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Remembering **World Heavyweight Champion** Lee Savold

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On June 7, 1950, Lee Savold defeated Bruce Woodcock before 50,000 at London’s White City Stadium. Savold had all the best of it before Woodcock’s corner pulled him out after four rounds with a badly cut eye.

For Savold, this was the culmination of a long and checkered career. Born on a farm in northwestern Minnesota – Sioux Indian territory – the tenacious leather-pusher of Norwegian stock had paid his dues. With the victory, Savold became the world heavyweight champion in the eyes of a certain segment of the boxing universe.

A little background: On March of the previous year, Joe Louis announced his retirement. Louis had reigned as the world heavyweight champion for nearly 12 years during which he had made 25 successful title defenses. His leave-taking unleashed a battle over control of the abdicated throne and the huge profits that would accrue to the promotional group that won the scrum.

The newly-formed International Boxing Club, of which Joe Louis was ostensibly a partner, had the blessing of the National Boxing Association when it decreed that Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles would fight for the vacant title. This wasn’t an attractive pairing. Jersey Joe had lost 15 of his 58 pro fights and was considered past his prime. Ezzard Charles was a solid technician but he was colorless and he wasn’t a full-fledged heavyweight. He had never entered the ring carrying more than 180 pounds.

This edict didn’t go over well in Great Britain where boxing was enjoying a post-war boom. The poohbahs at the British Boxing Board of Control felt snubbed. Undoubtedly at the urging of London promoter Jack Solomons, Mr. Big in British boxing, they decided to recognize the winner of the forthcoming match between Bruce Woodcock and Savold as the world heavyweight champion. The European Boxing Union sided with them.

Lee Savold’s Herky-Jerky Climb Up the Ladder

Lee Savold was 18 years old when he made his pro debut at a county fair in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. For the next-two-half years he plied the Upper Midwest circuit. His most notable match during this period was a bout in Minneapolis with Jack Gibbons. The son of Mike Gibbons and nephew of Tommy Gibbons – both of whom would be elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame – Jack Gibbons was too slick for Savold and won the decision.

This was a rare 10-rounder for Savold. The loss knocked him back to the preliminary ranks.

In February of 1936, with his career going nowhere, Savold went west. He had his next 16 fights in California where he supplemented his ring earnings as a stevedore. Things went well at first, but then turned sour. He was 9-7 in California rings bringing his overall record to 34-23-2.

Savold returned to his home state and took a job as a bartender in Minneapolis. He was out of the ring for 14 months during which his weight reportedly ballooned to 260 pounds.

Savold was lured back to the ring by Pinkie George, the leading boxing and wrestling promoter in Iowa. Savold had appeared on three cards in Iowa when he was just starting out and flashed enough potential that Pinkie remembered him. He induced Savold to re-settle in Des Moines, put him on a strict regimen that shed pounds and built muscle, and dressed him with a nickname: The Battling Bartender.

Savold, who stood six-foot-one, was a svelte 184 pounds when he returned to the ring on July 7, 1938 at Riverview Park in Sioux City, Iowa. Under Pinkie George’s management, Savold won 14 of 18 matches preceding his Dec. 4, 1939 engagement in Des Moines with Maurice Strickland.

A New Zealander, Strickland was well-touted and folks inside the boxing community took note when Savold knocked him out in the third round.

Strickland’s U.S. representative was “Honest” Bill Daly whose home base was in Englewood, New Jersey.

In boxing, “honest” is a pejorative. As the late, great LA Times wag Jim Murray noted, Daly was honest in the sense that he never stole an elephant or a battleship. But with an assist from Savold’s Iowa trainer Hymie Wiseman, who was given a piece of the action, Honest Bill stole Lee Savold from Pinkie George. Savold went with the flow and moved his tack to the Garden State, taking up residence in Paterson.

With the well-connected Daly calling the shots, Savold procured bouts of international importance. The first of this description was 12-round, non-title fight with reigning light heavyweight champion Billy Conn on Nov. 24, 1940, at Madison Square Garden. The Pittsburgh Kid was too clever for the Battling Bartender and won a wide decision, but Savold broke Conn’s nose during the fight with a punch that Conn would remember as one of the hardest that he ever received.

