by David P. Greisman, photo by Stephanie Trapp
The world loves a good underdog story, particularly when it comes to sports, whether it is Rudy on the football field or Rocky in the ring.
Often such love is based on who the underdog is: the undersized defensive lineman striving to play for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, then waiting to make it onto the field, and at last entering a game to score a sack on the final down of the season; or the underachieving slugger who ends up challenging for the heavyweight championship.
But sometimes the love isn’t based on who the underdog is, but rather on whom the underdog is challenging. Every hero, after all, needs a villain to defeat or a conflict to overcome.
J’Leon Love once was an underdog story himself, a young man seeking to leave his past path behind in favor of a better future. He had dealt drugs in the Detroit suburb of Inkster, Michigan, a small city where the crime rate is more than two and a half times the national average. Just last year, the police chief said he either needed the state to give him more money to bolster his thinning ranks, or for the National Guard to be sent in to help handle the violence.
“It’s rough. It’s the ghetto, it’s the hood,” Love told Chris Robinson of Examiner.com back in 2012. “A lot of murders, a lot of prostitutes, the whole nine. That’s what it was about, but it makes you stronger because when you step out, you know what you’re fighting for. Not only am I fighting for myself and my family, but I got so many people behind me that I can help out.”
Among them are the 10 young children left behind by Love’s brother Gerald, who was murdered in Inkster in March 2013.
“I make good money. Supporting 11 people is what I’d do in another case if I had to,” Love told Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports earlier this year. “I really don’t think about it too much. When I get a call, whether they need diapers or formula or an iPad or a MacBook, I’m there.”
His should’ve been a great story. He should’ve been a person worth rooting for, this young man who told Lem Satterfield of RingTV.com that he once believed he would be in prison or in a grave before the age of 18, whose amateur career had once been sidelined due to severe injuries suffered in a motor vehicle crash, and whose pro success in boxing took him to a new life in Las Vegas. There, he had been taken under the wing of Floyd Mayweather Jr., showcased and spotlighted, a prospect whose paychecks were going toward kids who’d lost their father.
Yet he would be judged due to that association with Mayweather and with powerful adviser Al Haymon, who is depicted by many as boxing’s boogeyman. As some boxing fans dislike Haymon and/or the polarizing pound-for-pound champ, they hope for the boxers within those stables to fail. They bristle at the opportunities provided to Mayweather’s and Haymon’s fighters, opportunities they feel belong to other more deserving prospects.
They watched Love get knocked down by Gabriel Rosado in May 2013 on the pay-per-view undercard of Mayweather’s win over Robert Guerrero, only to take a split decision that some felt Rosado should’ve received. If that didn’t anger them enough, then there was Love’s positive test afterward for a banned diuretic, which cause a person to urinate more and can also be used as a masking agent to hide the existence of other substances. Love said afterward that he had been having difficulty making weight and was provided with the diuretic by a strength and conditioning coach.
They saw Love move up from middleweight to super middleweight and get return dates on Showtime’s “ShoBox: The New Generation” series, scoring wins over Lajuan Simon and Vladine Biosse. He then landed another slot on a pay-per-view this past May underneath Mayweather’s first fight with Marcos Maidana. Love was hurt, down and reeling in the fifth round with Marco Antonio Periban, surviving to take a unanimous decision.
He was still a work in progress, perhaps a flawed one. And he was back on television on another Mayweather Promotions card, headlining the “ShoBox” broadcast this past Saturday against Rogelio Medina.
Far fewer people knew of Medina than knew Love. Medina was 25 years old with a record of 32-6 (26 knockouts), yet he was neither highly accomplished nor a rising prospect. He did have losses to some recognizable names, including Gilberto Ramirez Sanchez, Yory Boy Campas and Love’s stablemate Badou Jack. He was aggressive on offense and had experience against a certain level of opposition.
Medina pushed the action. Love did plenty of moving but didn’t land enough or with enough conviction to keep Medina away. Medina went to the body when he could and got a good counter right hand in over Love’s jab in the second round.
In the opening moments of the third, Love gradually circled halfway around the ring, going from the red corner to the blue, with Medina pressuring in pursuit. Medina struck a couple of times to Love’s body. Love loaded up with a left hook meant to go upstairs, but Medina opted for the same shot. Medina’s was short and hard, landing first, in the right place and at the right time.
