By Thomas Hauser
A tip of the hat to two men who deserve it.
Whenever there’s a big fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nathan Lee and La Mont Starks can be found sitting at a desk outside the media center.
Nathan was born in Arkansas in 1939. When he was nine, his family moved to California. In the 1960s and early ‘70s, he was a station manager for Hughes Air West in California. Then the station closed and he relocated to Las Vegas, where he was a supervisor at McCarran Airport. He retired in 1996 and, a year later, took a part time job at the MGM Grand.
La Mont Starks (“remember the first four letters of my last name,” he says) was born in Los Angeles in 1942. His professional resume includes a stint as the varsity basketball coach at Verbum Dei High School. He also taught political science and economics. He left teaching in 1977, went into sales, and moved to Las Vegas in 1989. After retiring in 2004, he went to work on a part time basis for the MGM Grand.
Nathan and La Mont work big fights and other special events. During fight week, they’re on duty outside the media center from 8:45 AM to 6:15 PM on Tuesday through Thursday and 8:45 AM to 8:15 PM on Friday and Saturday. They eat at the desk and leave only for restroom breaks.
“Our job,” Nathan explains, “is to make sure that anyone who enters the media center has the proper credential. Most of the people we deal with are nice. We never have difficulty with the people who belong. They adhere to the rules. If they need a credential, they go where they’re supposed to go and get the credential.”
That sounds simple enough. But what about people who don’t belong?
“Most of the people who aren’t allowed into the media center accept it,” La Mont says. “Very few of them tell us they’re going in whether we like it or not. If they try to play hardball, we talk with them on a logical basis. We tell them, ‘Look; we have rules and regulations, and we expect you to follow them. You came to Las Vegas to have a good time; not to wind up in trouble. If this turns into a problem, it won’t be the two of us that deal with it.’ That always defuses the situation.”
Nathan and La Mont are incredibly nice. They have a kind word for everyone. There are times when circumstances require them to be firm, but they’re never confrontational.
“And we like each other,” Nathan notes.
“Yes, we do,” La Mont says, seconding the notion. “The job would be less fun without each other.”
“Those two guys are special,” says Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer (who has been in the media center for his share of big fights). “You come in at nine o’clock in the morning, and they’re there, smiling. You leave at six o’clock in the evening, and they’re there smiling. Everyone likes them.”
* * *
Four year ago, Jermain Taylor looked like the future of boxing. He was young, handsome, and immensely likeable. He’d beaten Bernard Hopkins twice to become undisputed middleweight champion of the world and was getting better with every fight.
Then things went south. Spurred on by people seeking to line their own pockets, Taylor dumped longtime trainer Pat Burns. His training and training habits suffered. Over the past thirty months, he has lost four of five fights and been brutally knocked out three times.
Taylor’s most recent loss was a twelfth-round stoppage at the hands of Arthur Abraham in the opening bout of Showtime’s “super six” middleweight championship tournament. After the bout, he was hospitalized for treatment of a concussion and short-term memory loss. Reliable sources report that a CT-scan conducted in Germany on the night of the fight showed that Jermain had suffered bleeding in the brain. Two subsequent MRIs in the United States indicated that the injury had healed. At least one doctor has advised Jermain that the “area of concern” in his brain should not be a factor in future fights.
Lou DiBella (Taylor’s promoter) refuses to discuss the specifics of Jermain’s medical condition. However, on December 11th, when word came that Taylor intended to continue as a participant in the Showtime tournament, DiBella resigned as his promoter and issued a statement that read in part, “It is with a heavy heart, but strong conviction, that I will recuse myself and DiBella Entertainment as Jermain’s promoter. It is out of genuine concern for him and his family that I am compelled to make this decision. It is my belief that the continuation of Jermain’s career as an active fighter places him at unnecessary risk. I cannot, in conscience, remain involved given my assessment of such risk.”
The view here is that Taylor should not continue as an active fighter. Showtime should examine its contracts closely to determine whether, given the circumstances, it has an obligation to televise Jermain’s future fights. And the athletic commission in any jurisdiction where Taylor applies for a license to box should scrutinize his medical records.
Because Taylor changed trainers when he did, boxing never saw him at what could have been his best. That’s very sad.
There might be sadder consequences if Jermain continues to fight.
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Jermain Taylor isn’t the only fighter whose best days in the ring have come and gone.
Prior to fighting Vinny Pazienza in 1995, Roy Jones Jr was asked if he’d learned anything from watching Pazienza’s unanimous-decision triumph over 43-year-old Roberto Duran the previous year.
“I learned one thing,” Jones answered. “I learned not to fight when you’re old.”
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Television magnifies content. That’s particularly true when the content is boxing and the network televising it is HBO.
Over the years, boxing fans have come to rely on HBO’s commentators and producers to give them an honest recitation of facts and informed expert opinion. That’s why the November 28th Boxing After Dark telecast of the rematch between Lucian Bute and Librado Andrade was particularly troubling.
In the first fight between the two men, Andrade (who was far behind on points) decked Bute at 2:54 of the twelfth round. Nine seconds after he hit the deck, Bute was on his feet. At that point, Lucian had won the fight. There was subsequent confusion due to the fact that the time-keeper correctly waited until referee Marlon Wright finished his count before ringing the bell. And Wright took his time, waving Andrade back to a neutral corner at one juncture in the proceedings before continuing the count. But if the referee hadn’t extended his count, the result would have been the same.
