by Dave G. (DscribeDC@aol.com) I haven't seen the pictures yet, but I ain't exactly biting my fingernails to the quick. The descriptions have been pretty uniform. Tyson throws a punch that bops Seldon on the top of the head and Seldon goes down. He struggles to his feet and gets popped with a crisp baby left hook that deposits him squarely on Queer Street. Seldon rises, rubber-legs around and Richard "Safety First" Steele steps in while the crowd pours down an avalanche of boos, hoots and whistles.
Did I miss anything? A minute and a half later "Liberation" is over and all that's been "liberated" is about eight figures worth of PPV charges from the wallets of America's boxing fans. In a sport that knows no shame, Seldon doesn't even have the decency to sneak out under a phony beard, Floyd Patterson-style. Instead we have to put up with a sack of b.s. about how he came to win, trained hard and fell to a truly "bad man." Who do these people think they're talking to?
Do the math: $40 for 90 seconds of mismatched slaughter. That's the equivalent of $960 for an hourlong twelve rounder. Here in DC, the only gainfully-employed guy who would pay a grand an hour for entertainment was Dick "The Toe" Morris, and now even he's vamoosed. [Which reminds me: what do Forrest Gump and Dick Morris have in common? They're the only two shrimpers ever invited to the Oval Office.]
Boxing fans, lets be honest...Are we the biggest jackasses in the sporting world, or what? Is there any other fan in the world of athletics that gets less for his entertainment dollar, endures more overt fakery, chicanery and hokum, and thanks the schlockmeisters who dispense it for the privilege?
Imagine the scene: the defending Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys have just signed the contracts for their 1996-97 season, and will be facing Cincinnati, the New York Jets, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Atlanta Falcons four times each. There were rumors of a Dallas-Redskins contest, but a personal feud between Barry Switzer and Norv Turner queered negotiations. Switzer says his team is in "the best shape its ever been" and expects the Jaguars' kicking game, ace cheerleading squad and league-best halftime show to really make it hard for them. "In this game," he summarizes, "you can't take anyone lightly." Interest in the Cincy contest is peaked at a pre-game press conference when Nate Newton punches out team mascot Binky Bengal for "disrespecting him." Newton promises to make the Binkster "cry like a bitch" after a Cowboys victory.
Would this kind of crap play with NFL fans?
How about this one: After losing at the 1997 U.S. Open, Pete Sampras arranges with officials at Forest Hills to seed Myron Butterbum, club pro at a Muncie, Indiana municipal court, #2. After praising the "underrated" Butterbum and his 40 m.p.h. serve, Sampras justifies the Open's decision to give Myron a tournament-wide bye. "He's earned it," Pete says, "he's a real warrior. A lot of people are going to be surprised by this final." Sampras beats Butterbum 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 in 37 minutes and takes the Open title home. Butterbum blames an obstreperous ballboy and is granted a rematch at next years' Open.
Would the white-shorts brigade tolerate this kind of bunkum?
After bowing out of the 1998 British Open over a lost golf-shoe spike and retaining the championship, John Daly, under the U.S. Open's new match-play format, hand-picks sixty-something Arnold Palmer as his opponent, luring him out of retirment with a $1.4 million payday. "That's a lotta Pennzoil," Palmer is overheard saying to some Latrobe, PA wags. A record gallery sees Daly whip Palmer ten-and-eight and casually opt not to finish the remaining eight holes of his round.
Hells' Bells! Even the nineteenth-hole martoonie crowd would hardly sit still for this.
Imagine: one of college football's elite top ten teams starts its season against miniscule Georgia Southern University...
Oops, sorry, one of college football's elite teams really DID start its season against Georgia Southern University. But even in the college gridiron game, where this kind of mismatch is winked at in the name of "tradition," fans, journalists and coaches have made some real improvements. After decades of screaming about playoffs, college football now has a Bowl coalition and a national championship game -- sort of a quasi-playoff system. Why? Because fans were getting shortchanged and they demanded better. It didn't happen overnight, but their voices -- the voices of the people who bought and paid for the tickets -- were ultimately heard.
