By Thomas Hauser* * *
When a fighter is in the ring, he hits and gets hit. But when a fighter and writer interact, almost always, the fighter is on the receiving end of the questions.
What would it be like if the tables were turned? In search of an answer, I asked seven fighters what questions they’d like to put to the men and women who write about them. Their questions follow:
Paulie Malignaggi: “If we switched places, who would do a better job. You in the ring or me as a writer?”
Yuri Foreman: “What fight were you watching?”
Kelly Pavlik: “Why do you have to put something negative in every article you write?”
Lennox Lewis: “Do you have a framework that you want your story to fit in? And then do you distort reality so you can put what you saw and heard inside your framework? Because sometimes it seems like you do.”
John Duddy: “I wanted to be a fighter when I was growing up. I’m living my dream. What did you want to be?”
Freddie Roach: “How many fights have you had?”
Larry Holmes: “That’s a good question. What I’d ask the other writers is, ‘Why do most of you guys ask the same questions again and again. Can’t you come up with some new questions?’”
Harold Lederman is one of the best-liked people in boxing and a wonderful ambassador for the sport. He has a kind word for everyone and never passes up an opportunity to talk about the sweet science. Jim Lampley once observed, “Harold will talk about boxing with a cocker spaniel.”
Thus, it’s worth recounting an incident that occurred recently as Harold was leaving a fight card on the west side of Manhattan. A homeless man was sitting on the sidewalk. His clothes were ragged; his hair, long and unkempt. It looked as though he hadn’t showered in weeks.
Harold was talking about boxing; his distinctive voice echoing in the night. The man looked up and said, “Larry Merchant; I want to shake hands with you.”
“I’ll be happy to shake hands with you. But I’m Harold Lederman, not Larry Merchant.”
That drew a scornful gaze.
“You can’t fool me. You’re Larry Merchant.”
“Okay. If it makes you happy, I’m Larry Merchant.”
At which point, Harold bent over, shook hands with the man, and went merrily on his way.
* * *
Billy Conn, the legendary light-heavyweight champion, turned pro 75 years ago. Conn is best known for his heroic 1941 effort to dethrone Joe Louis. Ahead on points after twelve rounds, he got “too brave” and was knocked out in the thirteenth stanza.
“Billy was great last night,” Conn’s manager, Johnny Ray, said the day after. “But Louis was just a little greater.”
Conn had a way with words. Before fighting Louis, he told reporters, “Joe’s a nice guy. I ain’t mad at him. I just want that title of his.”
Speaking of his wife’s sartorial tastes, Conn observed, “The first time I got to know about women’s clothes was when I married Mary Louise. I found out what they cost. And I found out that you had to like them or else she’d buy some new ones.”
And at age 68, when asked if he’d like to be young again, Conn noted philosophically, “You only pass through here one time. If you play your cards right, once is enough.”
* * *
In today’s cellphone-Twitter-Blackberry age, letter writing has become a lost art. Wouldn’t it be fun to imagine . . .
Dear Jose Sulaiman,
I’m eleven years old. Last week, I got into a fight with Johnny, who lives next door. If we get into another fight and pay a sanctioning fee, can it be for a WBC youth championship?
It is so nice to hear from you. I am so happy in my heart that you respect the glorious traditions of the World Boxing Council and boxing. Yes, we would be happy to sanction your next fight with Johnny. All I need from you is a check for $500 for the sanctioning fee and a check for $700 for a WBC youth championship belt and a check for $3,000 for the airfare and hotel of the WBC official who will be at the fight. After the fight, you might wish to attend our next annual convention, where your world ranking will be discussed.
* * *
Andre Dirrell finally fought like he’s capable of fighting when he faced Arthur Abraham on March 27th in round two of Showtime’s super-middleweight championship tournament.* * *
Dirrell, boxing fans will recall, lost a decision to Carl Froch when he turned their first-round tournament bout into a track meet.
Against Abraham, Dirrell moved, he boxed; but he didn’t run. Referee Laurence Cole confused matters a bit by inappropriately helping Andre out of a corner in round eight and missing several knockdowns. Bottom line: In round eleven, Dirrell was comfortably ahead on the judges’ scorecards but tiring. Could King Arthur score another late-round knockout?
Yes and no.
One minute into round eleven, Dirrell slipped on a beer logo that had been painted on the ring canvas and went down. At that point, Abraham whacked his defenseless opponent on the jaw with a crushing right hand, knocking Andre unconscious.
Abraham was appropriately disqualified. But there’s a larger issue involved.
Time and time again, we’ve seen fighters slip on corporate logos that have been painted on the ring canvas. Often, these logos are slippery to begin with. They’re like ice when they become wet.
There are ways, for a few extra dollars, that a promoter can make these logos less slippery. It’s not rocket science. Get it right.
I didn’t watch last Saturday night’s fight between Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones. Like most people who’ve followed boxing in recent years, I knew how it would end.
I gather it was ugly and that the crowd booed a lot. Michael Rosenthal of The Ring called it “painful to watch” and “one of boxing’s worst nights in recent memory.” He said that Jones fought “barely at all” and “the fight dragged on until the final bell put everyone out of their misery.”
Dan Rafael of ESPN.com called it a “depressing mess” and added, “When the most action in the fight comes from fouls, you know it’s not good.”
What no one knows – and no one will until down the road – is how the repeated blows to the head that Jones is taking now in the gym and in fights will affect him in the future. Oscar De La Hoya touched on that issue last December when he urged Roy to retire after Jones was knocked out in the first round by Danny Green. But there was blood money to be made from Hopkins-Jones II. Oscar and Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer wanted to make it. The enablers around Roy got in on the act. And the Nevada State Athletic Commission abandoned its leadership role with regard to the health and safety of fighters a long time ago.
Hopkins is in the revenge business. He got what he wanted on Saturday night. Given the opportunity, he’d probably fight Jermain Taylor again too. That way, he could avenge his two losses to Taylor (who withdrew from Showtime’s super-middleweight tournament after suffering a brain bleed).
Meanwhile, Hopkins’s win over Jones proves nothing with regard to the relative greatness of either fighter. If Muhammad Ali and George Chuvalo fought a rematch today, one assumes that, unlike their earlier fights, Chuvalo would win.
If Roy Jones winds up talking like Ali, will the people who pushed this fight on him in the manner of a supplier giving heroin to an addict feel guilty?
Thomas Hauser can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book (“An Unforgiving Sport”) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.