The Conn fight was a good learning experience for Savold who won 18 of his next 20 fights. Both losses were inflicted by Harry Bobo, a good black boxer from Pittsburgh who never got his proper due.

Savold’s signature win during this run was an eighth-round stoppage of Lou Nova. This was Nova’s first fight since his failed effort at wresting the title from Joe Louis. Nova was no match for the Brown Bomber who stopped him in the sixth frame but he had some good wins on his ledger including two wins inside the distance over Max Baer and Savold would be the underdog when he met up with Nova on a Monday night at Griffith Stadium in Washington DC.

Savold cut Nova to pieces and the referee stopped the fight after seven frames when the gash over Nova’s left eye worsened. The match aired on the Mutual Radio Network which had more than 200 affiliates. The following year, Savold defeated Nova in a more dramatic fashion, knocking him out in the second round at Chicago’s Wrigley Field.

Between these two fights, Savold was his usual erratic self. He split two fights with Tony Musto and came out on the short end of 10-round bouts with Tami Mauriello and Jimmy Bivins. After defeating Nova for the second time, he became even more inconsistent. Mauriello beat him again, he lost two out of three to rugged Joe Baksi, was twice out-pointed by journeyman Phil Muscato, and was knocked out in the second round by fearsome Elmer “Violent” Ray.

Savold’s career was going nowhere again when he accepted a match with Gino Buonvino. Savold took the assignment on 48 hours notice, subbing for Baksi, a late scratch with an ankle injury.

Recognized as the heavyweight champion of Italy, Buonvino was unbeaten in his last 11 starts. In a shocker, Savold knocked him out in 54 seconds, the fastest knockout on record for a main event at Madison Square Garden.

The knockout of Buonvino coupled with two more wins over lesser foes boosted Savold to #3 behind Ezzard Charles and Jersey Joe Walcott in The Ring magazine ratings. That said more about Honest Bill Daly’s negotiation skills than about Savold’s true ability. He maintained that placement after he went to London and lost by disqualification to Bruce Woodcock in what would be the first of their two meetings.

Bruce Woodcock

The son of a former British Army lightweight champion, Bruce Woodcock, born and raised in Doncaster, was nothing special but you couldn’t tell that to the Brits who fervently embraced him after he won the British and British Empire heavyweight titles with a sixth-round knockout of Jack London in 1945. In his most recent bout, he had scored a fourth-round stoppage over American veteran Lee Oma who was felled by a punch that didn’t look especially hard. Spectators tossed pennies into the ring as they did whenever a fight ended suspiciously.

Savold-Woodcock I, contested on Dec. 6, 1948 before a capacity crowd of 10,700 at London’s Haringay Arena, also ended suspiciously. Savold was disqualified in the fourth round for hitting Woodcock below the belt. The crowd booed as Woodcock lay on the canvas, writhing in agony. It struck many that he was play-acting. “Savold lost the fight but showed himself to be the better man,” said the correspondent for the Associated Press.

Woodcock, who had lost only twice in 35 starts, regained his lost prestige with a third-round stoppage of South African heavyweight champion Johnny Ralph in Johannesburg and a beat-down of popular Freddie Mills, conqueror of light heavyweight champion Gus Lesnevich, in London. Mills was on the deck five times before he was counted out in the 14th round.

When the folks at the BBBofC decided that they would not kowtow to American interests in naming a successor to Joe Louis, which ruled out Ezzard Charles and Jersey Joe Walcott, Woodcock and the highly-rated Savold were the logical picks to fight for the vacant title. It helped that promoter Solomons had doctored the film of the first fight. It showed the Englishman out-punching Savold over the first three rounds when the opposite was true.

The blue-collar amusement of greyhound racing was then flourishing in London and Savold-Woodcock II was planted at White City, London’s premier dog racing facility. The stadium was configured to hold 50,000 for the fight, the maximum allowed by the authorities for reasons of traffic control. It would be written that all 50,000 tickets were sold before the ink was dry on them.

