By Thomas Hauser
The recent betting scandal involving NBA referee Tim Donaghy should be a wake-up call for other sports. Donaghy, as virtually everyone in the sports world now knows, pled guilty to two felonies related to allegations that he had passed information to organized crime figures and placed bets on NBA games that he officiated.
In April 2006, I posted a column entitled, ’Whose Betting On What Fights?’
In it, I wrote, “Boxing has a problem; a big one. Think of it as a monster that’s hiding under the bed. Eventually, the monster is going to come out and take a big chunk out of boxing.” I then noted, “Fighters, trainers, managers, promoters, even government regulators, can legally bet on fights. They can also bet on fights that they’re involved with.”
Since then, nothing has been done to remedy the situation. The problem still exists.
As Eliza Doolittle said to Henry Higgins, “Just you wait.”
* * *
Sechew Powell is a world-class fighter with a 21-1 record. His only defeat was a ten-round decision loss at the hands of former IBF champion Kassim Ouma. Powell has fought his entire career at junior-middleweight or above.
James Crayton is 37 years old. He has lost 25 fights, including ten of his last eleven. His only victory during the past five years was over a fighter with a 3-19-2 record. Crayton began his career as a lightweight and, four months ago, was fighting at 145 pounds.
The Florida State Athletic Commission has approved a September 21st match-up between Powell and Crayton. The bout will be promoted by Bad Dog Promotions in association with Warriors Boxing. The two companies share promotional rights to Powell.
When asked how he justified the match-up, Leon Margules (executive director of Warriors Boxing) told Secondsout, “This is a “stay-busy fight for Sechew. The commission approved it. If you don’t like it, find me someone else who will fight Sechew Powell for $2,500.”
Sechew Powell versus James Crayton isn’t a professional fight. It’s a public beating. The match-up is demeaning to boxing and calls into question the judgment of everyone at the Florida State Athletic Commission who had a hand in approving it.
* * *
Former Time Warner Sports president Seth Abraham is known in boxing circles as the architect of HBO’s boxing program. But in his youth, Abraham had an in-ring experience of his own.
“I was ten years old,” Abraham remembers. “It was at a sleep-away camp in Monroe, New York. One afternoon, the counselors organized a boxing tournament. I was matched against a camper named Mark Slate. He hit me, and it made me so angry that I threw a huge roundhouse left [Abraham is a southpaw] that, by chance, landed right on his nose.”
What happened next is instructive.
“The gloves were the size of pillows,” Abraham says. “It was almost impossible to hurt someone with them, but the punch hit Mark just right. Blood started pouring from his nose. And I was so upset by the sight of it that I fainted.”
“Two fantasies were destroyed that afternoon,” Abraham acknowledges. “My young fantasy of becoming heavyweight champion of the world and my mother’s fantasy of her son becoming a doctor.”
* * *
Also on the HBO front --
HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg ruffled some feathers with his last-minute cancellation of a promised appearance at the annual convention of the National Association of Black Journalists in Las Vegas on August 10th.
New York Post columnist George Willis had coordinated a workshop moderated by USA Today boxing writer Chuck Johnson on the issue of "Is Boxing Down for the Count?" The panelists were to be Greenburg, Ken Hershman of Showtime, Don King, Bob Arum, Floyd Mayweather Jr, and New York Daily News boxing scribe Tim Smith. But on the morning of the 10th, Ray Stallone (HBO’s vice president for sports publicity) sent an email saying that Ross would be unable to attend due to an unspecified Illness in the family.
That led to the insertion of a note entitled “MISSING IN ACTION” in Smith’s August 15th column in the Daily News. After referring to Greenburg’s “glaring absence,” Smith observed, “Apparently there was no one else at HBO or Time Warner capable of discussing the network’s policies and thoughts on boxing. At a conference that was important enough for two of the leading Democratic presidential candidates - Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama - to speak, HBO couldn’t find anyone to represent them. That’s a shame.”
Several days after Greenburg’s non-appearance, Smith told Secondsout.com, “HBO balked at doing the panel discussion to begin with, and my sense was that they were ambivalent about coming. I won’t question what I was told about an illness in the family, and I hope that everyone is healthy now. But it’s hard to believe that, in a company as large as HBO, they couldn’t find a substitute to attend.”
