Tina Fey as Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin has avoided open-ended interviews with the media since her nomination at the Republican National Convention last month. But she was willing to sit down for an extended conversation with Thomas Hauser on the subject of boxing on the condition that an unedited transcript of the interview appear on SecondsOut.com.
TH: I’d like to welcome you to SecondsOut.
Sarah Palin: Thank you. Once, I was a roundcard girl at a toughman contest in Alaska, so I know something about boxing.
TH: What appeals to you about the sport?
Sarah Palin: One of the reasons I like boxing so much is that it’s filled with mavericks. I mean, Lou DiBella and Norman Stone are the original mavericks. When it comes to mavericks, John McCain and I love ‘em.
TH: Who else in boxing do you like?
Sarah Palin: I love the fat one who makes all those hamburgers. Bless his heart. Grill, baby, grill.
TH: You’ve attacked Roy Jones for being a fan of cock-fighting, yet you’re a hunting enthusiast. Is there any contradiction there?
Sarah Palin: Not at all. With cock-fighting, you’re making animals fight. And when I hunt caribou, there’s no fighting. I just sneak up from behind with a high-powered rifle that has a telescopic sight and shoot them, so it’s different.
TH: Quite a few of today’s fighters come from Michigan. The legendary Kronk Gym is in Michigan. Sugar Ray Robinson came from Michigan. Could you explain why the McCain-Palin team shut down its campaign in Michigan?
Sarah Palin: Our opponents say that John McCain turned his back on the American automobile industry and American workers when he pulled out of Michigan. But the University of Michigan in the 1960’s was filled with radicals and Barack Obama knows one of them, so we couldn’t get a fair shake in Michigan.
TH: What would a McCain-Palin administration do to help the American worker?
Sarah Palin: Well, first you have to identify the cause of today’s economic crisis. A small group of executives who work in New York at HBO and aren’t properly supervised got into wild spending and made bad decisions that destroyed ratings. And when ratings at HBO went down, all of boxing suffered and that pulled down the entire American economy. Some people I know complain that HBO and Showtime are part of a Jewish conspiracy. But I think that Jewish people should have all the rights that other people have including the right to work at television networks and the right to marry. Some of my friends don’t feel the same way about Jews that I do. I mean, they think Jews should have the right to marry each other as long as they’re not gay, but they don’t like them. But all of my friends love Israel. Everyone in Alaska loves Israel, except there’s a guy named Aftab who runs a newsstand near the capitol building in Juneau who’s Muslim, and I don’t think Aftab likes Israel very much. Anyway, John McCain will fix all that and get the economy moving again.
TH: Senator McCain has introduced legislation to establish a federal boxing commission. Would that be part of the cure?
Sarah Palin: I’ll have to get back to you on that. A couple of years ago, John McCain started getting a lot of campaign contributions from patriotic Americans who run casinos in Las Vegas. He hasn’t talked much about a federal boxing commission since then. But there’s another thing we could do to help the economy that has to do with boxing. John McCain and I are considering taking all of Bernard Hopkins’s money away from him and using it to fund the bailout. Bernard wouldn’t like it, but tough times require sacrifice.
TH: Is there anything that you don’t like about John McCain?
Sarah Palin: Well, sometimes he looks at me in a kind of creepy way that reminds me of Gert Frobe in Goldfinger. And at the convention, right after my acceptance speech, he put his arm around me and I could tell he was feeling the back of my bra. I ask myself sometimes – probably, you shouldn’t write this – whether John is one of those guys who goes on the Internet to look at those phony naked pictures of me. Probably not, because he doesn’t know how to use a computer.
TH: I think that’s right.
Sarah Palin: Some of those pictures make me mad. I’ve had five kids so my breasts sag a bit. But I don’t look anything like what people are doing with PhotoShop. That photo of me wearing fishnets and boxing gloves isn’t real.
TH: There have been complaints recently that some of your attacks on Barack Obama are going too far. Do you have any comment on that?
Sarah Palin: I’m patterning my campaign speeches on Ricardo Mayorga’s press conferences. That’s just one of the things I’ve learned from boxing.
TH: What else have you learned?
Sarah Palin: John McCain and I have been talking to the world sanctioning bodies and some of the state athletic commissions about judges for the election. Eight years ago, the Supreme Court did a good job for us. This year, we might need the judges who had Joel Casamayor ahead of Jose Armando Santa Cruz. By the way; I want all the voters in Florida to know that Oscar De La Hoya is my favorite fighter from Cuba.
