By Thomas Hauser
The saga of Don Elbaum continues. Readers may refer to Bordello Boxing
and More on Bordello Boxing
for earlier installments.
On March 17th, Elbaum found himself at the Grand Casino (a Native American venue in Hinckley, Minnesota). There’s a lot of friction these days between Native American tribes and Scott LeDoux (executive director of the Minnesota State Athletic Commission). In fact, LeDoux has gone so far as to warn his officials that he will look askance at their working shows at certain tribal casinos.
Elbaum was at the Grand Casino as an “advisor” to Joey Abell, a 25-year-old heavyweight from Minneapolis with a 13-1 record and 13 knockouts.
“Joey is like a young George Foreman,” Don boasts. “He punches like a freight train. And things being the way they are, it doesn’t hurt that he’s white.”
What made the March 17th fight card unique is that Elbaum refereed all six contests, including Abell’s bout.
“I was very fair,” Elbaum reports. “Joey fought a guy named James Gerstein and knocked him down three times in the first round. Then I stopped it. There was a little bit of a storm over my being Joey’s adviser but not much. And there was another fantastic fight on the card. Zach ‘Jungle Boy’ Walters and ‘Gentleman’ James Johnson really got into it. James hit Zach in the balls, and Zach complained, ‘He hit me low.’ So I told Zach, ‘Then you hit him low.’ What a fight.”
“Half of the referees today don’t know what they’re doing,” Elbaum advises. “Believe me; I’m a good referee.”
Joey Abell is slated to fight next on ESPN2 in April. Elbaum, presumably, will not referee the bout.
* * *
Believe it or not, Paulie Malignaggi has a shy side.
In November 2002, I was in Atlantic City for the second fight between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward. Paulie (who was relatively unknown at the time) was slated to fight Paul Delgado on the undercard. Gatti had just finished a sitdown in a conference room with a small group of media. Paulie had come in to listen and was standing off to the side.
“Arturo is my hero,” Paulie told me.
“Have you met him?”
“C’mon. I’ll introduce you.”
Gatti was warm and welcoming. Paulie was respectful. They chatted for several minutes.
“That made me feel good,” Paulie said afterward. “He treated me like I’m somebody. He’s a really nice guy.”
* * *
During a press gathering at a Manhattan restaurant to promote an upcoming Cedric Kushner Gotham Boxing card, the conversation turned to the awards that had just been announced by the Boxing Writers Association of America.
Fighter of the Year, Manny Pacquiao . . . Trainer of the Year, Freddie Roach . . . Manager of the Year, no award.
“Who’s Noah Ward?” Cedric queried. “I’ve never heard of him.”
The moment brought to mind the famous Abbott and Costello’s baseball routine, “Who’s On First?” But the best line of the evening came from David Tua. When the 5-foot-9-inch heavyweight was asked whether he could overcome his height and reach disadvantage in a fight against 7-foot-2-inch Nikolai Valuev or 6-foot-6-inch Wladimir Klitschko, Tua answered, “No problem. It’s like dating a taller girl. In bed, you’re the same size.”
* * *
On the literary front --
Muhammad Ali Handbook by Dave Zirin (MQ Publications) begins with considerable promise. Zirin is a talented counterculture sports journalist with a creative eye. In the book’s introduction, he writes, “Ali’s past has been edited and reedited almost beyond recognition. An Ali school of falsification has been running at full throttle since 1996. That year, the champ, his hands trembling, his back stooped, lit the Olympic torch. The connection between Ali and his audience crackled and sparked a renaissance of interest. Sadly, the response to this revived fascination was a plethora of books and retrospectives swamped with obfuscation, spin, and slander.”
“The dominant discourse,” Zirin continues, “runs through the ‘Sanitize Ali’ movement. The emissaries of this group present the champ as a harmless symbol. He is now deemed safe for public appearances, Super Bowl commercials, and political photo ops. He can be feted at the White House by George W. Bush. The other approach comes from the ‘Smear Ali’ crowd. This is represented by a new cottage industry of books that attempt to prove that Ali was ‘an unapologetic sexist and unabashed racist’ who was ‘bad for America.’ Both wings of the Ali School of Falsification share a common aim: the obliteration of who he was and his incalculable effect on the social movements, emerging mass culture, and global media of his day.”
Thereafter, the reader is treated to a nicely put together collection of photos and quotations. But too much of Zirin’s work is a rehash of statements from previous Ali books.
The most interesting portions of Muhammad Ali Handbook are transcripts of interviews that the author conducted with Robert Lipsyte and Dave Kindred (two author-journalists who covered Ali during and after his ring career). The text of several other interviews (including one with this author) are also included.
Lipsyte’s thoughts are particularly insightful, reminding us that, before he was a social, political, and religious figure, Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr was a fighter.