Nonetheless, on several occasions during HBO’s telecast of the Bute-Andrade rematch, expert analyst Max Kellerman said that Lucian benefitted from a 21-second long count. Worse, HBO showed an edited tape that made it appear as though Bute would have lost the fight but for the 21-second long count. That was misleading.
One can make a tortured argument that Bute wasn’t in condition to continue fighting after he rose and thus didn’t properly “present” himself to the referee. That argument might hold water if the knockdown had occurred at the end of an earlier round. But this was the final round.
Here, the thoughts of Greg Sirb (former president of the Association of Boxing Commissions and executive director of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission) are instructive. Asked about Bute-Andrade I, Sirb says, “I can’t recall a referee stopping a fight after the three-minute mark of the final round when a fighter made it to his feet within ten seconds of being knocked down. I suppose you could argue that he has the discretion to do it, but it certainly wouldn’t be required of him.”
Steve Smoger (one of boxing’s “go to” referees for big fights) concurs, saying, “I’ve never heard of a referee stopping a fight after the three-minute mark of the final round under those circumstances. The fight was over when Bute got to his feet, so his condition would not have played a role in my mind.”
And in any event, that wasn’t the point of Kellerman’s commentary. Max’s commentary made it appear as though it was the 21-second count that got Bute to the final bell.
Television is a “now” medium. All commentators make mistakes on the fly. But in this instance, HBO had weeks to analyze round twelve of Bute-Andrade I. Thus, some questions:
Did Max Kellerman and the producers of the Bute-Andrade II lead-in watch a tape of the entire twelfth round of Bute-Andrade I? I hope so. And if they did, why did they superimpose a 21-second time clock over the action without telling viewers that 15 of those 21 seconds came after the three-minute mark?
Somewhere in the process, Kellerman (as HBO’s expert analyst) or someone else at HBO should have looked at the lead-in to Bute-Andrade II before it got on the air and said, “Hey, guys; this is wrong.”
* * *
In the past, I’ve recounted the memories of fighters who spoke fondly of their greatest moment in a sport other than boxing. Chad Dawson’s recollections follow:
“When I was a sophomore [at Hyde Leadership High School in New Hamden, Connecticut], I played small forward on the school basketball team. My brother Ricky was the star. He played guard and averaged 22 points a game. I was a bench-warmer. One game, the coach let me start over my brother because he’d gotten in academic trouble. I played the first quarter and scored seven points. Then my brother went in for me. That’s the way it was. I didn’t mind. I knew I had to wait my turn to play. At the end of the season, we were in the Class S [small school] State Tournament championship game. With two seconds left, we scored a basket and won by one point. Everybody in the arena was on their feet, screaming. I didn’t play in the game. But just sitting on the bench, being part of a championship team with my brother, was special to me. I’ve always loved basketball. In boxing, you do it by yourself. The victory is your own and that feels good. But it’s also nice to share a win with a team. If I could be pound-for-pound in boxing or MVP in the NBA Finals on the winning team, I think I’d choose basketball. But I never found out how good I could be because I dropped out of high school after tenth grade.”
* * *
One of the best things to happen in heavyweight boxing this year was David Haye pulling out of a proposed September 12th fight against Vitali Klitschko in favor of a November 7th date against Nikolai Valuev. At that point, Haye didn’t have the credentials to be taken seriously as a challenger to the Klitschko brothers, who share the de facto heavyweight championship of the world. Now David has done what he should have been doing all along. By beating Valuev, he began the process of establishing his credentials as a challenger for the heavyweight throne.
Meanwhile, Haye’s trash-talking might get him attention, but it turns a lot of people off. “My mum hates it,” he acknowledges. “She’s not amused by it one bit. I get reprimanded all the time. She says it makes people think she didn’t raise me right.”
Good for David’s mum.
* * *
For those who are keeping score, the silliest thing to come out of the WBC’s 47th annual convention held this year in South Korea was . . . (drum roll, please):
WBC welterweight champion Andre Berto requested approval to make a voluntary title defense against WBA champion Shane Mosley. Berto’s request was approved on the condition that Mosley publicly apologize to the WBC for giving up the sanctioning body’s crown earlier this year in order to challenge Antonio Margarito for the WBA title. But approval was granted only after Berto addressed the convention, and proclaimed, “I’m a very proud champion of the WBC. Sometimes I can’t sleep at night and I push my girl out of the bed and lay the belt next to me.”
The honorable mention for idiocy goes to the ruling that heavyweight Chris Arreola be removed from the WBC rankings and precluded from fighting for the organization’s title for six months because he used foul language (aimed mostly at himself) after his September 26th loss to Vitali Klitschko.
* * *
The “Boy-Did-He-Get-It-Wrong Quote of the Decade” comes from Gary Shaw. After Joe Calzaghe pulled out of a 2005 title-unification fight against Jeff Lacy because of a hand injury, Shaw (Lacy’s promoter) declared, “Joe Calzaghe is a disgrace. I don’t believe this injury is legit. I suspected all along that Joe didn’t want to fight Jeff. I always suspected it was a bluff.”
* * *
And a thought for the new decade –
When Texas plays Alabama in college football’s Bowl Championship Series title game on January 7th, will the Longhorns insist that Laurence Cole and Gale Van Hoye be the referee and head linesman?
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Thomas Hauser can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book (“An Unforgiving Sport”) was published earlier this year by the University of Arkansas Press.