By Thomas Hauser - - -
It’s a feeling that most people never experience in their lifetime; the feeling of landing a punch that separates an opponent from his senses and leaves him lying unconscious on the ring canvas.
A distant parallel might be the harmonic feeling of swinging a baseball bat and -- CRACK -- The ball hits the sweet part of the bat and rockets out over the fence in deep left-centerfield.
A perfect punch is a work of art. In its highest form, it’s Rocky Marciano, behind on the judges’ scorecards, crushing Jersey Joe Walcott with a brutal right hand to seize the heavyweight throne. It’s Sugar Ray Robinson reclaiming the middleweight crown with a single left hook to the jaw of Gene Fullmer.
In recent months, I’ve talked with world champions and club fighters, veterans and novices, and asked them to describe what it feels like to land a perfect knockout punch. Their thoughts, joined together, follow:
A lot of punches land solid in a fight. But the leverage isn’t quite right or you’re a fraction of an inch off target. This time, everything was right. Perfect leverage; perfect timing; perfect placement. I felt my knuckles land flush at the moment of impact.
It was like a jolt of electricity running up my arm all the way to my shoulder.
It’s a sin to land and wait for a receipt. So instinctively, I drew my arm back the way I’ve been taught and started to slide into position for the next move. Then I realized I didn’t need it.
He went down. And before he hit the canvas, I knew he wasn’t getting up.
The crowd was going crazy. The roar was so loud; it was a little scary.
I’d gotten a bit tired as the fight went on. Now I felt as though I could go twenty more rounds if I had to.
I felt joy, jubilation. There was relief that it was over. The tension had been building in me since I signed the contract; but I’d won, so now that weight was off my shoulders.
Then I thought about the other guy. It was like, “Let him be okay. Let him get up.”
After a while, he did. That was good.
In the dressing room afterward, my body felt different. I felt like Superman and my muscles were made of steel. I could beat any man alive. It was the sweetest feeling in the world, like falling in love for the first time. I was in heaven, nirvana.
It wasn’t until I was in bed that night that I started to decompress. Then I took everything apart, every move, every split-second, and played them over and over again in my mind. I didn’t stop until I fell asleep. And then I went through it all over again in my dreams.
I still remember how it felt. It still goes through my mind from time to time.
* * *
It’s easy to criticize after the fact, so here are some thoughts before the results are in.* * *
Artie Pelullo promotes Verno Phillips 42-10 (21), who lifted the IBF junior-middleweight crown from Cory Spinks earlier this year. Phillips is 38 years old and nearing the end of his ring career. Pelullo’s task is to get him a good pay-day, preferably in a fight that Verno can win.
Ireland’s John Duddy is boxing’s latest matinee idol. Fighting out of New York, he has fashioned a 25-and-0 record in the middleweight division and is ranked in the top-ten by all four world sanctioning bodies. Given his new training regimen, Duddy can make 154 pounds with relative ease.
Last month, Pelullo approached HBO with a proposal for what could have been a doubleheader featuring a Phillips-Duddy championship fight to be held this fall. The fighters were willing to fight on a date chosen by HBO at a location chosen by HBO (the most logical site being New York, Belfast, or Dublin).
On June 26, 2008, HBO informed Pelullo that it wasn’t interested in the fight.
That was poor decision-making. Verno Phillips isn’t an elite fighter and his best days are behind him. But he was good enough to dethrone Cory Spinks, who went the distance in a split-decision loss to Jermain Taylor in a 160-pound title fight that was televised by HBO.
John Duddy is undefeated and extraordinarily marketable. He has a passionate following and his fights are high drama.
Phillips-Duddy, if it happens, is likely to be a competitive compelling action fight for a legitimate world title. It’s precisely the type of fight that HBO should be televising on Boxing After Dark.
But there are implications here that go far beyond Phillips-Duddy.
Pelullo says that, when Kery Davis (HBO Sports senior vice president for programming) rejected the fight, he told Pelullo, “We don’t have any dates available. Why don’t you call Richard Schaefer at Golden Boy. Maybe they can put it on one of their shows.”
