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Beat The Press: Awkward Moments With Problematic Boxers (A TSS Classic)

Jeffrey Freeman

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Beat The Press: Awkward Moments With Problematic Boxers (A TSS Classic)

“Get him a straitjacket!”

That’s how all this craziness started.

In 2002, boxing writer Mark ‘Scoop’ Malinowski stood at the back of a Mike Tyson press conference in New York City and shouted his exasperation at the former baddest man on the planet. Tyson, having just bitten Lennox Lewis on the leg during a media face-off gone horribly wrong, was livid. Hearing what Malinowski said, Tyson turned his attention to the fedora-clad reporter and let loose with one of the most vulgar diatribes ever heard in professional sports.

“Put your mother in a straitjacket,” the crazy-eyed Tyson screamed back at the “white boy” newshound best known (until this moment) for his informative Biofile write-ups about boxers. It only got so much worse from there with a totally unhinged Iron Mike threatening to sodomize Malinowski in public.

Seventeen years later, it’s becoming more and more common for angry boxers to take their frustrations out on credentialed media members charged with asking them questions and covering the sport on their behalf. It’s happened to me on conference calls and at live events, most memorably with Andre Berto in the lead-up to his 2011 bout with Jan Zaveck. Triggered by my suggestion that he was now at risk of becoming a forgotten fighter, Berto got pugnacious.

“Is that what it is?” Berto responded to me on the media teleconference. “You lose one fight and now you’re forgotten about? Saying that kind of thing just blows my mind about you reporters.”

Berto continued to let me have it.

“You’ve seen a guy like Shane Mosley resurrect his career three or four times, a guy like Bernard Hopkins and all these other guys, and they have four, five, six losses. I went through a tough defeat. I had a bad night. I don’t care about what people think or what you’re gonna write. I’m doing this for me, my family, and the real Berto fans out there and that’s it.”

I definitely got under his skin.

Last week in Las Vegas, Adrien Broner got into beefs with Showtime’s Al Bernstein and with ESPN’s Dan Rafael. Before his January 19th PPV non-effort against Manny Pacquiao, Broner refused to answer softball questions tossed by Bernstein during the final press conference.

It was an ugly scene, AB vs. AB.

problem

Bernstein, miffed but maintaining his professionalism, backed down when Broner disrespectfully told him he had nothing to say to him, calling him a “bitch ass nigga” and saying that he’d rather be questioned by Roy Jones Jr. or Stephen A. Smith.

No less indignant after losing a unanimous decision to Pacquiao, Broner was asked by Rafael if he really believed what he was saying about being robbed. Broner went for the low-hanging fruit.

He fat shamed Big Dan Rafael. “Hell ya I believe I won that fight,” he told the plus-sized writer. “It’s like when you believe you want cheese on that burger.” Broner, giggling like a goof, amused by his own mean-spirited sense of humor, threatened to go even lower before the mic was passed to South Central News.

Why are these confrontations with the fight media happening? Is it just a case of “fake news” getting what’s rightfully coming back at them by those they insult and otherwise misrepresent? Clearly, the days of Muhammad Ali verbally sparring with Howard Cosell and harmlessly playing with the man’s toupée are long gone. Is social media to blame or is it all just a sign of the times?

I don’t have all the answers.

What I do have are questions. That’s how this job is supposed to work for any working journalist. We ask you. You answer us. We then report to our readers and/or followers, the boxing fans.

Unfortunately, this dynamic is dying if it’s not already dead. Perhaps fighters no longer feel they need the boxing media to get their message out, particularly when they (like any President or entertainer) can use Twitter to say whatever the heck they want, whenever the hell they like.

Before going any further let me just say that the vast majority of boxers are exceedingly polite in their interactions with the media but boxing is a sport where passions run deep and tempers often flare. Sometimes we wordsmiths get burned. Here then are five infamous instances of boxers behaving truculently in the presence of writers, reporters, and television/radio announcers.