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Originally set for Sept. 6, 1949, the fight was pushed back 10 months when Woodcock suffered a shoulder injury in an automobile accident; he wrapped his lorry around a tree.

When the fight finally came to fruition, the action in the ring was somewhat similar to the first meeting, only a lot bloodier. When Woodcock’s corner pulled him out after four frames, he was bleeding from his nose and his mouth and had a two-inch gash over his left eye that “spurted blood like a fountain.”

Woodcock caught Savold flush with a number of right hooks but they had no effect; Savold kept moving forward. The American invader, said the ringside reporter for the Nottingham Evening Post, was a “cold, cruel and calculating fighting machine.”

Savold had only two more fights before calling it quits. On June 15, 1951, he met Joe Louis at Madison Square Garden in a fight that was forced out of the Polo Grounds by bad weather. Beset by tax problems, the Brown Bomber had returned to the ring after a 27-month hiatus.

On this night, Savold’s opponent was the cold, cruel, and calculating fighting machine. Louis carved him up before ending matters in round six with a series of punches climaxed by a short, left hook to the jaw that knocked Savold off his pins. He struggled to get upright but wasn’t able to beat the count.

Across the pond, this made Joe Louis the world heavyweight champion once again. It mattered not that Louis had been widely out-pointed by Ezzard Charles in his first comeback fight.

Eight months later, Savold met Rocky Marciano in a 10-rounder at Philadelphia’s Convention Hall. This was a terrible fight. Marciano’s punches were mostly wild but Savold offered little in return and his torso was smeared with blood when his corner pulled him out after six rounds. In an odd comparison, the great sportswriter Red Smith likened Savold’s poor showing to that of a man with a bellyache carrying an armful of packages across Times Square during rush hour.

And so, this is how it ended for Lee Savold, a shell of his former self and his former self was never that great to begin with. His final record, per boxrec, was 98 wins, 41 losses and three draws. He scored 72 knockouts and was stopped 12 times. But for 13 months he reigned as the heavyweight champion of the world in merry old England, the cradle of pugilism, heady stuff for a farm boy from Minnesota who was once a hog-fat bartender.

Having answered the bell for 814 rounds, Savold was a prime candidate for pugilistic dementia but he beat the transmutation to the punch as it were. In April of 1972, he suffered a stroke and died a month later at a rehab hospital in Neptune, New Jersey. He was 58 years old.

Postscript: The BBBofC never did recognize Ezzard Charles or Jersey Joe Walcott who took turns beating each other in 1951. The title became vacant yet again that year in the eyes of British interests when Louis was knocked out by up-and-comer Rocky Marciano and it remained vacant until Rocky made things whole again. With no viable alternative, the Brits acknowledged the Rock as the true champion after he toppled Walcott on Sept. 23, 1952, felling Jersey Joe, who was ahead on the cards, with a pulverizing punch that would have felled a horse.

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Arne K. Lang’s latest book, titled “George Dixon, Terry McGovern and the Culture of Boxing in America, 1890-1910,” will shortly roll off the press. The book, published by McFarland, can be pre-ordered directly from the publisher (https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/clashof-the-little-giants) or via Amazon.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Looking Back and Looking Ahead

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Boxing fans in Australia are still buzzing over Jai Opetaia’s gritty, title-winning effort on Saturday, July 2. Opetaia overcome significant adversity to wrest the IBF and lineal world cruiserweight title from Mairis Briedis in a pulsating and bloody battle in Broadbeach, Queensland.

A two-time finalist in the World Boxing Super Series, Mairis Briedis was widely regarded as the sport’s best cruiserweight. His lone defeat prior to Saturday was a narrow setback at the hands of Oleksandr Usyk.

It was plain at the end of the fight that Opetaia had suffered a broken jaw. The words coming out of his mouth during the short, post-fight interview were unintelligible. However, it was worse than assumed. An x-ray showed that the jaw was actually broken in two places and that the fractures were on both sides of the mandible. The first break occurred in round two and the second in round 11.

