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Deontay Wilder’s Lame Excuse Gets No Brownie Points for Originality

Arne K. Lang

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Deontay Wilder’s Lame Excuse Gets No Brownie Points for Originality

Deontay Wilder had 43 pro fights under his belt before he suffered his first pro loss. But the Alabama knockout artist didn’t just lose to Tyson Fury in their rematch. In the court of public opinion, he fell from grace with a thud.

Knocked down twice before referee Kenny Bayless waived the fight off in the seventh stanza, the Bronze Bomber initially blamed his woeful performance on the elaborate costume that he chose for his ring walk. Reportedly costing $40,000, the rhinestone-studded outfit – which didn’t stand out or photograph well in the dark arena – was designed, said Wilder, to celebrate Black History Month, but it’s a fair guess that most folks wouldn’t have made that connection. This reporter’s first impression was that Wilder got his months mixed up and thought that Halloween fell in February.

The costume, said to weigh 40 pounds, was cumbersome: “I didn’t have no legs from the beginning of the fight,” Wilder told Yahoo’s Kevin Iole. “In the third round, my legs were just shot all the way through.”

costume

Finding excuses for a bad outing is old hat in sports, especially boxing, and the list of excuses is long. In blaming his performance on his ring costume, Deontay Wilder invented a new category.

He should have left it at that, but this past Saturday, in a rambling and somewhat incoherent two-minute video, Wilder doubled-down with a hackneyed excuse, alleging, among other things, that his water was spiked with some sort of muscle relaxer. He pointed the finger of blame at co-trainer Mark Breland.

The “someone messed with my water” accusation is hoary. It likely first cropped-up in the bare-knuckle era.

James J. Jeffries, who won the world heavyweight title from Bob Fitzsimmons, was undefeated when he retired in 1904. Reluctant to return to the ring, he eventually succumbed to the fervent plea to come back and restore the title to the white race.

Jeffries was favored over Jack Johnson when they met at Reno in 1910 in the first Fight of the Century, but Big Jeff was a shell of his former self and won nary a round until the bout was stopped in the 15th.

In hindsight, the outcome was predictable. In retirement, Jeffries’ weight ballooned to 315 pounds and after trimming down he still had plenty of rust to shed after being out of action for almost six full years. But immediately there was talk that Jeffries had been drugged, talk that he encouraged. “It would have been impossible for me to break down in the condition I was in, so suddenly, unless someone got to me in an underhanded way. That I was tampered with is a certainty,” he said.

The famous sportswriter Robert Edgren “confirmed” the persistent rumor in a story written for Liberty magazine in 1926, but put a new spin on it. According to Edgren, it wasn’t Jeffries’ water that was spiked, but rather a cup of tea that Jeffries consumed after being conned into thinking that his wife had made it for him. “They gave him enough (sedative) to knock out an elephant,” wrote Edgren, a longtime pal of Jim Jeffries.

Flash forward to 1995 and one finds George Foreman making a similar accusation regarding his iconic 1974 “Rumble” with Muhammad Ali. In his autobiography “By George,” co-authored with Joel Engel, Foreman accused his former trainer/manager Dick Sadler of dehydrating him and said that Sadler may have also tainted his water. He further alleged that Sadler had taken $25,000 from him to give to referee Zack Clayton as an insurance policy to make certain Clayton would not disqualify him. He conceded that he did not know if the referee received the under-the-table payment or if Sadler had kept the money for himself.

Foreman reiterated the part about the water in his 2007 book “God in my corner,” his first of two collaborations with Ken Abraham. “I almost spit it out,” Foreman said. “(I told Sadler), ‘Man, I know this water has medicine in it.’ I climbed into the ring with that medicinal taste still lingering in my mouth.…After three rounds, I was as tired as if I had gone 15.” (Upon hearing this, Muhammad Ali purportedly quipped, “there was worse medicine waiting for him when he got in the ring.”)

Foreman’s 1995 book caused him some flack. Dick Sadler, who had been with Foreman since the advent of George’s pro career – and had worked with other boxers before him, notably Archie Moore – was well-respected in the boxing community. Moreover, it didn’t jibe that Foreman, who replaced Sadler with Gil Clancy following his loss to Ali, rehired Sadler as his lead trainer in 1977 following his loss to Jimmy Young (albeit they would never team up again in an actual fight as Foreman abandoned boxing for the ministry).