James Toney vs. Jim Gray: After becoming one of only two men to stop Evander Holyfield, ‘Lights Out’ Toney gave Showtime’s Jim Gray a little taste of the streets. Gray, interviewing Toney in the ring after the 2003 upset in Las Vegas, asked the tough talking former middleweight champion of the world if he was just “too quick and too fast” for the aging Holyfield. It seemed like a legitimate question but Toney responded as if Gray had personally disrespected him. “Don’t come up in here trying to give me no bad ass questions, trying to degrade me.”

Undeterred, Gray pressed on but to no avail. “I ain’t gotta answer nobody’s questions,” said Toney before knocking the mic out of Gray’s hand and onto the canvas; then turning his back on the announcer and starting to walk away. As Gray went to recover his fallen tool of the trade, Toney spun back around to accost Gray for “walking up” on him. “I don’t like you,” griped Toney.

Deontay Wilder vs. Radio Raheem: In L.A. last year to cover Wilder-Fury for the website Seconds Out, boxing personality Radio Raheem quickly fell afoul of the ‘Bronze Bomber’ at the final fight week press conference following Wilder’s face-off with Tyson Fury. Raheem made the mistake of bringing up the history of slavery. He reminded Wilder of comments he had made but had not elaborated on. “You said your people have been fighting for four hundred years…”

This upset Wilder more than Fury ever could.

“They your people too,” Wilder sneered at his brother from another mother. Raheem asked for clarification but Wilder was fuming, accusing the reporter of trying to “bait” him. Raheem asked again for an explanation. “I don’t have to explain what’s understood,” dismissed Wilder, now mocking ‘Radio Raheem’ for his on-air name. “Go Google that shit,” he angrily instructed. Wilder ripped off his own glasses and then asked Raheem how he could dare ask such a thing, getting in his face with a loud rant about their people still fighting “to this day, to this day, to this day!”

Tyson Fury vs. Elie Seckbach: The comebacking ‘Gypsy King’ won respect and admiration from the mainstream media for his brutal honesty about addiction and depression, but he got off on the wrong foot with American boxing media veteran and YouTube sensation Elie Seckbach.

During an in-ring media event held to promote his then upcoming WBC heavyweight title fight with Deontay Wilder, Fury was introduced to Seckbach and encouraged to be interviewed by him. Fury was having none of it. He waved his finger at Seckbach and told him to leave the ring immediately. The publicist in charge of media relations was surprised at Fury’s attitude towards the videographer. “I don’t want him,” Fury bluntly blurted. The publicist tried to tell Fury how good Seckbach had been for the fight’s promotion but Fury’s mind was already made up about him.

“Elie is a wanker, that’s who he is.”

“He’s a hater,” said Fury.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Larry Merchant: After winning an ugly dog fight on HBO PPV against Victor Ortiz by using a well-deserved cheap shot to win the WBC welterweight title by knockout, Mayweather took a few more cheap shots at Merchant during the post-fight interview. The result was a spectacularly uncomfortable exchange between a fighter and an announcer.

With Merchant congratulating the winner and commenting on how he was “in charge” of the fight, Mayweather suddenly snapped. “You never give me a fair shake,” he said. “HBO needs to fire you, you don’t know shit about boxing.” The deer in the headlights look on Merchant’s face told the whole story. “You ain’t shit,” Mayweather repeatedly told the 80-year-old broadcasting legend. Protecting himself at all times, Merchant shot back with a line that’s sure to go down in history as one of the great comebacks. “I wish I was 50 years younger, I’d kick your ass!”

Mayweather wasn’t done feuding with the media. In 2015, he revoked the May-Pac press credentials for three journos whose applications for press passes had already been approved. They were CNN’s Rachel Nichols, ESPN’s Michelle Beadle and TSS’s own Thomas Hauser.

Victor Ortiz vs. Joel Sebastianelli: More amusing than obnoxious, this case of vicious fighter versus writer happened in 2011, just five months before the aforementioned Mayweather-Ortiz bout. The scene was the MGM Grand at Foxwoods in Connecticut. Ortiz had just won the WBC welterweight title; defeating Andre Berto in the ‘Fight of the Year’ on HBO. The post-fight press conference was buzzing with media eager to question the new champ. Then it happened.

