – – –

Joseph Parker is quite the gentleman. Following his loss to Dillian Whyte, Parker was gracious in defeat: “I say congratulations to Dillian. I gave it my best. The better man won.”

In case you missed it, Whyte survived a hoary moment in the final round to win a unanimous decision. Most everyone agreed that the decision was fair but there were a few dissenters. Well known U.K. boxing pundit Steve Bunce said, “I thought Parker deserved a draw.” Bunce noted that the scribes sitting near him were in complete accord that the most lopsided score (115-110) was far too wide.

We’ve seen fighters grouse that they were robbed after fights that were far less competitive. Parker’s post-fight amiability was all the more puzzling considering that he had a legitimate beef that referee Ian John Lewis was too lax, enabling Whyte to turn the contest into a street fight.

Parker’s trainer Kevin Barry was all on board with the selection of Lewis. “He’s a very highly qualified guy who I think is the best British referee,” he said. But Barry changed his tune after the fight, saying that there were at least two occasions when Lewis should have deducted a point from Whyte.

Veteran Australian boxing writer Anthony Cocks said that going forward, Parker, a soft spoken, mild mannered man, needs to have more of a mongrel in him. Cocks noted that when Whyte transgressed, Parker’s response was to look at the ref with a bemused expression. The first time that Whyte bent the rules, opined Cocks, Parker should have hit him in the balls.

– – – –

Top Rank hasn’t had much luck with their Puerto Rican fighters lately. First there was Felix Verdejo. Hyped as the next Felix Trinidad, the 2012 Olympian was 22-0 when his career was interrupted by a motorcycle accident. He won his first fight back in Puerto Rico, but was then exposed by Tijuana’s unheralded Antonio Lozada Jr. who stopped him in the 10th round at the Theater of Madison Square Garden on St. Patrick’s Day, 2018.

More recently, Top Rank gave a big build-up to Christopher Diaz, but Diaz, the 2016 ESPN Deportes Prospect of The Year, also hit the skids after starting his pro career 23-0. Diaz was upset on Saturday by Masayuki Ito in a match sanctioned for the vacant WBO 130-pound title.

Unlike Verdejo, Diaz was still standing at the final bell, but he was taken to the cleaners by his Japanese opponent who won comfortably on the scorecards.

– – – –

Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin made his pro debut on the Diaz-Ito undercard. Nikitin won every round of a 6-round contest.

If the name sounds vaguely familiar, this is the guy who defeated top seed Michael Conlan in a quarterfinal bantamweight match at the Rio Olympics. The decision, which Conlan greeted with a middle finger salute to the judges, was widely seen as a heist.

In signing new prospects, Top Rank honcho Bob Arum likes to gather up fighters who compete in the same weight class as fighters that he already controls. This sets up a scenario where he can double dip, extracting a commission from the purse of both principals.

The cluster is most pronounced in the lower weight classes. These fighters, listed alphabetically, are currently promoted or co-promoted by Top Rank: junior bantamweight Jerwin Ancajas (31-1-1), junior featherweight Michael Conlan (8-0), featherweight Christopher Diaz (23-1), super bantamweight Isaac Dogboe (19-0), super bantamweight Jessie Magdaleno (25-1), super bantamweight Jean Rivera (14-0), featherweight Genesis Servania (31-1), bantamweight Shakur Stevenson (7-0), bantamweight Antonio Vargas (7-0), featherweight Nicholas Walters (26-1-1).

The aforementioned Nikitin launched his pro career as a featherweight.

– – – –

In July of 2004, Danny Williams knocked out Mike Tyson in the fourth round at Louisville. Iron Mike had one more fight and then wisely called it quits. Williams had 48 more fights, the most recent coming last weekend in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Williams was stopped in the 10th round by a local man, 35-year-old Lee McAllister, whose last documented fight had come in 2013. In that bout, McAllister, carrying 140 pounds, outpointed a Slovakian slug in a 6-round fight. During his hiatus from boxing, McAllister (that’s him in the red and white trunks), served a 9-month prison sentence for assaulting a patron while working in an Aberdeen kebab shop.

Danny Williams’ weight wasn’t announced, but in his three fights prior to fighting McAllister he came in a tad north of 270 pounds. He reportedly out-weighed McAllister by 4 stone (56 pounds), likely a loose approximation.

Williams is a product of Brixton, the hardscrabble Afro-Caribbean neighborhood in South London that also spawned Dillian Whyte. But he has no intention of going back there. After the McAllister fight, in which he was knocked down three times, he said he was retiring to Nigeria where he had a job waiting for him as a bodyguard.