When Foreman reiterated his allegation in his 2007 book, there was no backlash whatsoever. By then, Big George had charmed his way into the hearts of millions and to smudge him was tantamount to sacrilege. And Sadler was no longer around to defend himself. He died in 2003 at age 88.

Commenting on Deontay Wilder’s most recent allegation, Kevin Iole used the word heinous.

We get it. Mark Breland, the former Olympic gold medalist and former two-time welterweight champion, is a man of unimpeachable integrity. Throwing him under the bus was contemptible. However….lighten up, Kevin.

Aside from some of Wilder’s homies, it’s doubtful that anyone is giving any credence to Deontay’s bizarre accusations. Breland, who thus far hasn’t seen fit to dignify Wilder’s assertion with a rebuttal — at least not publicly – won’t have trouble finding other fighters to train; his reputation is solid.

Wilder’s frustration may have clouded his judgment. There was a rematch clause in his contract with Tyson Fury, but Fury’s co-managers Frank Warren and Bob Arum found a loophole in the fine print that has enabled them to renege on the deal. Fury will now face someone else when he next steps into the ring – reputedly in London in December with Agit Kabayel in the opposite corner – while Wilder’s career is in limbo.

It has been written that those with a financial stake in Wilder’s career were likely chagrined by these latest developments. We doubt that. It will serve Wilder well to keep his name in the news, even if he comes across as a buffoon. Someday, someone will write the story of his life, an “as told to” book where Wilder will share in the royalties – shucks, fighters of far lesser importance have been the subject of authorized biographies, some even with the backing of strong publishing houses.

When that book is written, it will garner a few more sales if Wilder sticks tight to his conspiracy theories. Just ask George Foreman.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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“One Night in Miami”: Film Review by Thomas Hauser

Thomas Hauser

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On February 25, 1964, Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. defeated Charles “Sonny” Liston in Miami Beach over the course of six remarkable rounds to claim the heavyweight championship of the world. Late that night, the new champion found himself in a room at Hampton House (a black hotel in segregated Miami) with Malcolm X, several other followers of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, and football great Jim Brown. Soul singer Sam Cooke (a friend of Clay’s) had been at the fight, but there’s no historical record of his being in the hotel room with the others at that time.

One Night in Miami is built around imagining what transpired in that room amongst Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke. Directed by Regina King from a screenplay by Kemp Powers, it’s available on Amazon Prime.

The film fits into the genre known as historical fiction. Dramatic license was taken. Viewers should understand that, at times, it’s allegorical rather than an accurate factual recounting. The larger question is whether the film is impressionistically honest. The answer is “yes.”

One Night in Miami begins with the 1963 fight between Clay and Henry Cooper in London. It then segues to Cooke being treated rudely by an all-white audience at the Copacabana, followed by Jim Brown (the greatest running back in National Football League history) being reminded by a patronizing southern gentleman that he’s just a “n—–.” Next, we see Malcolm as the Nation of Islam’s most charismatic spokesman, after which the scene shifts to Liston-Clay I.

Thirty-four minutes into the film, the drama moves to Hampton House.

Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke were prominent in different ways. Each was young, black, and famous. But Malcolm was a social and religious figure of considerable intellect while the other three were known as entertainers.

The dialogue between the four men is light at first and then turns serious.

Malcolm is played by Kingsley Ben-Adir. On what should have been one of the greatest nights of his life, his world is slipping away. His deadly rupture with Elijah Muhammad is almost complete. Soon, Clay will abandon him. Ben-Adir comes across as a bit weaker and more tentative than one might expect, although Malcolm’s intellect is evident in his performance.

It’s hard to imagine anyone playing Cassius Clay well except the young Muhammad Ali. But Eli Goree bears a resemblance to Clay and is pretty good in the role.

Jim Brown was an intimidating physical presence. Aldis Hodge lacks this physicality but his performance is solid.

Leslie Odom Jr, who plays Sam Cooke, has star quality. He’s the only one of the four major actors who has the charisma and presence of the man he’s portraying. But as a result, Cooke has a stronger on-screen persona than Malcolm. That’s a problem as tensions between the two men boil over.

Toward the end of the film, Malcolm reveals that he intends to leave the Nation of Islam because of differences with Elijah Muhammad and will found a new organization.

