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17 SEPTEMBER 2014

 

Notes and Nuggets


Sylvester Stallone (left) with Antonio Tarver:  HoganPhotos.com
Sylvester Stallone (left) with Antonio Tarver: HoganPhotos.com

By Thomas Hauser

In the past, I’ve recounted the memories of boxing personalities regarding the first professional fight they ever saw. The recollections of four more individuals who have left their mark on the sweet science follow:

SYLVESTER STALLONE: A lot of people are surprised by this, but I never went to a fight before I wrote Rocky. I was always either doing other things or was too poor to go. But I started at the top. The first fight I went to was Larry Holmes against Ken Norton [on June 9, 1978] at Caesars in Las Vegas. What a great fight! It was toe-to-toe action. And to be honest, if I’d seen that fight before writing Rocky, the movie might have been a little different because one of the things that struck me about Holmes-Norton was the audience participation. In the fight scenes in Rocky, we focused on the fighters and their corners. But at Holmes-Norton, I realized that the crowd is a character in itself.

MATTHEW SAAD MUHAMMAD: It was at the Blue Horizon in Philadelphia. I was seventeen years old. My amateur coach took me, and the fighters were punishing each other like rock ’em sock ’em robots. It was like Hollywood. No normal man could take that kind of punishment. But they had victory in their eyes, and I could see that the desire to win lessened the pain they felt. My coach said to me, "This is what it’s going to be like if you turn pro. To win, you’ll have to condition yourself physically and mentally. Do you think you can do this?" And I told him, "Whatever it takes, I’m going to do this. I can take the punishment. I can take the pain."

SHANNON BRIGGS: I was a kid, seventeen years old, learning how to box at the Starrett City Boxing Gym in Brooklyn. My coach, Jimmy O’Pharrow, took me and some other kids he was working with to Yonkers. We drove there in a big white Cadillac with a blue top. I don’t remember anything about the fights, but I remember meeting Renaldo Snipes, who was in the crowd. I weighed around 170 pounds at the time, and he seemed like a giant to me. This was after he’d fought Larry Holmes, so he’d been within one punch of being heavyweight champion of the world. He wished me good luck, and it was like “wow”. I was in awe of him. I wasn’t thinking about fighting as a pro back then, but it was a nice experience.

DAN BIRMINGHAM: I went with my amateur trainer, Art Mayorga. Art was from Youngstown, Ohio, where I grew up. He’d been one of Sonny Liston’s sparring partners. After he retired, he trained kids in his basement. The walls were the ropes, so we learned to stay in the center of the ring. I started boxing with him at 112 pounds and finished at 160. My record was 35 and 7, but I never turned pro. Art took me to church every Sunday, and I went because he always bought me breakfast afterward. The first pro fight he took me to was in 1968 or 1969 after I’d been fighting for a few years. There were three brothers -- John May, James May, and Tommy May -- who fought in Youngstown. Two of them were on the card. To me, it was more of a bonding experience with Art than it was about going to the fights. I remember, he talked about his experiences in boxing and guys he’d known like Billy Conn and Sandy Saddler. Art died a few years ago and I still think about him. Just when I think I remember everything he taught me, something else surfaces in my mind.

* * *

Showtime’s “September to remember” has turned into a September that the network would rather forget.

Fernando Vargas versus Ricardo Mayorga was postponed. Vitali Klitschko against Jameel McCline was cancelled. And the opponent for Chad Dawson’s September 29th title defense keeps changing (which doesn’t matter because every boxing fan in North America will be watching Taylor-Pavlik on HBO that night). For good measure, the network’s October 6th fight between Oleg Maskaev and Samuel Peter fell out last week.

How about a new slogan? “It will be a November to remember on Showtime.”

On November 3rd, Juan Manuel Marquez (47-3, 35 KOs) faces off against Rocky Juarez (27-3, 19 KOs) in what should be a pretty good fight. And Showtime has upped the ante for two of its November ShoBox match-ups. On November 2nd, Calvin Brock (31-1, 23 KOs) faces Eddie Chambers (29-0, 16 KOs) in what’s expected to be a competitive heavyweight encounter. Then, on November 16th, Andre Ward (13-0, 8 KOs) goes against Roger Cantrell (12-0, 8 KOs) in a super-middleweight bout.