– – – –

The ink was barely dry on the weekend’s events when news arrived that Tyson Fury was close to signing for a December bout with WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder. On social media, Fury said the deal was almost done and Fury’s promoter Frank Warren confirmed it while saying that it was conditional on Fury looking good when he opposes Francesco Pianeta on Aug. 18 at the Windsor Park soccer stadium in Belfast. Fury vs. Pianeta underpins Carl Frampton’s WBO featherweight title defense against Luke Jackson.

As to whether he would be ready to defeat Wilder after only two comeback fights, Fury, who turns 30 this month, said he was ready to beat Wilder on the day he was born.

Deontay Wilder is disappointed that his dream match with Anthony Joshua won’t happen until next spring at the earliest, but there are plenty of options out there for him and more of them for him to ponder after this past weekend’s events.

Cuban southpaw Luis Ortiz looked good against Razvan Cojanu, dismissing his hapless Romanian adversary in the second round on the Garcia-Easter card in Los Angeles.

After the bout, WBC prexy Mauricio Suliaman gave Wilder his blessing to skirt his mandatory against Dominic Breazeale for a rematch with Ortiz.

Presumably that also applies if Wilder accepts promoter Eddie Hearn’s offer for a match with Dillian Whyte. The WBC now lists Whyte as their “silver” champion and has bumped him ahead of Breazeale into the #1 slot in their rankings. And then there’s Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller who has an Eddie Hearn connection and is a more interesting opponent than Breazeale.

If Wilder vs. Fury is a go, say Fury and Warren, it will be held in December in New York or Las Vegas. We make New York the favorite. The only good date in Las Vegas in December for an event of this magnitude is Dec. 1 and that’s only because Thanksgiving arrives early this year. The National Finals Rodeo, a 10-day event which fills up the town, arrives on Dec. 6, eliminating the next two weekends. And when the rodeo leaves, Christmas is right around the corner. Historically, boxing promoters shy away from putting on a big show right before Christmas on the theory that fight fans have the “shorts,” having exhausted their discretionary income on Christmas gifts.

There are some interesting fighters competing in the upper tier of the heavyweight division and a slew of intriguing prospects coming up the ladder. The division hasn’t been this exciting since the Golden Age of Ali, Frazier, Foreman, et al. Enjoy.

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Les Moonves, Hero of Mayweather-Pacquiao Deal, Now Cast as a Villain

“He refused to take ‘no’ for an answer.”
That comment, offered in praise of Les Moonves for the pivotal role the chairman and CEO of CBS Corporation played in helping make the May 2, 2015, megafight pairing

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Moonves

“He refused to take ‘no’ for an answer.”

That comment, offered in praise of Les Moonves for the pivotal role the chairman and CEO of CBS Corporation played in helping make the May 2, 2015, megafight pairing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, has taken on a more sordid connotation in light of the avalanche of accusations of sexual impropriety that have thrust the 68-year-old Moonves into the unwelcome company of such accused high-visibility miscreants as Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Bill O’Reilly and Matt Lauer.

But while the other aforementioned power players have been fired or indicted, their reputations in tatters, Moonves remains on the job as one of the most influential and highest paid (a reported $70 million in 2017) media executives in the United States. Despite a damning article authored by Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker that details numerous instances of bad behavior ranging from merely dubious to criminally actionable, and to which Moonves himself has admitted to some extent, CBS on Monday issued a statement of support that seemed to catch the editors of Variety somewhat off-guard. The entertainment publication’s opening paragraph reads thusly: “In a surprise move, CBS’ board of directors is keeping Leslie Moonves as chairman-CEO even as it launches a probe of sexual assault allegations leveled against him by six women in a New Yorker expose.”

Why should still another story of alleged sexual misconduct by an older man seeking to exert improper control over younger women be of any significance to a fight audience? Well, normally it wouldn’t, except for Moonves’ position, which includes a say in the direction of Showtime’s increasingly important boxing operation if he so chooses. When negotiations for Mayweather-Pacquiao, a pay-per-view event which was to be co-produced by Showtime and HBO, hit a snag, Moonves insinuated himself into the discussion because it made financial and logistic sense for him to do so. CBS/Showtime had entered into a six-bout, $250 million deal with Mayweather, and three of the four fights held to that point had underperformed. Subsequently, the prevailing belief in CBS/Showtime’s executive offices was that Mayweather’s long-delayed showdown with Pacquiao was not only advisable, but absolutely necessary to stanch the flow of red ink.