A baby-faced writer for Ring News 24 stood up and put a well-crafted question to Ortiz. It had to do with Ortiz overcoming adversity in this fight after he’d failed to overcome it against Marcos Maidana two years prior. Stupefied by such an inquiry, Ortiz ducked the question and threatened to come down off the stage to “spank” the teenaged cub reporter with his newly won green belt.

Everyone laughed. Next question please.

I later hired that kid to do KO Digest interviews including fully fleshed out Q&A’s with Wladimir Klitschko, Ray Mancini, Keith Thurman, Paulie Malignaggi, Marlon Starling, Shannon Briggs, Steve Cunningham, Jeff Fenech, Virgil Hill, Mike Alvarado, and Mike Weaver among others.

Way to go Scoop, way to go!

Boxing writer Jeffrey Freeman grew up in the City of Champions, Brockton, Massachusetts from 1973 to 1987, during the marvelous career of Marvin Hagler. He then lived in Lowell, Mass during the best years of Micky Ward’s illustrious career. A member of the Boxing Writers Association of America, Freeman covers boxing for The Sweet Science in New England.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on Jan. 22, 2019.

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Ramirez vs. Taylor Adds Luster to an Already Strong Boxing Slate in May

Arne K. Lang

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Boxing will heat up big-time in May. Canelo Alvarez will defend his WBC 168-pound title on May 8 against Billy Joe Saunders. Two weeks later, WBC/WBO 140-pound champion Jose Ramirez (26-0, 17 KOs) meets his IBF/WBA counterpart Josh Taylor (17-0, 13 KOs). Teofimo Lopez’s title defense against George Kambosos may transpire in May and now there’s talk that Manny Pacquiao will also return in May with Mikey Garcia in the opposite corner.

The Ramirez-Taylor fight was announced today (March 2). The match between the undefeated belt-holders, both former Olympians, will produce the fifth unified champion of the four-belt error. Middleweights Bernard Hopkins and Jermain Taylor, junior welterweight Terence Crawford, and cruiserweight Oleksandr Usyk are the only boxers to have held this distinction.

Ramirez vs. Taylor will be on ESPN. The fight appears headed to an MGM Grand property in Las Vegas. The T-Mobile Arena, the city’s largest indoor sports arena, is likely in the running. The arena houses the city’s professional hockey team, the Golden Knights, which played their first game in many moons with fans in attendance on Monday. Attendance was capped at 15 percent of capacity and the game was a “sellout” with all 2,605 available seats attracting occupants.

Josh Taylor, who made his pro debut in El Paso, of all places, will be making his second appearance in Las Vegas, assuming the fight transpires there. The Tartan Tornado appeared at the MGM Grand Garden on Jan. 28, 2017, on a card topped by the WBA featherweight title rematch between Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz. Taylor and Frampton then shared the same trainer, Shane McGuigan.

In the words of Bob Arum, “Ramirez vs. Taylor is the best boxing has to offer, two elite fighters in the prime of their careers colliding in a legacy-defining matchup for the undisputed championship of the world. It’s a true 50-50 fight….”

In boxing, unlike other sports, anything under 2-to-1 is basically a “pick-’em” fight, so Arum isn’t far off the mark. For the record, however, the first betting lines to appear show the Scotsman the favorite in the 7-to-4 range, a price obviously based on the assumption that the fight will be held in Nevada, or at least anywhere other than Glasgow or Fresno.

Ramirez didn’t look sharp in his last outing when he scored a majority decision over Victor Postol at the MGM Bubble. Ramirez said he was burned-out after a long training camp – the fight was postponed twice – and said he thought the sterile atmosphere affected him; he was used to feeding off the energy of a crowd. Josh Taylor also had a tough time with Postol when they met in a 12-round bout at Glasgow on June 23, 2018 (the gritty Ukrainian is a tough nut to crack), but one would not have gleaned that from the scorecards which were soaked with hometown bias.