TH: Are there things that you don’t like about boxing in general?
Sarah Palin: I hate it when a fighter’s corner throws in the towel. John McCain and I would never waive the white flag of surrender like that. When Richard Schaefer and Bob Arum sit down and negotiate with each other, that’s negotiating with the enemy. John McCain and I would never do that. And I also want to say; America has the greatest boxers in the world. It makes me mad when liberal boxing writers attack the American heavyweights. Being a hockey mom, I feel very strongly about that.
TH: Any final thoughts?
Sarah Palin: I just want to thank you for letting me talk directly to all the boxing fans at SecondsOut.com without everything I say being filtered by the liberal media. And I also want to say that you seem like a nice guy. After talking with Ross Greenburg last week, I thought you’d have blood dripping from your mouth and horns and stuff like that.
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Back to the real world –
Showtime’s October 11th telecast demonstrated again why fans are turning away from heavyweight boxing.
Samuel Peter vs. Vitali Klitschko for the WBC heavyweight belt shaped up on paper as an interesting fight. Of course, as Tom Gerbasi wrote, “That’s a problem in and of itself. If the prospect of a brittle 37-year old with almost four years of ring rust on him taking on a crude brawler who was sent to the canvas three times by Jameel McCline represents the best of heavyweight boxing circa 2008, the game may be in more trouble than we’ve imagined.”
The 6-foot-7-inch Klitschko won a WBC belt in a 2004 bout against 38-year-old Corrie Sanders (for the title vacated by Lennox Lewis). In an earlier championship reign, he’d claimed the WBO crown by beating Herbie Hide. Injuries forced Vitali to retire in 2005. Prior to facing Peter, he’d never beaten an elite heavyweight. His most impressive showing was a TKO loss to Lewis in 2003.
Peter has brute strength and not much more. His signature wins were two decisions over an out-of-shape James Toney and an inartful clubbing of Oleg Maskaev earlier this year to annex the WBC crown.
At an August 27th press conference in New York, Klitschko proclaimed, “I have studied many fights of Samuel Peter. He is a big puncher, but his style is good for me and I can punch a little bit. I think I will knock him out.”
Then Vitali was asked to comment on claims by the Peter camp that Samuel had become a much better fighter since losing to Wladimir (Vitali’s brother) in 2005. “You saw the fight against Wladimir,” Vitali said with a smile. “You saw the fight against McCline. You can decide.”
Klitschko trains like a serious professional. Peter trains like a petulant child. Everyone understood prior to the fight that Vitali would be in the best shape possible (whatever that might be) and Samuel wouldn’t. That was good enough to make Klitschko a 2-to-1 favorite.
When fight night arrived and the bell rang, Peter looked fat (253 pounds) and sluggish. He showed little skill and less heart, waddling around the ring, rarely throwing more than one ineffectual punch at a time. At some point before quitting (which he did after round eight, imploring his corner to “stop it”), Samuel should have swarmed Klitschko and thrown punches anywhere, everywhere, all over Vitali’s body. After all, Klitschko has broken down in training several times and his shoulder failed him against Chris Byrd. But Peter gave up his belt without a fight.
Vitali won every minute of every round. He might have won every ten-second segment of every minute. Showtime blow-by-blow commentator Steve Albert labeled the bout “a glorified sparring session.” An “inglorious sparring session” would have been more accurate. Samuel’s performance (as Al Bernstein put it) was “dreadful.” And it further exposed the heavyweight division.
Peter was better than Toney who, in his last outing, was better than Hasim Rahman. David Haye is a cruiserweight with a questionable chin. Chris Arreola might improve, but right now he’s an overweight club fighter with the potential to become world-class. The mandatory challengers for the four sanctioning-body belts are J. C. Gomez (WBC), Kali Meehan (WBA), Alexander Povetkin (IBF), and Alexander Dimitrenko (WBO). That augurs poorly for the future.
As Vitali noted after beating Peter, “There’s one more belt not in the Klitschko family.” That would be the WBA bauble currently shared by Nikolai Valuev (the “champion”) and Ruslan Chagaev (the “champion in recess”). Look for Wladimir to go after the smaller Chagaev and leave the 7-foot-2-inch, 325-pound Valuev for Vitali. Wladimir is the better boxer, but Vitali is the better fighter.
Meanwhile, the Klitschkos are the class of the heavyweight division, and there will be no title-unification bout as long as they reign. As Vitali says, “Anyone who thinks they can make Klitschko against Klitschko, tell them to negotiate with our mother.”