The perceived snub of the National Association of Black Journalists leads to a larger issue. Some black fighters are starting to complain that they’re under-represented on HBO.
Last year, Bob Arum accused the network of racism for failing to offer a date to Kelly Pavlik because Pavlik is white. "There’s a perception with boxing network guys,” Arum proclaimed, “that if you’re a white guy, you can’t fight. They judge by color."
Greenburg responded by calling Arum’s comments "a disgraceful and undignified remark by a disturbed man."
But some fighters feel that there’s a more traditional bias at HBO. In the first eight months of 2007, 85 fighters appeared on HBO-PPV, World Championship Boxing, and Boxing After Dark. Of those 85, only 26 (31%) were black. The numbers become more skewed if Lou DiBella’s cards are removed from the equation. DiBella had three dates on HBO through September 1st of this year. Ten of the fourteen fighters on his shows (71%) were black. Not including DiBella’s three cards, there have been 71 fighters on HBO this year and only 16 (23%) were black.
By contrast, 35 of the 70 fighters who appeared on Showtime Championship Boxing and ShoBox through September 1st of this year (50%) were black.
“Young American fighters in general are having a harder time getting on HBO than Mexican or Filipino fighters,” says one observer of the boxing scene. “And that’s particularly true when it comes to young African-American fighters.”
* * *
In the literary arena –
The Half-Life of an American Essayist by Arthur Krystal (David R. Godine) is a collection of pieces that run the gamut from ruminations on sin to the development of the typewriter. Two of the essays – An African-American in Regency England (which first appeared in The New Yorker) and Boxers and Writers (Harper’s) deal with the sweet science.
An African-American in Regency England (the better of Krystal’s two fistic essays) recounts the two heavyweight championship fights between Englishman Tom Cribb and Tom Molineaux. Little reliable biographical information about Molineaux exists today. What is known is that, one week before Christmas 1810, ten thousand spectators gathered in the rain on Copthall Common, Sussex, to watch Cribb defend his crown.
“There had been anticipated contests before,” Krystal writes. “But none like this. Cribb vs. Molineaux was the first great sporting event of the modern era, the one fight that everyone who was anyone had to attend.”
It was also a time when, in Krystal’s words, “Most Britons tended to equate the mettle demonstrated in the prize ring with the courage demanded on the battlefield.” But this particular encounter ran contrary to logic. “A black man challenging for the title? And an American to boot? It defied the natural order. It was as if a tallish citizen of Baghdad had deplaned in Chicago in 1999 and proceeded to taunt Michael Jordan, demanding he play him one-on-one.”
The fight lasted 55 minutes with an out-of-shape Cribb winning under dubious circumstance. “Molineaux was allowed to fight,” Krystal notes. “He was just not allowed to win.” Pierce Egan later wrote, ““It will not be forgotten, if justice holds the scales, “that [Molineaux’s] colour alone prevented him from becoming the hero of that fight.”
Nine months later, a rematch was contested before 20,000 spectators on the outskirts of London. This time, Cribb had trained properly and Molineaux hadn’t. After nineteen minutes of battle, the Englishman emerged victorious. Seven years later, Molineaux was dead at age 34.
* * *
Adam J. Pollack is on a mission. He intends to write a biography of every heavyweight champion who fought in the gloved era. In the Ring with James J. Corbett (self-published by the author) is the second volume in that series.
On the plus side; Pollack deserves credit for a Herculean research effort. There’s drama in the build-up to Sullivan-Corbett and the author’s retelling of the title fight itself. Another interesting portion of the book recounts Corbett boxing six shortened rounds against Peter Courtney on September 7, 1894. Their encounter was seriously contested in a makeshift ring set up in a small film studio in New Jersey at the behest of Thomas Edison, who, three years earlier, had invented the first motion picture camera. Thus it was that Corbett became the first heavyweight champion captured in the ring on film.
But on the downside, Corbett doesn’t fully come to life in the pages of this book. That’s partly because Pollack offers little information about the fighter’s personal life and, more so, because of the writing itself. The author’s style is repetitive and ponderous. There are excessively long excerpts from primary sources such as newspapers and magazines of the day. Pollack appears to be an excellent researcher but he would have benefited from a good editor.