“Who’s gonna be in this new organization?” Clay asks.

“I think lots of people will follow me over,” Malcolm answers. “Especially if you come with me.”

Clay, of course, didn’t follow Malcolm. He sided with Elijah Muhammad. One year later, he and Jim Brown were the only participants from the hotel room gathering as portrayed in the film who were still alive. Sam Cooke was shot to death in a California motel on December 11, 1964. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem.

One Night in Miami cautions us that our icons are flesh and blood human beings with strengths and flaws. In its best moments, the film is a powerful reminder that the issues of self-respect, black empowerment, and racial equality are timeless.

Pictured left to right: Aldis Hodge (Jim Brown), Kingsley Ben-Adir (Malcolm X) Leslie Odom Jr (Sam Cooke) Eli Goree (Cassius Clay)

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Staredown: Another Year Inside 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. In 2019, he was selected for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Crossover star Holly Holm Adds New Dimensions to Claressa Shields

Kelsey McCarson

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She laughs about it now, but back then it wasn’t all that funny.

Boxing champion Holly Holm was competing in her first professional MMA fight, and all her years of training inside the ropes as a world champion boxer had just taken over her entire body.

Holm had kicked her opponent down to the ground, so she did what any well-schooled boxer would do. She pivoted away from her fallen prey and headed over to the neutral corner.

All of that was wrong.

“What are you doing?” her coach yelled from cageside. “Finish her!”

It was Holm’s first big mistake in moving over from boxing to MMA, but she was lucky that night. It turned out that Holm’s opponent was finished whether she had run over there or not, so it was a lesson she could learn without much consequence.

But the instruction of that moment stands true today, so it’s just one of the many things Holm has shared with 25-year-old boxing champion Claressa Shields as the two-time Olympic gold medalist attempts to follow in her footsteps.

“I was thinking yeah, that will definitely happen to me!” Shields said.

After Shields signed a three-year promotional deal in December with the Professional Fighters League (PFL), the first thing Shields needed to do was look for the right gym.

Shields found that place at Jackson Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, one of the most famous MMA gyms in the country, and the one most recognized among the masses as the home gym of former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Holm and pound-for-pound king Jon Jones.

Holm remains the only fighter (male or female) to have won legit world championships in both boxing and MMA, and Shields said Holm welcomed her to Jackson Wink with open arms.

“She’s been super great and very nice to me. We both come from the same background…and she actually turned out to be a world champion [in MMA], actually turned out to be really good,” Shields said.

But Holm’s funny story about her first MMA fight is something that points to just how large a hill Shields has decided to climb.

Whereas pop culture has just recently started to realize the power of habits through the work of writers such as Charles Duhigg and James Clear, it’s something professional fighters have known for a long time now.

“Oh, you’re going to have a habit of this because you used to box.”

That’s something Holm tells Shields almost every time they work together, and there are just so many examples.

In fact, just watching the 25-year-old boxing champion trying to learn to do all these new things in a different way is exhausting.

That Shields practically lives inside the gym for weeks at a time so she can train four or five times a day for all the kinds of things she never had to worry about before as a professional boxer is a testament to her seriousness and her courage.

But perhaps the most amazing part of the entire story is that Shields still plans on boxing.

While Holm won world championships in both sports, she achieved those things separately. Meanwhile, Shields said she wants to do the same thing Holm did but at the same time.

So, while I’m standing there with her inside an MMA cage in New Mexico, Shields is plotting fights in both sports. On one hand, she’s talking to me about a title unification bout in boxing against Marie-Eve Dicaire. On the other, she’s talking about future superfights in MMA against the likes of UFC champ Amanda Nunes.

“I’m trying to separate the two,” Shields said specifically about her training that day but she might as well have been talking about her whole life right about now.

It’s arguably the most amazing storyline right now in combat sports.

Shields started boxing when she was just 11 years old. She earned her first gold medal at the Olympics at 17 and her second four years later.

Today, Shields is a three-division world champion, and she says she’s not nearly finished adding to her growing number of boxing belts.

But all those years and all those successes have built so many habits. Ducking and slipping is great for boxing, but both become considerable detriments to defense when you suddenly have to worry about things like knees and kicks.

And what about wrestling and jiu-jitsu?