Josh Taylor’s last fight was at fan-less York Hall in London. The Scotch southpaw was entitled to a breather after his epic encounter with Regis Prograis and the IBF had just the ticket in mandatory challenger Apinun Khonsong. Taylor dismissed the overmatched Thai in the opening round with a body punch. This was Taylor’s first fight with new trainer Ben Davison.

The last time that Arum called an upcoming match a 50-50 fight, he was hyping the all-Mexican showdown between Miguel Berchelt and Oscar Valdez. That was no 50-50 fight, Berchelt was a solid favorite, but as it turned out, the pricemakers had underestimated the underdog who delivered the goods in a wildly entertaining skirmish.

On paper, Ramirez vs. Taylor will also be a very entertaining affair.

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From the Desert, Jack Dempsey

Matt McGrain

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Jack Dempsey, who has been matched by Jack Goodfriend to fight at the Hippodrome Monday, May 31 is expected to arrive from Reno within a day or two.  The match will be a ten round contest and preceded by a couple of good preliminaries. (The Goldfield News, May 22nd, 1915.)

In May of 1915 Jack Dempsey found himself trapped in Nevada and between purses. Fifty miles from his payday with no rail to ride, he walked out of the desert and into Goldfield, stuck the bewildered promoter for an advance and hired a sparring partner, knocked the sparring partner out and hired another.

Walking in ninety-five-degree weather can be dangerous for even an experienced athlete, but it seemed to agree with Jack. He had marched into Goldfield to meet a light-heavyweight named Johnny Sudenberg, a game but limited battler who had for the first time strung a decent run of wins together, all of them fought in the desert Dempsey travailed on foot. Dempsey had scored a series of knockout wins in Salt Lake City, enough that his name was known and interest in his proposed match with the local man stoked.

“Jack Dempsey, the husky Pueblo middleweight, who will meet Johnny Sudenberg at the Hippodrome next Monday night in a ten round bout arrived in camp this morning,” reported regional press. “Several local men have seen Dempsey in action…and all [are] united in the prediction that Johnny had better be ‘right’ when he crawls through the ropes.”

It speaks of boxing’s burgeoning’s status in the United States that there were two gymnasiums in Goldfield capable of staging training. Dempsey worked out at the Unity Club, little more than a middleweight, perhaps not least because of his fifty-mile travail through the desert earlier that week. He boxed a local footnote named Dick Trounce and he may also have boxed some rounds with the world class bantamweight Roy Moore.

Sudenberg, stung by assertions that it was Dempsey, not he, who was the puncher in the fight, bristled and demanded of himself a knockout while training down the street in the Northern Gymnasium.

There is a divergence now between Dempsey’s recollection of the fight and the newspaper reporting of the day. Before the fight, although he may have shared a ring with Jack Dempsey, not known for his tender attentions of even much smaller sparring partners, Roy Moore advised his sparring partner to steer clear. “Don’t slug with Sudenberg.  He’s awful strong. Stay away from him.”

Dempsey claims to have dismissed this advice, telling Roger Kahn, author of A Flame of Pure Fire, that the match was a brutal slugfest from the first. Local press though reported on a fight that was marked by cautious sparring early, and that after “feeling each other out” for two rounds that Dempsey dominated, it was Sudenberg who changed the pattern and “owing to the greater height and reach” Dempsey possessed, brought the fight to the inside. A fine battle resulted and one that saw Dempsey descend into total chaos for the first time, a feeling that would become as familiar to him as slipping on a pair of old shoes.

“I just kept swinging. Sometimes I think I saw a face in front of me, sometimes I didn’t. I kept swinging.”

Dempsey claimed he could remember nothing after the fifth.

A rematch was not immediately slated, but the failure of a potential Sudenberg opponent to deliver on a sidebet let Dempsey back in just days later. Dempsey moved a bit further north with the purses, his second battle with Sudenberg staged in Tonopah. Still years from the three-ringed circus his career would become, there was interest surrounding the young scrapper who trained for the fight in the town’s casino. Tonopah was a young but bustling setting, festooned with banks and lawyers and saloons as money poured in from Nevada’s second largest silver strike. By 1920 they had pulled $121m out of the ground and Dempsey was there to pull out his own piece.

