Pic by Holger Keifel
By Thomas Hauser
The May 5th fight between Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr might turn out to be the largest-grossing fight in the history of boxing. Over the next few months, thousands of articles will be written about the combatants. Their respective pysches will be thoroughly explored. I don’t claim intimate knowledge of either man, but one experience with Mayweather stands out in my mind.
On Tuesday, March 30, 2004, I was at the ESPN Zone in New York to attend the kick-off press conference for a fight between Mayweather and Demarcus Corley. Marilyn Cole Lownes and I were writing a feature story on "Boxing Bling-Bling" for the Observer Sports Monthly. Holger Keifel was with us as our photographer. We were hoping to photograph Floyd with at least some of his jewels.
Mayweather entered the restaurant wearing blue jeans, a T-shirt, and denim jacket accessorized with a diamond-studded watch, necklace, and ring. Holger asked if he’d be willing to take the jacket and T-shirt off. Floyd demurred. "What’s this for, anyway?" he queried.
We told him.
Mayweather weighed his options; then decided that, if there was going to be a photo shoot of his bling, it should be captured in all its glory. He snapped his fingers and instructed an entourage member, "Bring it here."
The aide handed Mayweather an unobtrusive black-leather attache case. Floyd opened it up and began to remove the treasures inside. Pendants, chains, watches, bracelets, rings; most of them gold and platinum with large-carat diamonds embedded within.
The press conference was about to start.
"Let’s do this afterward," Floyd said.
During the next hour, Mayweather talked with the media about the fight; made faces while Corley spoke; and doodled on a pad like a child with attention deficit disorder. But when you’re an undefeated world champion, you get away with that sort of thing.
When the press conference ended, Floyd returned to our camera. "I’m the master," he told us. "I know all about jewelry. People say I’m cocky and arrogant, but I say I’m confident and slick. I like flashy jewelry and flashy cars; that’s me. There’s never too many diamonds." But beyond that, he was totally disinterested in talking about his bling. He only wanted to show it off. The bling would speak for itself.
At most photo shoots, the model follows direction. Here, Floyd directed the entire shoot in the manner of Orson Wells directing and starring in Citizen Kane. He didn’t want Holger touching or positioning his bling. "I do this all the time," he told us. "I know how to do it better than anyone."
Mayweather was in charge. Everyone present bowed to his will. The entourage members whose salaries he pays; the photographer who wanted the pictures; and us.
"Gimme the horse."
A "Ferrari horse" fashioned from 600 black, white, and yellow diamonds appeared.
"Gimme the glove."
A bejeweled boxing glove was placed in his hand.
One of Mayweather’s friends had been wearing a diamond-studded money bag on a gold chain around his neck and had assured us that it was his own.
Mayweather snapped his fingers: "Gimme my bag."
The bag was removed from its wearer’s neck and handed to the champ.
Holger asked Floyd if he’d be willing to wrap some of the chains, bracelets, and other bounty around his fist and hold it out against the white backdrop. Mayweather complied. But everyone present understood that the bling wasn’t wrapped around a model’s hand. It was wrapped around the fist of its owner, who happened to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Over the years, Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko have become known as good people with a social conscience.
Wladimir devotes considerable time and effort to raising public awareness and funds on behalf of UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). "My understanding of life changes as I see things with my own eyes," he said recently. "The world is getting smaller. We have to act differently and change our relationships to each other."
Vitali went even further, actively campaigning as a reform candidate for election as mayor of Kiev last year.
That bit of history is relevant now because Team Klitschko is currently engaged in maneuvering that, if successful, will tarnish the Klitschko reputation forever.
On September 2, 2006, Samuel Peter defeated James Toney in a bout that was supposed to determine the mandatory challenger for WBC heavyweight beltholder Oleg Maskaev. But the powers-that-be at the WBC ruled that the decision in Peter’s favor was "controversial" and ordered the two men to fight a rematch. They did, with Peter winning convincingly on January 6th of this year.
Meanwhile, the Klitschko camp has been trying arrange a unification bout between Maskaev and one of the brothers. Initially, it wanted Peter to accept step-aside money to allow Wladimir to fight Maskaev. Samuel refused. Now Team Klitschko is urging the WBC to allow Vitali to come out of retirement and jump over Peter as the mandatory challenger by virtue of the Ukrainian being a "champion emeritus."
Dino Duva (Peter’s co-promoter) says that the Peter camp was offered "seven figures" to step aside and allow Wladimir versus Oleg. That information is confirmed by WBC president Jose Sulaiman, who says, "I know for a fact that Samuel Peter was offered an amount equal to what he would have made from a fight against Maskaev if he would step aside. About Vitali, because of our rules, there are now two mandatory challengers, and the WBC will have to decide which mandatory comes first. We will not take away Samuel Peter’s mandatory, but we might postpone it. If you believe that is unfair, you are mistaken."
It would be interesting to find out precisely what (if anything) was promised to the WBC by the Klitschko camp in exchange for making Vitali Klitschko the "first mandatory" challenger.
Samuel Peter has earned his mandatory title shot. If the WBC jumps anyone over Peter, it most likely will be on the receiving end of a very large lawsuit. And the Klitschkos’ reputation as honorable sportsmen will be irrevocably damaged.
The boxing world expects behavior like this from certain sleazy advisors. It expected better of the Klitschko brothers. One wonders how Vitali will explain the situation to his children when he teaches them about moral values. It’s akin to the corrupt political maneuvering that he professes to abhor.
On the literary front -
Two Ton by Joseph Monninger (Steerforth Press) is a short evocatively written book keyed to the 1939 heavyweight championship bout between Joe Louis and Tony Galento. On the plus side; there’s some very good writing and an excellent recreation of the fight itself. Two Ton captures the spirit of Tony Galento well.
Galento’s belly "looked like a tidal wave of mud," Monninger recounts. "His hairy chest merely needed the word ’welcome’ shaved into it to make a perfect doormat. His thick-lipped mouth, partially open as if to persuade flies to visit, looked more comfortable turned around the boiling stem of a cigar. To think that this short bald rotund man would stand in against the Brown Bomber was hilarious and frightening. Galento looked like a guy fifty different men in the arena could knock out."
But on the negative side of the ledger, there are times when Monninger opts for poetic license and hyperbole over accuracy. The result is a generally rewarding but sometimes frustrating reading experience.
Also in the literary arena -
Hands of Stone by Christian Giudice (Milo Press) is a conscientiously researched, workmanlike account of Roberto Duran’s life in and out of the ring and also the most comprehensive analysis to date of Duran’s conduct in his infamous second fight against Ray Leonard. For the record, according to Giudice, what Duran actually said to referee Octavio Meyran was, "No quiero pelear con el payaso [I do not want to fight with this clown]." Then he added in broken English, "I don’t box anymore." It was only after Meyran asked why not that Duran added without further explanation, "No mas, no mas."
And last -
There was a time when Madison Square Garden was jammed to the rafters and celebrities like Mae West sat ringside to watch unknown amateurs boxers compete in the New York Golden Gloves. Cradle of Champions by Bill Farrell (Sports Publishing LLC) is a celebration of the tournament’s 80-year history. The text is serviceable. The photographs (taken from the Daily News photo archive) are a treasure.
It’s a given that fight fans will enjoy looking at legends like Sugar Ray Robinson in the ring when they were young. But there are photos that tug at the heart-strings as well (like Al Gavin, then in his thirties, working with young boxers). Also, some of the photos of unknown fighters stand on their own as art.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com