“I’ll pass,” Pelullo responded.
“It could lead to Duddy against De La Hoya.”
“I’m building my own fighters; not someone else’s.”
Pelullo’s report of his conversation with Davis reinforces the fear that HBO is over-committed to Golden Boy to the detriment of its own boxing programming and that the playing field is tilted in favor of one promoter.
Davis declined to be interviewed by SecondsOut on the subject of HBO’s decision to not bid on Phillips-Duddy. On July 2nd, after the request for an interview was declined, Pelullo received a telephone call from Luis Barragan (the director of programming for HBO Sports). Pelullo says that Barragan, who reports to Davis, asked if the promoter had talked with this writer and what the substance of the conversation was. Then, after saying, “Kery wouldn’t talk to Hauser,” Barragan told Pelullo, “Gary Shaw has a date with us this fall and the main event fell out. Maybe he could promote it.”
“Why would I give my fight to Gary Shaw?” Pelullo queried.
This is an example of why it’s bad policy for HBO to give dates to promoters without fights firmly attached to settle potential legal claims against it (which is believed to be how Shaw got two dates on Boxing After Dark).
There’s also concern that boxing in general is in trouble at HBO. The network paid a US$2,750,000 license fee for Kelly Pavlik vs. Gary Lockett, which aired on June 7, 2008, and engendered a disappointing 2.0 rating. To put that number in perspective, until this year, 2.8 was the lowest prime-time HBO World Championship Boxing rating ever for a live telecast. Now ratings below that level are common.
If HBO keeps doing 2.0 ratings for World Championship Boxing, the next step might be for those in command above HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg to reconsider whether boxing belongs on the network in prime time. Within a 29-day span starting on September 13th, there will be three fight cards on HBO-PPV. It’s possible that, in the not-too-distant future, HBO boxing will consist largely of pay-per-view, Boxing After Dark, and only a few World Championship Boxing cards each year.
In the interim, the license fees that HBO pays for fights are expected to drop. That means, if HBO finalizes a long-term output deal with Golden Boy, it could have the effect of locking the network into several years worth of fights at prices above market value.
Meanwhile, HBO’s June 28th pay-per-view telecast of Manny Pacquiao vs. David Diaz was unusual in that the network left both Larry Merchant and Max Kellerman home and covered the show with a “two-man booth” (Jim Lampley and Emanuel Steward) plus Harold Lederman. The stated reason for this was to cut costs.
At first glance, that doesn’t make sense. The only additional costs incurred as a consequence of Merchant or Kellerman being on site would have been airfare and hotel (a drop in the bucket by HBO standards). A more likely explanation is that HBO is exploring the possibility of going with a two-man booth on a permanent basis when the Merchant and Kellerman contracts expire.
Greenburg has made it clear by his conduct that he has limited enthusiasm for Merchant continuing with HBO Pay-Per-View and HBO World Championship Boxing fights. And the Pacquiao-Diaz telecast supported the view that Lampley is fully capable of dissecting controversies and interviewing fighters without help from Max.
Given what HBO pays for talent, a two-man booth would save the network more than US$500,000 a year. But that number is far less than HBO could save on license fees with more judicious buying.
And a note in defense of HBO –
Bigoted remarks should be publicly censured. So should unsubstantiated accusations of bigotry.
Last week, in an interview with David Mayo of the Grand Rapids Press, Floyd Mayweather Jr accused HBO’s announcing team (and Jim Lampley in particular) of racial bias against black fighters.
I’ve gotten to know Jim Lampley well over the past ten years. He believes passionately in racial equality and justice (and unlike Floyd, has worked in a political context to achieve it). Larry Merchant has a similar commitment.
To the best of my knowledge, Max Kellerman and Harold Lederman share comparable views.
Money Mayweather and his enablers should be ashamed of themselves.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
main feature photo by HoganPhotos.com; graphic design by SecondsOut.com