But all that stuff together is exactly what makes Shields’ epic decision to dare to be great at both sports at the same time so amazing in the first place.

Look, Shields might never accomplish the same amazing feat Holm did when she shocked Ronda Rousey in 2015 for the UFC women’s bantamweight championship.

But she’s aiming to eclipse that incredible mark anyway, and with Holm and many others offering Shields ideas about what she needs to think about as she climbs up the steepest hill she can find, she’ll definitely have her best chance at doing it.

Kelsey McCarson covers combat sports for Bleacher Report and Heavy.

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Boxers Fighting the Best and Doing It Again for the First Time: Part One

Ted Sares

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Britain’s Martin Murray has fought the very best and has now closed out a heartbreaking if not admirable and old school career.

Others are just beginning to hit their stride and suddenly the possibilities are mouthwatering.

The buzz is back on. The heat is coming. No excuses. No badly injured shoulders. No running. This is macho explosive. This is the best fighting the best like it used to be done. Cherry picking is not allowed.

Back in the day, warriors like Ernie Durando, Kid Gavilan, Joey Giardello, Tony DeMarco, Bobby Dykes, Paul Pender, Joey Maxim, Holly Mims, Bobo Olson, and way too many others to list here would fight other top-notch boxers. It was the norm; not the exception. Tony DeMarco beat Kid Gavilan in 1956 and then fought Gaspar Ortega three times in a row in a relatively short period of time.

In the process of compiling a 95-25-1 record, Ezzard Charles engaged in an eye-popping 27 fights against men who would go on to be enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame and/or the World Boxing Hall of Fame.

The List

Rocky Marciano (twice) – IBHF/WBHF

Joe Louis – IBHF/WBHF

Jersey Joe Walcott (four times) IBHF/WBHF

Archie Moore (thrice) IBHF/WBHF

Joey Maxim (five times) IBHF/WBHF

Jimmy Bivins (five times) IBHF/WBHF

Charley Burley (twice) IBHF/WBHF

Harold Johnson IBHF/WBHF

Lloyd Marshall (thrice) WBHF

Gus Lesnevich WBHF

In addition, Charles had three fights with Rex Layne, two with Ken Overlin, two with Elmer Ray, and one with Bob Satterfield

“Some day, maybe, the public is going to abandon comparisons with Joe Louis and accept Ezzard Charles for what he was—the best fist fighter of his particular time”  –Red Smith

Beau Jack, Aldo Minelli, Yama Bahama, Johnny Cesario, Fighting Harada, Eder “Golden Bantam” Jofre, Vicente Saldivar, Jose “El Huitlacoche” Medal, and then later Juan LaPorte and Livingstone “The Pit Bull” Bramble did not know what easy opponents meant. They were willing to fight anyone anywhere and were seldom stopped.

Vito Antuofermo, Ralph Dupas, Willie Pastrano, Curtis Parker, Bennie Briscoe, Kassim Ouma, Emanuel Augustus, Scott LeDoux, Ben Tackie, Ray Oliveira, Renaldo Snipes, Freddie Pendleton, John Scully, Charles Murray, Ted Muller, Anthony Ivory, and Alfredo “Freddy” Cuevas were also representative of those who would fight anyone anywhere. Picking made-to-order opponents was not what they were about.

Ali, Norton, Young, Quarry, fought one another. So did Duran, Leonard, Hagler, and Hearns. Across the pond, Watson, Benn, and Eubank did the same. Frazier, Holyfield, Mugabi, Tszyu, Cotto, and Chacon never ever backed away, nor did Mexican notables Castillo, Marquez (JMM), Morales and Barrera.

No one will accuse Floyd “Money” Mayweather of not fighting the best but they might point out that Floyd sometimes used long time intervals between bouts to his advantage. “Money” was not a particularly active fighter. The phrase “cherry picking” gained traction during this time.

Still, Andre Ward cleaned out an entire division. Cotto fought Pacquiao and Canelo, De La Hoya met Pacquiao, Klitschko faced Fury and then Joshua. Fury — after beating Klitschko — fought Wilder twice. Chisora will fight anyone they put in front of him. Heck, GGG fought 24 brutal rounds with Canelo and if that wasn’t the best fighting the best, what was?

“…great fights lead to other great fights.”—Max Kellerman

To be continued……

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To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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