By Thomas Hauser
It has become accepted sport in the boxing industry for writers to trash today’s heavyweights. With that in mind (and on the theory that turnabout is fair play), I asked some of the more-criticized heavyweights of recent years to evaluate today’s boxing writers. Their thoughts follow.
SHANNON BRIGGS: Oh, man. I’m so glad you asked me that question. The writers are always writing that boxing is a dying sport, and they’re one of the reasons it’s dying. They’re always ragging the fighters and ragging the sport. A lot of them, especially on the Internet, don’t know two cents about boxing. They’re not even real writers; they work at Wal-Mart. It’s a hobby for them. They write whatever they want to write without knowing the facts. They wouldn’t be taken seriously in any other sport. But because there’s so little about boxing in the newspapers, people read them. It hurts the sport; it hurts the fighters as individuals. And a lot of the newspaper guys aren’t much better. Just because you write for a newspaper doesn’t mean you know anything about boxing. It’s easy to say, ‘This guy got knocked out and he’s a bum,’ but most of them don’t have a clue about what it means to be a fighter. If I’m grading the boxing writers today, I give them an “F”.
JOHN RUIZ: I’ve been hit more by the writers that I’ve been hit in all my fights. With some of them, it seems like they think that, if they write negative things, they’ll get more attention. It hurts personally. It hurts financially. And they don’t care. It’s been a tough road for me. I had some setbacks. Then, finally, I beat Holyfield, and all the writers did was come down on me. I don’t mind criticism, but it should be fair and done with knowledge of what you’re writing about. Most of the writers never picked up a pair of gloves in their life. They act like it’s easy to fight. “Oh, he should have done this; he should have done that.” They don’t understand. It’s not easy; it’s a war in there. Before you criticize an athlete, you should try his sport yourself. Let some of these experts get in a boxing ring. One round would be enough. That would teach them respect. I’d like to see them try even to walk around for three minutes holding their hands up and see how tired their arms get. Some of the writers are good; but most of them, I’d give an “F”.
HASIM RAHMAN: I’ve said lots of times that it’s too easy to be licensed as a professional fighter. There are guys who should never be allowed in the ring, but fighters like me get to fight them to build a record when we’re coming up. It’s a flaw in the sport. And it’s the same thing with boxing writing. Some of the writers are very knowledgeable, but a lot of them know nothing. All they do is repeat gossip and jump on the bandwagon. I don’t take their criticism personally. I’m a Baltimore Orioles fan. If I’m not pleased with the way they play, I speak my mind. I might rip the Orioles but they’re still my team. So I’d say it’s okay for writers to criticize but they should get the facts right. It’s not rocket science. Get the facts right. If I was grading the boxing writers, I’d say the grades run from “A” to “F” with the average at “C”.
JAMES TONEY: Most of the writers are fucked up and messed up. They don’t feel good about themselves, so they take it out on someone else. They write shit about you. And then, when they need you for a story, they’re all smiles and excuses and “Oh, James; I didn’t mean it that way.” You didn’t mean it that way? Kiss my ass, motherfucker. What they write don’t hurt me, but it pisses me off. You got guys 300 pounds writing, “James Toney is out of shape; James Toney has a belly.” Look in the mirror, you fat motherfucker. An “F” is too good for them. Most of the writers, I’d give an “F-minus.”
And a grace note from the last man to be universally recognized as the true heavyweight champion of the world . . .
LENNOX LEWIS: It’s hard for me to rate the writers today because I haven’t been reading them lately. When I was boxing, I read what they wrote to see how they were interpreting me. Some got it and some didn’t. It was frustrating at times because writers have a platform. A lot of people believe that what they read in the newspaper is one hundred percent true, and it’s not. Some writers get their facts wrong. Others are unable to move beyond their biases. Once they’ve accepted a fighter, he’s a hero; and if someone challenges their hero, he’s a bum. There are some very good writers; but overall, I’d give the boxing writers an “F”.
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More on the heavyweights –-
As widely reported over the past few weeks, Vitali Klitschko and his advisors are engaged in an effort to push Samuel Peter aside and delay the Nigerian’s exercise of his right to fight Oleg Maskaev for the WBC heavyweight title. In support of that maneuvering, the Klitschko and Maskaev camps (in conjunction with the WBC) have publicized a $2,500,000 “step-aside” offer that was supposedly made to Peter. However, it turns out that the offer has some loopholes that make it considerably less generous than advertised.
For example; when the offer was clarified, the Peter camp was told that, if Maskaev-Klitschko never happens (let’s say that Vitali is injured while training and can’t compete), Samuel would receive only $500,000. Then negotiations were put on hold while the Klitschko camp tried to find an insurer who would back a larger number.
“They’re not even telling half-truths,” grumbles one member of Team Peter. “Twenty-percent truths is more like it.”