“Opetaia would have to be considered the toughest fighter on the planet after continuing on from round two with one side of his jaw broken, then the other side broken late in the fight and still winning rounds against a vicious puncher in Briedis,” Opetaia’s promoter Dean Lonergan told Sky Sports.

Opetaia turned 27 two days before the fight. The match transpired exactly five years to the day from Jeff Horn’s massive upset of Manny Pacquiao in Brisbane.

Briedis was a consensus 11/5 favorite, but there was plenty of money on the undefeated (21-0, 17 KOs) Opetaia who represented Australia in the 2012 Olympics at the age of 16, making him the youngest Aussie boxer to ever compete in an Olympiad.

Opetaia will reportedly need at least three months to recover before he can resume sparring. As for what is next for him, speculation has centered on a pair of undefeated Brits – Richard Riakporhe and Lawrence Okolie. Riakporhe is the highest-rated contender in the IBF rankings; Okolie owns the WBO cruiserweight belt.

Opetaia would be favored over Riakporhe, but not over Okolie. However, at six-foot-five and with an 82 ½-inch reach, Okolie is poised to join the heavyweight ranks and may not be willing to wait around for a unification fight.

A rematch with Briedis is also a possibility. The decision in Opetaia’s favor, although unanimous (115-113, 116-112 x2), was far from clear-cut. Had the fight been held on Briedis’s turf in Latvia, the decision would have likely gone the other way.

To Briedis’s credit, he offered not a whimper of protest when the decision was read and went to Opetaia’s dressing room to congratulate him before leaving the arena.

Zolani Tete

He’s back

On Nov. 18, 2017, Zolani Tete stopped Siboniso Gonya with a KO that went viral. If you choose to check it out — it’s still up there on youtube — don’t blink. The entire fight, which ended with Gonya flat on his back, unconscious, lasted all of 11 seconds. A world bantamweight title was at stake and the one-punch knockout stands as the fastest stoppage in world championship boxing history.

Three fights later, on Nov. 20, 2019, Tete was stopped in three rounds by John Riel Casimero. Prior to this fight, he had been forced to pull out of his scheduled match with Nonito Donaire in the semifinals of the World Boxing Super Series because of a shoulder injury.

Tete was out of action for 25 months after the Casimero defeat. He returned to the ring in December of last year in Johannesburg in his homeland of South Africa for a tune-up fight in which he blasted out his overmatched opponent in the opening round. This past Saturday, he resurfaced in London and resurrected his flagging career in a super bantamweight contest for the British Commonwealth title.

Tete was pit against Jason Cunningham, a Doncaster man riding a seven-fight winning streak. On paper it was a competitive match, but Cunningham was out of his element. Tete controlled the first three rounds with his jab and then brought the heavy artillery. It was all over at the 0:34 mark of round four.

At age 34, it would appear that Tete still has a lot of mileage left in him. There was a time when people were salivating over the thought of a match between him and Naoya Inoue. That match may well come to fruition, but not likely anytime soon. A match between Tete and WBO 122-pound title-holder Stephen Fulton is no less intriguing and may well happen within the next 12 months.

Looking Ahead

The boxing slate over the Fourth of July weekend was rather soft – there was nothing of consequence on American soil – and this coming weekend is also skimpy.

Saturday’s heavyweight match In London between 41-year-old Kubrat Pulev (29-2, 14 KOs) and 38-year-old Derek Chisora (32-12, 23 KOs) doesn’t get the juices flowing. They fought six years ago in Hamburg, Germany, and although the decision favoring Pulev was split, that was only because of a head-scratching scorecard. The Bulgarian controlled the fight which wasn’t particularly entertaining.

The co-feature between super welterweights Israil Madrimov (8-0, 6 KOs) and Michel Soro (35-3-1, 24 KOs) is also a rematch. The talented Madrimov, who has never fought a pro fight scheduled for less than 10 rounds, won the first meeting on a controversial stoppage. The Spanish referee did not hear the bell ending the ninth frame and stopped the bout well after the bell had sounded. The match was held on Madrimov’s turf in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

The WBA, which sanctioned the bout as a final eliminator for Jermell Charlo’s 154-pound title, let the result stand but ordered an immediate rematch.