Still, if someone wants to learn extensively about Corbett, reading In the Ring with James J. Corbett would be a good way to start.
* * *
I guess I’ve made it to the bigtime. A “bad” signature of mine is on eBay. It’s on a document that also has a “bad” signature of Muhammad Ali (which is why it’s on eBay to begin with).
Earlier this summer (July 18, 2007), “item number 220135656368” was listed with the self-styled “World’s Online Marketplace.” The “item title” is “Muhammad Ali book with signed note to Dick Schaap.” The listing reads as follows:
“Offered is a hardcover book, Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times, by Thomas Hauser. Simon & Schuster, 1991. 544 pp. This biography doesn’t take the normal course. The story of Muhammad Ali’s life is told by those who know him, with the interviews chosen and arranged by the author. One of those people was Dick Schaap, who met the young heavyweight before his flight to Rome for the 1960 Olympics. The two remained friends long after . . . The note that comes with this book is a thank you note, most likely for the memories Dick contributed. The ‘thank you’ is typewritten and does not mention Dick by name. I imagine all the contributors received such a note. It is on stationary which simply says ‘Muhammad Ali’ at the top, and is signed by Ali and Thomas Hauser. Condition is very good, but the front free end page is not properly pasted to the spine. The dust jacket has some scuffing. The note is folded once, and not perfectly. Other than these flaws, I find none . . .”
A scan of the note is included with the listing. The “buy it now” price is $175 plus shipping. The book purports to come from the estate of Dick Schaap. I’ll assume it does, although I’ll also assume that Dick’s family has nothing to do with this listing.
Here’s the rub. The “note” is a photo-copy, not an original.
During my research for Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times, I interviewed close to 200 hundred people. When the book was published, Simon & Schuster sent copies to most of them. It seemed a bit much to ask Muhammad to sign 200 “thank you” letters. So a letter was typed on Muhammad Ali stationery. Ali and I signed it. Simon & Schuster then made copies of the letter and included a copy with each book.
I have the original letter in my personal collection of Muhammad Ali memorabilia. The stationery is gray and “Muhammad Ali” is emblazoned across the top in maroon. The letter is signed by Muhammad and myself. Each of us used a felt-tip pen with blue ink.
The item offered for sale on eBay is entirely in black, white, and gray. It’s hard for me to believe that the seller thinks the signatures are originals. Maybe he does. And in fairness to him (or her), the eBay item description never says that the signatures are originals rather than copies. But hardcover editions of Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times are available online for as little as one dollar plus shipping. So it wouldn’t be unreasonable for someone who pays $175 for “item number 220135656368” to assume that Ali’s signature on the note is original.
The seller has a “100% positive rating” on eBay.
Craig Hamilton is one of the foremost boxing memorabilia dealers in the United States. Several years ago, he complained, "There’s a ton of phony merchandise out there. Most of it is bad autographs. Ebay is the area of prime offense. It’s the cesspool of sports collectibles. The listings on Ebay simply aren’t screened sufficiently, so it’s a true place for the buyer to beware. The bad material on eBay flows like a rancid tide.”
As Hamilton warned: Buyer beware
* * *
And last --
At the August 9, 2007, kick-off press conference at Madison Square Garden for Oleg Maskaev’s WBC title defense against Samuel Peter, a Showtime camera crew approached Maskaev with a simple request. Showtime will be televising Maskaev-Peter on October 6th. But the network also had three fights slated for September: Fernando Vargas against Ricardo Mayorga (now rescheduled for November 23rd on PPV), Vitali Klitschko versus Jameel McCline (September 22nd), and Chad Dawson against Adrian Diaconu (September 29th). Thus, the Showtime crew chief asked Maskaev to look into the camera, raise his fist, and say, “It will be a September to remember on Showtime.”
“My fight is in October,” Maskaev told him.
That led to considerable pleading.
Finally, Oleg relented.
Lights . . . Camera . . . Action . . .
Maskaev looked into the camera, raised his fist, and proclaimed, “It will be a September to remember on Showtime, but my fight is in October.”
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org