So why are boxing fans so docile? Never before in heavyweight history have fans been fed such a steady diet of nothing. Mike Tyson, the sport's star attraction and storm center, has fought less than no one since his return: a North Shore nightclub bouncer, a pudgy club fighter, an underachieving British fashion plate he had already beaten once, and now a china-chinned poseur who was lucky to survive the initial touching of gloves. And he continues to rake in untold wealth. Why? Because we are suckers. We keep paying and paying and paying for this kind of nonsense.
And what do we have to look forward to? A "superfight" with Evander Holyfield. Oh, brother...
Let me be clear on this. I am not a Holyfield basher. The man was a great fighter, an honorable champion, one of the few exemplars in a sport full of fakes. He was a guy who loved to fight, who believed in the idea of championship dignity. He took his skills as far as he could have ever been expected to, turning a light-heavyweight body into a heavyweight fighting machine and winning the richest prize in sports. But so desperate is the spate of worthy heavies today that many of us are viewing Holyfield through rose-colored glasses. A little perspective is called for.
Holy was always a blown-up cruiser. He won the heavy-title from a fat, out-of-shape chancer who basically laid down after getting hit with one punch. His defenses came against a forty-something comebacker old enough to be his dad and a crackhead club fighter who came within inches of separating him from the title. His second fight against Bowe was a classic, but Holyfield lost to both top-flight heavies he fought in title defenses, Riddick Bowe and Michael Moorer. In his third tilt against Bowe, he looked like a man on his last legs.
The Holyfield of today is well, well past it. He has a bad ticker, wobbly legs and he speaks like Richard Pryor's old "Mudbone" character. He was unable to put down a blubbery, semi-retired ex-middleweight in his last fight. What would he possibly do against a rampaging Tyson, still the division's most dangerous fighter? Others may shy away from saying it, but the fact of the matter is this: a Tyson-Holyfield match will result in Holyfield -- Mayo Clinic or no Mayo Clinic -- being hurt, incapacitated or killed. And in as little regard as boxing is currently held, the death or maiming of a national figure like Holyfield will bring the whole circus sideshow to a grinding halt so fast the boxing game will make the tobacco industry look like teacher's pets. Trust me. If Holyfield goes the way of Duk Koo Kim or even Gerald McLellan, the next fight you will see will be held in the back room of an auto parts store and you'll have to mumble "swordfish" through a secret trapdoor to gain admission.
So, what's the answer? Federal regulation? Don't hold your breath. The only time that the haircuts in Congress take notice of the Sweet Science is when they can trot some organized crime wiseguys in front of CNN cameras to deliver diatribes about 30 year old fight fixes, or when they can grandstand for the hometown voters protesting a bum decision. (Remember how Delaware Sen. Billy Roth rolled out his federal boxing bill after TNT Tiberi was gypped out of the middleweight title? Remember how after the speeches and the photo ops were over, the bill died the slow, silent Death of Unwanted Legislation?) Federal lawmaking is about power. No powerful faction stands to gain from cleaning up boxing -- quite the contrary! And with the sport marginalized by corrupt governance, low TV exposure and absence of name attractions, there is simply no grass-roots public demand for boxing reform. The boys and girls on Capitol Hill would be foolish to dirty their hands with it when they can be ramming through bills written by their favorite campaign contributors.
The answer must begin with us. It's time fans started to demand more competitive matches, tighter controls on the licensing of fighters and fair, equitable rankings. Or else fight promoters should just issue all fight fans floppy shoes, red noses and seltzer bottles at the gate of every ballyhooed mismatch. Start by boycotting PPV. Write to your local cable sports channels. Petition promoters, managers and the casinos that make their site fees hosting these laugh-fests. The big kahunas have their hands around the neck of the golden goose and are squeezing hard. And these days, those ain't eggs that Mother Goose is dispensing.
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