Looking further down the road, the Sept. 10 card at London’s O2 Arena shapes up as a lively affair. The women take center stage with a pair of title unification bouts. WBC/WBA/IBF world middleweight champion Claressa Shields (12-0, 2 KOs) meets WBO title-holder Savannah Marshall (12-0, 10 KOs) in the featured bout. Marshall, who hails from the English port city of Hartlepool and had her first pro fight in Las Vegas under the Mayweather Promotions banner, is the only person to defeat Claressa Shields in a boxing ring, accomplishing the feat in 2012 at an amateur tournament in China.

Shields has out-classed all of her professional opponents — has she even lost a round? – and it’s odd to find her in the role of an underdog, but Marshall, who packs a bigger punch, is currently a small favorite. No odds have yet been posted on the co-feature, a 130-pound title unification fight between Americans Mikaela Mayer (17-0, 5 KOs) and Alycia Baumgardner (12-1, 7 KOs), but on paper this will be Mayer’s toughest fight.

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When Boxing Was Big on the Fourth of July: A TSS Classic

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We’re going way back, but there was a time when the Fourth of July was a big day for boxing in the U.S. The high-water mark, according to BoxRec, was set in 1922 when there were 67 shows spread across 27 states. In that year, the holiday fell on a Tuesday.

Two of the most historically significant fights were staged on the Fourth of July. In 1910, in a fight that “marinated” for almost five years, Jack Johnson successfully defended his world heavyweight title at the expense of former champion James J. Jeffries. Measured by the amount of newsprint expended on this story as it developed, Johnson vs. Jeffries was the biggest single-day sporting event in the history of man. In 1919, Jack Dempsey dethroned Johnson’s conqueror Jess Willard, the first big bang in the Golden Era of Sports. And although it didn’t move the needle, how appropriate in hindsight that Joe Louis began his pro career on the Fourth of July.

During the early years of the 20th century, promoters often hitched their events to other events – county fairs, carnivals, race meets, national conventions of fraternal organizations, and so forth. One might call these festival fights. The 1931 show in Reno featuring Max Baer and Paulino Uzcudun was an example. It was, in many ways, the quintessential Fourth of July boxing show, a window into western Americana.

In 1931, Reno (the “Biggest Little City in the World”) was home to about 20,000 people. Twice that number swarmed into Reno on that year’s Fourth of July. “Special trains by the score, automobiles by the hundreds and airplanes by the dozen poured into the famous divorce metropolis from the Pacific Coast. From the sandy wastes of Nevada came prospectors on burros, cowboys on horseback and ranchers in buckboard wagons,” said the correspondent for the United Press.

The race meet was in progress and there were sundry other activities arranged to make the day special, but the big shebang was the prizefight.

The spearheads of the promotion, Bill Graham and James McKay, owned the Bank Club, Reno’s biggest casino. Business was booming now that Nevada had legalized gambling, not that it made much difference in Reno where gambling was wide-open before the new law took effect.

Graham and McKay had made their fortunes running gambling saloons in Nevada mining towns and could afford to commit big dollars to the promotion. They brought in the great ring announcer Dan Tobey from Los Angeles (520 miles away) to serve as the master of ceremonies — Tobey was the Michael Buffer of his day — but their big coup was getting Jack Dempsey involved. Dempsey was retired, having last fought in 1927, but the Manassa Mauler was still a towering personality and his involvement ensured good national newspaper coverage. For advertising purposes, he was named the actual promoter, the makeshift wooden stadium erected in the infield of the thoroughbred track was named for him, and he would serve as the bout’s referee.

At this stage of their respective careers, Max Baer and Paulino Uzcudun were borderline journeymen. Baer’s best days were ahead of him, but he had lost three of his last five. Uzcudun had lost four of his last seven beginning with a 15-round setback to Max Schmeling at Yankee Stadium. But Baer was still recognized as a man with a pulverizing punch and the pairing was smart from a geographical perspective. Baer had cultivated a strong following in northern California, Reno’s primary tourist market. Uzcudun, who had his early fights in Paris, hailed from the Basque region of Spain.