“He was a jock,” Lipsyte says of Ali. “He started boxing when he was twelve years old. It was the total focus of his life. His high school diploma was a gift because they didn’t want to stand in the way, so they didn’t bother him with all the niceties of education like learning how to read. So here is this typical jock, totally focussed on one thing. He just had to box. Totally absorbed in his own career. Illiterate, ignorant. Then he comes back from the Olympics and he’s bought by the plantation owners of Louisville [the Louisville Sponsoring Group]. Now he’s really a hired piece of meat. He’s in the warm. He loves the fame; he loves the joy of it. He’s a seeker, though. Something’s missing in his life. He wants something larger but he’s still an ignorant kid, not the Muhammad Ali of our dreams.”
One wishes that Zirin had opted for more original research and analysis like this and less cut-and-paste from earlier works. With all his talent, he hasn’t put his best foot forward with Muhammad Ali Handbook.
* * *
Boxing’s Top 100 by Bill Gray (Blue Lightning Press) purports to be an accurate pound-for-pound ranking of the greatest champions of all time based on irrefutable statistics rather than subjective analysis. Gray took 700 champions and fed 29 categories of statistical data into a computer.
Sugar Ray Robinson is ranked first. Well and good. But after that, things start to get crazy
Virgil Hill is ranked #17 on the list of greatest pound-for-pound fighters of all time. Other curious appearances in the top 100 include Juan Coggi, Leo Gamez, Marcel Thil, Fabrice Tiozzo, Luis Estaba, Chana Porpaoin, Bruno Arcari, Markus Beyes, Nicolino Loche, Dennis Andries, and Jorge Castro.
By contrast, Joe Frazier is #400 in Gray’s pound-for-pound rankings; Sonny Liston #422; and James J. Corbett #522.
Looking at individual weight classes; Tommy Burns is ranked #8 among the heavyweights, ahead of Rocky Marciano, John L. Sullivan, Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Mike Tyson, Gene Tunney, James J. Jeffries, Joe Frazier, Sonny Liston, and James J. Corbett. Floyd Patterson, by the way, is also ranked ahead of Liston. Go figure.
In the middleweight division, William Joppy is ahead of Jake LaMotta.
Jose Napoles is listed as the second-greatest welterweight of all time. Tommy Freeman gets higher marks than Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, and Mickey Walker.
Having fun? Okay, here’s more. Benny Leonard (#139 in the overall pound-for-pound rankings) is the twelfth-ranked lightweight, two spots behind Jose Luis Ramirez.
The book makes a valid point in observing that many people who wax eloquent about the fighters of old never saw them fight. No film footage of John L. Sullivan in the ring exists. There is only fragmentary footage from three Joe Gans bouts and two Stanley Ketchel fights. Thus, John Benson’s introduction to the book is on solid ground when it states, “The usual boxers are included in every book because they are famous, and they are famous because they have been included in every book. Once a boxer was excluded from the dominant popular thinking about greatness, his relegation to oblivion became permanent. He couldn’t be reconsidered for the label of ‘great’ because he wasn’t included in any of the books about great boxers.”
But let’s be reasonable. Gray should have re-programmed his computer.
There’s some interesting trivia and raw statistical data in Boxing’s Top 100 but the rankings are idiocy. If this is computer technology, give me old-fashioned subjective analysis. Ranking fighters across the ages is an art, not a science.
* * *
And last --
Kudos to Ross Greenburg. Maybe.
Insiders say that the HBO Sports president has turned down a proposed July 7th rematch between Wladimir Klitschko and Lamon Brewster.
Brewster defeated Klitschko in April 2004. But since then, he has been life-and-death with Kali Meehan and Luan Krasniqi, beat Andrew Golota, and (most recently) lost to Sergei Liakhovich. He hasn’t fought in more than a year, hasn’t won a fight since 2005, has undergone eye surgery three times, and gone up and down in weight like a balloon from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
There will be pressure on Greenburg to change his mind. Some of that pressure will come from Brewster adviser Al Haymon, who seems to have developed a special relationship with HBO that has led to some unfortunate fights on the cable network. Also, Vitali Klitschko versus Oleg Maskaev has fallen apart due to the failure of the Klitschko to come up with the promised step-aside money for Samuel Peter. And for whatever reason, HBO seems determined to have a Klitschko fight (either Klitschko will do) this summer no matter how bad that fight might be.
Let’s hope that Greenburg holds firm and draws the line at Klitschko-Brewster. Lamon should prove himself with a win against a legitimate top-ten opponent before he gets another title opportunity.
Meanwhile, there aren’t enough world-class heavyweights for four belts and credible challengers to four champions. Assuming that Nikolai Valuev beats Rusian Chagaev on April 14th, the fight that HBO should push for is a unification bout between Wladimir Klitschko and Valuev.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at