“Without Les Moonves, this fight wouldn’t have had a prayer of happening,” Top Rank chairman and CEO Bob Arum, a longtime friend of Moonves, said after the last “i” had been dotted and the last “t” crossed. “The real hero in getting this done is Les Moonves.”

And this from Stephen Espinoza, Showtime Sports’ executive vice president and general manager, tossing another verbal bouquet to his boss: “One of the main reasons this deal got done, when maybe other ones didn’t, was having Les Moonves as part of the process. He was deeply committed to making this deal. He is someone that all parties in this negotiation respected. He was really the catalyst for seeing this through. He refused to take `no’ for an answer from any side. He was there making sure that the parties came together in a successful and cooperative manner.”

But while the high-level wheeling and dealing to finalize Mayweather-Pacquiao was done behind closed doors, so too were those instances when Moonves was attempting to arrange a private deal with a female subordinate whose career he could either advance or stymie. One such occasion allegedly involved writer-actress Ileana Douglas, who was summoned to Moonves’ office to discuss matters involving a television project in which she was to have starred. The New Yorker story quotes Douglas’ heightening discomfort as Moonves made coarse and physical advances toward her.

“At that point, you’re a trapped animal,” Douglas said of the incident. “Your life is flashing before your eyes. It has stayed with me the rest of my life, that terror.”

After The New Yorker story came out, Moonves apologized, sort of, to the six women who told Farrow that the CBS bigwig had sexually harassed them. All claimed he became cold and hostile after they rejected his advances, and that they believed their careers suffered as a result.

In a statement, Moonves said, “Throughout my time at CBS, we have promoted a culture of respect and opportunity for all employees, and have consistently found success elevating women to top executive positions across our company. I recognize that there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances. Those were mistakes and I regret them immensely. But I always understood and respected – and abided by the principle – that `no’ means `no,’ and I have never misused my position to harm or hinder anyone’s career … We at CBS are committed to being part of the solution.”

What makes the furor that has suddenly swirled up around Moonves all the more curious is his prominent support for the #MeToo movement and other feminist causes. In December, he helped found the Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace. A month prior to that, at a conference in November, he said, “I think it’s important that a company’s culture will not allow for (sexual harassment). And that’s the thing that’s far-reaching. There’s a lot we’re learning. There’s a lot we didn’t know.”

There’s a lot we didn’t know? Oh, for sure. We didn’t know for a very long time that TV’s favorite father figure, now-81-year-old Bill Cosby, would be classified as a sexually violent predator by a Pennsylvania court. Cosby is due to be sentenced Sept. 24 on three counts of aggravated indecent assault, and his alma mater, Temple University, rescinded the honorary Ph.D. it conferred upon him in 1991. The Cos resigned his spot on Temple’s  Board of Trustees in 2014, after 32 years, amid accusations that he sexually assaulted dozens of women over decades.

We also didn’t know that Harvey Weinstein, 66, the co-founder of Miramax, would be dismissed from the company and be expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences after the New York Times ran a story on Oct, 5, 2017, detailing decades of allegations against him by over 80 women. It would seem that the most important piece of furniture in Weinstein’s office was not his desk, but the proverbial casting couch.

One of the more intriguing developments in the widening scandal involved TV newsmen Bill O’Reilly and Matt Lauer. In September 2017, O’Reilly, fired by Fox News for a series of alleged sexual improprieties, appeared as a guest on NBC’s Today show, where he told host Matt Lauer that his dismissal was “a hit job – a political and financial hit job.” Two months later, Lauer was canned by NBCUniversal after it was found he had an inappropriate sexual relationship with another much more junior NBC employee. Three additional women subsequently made complaints against Lauer.

Boxing is a physical sport, maybe the most physical there is, and in most cases the transgressions committed were by fighters who resorted to brute force, the fastest way to bring cops and attorneys into the equation. Think Tony Ayala Jr. spending 17 years behind bars for rape, a conviction that came on the heels of a previous incident in which he broke a teenage girl’s jaw after he made unwanted advances toward her in the restroom of a drive-in theater. But it might be argued that those who seek to have their way with women by exercising a different kind of power are just as much or even more reprehensible, an affront not only to the females they view as disposable objects but to any man who would not want to see his mother, wife or daughter treated so shabbily.

According to CBS, there have been no misconduct claims and no settlements against Moonves during his 24 years at the network. He deserves, as everyone does under the American system of jurisprudence, the presumption of innocence. But given the current landscape befouled by others who apparently felt that they could do whatever they wanted because they always had gotten away with it, sticking with the status quo might send the wrong message.

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