The Reno area was home to many people of Basque descent, and Uzcudun, nicknamed the Basque Woodchopper, had a ready-made fan base. It was 11 pm on June 4 when Uzcudun arrived in Reno on the Southern Pacific to set up his training quarters, but despite the late hour, thousands were reportedly at the rail terminal waiting to greet him.

Baer arrived a few days later. It was customary in those days for the headliners in a big show outside a major metropolis to arrive in the host city several weeks before the event. They held public workouts and were squired around town to press the flesh to goose the gate.

With the city about to be inundated by a great throng, the Chamber of Commerce undertook a campaign to discourage price-gouging. The District Attorney cautioned homeowners renting beds to visitors to exercise caution when accepting checks, “particularly checks drawn on banks in other cities.” Those that came by rail and could afford a berth in a Pullman car brought their own hotel rooms. The Pullmans were diverted to a side track where they sat until the excursionists were ready to leave.

There was never a dull moment in Reno, a place where gambling houses operated around the clock. Reporters had plenty to write about besides the big fight. The cantankerous mayor, E.E. Roberts, was quite a character. To boost tourism, he “advocated placing a barrel of corn whiskey on every corner of the city with a dipper attached and a sign directing all favorably inclined to drink as much as they pleased.” Prohibition was still in effect and this didn’t sit well with federal prohibition agents. On June 30, the day prior to the start of the racing meet and four days before the big fight, agents from the San Francisco office descended on the city, raiding 19 saloons and arresting 37 people for violating the Volstead Act. By most accounts, this barely dented the city’s saloon industry.

The Fight

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Although no title was at stake, the bout — billed as the “Battle of the Sagebrush” — was scheduled for 20 rounds. It was a messy affair fought on a sweltering day where the temperature at ringside climbed into the mid-90s. “On occasion they butted like goats,” said a ringside reporter.

The match, which lasted the full distance, struck some reporters as vicious and others as rather tame – there were no knockdowns — but on two matters everyone agreed: it was a closely contested contest and both Baer and Uzcudun exhibited great stamina. By and large, Baer landed the cleaner punches but Uzcudun, who had a famously awkward style, a peek-a-boo defense grafted to a low crouch, stubbornly pressed the action and was commended for his tenacity.

At the end of the 19th round, referee Dempsey, the sole arbiter, leaned over to a group of reporters and told them that he would award the fight to the man that had the best of it in the final round. That proved to be the Basque Woodchopper, who had attracted most of the bets in the betting shed built adjacent to the arena.

The attendance was listed at 18,000, but it would be reported that only 9,260 paid. Looking back 10 years later, an attendee recalled that “gatecrashers by the hundreds swarmed over the racetrack fences and infiltrated from all angles. There just weren’t enough cops, ushers, and guards to handle them.”

The promoters reportedly lost money, but the visitors must have been good spenders because Dempsey was back in Reno with another Fourth of July prizefight the following year. The 1932 promotion, pitting Max Baer against King Levinsky in the main event, was a big disappointment, playing out in a half-empty stadium, but at least those in attendance could say that they got to see a future heavyweight champion in action. Not quite two years later, Baer massacred Primo Carnera at an outdoor arena in Queens, igniting a short- lived title reign. (Rising heavyweight contender Joe Louis would subsequently defeat all three of the Reno headliners, knocking out Levinsky, Baer, and Uzcudun, in that order, in consecutive bouts.)

Reno’s second “Battle of the Sagebrush” was a would-be extravaganza that fell flat, the fate of most holiday festival fights, a development that the late, great sportswriter John Lardner attributed to “chuckleheaded boosterism.”

That’s a story for another day. In the meantime, here’s wishing everyone a Happy Fourth of July.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a reprint of a story that ran on these pages on July 2, 2018.