“A great many were dissatisfied with the decision last Monday,” wrote the Tonopah Daily upon the fight’s announcement. “Dempsey gave Sudenberg the best fight he has had in this part of the country.”

Sudenberg, who seems to have been a prickly character, held the power in his relationship with Dempsey and so clearly backed himself to win a rematch. A fascinating aspect of the fight is their respective sizes. Dempsey was referred to as a middleweight in the earliest dispatches surrounding the fight, but in the ring made an impression upon ringsiders as the bigger man. Taller, rangier, it is possible he was already the heavier of the two or it may be that his trek through the surrounding desert left an early impression of litheness which slipped away as Dempsey, holding cash, boxed and ate his way to a size advantage during the build-up. The Goldfield News described him upon entering the ring for the rematch as looking “more like an overgrown schoolboy than a fighter” as he stepped on the canvas before noting wryly that he “proved otherwise.”

The fight quite literally drew from miles around, with “Goldfield well represented at ringside” and “eight to ten auto loads” appearing from nearby mines. Dempsey grabbed their attention early, a man you will recognise, coming out of his corner like a rocket and deploying what the Tonopah Daily Bonanza named “Dempsey’s mass attack,” presumably an early incarnation of the terrible beating he would inflict upon Jess Willard in Toledo with the world’s title at stake. Indeed, Sudenberg does appear to have visited the canvas in that first round, but Dempsey, over-eager, under-seasoned, missed with key punches following up his advantage and the canny Sudenberg survived a round of murderous intent.

Papers also report the use of straight punches by Dempsey, that he preferred range and looked to that superior range to dominate. Early Dempsey contests fascinate me in that they repeatedly throw up this story, of a fighter who at just 6’1 was able to dominate most of the desert’s pugs with height and reach. Here he plays the role that would later be played by Willard, Carl Morris and Fred Fulton, longer men trying to control the range while Dempsey tormented them with slips and punches.  Here it was Sudenberg who in the third and fourth seemed to do something of a job, getting inside and hitting to the belly while the two accused each other of low blows.

Dempsey is a victim of some criticism over his own use of low blows, alleged or otherwise, in huge fights with Tommy Gibbons and Jack Sharkey. It should be remembered always that he learned his trade in spots like Tonopah and Goldfield where local referees were not sympathetic to pleas for justice to be dispensed. Dempsey fought like a fistic savage because he was raised as one.

After just four rounds in Tonopah, he was tired, feeling the effects of a difficult month and a fast fight. “Dempsey takes punishment well and ducks cleverly,” noted The Bonanza, while The News saw Dempsey holding on a good deal more in the second half of the fight.

By round eight, Sudenberg began to show the effects of Dempsey’s right hand which he worked “like a sledgehammer” while Sudenberg “lands heavily on Dempsey’s digestive apparatus.” At the final bell the two worked one another mercilessly in search of the decision, but they were greeted by a draw.

Under a more modern ruleset I suspect that Dempsey would have received the nod. He crushed Sudenberg in the early part of the fight and more than matched him late, but with the referee acting as a single judge, draws in fights where a winner was not inarguably apparent were common.  Fighters expected it and pressmen expected it, which is perhaps why some of those in attendance saw the result as eminently reasonable. Dempsey clearly landed the better shots, but Sudenberg was rewarded for his gameness in “carrying the fight” a tenet of the era.

Dempsey had impressed though. “In Dempsey, who gives the promise of developing into a heavyweight,” stated The News, “there is room for a world of improvement, and with the experience he will gain during the next few years he should make a formidable opponent for any scrapper.”

Portentous words.

When Dempsey left Tonopah – history does not record whether he walked out – he was mere days from his twentieth birthday, an overgrown schoolboy appearing on the good end of draws against older, more experienced men, already determined to become heavyweight champion, already of the belief he would become one. History tells of a third fight between he and Sudenberg the following February, a more mature Dempsey thrashing a cowed Sudenberg in two rounds.

