By Thomas Hauser
When Antonio Margarito beat Miguel Cotto into submission last month, Paulie Malignaggi was an interested observer.
On June 10, 2006, Malignaggi was on the receiving end of twelve rounds of brutal punishment administered by Cotto. He suffered a fractured orbital bone that required facial surgery. After being released from the hospital, he spent the entire summer recuperating.
But not only did Paulie win four rounds against Cotto (five on one judge’s scorecard); he finished the fight. The following year, he captured the IBF junior-welterweight crown. Now he’s slated to face Ricky Hatton at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on November 22nd.
“I don’t fault Miguel for taking a knee at the end of the fight against Margarito,” Malignaggi says. “I don’t think I’d take a knee. When I fought Cotto, my competitive instinct overwhelmed my survival instinct. That’s the way I am as a fighter. You might knock me out, but there’s no way you’ll beat me into submission.”
“But you can’t walk in another man’s shoes,” Paulie continues. “You don’t know unless you’ve been there. Maybe, against Margarito, Cotto took a worse beating than he gave me. So what I’d say to Miguel is, ‘Keep your head up. You fought a great fight. I know the feeling. Don’t get down on yourself.’”
* * *
In the past, I’ve recounted the memories of various boxing personalities regarding the first professional fight they ever saw. With the Beijing Olympics underway, it seemed appropriate to ask for the recollections of Mark Breland (a gold-medal winner at the 1984 Olympics and one of the most-decorated amateurs of all time).
“I grew up in the Tompkins Projects in Bed-Stuy [the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn],” Breland recalls. “There was a man named Elijah Best, who lived on the same floor as my family. When I was seven, he bought me some boxing gloves and taught me a few fundamentals about how to box. Then he took me to Madison Square Garden to see the first fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier [on March 8, 1971]. It was just the two of us. We were way up in the cheap seats. I was like, “Wow!” The excitement, the drama. Ali was sticking, moving, dancing. But Frazier kept coming, throwing punches. He knocked Ali down in the last round and won.”
Thereafter, Best introduced Breland to George Washington, who trained him from that point on.
“In 1980,” Mark says, continuing the saga, “I fought at 139 pounds in the novice division of the Golden Gloves. Those were the days when the finals of the Gloves were in the main arena at the Garden. You’d come out of the tunnel and go to the ring. The lights would be out. Then they’d call your name and the spotlight would go right on you. The moment that happened, my mind flashed back to Ali-Frazier. I said to myself, ‘If I never box again, I’ve made it’. I’m standing here, getting ready to fight, right where Ali and Joe Frazier fought.”
* * *
More on Ali –
“The Greatest” has been the subject of an endless stream of documentaries. But a recent entry from PBS – Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami – is worth watching.
The documentary covers the years 1961 through 1965, when Cassius Clay was transformed from a brash young entertainer into an important figure on the American and world stage.
Here, I should note that I’m hardly a disinterested observer. Over the years, I’ve written extensively about Ali. I’m also one of the “talking heads” in the PBS documentary.
That said; Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami is entertaining and insightful. Archival film footage is judiciously mixed with analysis and reminiscence. Cassius Clay, in and out of the ring, is revealed. If there’s a flaw, it’s that the documentary doesn’t do more to explain Nation of Islam doctrine (which Ali rejected later in life). Viewers would have been well-served had a few minutes been devoted to those teachings.
Still, it’s hard to imagine anyone not liking Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami. Those who lived through the 1960’s with Ali will smile in remembrance. And those too young to remember will get a sense of how totally captivating Cassius Clay was as he metamorphized into Muhammad Ali.
* * *
If college football were run like boxing, one might see the following news item:
The much-anticipated September 13th gridiron showdown between the Ohio State Buckeyes and USC Trojans has been cancelled. In a statement jointly-issued by their respective athletic departments, school officials said, “It didn’t make sense to play the game this early in the season. Instead, each team will play a soft opponent on that date in the hope of maintaining an unbeaten record. Ohio State versus USC will be bigger if it’s played in January.”
Of course, there’s no guarantee that the game will ever be played. And if it is, fans will have to shell out $49.95 to watch it on pay-per-view rather than see it for free (which they would have been able to do on ABC had it been played in September). But a source at Ohio State told SecondsOut.com, “We’ve decided to follow boxing’s economic model.”
* * *
Don King takes great pride in the fact that he’s a citizen of the world. Almost always, his promotions feature fighters from numerous countries. Don is also a man of great patriotism. And he respects the patriotism of others. Therefore, a simple suggestion: Wouldn’t it be nice if, before every fight on his next major fight card, Don arranged to have the national anthem sung for both fighters before each fight. It warms the heart just to think about it.
* * *
And last –
For many, the iconic image of the Beijing Olympics won’t be Michael Phelps winning eight gold medals or Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang. It’s a grainy photo of a seven-year-old girl with a plain face and crooked teeth.
As the world now knows, the opening ceremonies for the 2008 Olympic Games highlighted a model-pretty nine-year-old girl named Lin Miaoke, who sang “Ode to the Motherland” in front of one billion viewers as fireworks blazed overhead.
Except Lin Miaoke didn’t really sing it. She was lip-synching. The voice belonged to seven-year-old Yang Peiyi, who the designers of the opening ceremonies deemed “not cute enough” to be seen on camera.
After the subterfuge was revealed, Chen Qigang (general music designer of the opening ceremonies) declared, “The child on camera should be flawless in image.” He further explained that a member of China’s ruling Politburo had attended one of the last rehearsals and encouraged the subterfuge.
That’s the Olympic spirit.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org