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

Arne K. Lang’s latest book, titled “George Dixon, Terry McGovern and the Culture of Boxing in America, 1890-1910,” will shortly roll off the press. The book, published by McFarland, can be pre-ordered directly from the publisher (https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/clashof-the-little-giants) or via Amazon.

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The Hauser Report: The ESPY Awards and Boxing

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The annual ESPY Awards are a celebration of sports and the role that they play in American society. Jim Valvano, who was dying of cancer, energized the first ESPYs telecast in 1993 with his powerful message, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” The ESPYs have gotten bigger since then. They’re now a mainstream cultural happening. But for knowledgeable boxing fans, their credibility just took a hit.

The ESPYs are (in ESPN’s words) about “celebrating major sports achievements, remembering unforgettable moments, and honoring the leading performers and performances” of the preceding twelve months. On June 28, ESPN announced the nominees for the 2022 ESPY awards. The winners will be revealed during a July 20 telecast. Most of the nominees were well-chosen. But the nominees for “best boxer” appear to have been chosen with an eye toward promoting fighters aligned with ESPN rather than “celebrating major sports achievements, remembering unforgettable moments, and honoring the leading performers and performances” of the past twelve months.

The ESPY nominees for “best boxer” are Tyson Fury, Katie Taylor, Shakur Stevenson, and Mikaela Mayer. In other sports (such as soccer, basketball, golf, and tennis), the ESPYs have separate categories for male and female athletes. Rafael Nadal doesn’t compete against Emma Raducanu at Wimbledon or in the ESPY balloting. So, it’s unclear why Tyson Fury should compete against Katie Taylor.

The ESPY’s tilt toward boxers who are aligned with ESPN is more troubling. Fury and Taylor belong on the ballot. During the preceding year, Fury knocked out Deontay Wilder and Dillian Whyte, while Taylor decisioned Jennifer Han, Firuza Sharipova, and Amanda Serrano. The historic nature of Taylor-Serrano validates Katie’s inclusion.

But Stevenson and Mayer are a stretch. Both of them have promotional contracts with Top Rank which has an exclusive licensing agreement with ESPN. During the preceding year, Stevenson beat Jamel Herring and Oscar Valdez. Those were nice wins but hardly remarkable. Mayer’s ESPY credentials are limited to decisions over Maiva Hamadouche and Jennifer Han.

Why isn’t Oleksandr Usyk (who dethroned Anthony Joshua) on the ballot? What about Terence Crawford (KO 10 over Shawn Porter) and Dmitry Bivol (whose victories included a unanimous-decision triumph over Canelo Alvarez)?

Hint: Usyk and Bivol are currently aligned with DAZN. And Crawford has signaled his intention to leave Top-Rank-slash-ESPN to pursue a unification bout against Errol Spence on Showtime-PPV or Fox-PPV.

If Netflix hosted the Oscars and stacked the ballot with Netflix programming, it would be comparable to the ESPY’s handling of this year’s “best boxer” award.

When the ESPY nominations were announced, I reached out to ESPN for comment. Initially, I asked, “What is the process by which the four nominees for ‘best boxer’ were chosen?”

Speaking on background, an ESPN publicist responded, “Nominees are chosen by a mix of ESPN editors, executives and show producers.”

“On background” means that a reporter may quote the source directly and may describe the source by his or her position but may not attribute the statements to the source by name.

I followed up by asking, “How many people choose the nominees and what are the criteria for choosing them?” There was no response.

I’m also curious to know the identity of the “editors, executives and show producers” who selected the ESPY nominees. Did knowledgeable ESPN boxing people like Tim Bradley and Mark Kriegel have a significant voice? I think not. Here, I should note that ESPN analyst Andre Ward is also knowledgeable about boxing. I omitted his name from this paragraph because, given Ward’s ties to Shakur Stevenson, he probably shouldn’t participate in the nominating process.

In recent years, boxing fans have grown accustomed to boxing telecasts on all networks being as much about hype as honest commentary. The 2022 ESPY nominations for “best boxer” are about ESPN hyping its own fighters and advancing its own economic interests.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Broken Dreams: 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 boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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