“That’s Shelly Finkel math,” says Shannon Briggs, who’s still steamed over failed negotiations for a Madison Square Garden title bout against Wladimir Klitschko last year. “Shelly [Klitschko’s advisor] told me I had the fight,” Briggs continues. “He said, ‘It’s not one hundred percent; it’s one thousand percent.’ I don’t know; I wasn’t that good in school. Maybe one thousand percent is less than one hundred percent.”
Meanwhile, there’s another issue regarding the Klitschko-Maskaev-Peter-WBC mess that might surface shortly.
Samuel Peter is one of the two best heavyweights ever to come out of Africa (Ike Ibeabuchi is the other). Were Peter to defeat Maskaev and become WBC heavyweight champion, it would raise the profile of boxing throughout the continent and Samuel would be recognized as a hero.
How long will it be before Don King (Peter’s co-promoter) seizes on that fact and contrasts Samuel’s African heritage with that of Klitschko, Maskaev, and WBC president Jose Sulaiman?
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And a note on a serious matter . . .
Last summer, Jim Lampley began dating a woman named Candice Marie Sanders. Lampley is 57 years old. Sanders (who reigned as Miss California in the 2003 Miss USA Pageant) was 29 when they met.
Sanders became omnipresent in Lampley’s life. A lot of Jim’s friends and co-workers had doubts about her, but he was in love. It was a tempestuous relationship. Shortly before Christmas, they got engaged. Then, on January 1st, Sanders applied for and received a temporary restraining order, claiming that Lampley had assaulted her in a domestic dispute on New Year’s Eve.
The order prohibited Lampley from coming within 100 yards of Sanders or the apartment they were living in (which was in his name). It also barred him from attempting to contact her in any way or seeking to reclaim a BMW that was registered in his name but which she claimed had been given to her as a gift.
On January 3rd, Lampley ventured within 100 yards of the apartment. More specifically, according to sources in San Diego, he went to the landlord’s office, which was within the 100-yard restricted zone. His purpose in going, the sources say, was that the landlord had notified him of its intention to evict Sanders because she was not a lawful tenant and he feared that the eviction would be construed by the court as a violation of the court order (which also temporarily prohibited him from reclaiming his apartment).
Regardless of Lampley’s intentions, he encountered two police detectives, who were conducting a follow-up interview with Sanders regarding her claim of domestic violence. He was arrested for violating the restraining order and, after being held briefly at the Vista Detention Facility, released on $35,000 bail. On January 4th, he issued the following statement: "I am innocent of the charge of domestic abuse that has been leveled against me and will vigorously defend myself. I have tremendous respect for the justice system as a whole and for the San Diego courts and district attorney’s office specifically. I’m confident that the process will prove that I’m not guilty of this charge. I thank my friends and family for their support during this difficult time and ask for understanding and patience from the media until my legal situation allows me to discuss this in more depth."
All of us do things at one time or another in our life that are self-destructive and stupid. We also have pockets in our psyche where our private fantasies reside. One of the most painful experiences that a person can endure is when these things are made public.
From the beginning, the accusations leveled against Lampley by Sanders struck many, not so much about what Jim did to Candice as about what she could do to him. Two parallels came to mind. The first was that of Marv Albert, who fell victim to a media feeding frenzy that revolved largely around private conduct between consenting adults. The second was that of former HBO vice president Lou DiBella, who saw his reputation unfairly tarnished when he was falsely accused of taking a $50,000 bribe.
Meanwhile, Lampley was experiencing pain on multiple levels that involved the loss of someone he’d thought he loved, the possibility of serious damage to his career, and public humiliation.
None of the friends who supported Lampley during his ordeal condone the physical abuse of anyone. They simply didn’t (and still don’t) think that Lampley assaulted Sanders. Linda Lee (Jim’s first wife and now a professor at the University of Kansas School of Journalism) spoke for many of them when she told the Associated Press, "He’s like nobody else. I adore him. We’ve been friends since we were kids. We grew up together. We were married for a while. We’re still friends. When I heard this, it was just unimaginable. I know the man; I’ve known him for years. He’s not capable of striking a woman, in my opinion. I’ve never seen him strike anything or anyone. I’ve never seen him strike a pillow. That’s not his nature. He’s a very gentle man and very even-tempered."
Last Wednesday (February 21st), Lampley pled “no contest” to a misdemeanor charge of violating the January 1st restraining order. He was not indicted by the San Diego County district attorney’s office for assault, domestic abuse, or any other felony. The charge leveled against him was that his coming within 100 yards of his apartment (which Sanders was living in at the time) was a violation of the outstanding court order.
Following his plea, Lampley was sentenced to three years probation and fined $670 in court costs. He was also required to undergo counseling and perform forty hours of volunteer service. Sanders has until the end of the month to vacate the apartment and return the BMW to him.
Lampley’s friends say that he is currently going through a period of self-evaluation and asking himself what it was that caused him to be drawn into a relationship that brought so much unhappiness to himself and to people he cares about. They believe that he will emerge from this experience as a wiser, stronger, happier person.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com