Boxing has always been considered shady. Promoters are depicted in the movies wearing heavy pinstriped suits, black shirts, white ties and fedoras. The reason they’re portrayed that way, is because it’s not that far from the truth.
Boxing is shady. Even at the highest levels there’s infighting, back-biting, double-dealing and outright theft.
I can remember Muhammad Ali telling me he was really hoping his next fight would actually happen. I looked at him like he was crazy! He said, “No, really, I hope it does.” And this was a fight scheduled against Leon Spinks! A heavyweight title fight! Not some run of the mill fight, a chance for Ali to regain the title. Big money, big publicity, and Ali is actually worried about the fight happening. “Too many cooks in the kitchen,” the soon-to-be-champ-again said.
There is a lot of money at stake in a heavyweight championship bout, and everybody wants a piece of it. There are a lot of hangers-on. An “entourage” is how a fighter’s camp is described. Some have legitimate jobs, others are looking for the bucks that might spill over the top. That’s why when a fighter ascends to the Heavyweight Championship, he’s judged on how he handles it while he’s there, not necessarily how he got there.
There’s much more to being the Heavyweight Champ than just being the toughest guy in the ring. It is a moniker that denotes greatness. Social status, political influence. A model of athletic ability, toughness, and guile. At least that what you hope the Heavyweight Champ carries with him.
This is the division of the greats: John L. Sullivan, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Jack Dempsey, Ali, Larry Holmes and yes, Mike Tyson. It is also the division of one-fight wonders like Primo Carnera, Pinklon Thomas, Buster Douglas. Michael Moorer.
I’m always curious how a guy will react when he wins the championship. The greats act like it is a pre-ordained mission in life. They’re supposed to be the Heavyweight Champion of the World. Others, like Moorer, have no idea how to act. When Moorer won the title, he grabbed the three belts in the next day press conference, stood up and shouted “now I’m the @#%&*’ing man!” (He subsequently was smacked down by a gracious George Forman)
Louis fought just about everybody, spawning the “Bum of the Month” name for his opponents. Marciano is the only champ to retire undefeated. Ali showed how a black man in American could be a force for social change. Holmes (the Holmes who was the legitimate champ, not the current blockhead who keeps fighting for some unknown reason) showed how to grind away to keep the title. Tyson brought true fear and violence to the ring and early on had a reverence for the game itself and its history.
I was trying to fit Lennox Lewis into a category but couldn’t come up with one. A natural heavyweight, Lewis is a big man, 6’5″ and fighting most effectively at 235 lbs. He has a cautionary manner in the ring and a big right hand. Both make him dangerous. He’s smart and his British accent puts a touch of style on his personality. Thoughtful and genuinely pleasant, Lewis was the perfect heavyweight champ. That’s what’s so disappointing about his recent fifth round knockout loss to Hasim Rahman. It’s not that he got beat, but rather how casually he too the role as Heavyweight Champion of the World!
I guess beating Evander Holyfield, David Tua, Michael Grant and others with ease makes you feel invincible. Showing up a mere 12 days before the fight in South Africa, Lewis showed a disrespect for the sport itself and now must pay a big price. The loss probably cost him $100 million, but perhaps as, or more importantly, history will no longer judge Lewis on his reign as Heavyweight Champ, but rather he’ll be defined by the two knockout losses he’s suffered. (Oliver McCall KO’d Lewis in the second round in 1994)
How could he do that?
How could he throw away his place in history with such utter disregard? Believe it or not the fighter in the last 20 years who had the best chance to really fulfill the role of Heavyweight Champ is Tyson. Training with Cus D’Mato and Jimmy Jacobs, Tyson constantly reviewed tapes of old championship fights and eventually amassed the largest library of fight films in the world. He respected the game and it’s history. He learned from the mistakes of the past. Then he fell off the edge of the world, into an abyss of the dark side of the game.
I saw Rahman on late night television the other night and he seemed like a good guy. Not the presence you want in the Heavyweight Champ, but perhaps we can’t have that anymore. His only sin is he’s not Ali, or Marciano or Louis.