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In the nightcap on Showtime’s October 11th telecast, Chad Dawson parlayed a decided advantage in speed to a 118-109, 117-110, 117-110 victory over Antonio Tarver.
Tarver deserves credit for his three fights against Roy Jones Jr and his return-bout knockout of Eric Harding. But Antonio will always be saddled with his miserable 2006 showing against Bernard Hopkins, and he hasn’t looked good since 2005. That was when he went Hollywood, played opposite Sylvester Stallone in Rocky Balboa, and began partying big time.
“Once you’re Hollywood,” Hopkins observed, “you can’t come back. There’s no successful Hollywood boxers.”
Where Dawson-Tarver was concerned, Antonio talked a much better fight than he fought. Showtime spent too much money and sacrificed too many dates (think Tarver-Muriqi, Tarver-Santiago, Tarver-Woods, Dawson-Ruiz, and Dawson-Mendoza) to make the match happen.
* * *
HBO’s woes continue. That’s not just the opinion of a boxing writer. It’s HBO’s subscribers talking. The ratings for the cable giant’s boxing telecasts are starting to look like the declining stock price of a mismanaged financial institution.
The powers that be at HBO thought they had a winner when they paired Juan Diaz vs. Michael Katsidis and Rocky Juarez against Jorge Barrios on their September 6th Boxing After Dark telecast. Instead, the show engendering a 1.7 rating. That was one of the lowest ratings ever for a live prime-time HBO boxing telecast.
Next came HBO’s September 27th World Championship Boxing card featuring Shane Mosley (an 8-to-1 favorite) against Ricardo Mayorga and Andre Berto (7-to-1) vs. Stevie Forbes. That constituted an almost US$4,000,000 bailout (the license fee paid by HBO) of what was to have been an October 11th pay-per-view card headed by Mosley-Mayorga.
Regarding Mosley-Mayorga, Michael Swann wrote online for CBS Sports, “Ricardo Mayorga has about as much chance of beating Sugar Shane Mosley as 82-year-old Cloris Leachman has of winning Dancing with the Stars.”
As for Berto-Forbes, Larry Merchant acknowledged at the start of the telecast, “This is a young gun going up against a penknife.” The best that Jim Lampley could say about the encounter was that it would be “an interesting sort of litmus test.”
Apparently, Berto-Forbes wasn’t very interesting to HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg, who could be seen on camera throughout the bout looking away from the ring to talk with people sitting beside and behind him. The telecast engendered a meager 2.5 rating ($1,600,000 per ratings point) despite having the premiere showing of Chris Rock: Kill the Messenger as a lead-in.
One week later, HBO’s October 4th Boxing After Dark telecast offered up three more mismatches. In the opening bout, Sergio Martinez (a 6-to-1 favorite) outlanded Alex Bunema 212 to 31 before the fight was stopped at the end of eight rounds. Then Alfredo Angulo won every round against Andrey Tsurkan (outlanding him 400 to 143) before scoring a tenth-round stoppage. In the finale, Yuriorkis Gamboa (a 10-to-1 favorite) faced off against Marcos Ramirez. That one lasted until the 1:41 mark of round two. There was never a time when the outcome of any of the three fights was in doubt. In fact, the favorite would have won every round out of twenty rounds fought if referee Jerry Cantu hadn’t blown a call in the first round of Gamboa-Ramirez and incorrectly called a knockdown after an elbow to the jaw sent Gamboa to the canvas.
Then came the really bad news. HBO learned that its October 4th telecast had engendered a 1.1 rating. That’s the absolute worst rating ever for a live prime-time HBO boxing telecast.
Unfortunately, more mismatches lie ahead on “regular” HBO. On November 15th, Jermain Taylor will enter the ring a 5-to-1 favorite over Jeff Lacy. The November 22nd match-up between Ricky Hatton and Paulie Malignaggi shapes up as a good competitive fight. But there’s concern that, on November 29th, HBO will pair Paul Williams and Chris Arreola in non-competitive bouts.
To repeat what I’ve written time and time again: boxing fans want to see good COMPETITIVE fights.
HBO Sports was once the heart and soul of boxing. But the network is losing its audience and the respect of the industry as a whole as a consequence of presenting so many mismatches on HBO World Championship Boxing and Boxing After Dark.
The ratings show that HBO boxing is broken. A change in programming philosophy is necessary to fix it.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org