It has been a pleasant week. Basking in the afterglow of Gatti-Robinson, boxing fans were beginning to think things were alright. The dismal 1998 had finally produced a fight worthy of rewatching. Even the hardest boxing cynics were downright giddy...some even comparing the bout to LaMotta-Robinson, or Zale-Graziano. The revived game of boxing seemed fresh again.
It lasted 5 days.
On the 6th day, Showtime broadcast a fight card that reminded us of everything that's wrong with boxing. Boxing's ugly side was on display.
The first bout featured pound for pound entrant and IBF middleweight champion Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins (34-2-1,26) in a fight against southpaw Robert Allen (22-2,17). With Allen's reputed heavy hands, and Hopkins' boxing style, it was expected that the two would match up well in the ring. Both men had promised to take the other out quickly, and press conference trash talking escalated to the point that real tension seemed to exist between the two camps. But that's the thing about trash talk...it's just talk.
It took 30 seconds before the crowd began it's booing. For the first minute of the fight, neither Hopkins nor Allen threw a punch. Not until the last minute of the round were they even in each other's punching range. They say the top middleweights won't fight each other...turns out that's true even when they're in the ring with each other. This was the textbook 10-10 round as each man only landed one punch of significance: Hopkins a flush right to the body, and Allen a crisp left that made the champion grin.
It was one of the more boring rounds of the year. Anyone who didn't fall asleep during the opening round was almost certainly lulled to sleep when, instead of putting cameras in each fighter's corner to hear how they might take control of the fight, Showtime opted instead to show a one minute clip of Robert Allen, speaking slowly and softly as he tearfully eulogized his deceased trainer.
Hopkins came out firing in the second, and got Allen's attention. Robert Allen then began one of the more blatant displays of dirty fighting seen in some time. Allen threw shoulders into Hopkins' chin, held him in outrageous headlocks, and at one point viciously laced his face in a clinch. The third round was more of the same, with Allen not only headlocking Hopkins with one arm, but cinching the grip tight with his other.
If the rough tactics were intended to throw Hopkins off his game, then it worked. Hopkins, who had been hesitant to exchange with Allen, was now reluctant to get close enough for Allen to foul him. The confused Hopkins began circling counterclockwise. The book on southpaws is that you circle clockwise, and thus away from their left hand. Hopkins showed how not to fight a lefty, as he instead continued to step right and get tagged with Allen's punches....that is, when there were any being thrown. The holding and hitting continued on both sides, although some of Allen's infractions were blatant. And then ugly turned left at odd and drove straight through to bizarre. Struggling to separate the clinched fighters, referee Mills Lane pushed and pushed...and pushed too hard. The momentum of Lane's pushing, along with the continuing clinch sent both fighters stumbling to the corner. Allen ran into the turnbuckle, but Hopkins fell head first through the ropes, twisting in air as he fell out of sight and out of the ring.
It was funny for a moment, but Bernard Hopkins did not get up. When camera crews finally got around to his side of the ring, he was still lying on the floor, wincing in pain with a suspected fractured ankle and unsuccessfully trying to stand. Not long after Dr. Flip Homansky got to Hopkins was it apparent that the fight would not continue. Hopkins remained on the floor for several minutes in visible anguish. Confusion began swirling.
Mills Lane, who was partly responsible for Hopkins' crash, did not make an immediate ruling. Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Marc Ratner was scurrying about the ring, as was America Presents promoter Dan Goosen, who also had Lane's ear. Don King seemed to be everywhere at once, although that could be blamed on the presence of actor Ving Rhames at ringside. As bodies scurried about, Showtime microphones picked up a number of sound clips. Would the fight be ruled no contest or technical draw? Could Allen be disqualified for his part in the fall? The speculation that Hopkins might lose via TKO for being unable to continue was overheard on the air. Hopkins must have overheard it too, because not long after it had been mentioned, he was on his feet insisting to Homansky that he could continue. A few more minutes passed before Jimmy Lennon, Jr. read the outcome. The official decision: No contest. The unofficial decision: Lane TKO4.
Once both camps had cleared the ring, Showtime then turned it's focus to the main event. In that fight another middleweight champion, WBA strap wearer William Joppy, faced off against 47 year old legend Roberto Duran. The sad story of this matchup has been well documented. Needing to sell more tickets to Holyfield-Akinwande in New York, Don King added Roberto Duran to his card. Joppy, who recently regained the title from Julio Cesar Green, was looking for an easy title defense and the match was made. Duran, who had done nothing in 10 years to earn such a shot, badly needed cash. His $250,000 purse was going to pass directly to an agent of the IRS, to whom Duran owed millions. Struggling to make 160, Duran was reported to be wearing heavy plastics the week of that fight. So weakened from the dehydration, he was unable to jump rope for reporters covering his workouts. When Akinwande's illness cancelled the card, it was a relief.