Three years ago, Ward, now 23, won a gold medal at the Athens Olympics. There’s a school of thought that he won his medal in the wrong era.

Three years after Cassius Clay captured Olympic gold, his name was on everyone’s lips and his next fight would be against Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship. Sugar Ray Leonard, three years removed from Montreal, was readying to fight Wilfred Benitez for his first world title. Three years after Barcelona, Oscar De La Hoya held the IBF and WBO 135-pound crowns.

Obviously, Clay (later Muhammad Ali), Leonard, and De La Hoya were unique talents. But Leon Spinks was far from great. And three years after Leon’s Olympic triumph, he’d already fought for, won, and lost the heavyweight title. Olympic gold also served as a launching pad for fighters like Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Michael Spinks, Pernell Whitaker, and Meldrick Taylor.

Times change. Olympic boxing is no longer shown on network television. Despite winning a gold medal, Andre Ward came out of the 2004 games as anonymously as he went in.

Twenty-seven Americans have won Olympic gold medals in boxing from 1960 to date. Of these 27, fifteen became world champions as a pro. It remains to be seen where Ward will rank when his career is done. “I’m a good fighter who’s trying to become great,” he says. “Each Olympic class had its own situation. The class of 2004 has its situation, and I’ll deal with it.”

That brings us to Ward-Cantrell, which will be contested on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. Cantrell’s record has been built against soft-opposition; all of his fights so far have been in Tacoma; and he has only gone past four rounds once. He’s coming to win, but won’t.

Meanwhile, it should be noted that Dan Goossen talked for a long time at the kick-off press conference for Ward-Cantrell in New York. Very long, actually, which led one scribe to comment, “This is like listening to Murad Muhammad.” That brought ShoBox expert analyst Steve Farhood into the act. “I have nothing bad to say about Dan,” Farhood proclaimed. “He’s the reason I’m going to St. Lucia.”

* * *

And on the literary front --

The Legality of Boxing by Jack Anderson (Birkbeck Law Press) views the sport in its historical context; studies its legality through the ages; evaluates the dangers that it poses to participants; and weighs the current state of the law in light of the philosophical and ethical questions raised by these dangers.

Anderson posits that boxing’s protection under the law springs from a long-ago time when (like archery, jousting, and other combat sports) it was directly related to community survival and the prepation of young men for war. Boxing today, he continues, “is granted an exemption from the ordinary law of violence on the grounds that it is a well and self-regulated sport entered into by mature consenting adults whose intentions, while physically invasive, are essentially sporting in nature.”

But as Anderson notes, boxing’s current regulatory framework is woefully inadequate. Fighters are largely unprotected. The sport simply isn’t regulated properly.

The Legality of Boxing isn’t for the casual reader. At times, the writing is tedious (most legal tomes are). But it’s also thoughtful and of particular interest when Anderson turns to the philosophical and ethical issues that surround the fundamental nature of boxing.

Anderson respects boxing’s “nuanced levels of discipline, skill, and courage.” He also concedes that injury and death are an inevitable by-product of other sports like automobile racing, mountaineering, and football (all of which, in some ways, are more dangerous than boxing). But he notes the testimony of Baroness Lena Jeger, who, during a 1995 debate, told the House of Lords,“When I was rock-climbing and hanging from the end of a rope, the chap at the top did not cut the rope to make me fall. My fall would not be caused deliberately. That is the difference. Boxing is the deliberate causing of injury.”

Therein lies the rub.

“It cannot reasonably be denied,” Anderson writes, “that the objective of professional boxing is the infliction of bodily harm. Boxers come to hurt and spectators come to see it. The most efficient means of victory in a boxing match is to render one’s opponent unconscious. The aim is to hurt your opponent to such an extent that he is unable to defend himself [and then you can hurt him even more].”

Thus, the words of George Lundberg, former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association (quoted by Anderson): “It is morally wrong for one human being to attempt intentionally to harm the brain of another. The major purpose of a sports event is to win. When the surest way to win is by damaging the opponent’s brain and this becomes the standard procedure, the sport is morally wrong.”

That’s something to think about during the ongoing debate over the future of boxing.


Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com



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