I spoke to Dempsey scholar and author of the outstanding In The Ring series, Adam Pollack. “Didn’t happen,” was his verdict.  “I am certain it didn’t take place.”

It is nice to have this one cleared up. Dempsey did not need to defeat Sudenberg to leave him behind. Dempsey, like any heavyweight champion has his obsessed fans – among them the men who developed a single thin thread concerning a third Sudenberg match and turned it into a truth that was reported in A Flame of Pure Fire and elsewhere – and obsessed haters, but there is no denying what he did. Irresistible and eternal, people will generate and propagate myths about Jack Dempsey for as long as there is fighting.

This story is about his beginnings – see the single-minded determination that saw him walk fifty miles through a desert? See the legendary fast start in the second fight? The mid-round sag that would lead Jack Johnson to label him a three-round fighter? His bending of the rules? Then again, what of his seeming determination to box against a smaller opponent? This was something he abandoned in time to avoid disaster against geniuses like Tommy Gibbons although it would not be enough to save his weary legs from Gene Tunney’s escape.

Dempsey’s matches with Sudenberg were his emergence from the desert in more ways than one.  They were where his pursuit in earnest of the world’s heavyweight title began. These were his first major steps outside of Salt Lake City where his ambitions were as penned as Sudenberg’s were in the desert; the defining series of an emergent Jack Dempsey.

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Jerry Forrest: When Heart Counts

Ted Sares

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While many Canelo fights end up in some fan’s memory bank, that probably won’t be the case given what occurred this past Saturday night in Miami. However, the show was salvaged by the entertaining heavyweight draw between China’s Zhilei “Big Bang” Zhang (22-0-1) and Jerry “Slugger” Forrest (26-4-1) on the undercard. This one had the fans up and roaring but for different reasons.

The 6’6” Zhang (with excellent amateur credentials) floored the American once in each of the first three rounds and the crowd sensed a stunning KO was on the way. But lo and behold, it didn’t come.

Then things began to change, subtle at first, as a determined Forrest survived the onslaught and began to fight back working well inside and landing shots both upstairs and to the body.

A Shift in Momentum

The momentum clearly changed in the fifth as Zhang used his body to lean on “Slugger” to tire him out, but in the process he didn’t mix and thereby lost rounds. Soon this strategy (albeit illegal) backfired and served to tire “Big Bang” more than Forrest and making matters worse for Zhang, he was deducted a point in the ninth by referee Frank Gentile for holding. (Given that he had been holding since the fifth round, the deduction was spot-on and could well have come earlier.)

Going into the last round, the fight seemed to be up for grabs and the fresher Forrest obliged as he landed crunching shots that had the fickle fans (are there any others?) now in is corner. He was actually chasing the gassed Chinese monster at the end and had the fight gone another minute, “Slugger” likely would have lived up to his moniker.

“For Jerry Forrest, this is a momentous result after a terrible start, and keeps him in the mix as a high-level gatekeeper, someone who will take on basically anyone and give it the effort. He’s a danger to prospects and mid-tier veterans alike,” wrote prominent boxing writer Scott Christ.

The scores were 95-93 Forrest and 93-93 twice for a majority draw. Zhang was lucky to keep his undefeated record intact.

Jerry Forrest showed a tremendous amount of heart. Hopefully, when folks look back at this card, Canelo’s blowout of Avni Yildirim won’t completely overshadow this entertaining heavyweight match.

(Note: Zhang was taken to a hospital for observation when his handlers noticed some concerning symptoms in the locker room after the fight. According to a published statement from Terry Lane of Lane Brothers Management, Zhang was found to be “suffering from anemia, high enzyme levels, and low-level renal failure, which may have been caused by severe dehydration. The good news is that all of his neurological signs are clear…Credit and respect to a game Jerry Forrest who battled back for a ten-round draw…Zhilei will be back.”)

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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