But Duran still needed the money, and so Don King rescheduled the fight. The extra time allowed Duran to get into better shape, coming in at 159 lbs., but also gave him foolish confidence. Against the younger (by 20 years), stronger, faster fighter, Duran pressed the action. Always the aggressor, Duran started the fight by attacking the body. Big mistake. While Duran had entered the ring bone dry, Joppy's chiseled physique was drenched in the sweat that came from a vigorous warm up. Joppy took a few Duran body shots and then let his hands go.
For three rounds, Joppy tore into Duran just as we feared he would. The first flush punch that connected hurt Duran, but Joppy didn't let up. Although Duran never went down, it could have been a 10-8 round. Joppy (26-1-1,19) threw hooks, lead rights, uppercuts from the inside, jabs from the outside, and basically anything else he wanted. Duran's reflexes were nowhere to be found, and Joppy treated him like a bearded heavybag. It was more of the same in the second round, where nearly every punch Joppy threw swiveled Duran's head.
So one sided was the third round that I wrote 10-8 for Joppy on my scorecard before the round was half over. Again Duran didn't go down, but he took a serious beating. For a man fighting for free, he showed tremendous resolve. Joppy beat Duran into the ropes, then across the ring, then into a corner, and again across the ring. Referee Joe Cortez could have stepped in after any number of flurries, all of which were absorbed by Duran, who was not returning punches...or even defending himself. Finally, after Ferdie Pacheco had been screaming for a halt for over a minute, Cortez stepped in and stopped Duran on his feet. For Joppy it was a mild workout. For Duran, it was a mugging that will leave him in bed for at least a week. Joppy TKO3.
After 115 fights, the long and incomparable career of Roberto Duran looks to have finally come to an end. Announcing his retirement after the fight, one had to wonder: was this another temporary layoff, one that would end with the next six figure purse offer...or a real retirement at the hands of a painful lesson? Although Duran was quoted as saying "I'm finished.", a half hour later trainer Ruben Gomez claimed that Duran had insisted he was not retiring. Boxing's sad history repeats itself again.
-America Presents recently hired referee Mills Lane as an expert commentator for their pay-per-view fights. Marc Ratner, of the NSAC, had been quoted as saying he didn't want Lane reffing in Nevada so long as he was providing commentary, because it was a conflict of interest. Yet there he was tonight...reffing a fight in Nevada...and getting an earful from Dan Goosen in the aftermath of the Hopkins' fall. Goosen, who promotes Hopkins, is also Lane's employer when he acts as a broadcaster. Conflict of interest? You decide.
-Is Mills Lane jinxed? Hopkins falls out of the ring. Tyson chomps on Holyfield. McCall cries in the ring. Akinwande is DQ'd for hugging. Fan man parachutes into the ring. All on Lane's watch. If Lane refs Holyfield-Bean, all bets are off.
-Foot in mouth award: Jim Grey, the Showtime roving reporter known for the tough questions he daringly poses to fighters, slipped up tonight. After Duran assured us he was not hurt, Grey asked Duran if he would tell us in English whether or not this spelled the end to his career. Duran calmly said "Maybe no more.".....to which Grey quipped "No mas?" It was a joke no one thought funny and Grey awkwardly offered up the only laugh.
-If you missed the main event tonight, it will be replayed on September 18 under the title "DelaHoya-Chavez II". That night another Latin champion with over 100 fights will end his career after being wickedly beat by a younger, stronger champion.
-It's unclear to me how Showtime can reasonably call themselves "America's premier boxing network." Nothing could be further from the truth. For starters, tonight's broadcast ran 10 minutes shy of two hours....for only 7 rounds of boxing. And Showtime's promotion department should be fired. The Showtime boxing team spent so long explaining what a travesty Duran-Joppy was going to be, I wondered why they were even bothering to broadcast it. It's hard to bring new fans to the sport when the announcers spend 45 minutes explaining to you why the fight you're about to see isn't competitive, shouldn't have been sanctioned, and won't be pleasant to watch. And while I respect Jim Grey's tough questions, it's equally difficult to understand why Showtime gives him so much airtime to cross examine Don King (Showtime's exclusive promoter) and Evander Holyfield (Showtime's next headliner). After both interviews, I was more convinced than I was before that Holyfield-Bean is unwatchable. Showtime's boxing coverage seems intent on shooting itself in the foot...
-The final embarrassment came at the very end. After having spent the evening promoting their web site, Showtime posted results of an online poll. The question: Should Mike Tyson (who still fights exclusively for Showtime) be reinstated? The results: 65% NO, only 35% YES. Again, Showtime reminded us that not only were the fights they present undesirable, but so were their fighters. What fantastic marketing.
© 2001 Chris Bushnell. All rights reserved.