Love was stiffened by the blow. Medina followed with a right and another left as Love slowly fell toward the canvas. Love was leaning on his arms, his leg trembling involuntarily. He struggled to get his right glove on the bottom rope and began to rise to his feet as referee Tony Weeks’ count reached nine. He staggered and fell forward again, though, and Weeks waved the fight off.
There are those celebrating Medina’s victory. It has little to nothing to do with Medina, though, and largely due to Love.
They are celebrating the expected defeat of another prospect they felt received a push thanks to his connections and in spite of his weaknesses, and who remained in the picture after knockdowns, a disputed decision and a positive drug test.
It is understandable to hold the drug test against him. It is also proper to question the viability of a fighter whose flaws didn’t just seem to hinder him now, but would continue to limit him later.
It is still sad to recognize that his career may very well have peaked before quickly crashing down.
There are so many in this sport who come from tough backgrounds and fight for better lives. A limited number in the grand scheme end up with the kind of opportunities Love and others do.
Love capitalized while he could. Now he can continue on and seek to rebuild, or he may fade away like other deflated prospects did.
He got himself out of Inkster. His efforts didn’t end there. He kept aiming to enhance his position in life.
What he does from here on out will never solely be about himself, though.
For those 10 other reasons, no matter whether he stays in boxing, he should keep on fighting for the future.
The 10 Count
1. It will be interesting to see whether Showtime’s decision to move its pay-per-view start times up an hour — from 9 p.m. Eastern Time (6 p.m. Pacific) to 8 p.m. Eastern Time (5 p.m. Pacific) — will result in higher buy rates.
As a Washington, D.C.-based viewer who either needs Saturday naps or a supply of caffeine to make it through the main event, I do appreciate the experiment.
“Pay-per-view boxing events have changed, and we think it’s time the scheduling changed too,” said Showtime executive Stephen Espinoza in a statement sent via news release. “We have been presenting compelling four-fight cards with multiple 12-round world championship bouts. As a result, we’ve seen the start of the main event coming later and later into the night, which is not an ideal viewing experience for viewers in the Eastern and Central time zones. No other major sport makes a significant portion of their audiences wait until well past midnight for the peak of the event. SHOWTIME PPV will no longer be one of the exceptions.”
Per the press release, close to 80 percent of American residents live in the Eastern and Central time zones.
In 2011, the UFC had tried a similar experiment with its pay-per-views, moving them from a 10 p.m. Eastern Time start time to 9 p.m., citing similar reasons.
The move didn’t last long.
Per an MMA Junkie article from later in that year: “Officials are ditching the plans after 12 events, reportedly due to a sizable PPV-revenue decline in recent months.”
I don’t have access to the information on where Showtime’s viewers and pay-per-view buyers are located in the U.S. My guess is executives believe that West Coast audiences will be willing to settle in for shows that start before dinner time, while East Coast audiences will now be more likely to pay for events that don’t take them as far past their bedtime.
2. It’s not often we give praise to the sanctioning bodies. It’s not often they deserve it. But credit just might be due to a few of them if their plans to use instant replay end up making a positive difference.
The World Boxing Council announced last week that it, the International Boxing Federation and the World Boxing Association would be using replay for title fights.
“Each organization will use under their discretion their own procedure for the use of instant replay and at all times will have to secure an agreement with the corresponding local boxing commission where the fight takes place,” the announcement said.
3. Under the WBC’s protocol:
“Instant replay is limited to review (a) whether a cut or other injury to the face is the result of a punch or otherwise; or (b) whether a punch is thrown after the bell signaling the end of a round and (c) in any major situation that can change the outcome of the bout and where the replay clearly shows the actions are contradictory to the live ruling of the referee.
“The referee may call ‘time out’ during the bout and consult with the instant replay panel, if in doubt, as to any scenario. However, it is recommended that all reviews are done during the resting minute period. The instant replay panel will review any controversial instance that may have occurred in any round. A determination of the referee may be overruled solely if the instant replay monitor clearly and conclusively reveals, according to each member of the panel, that the ruling of the action by the referee was mistaken in his original determination.
“The referee may request to verify the action by watching the TV monitor or may choose to accept the panel's recommendation, which is the final decision and the ruling that will be enforced.”
The WBC announcement linked to a video to show a few examples in which instant replay would be helpful. One was the bout between Edwin Valero and Antonio DeMarco in which Valero was cut by an elbow, though that accidental foul would not have been clear to the naked eye on first glance. There was also the bout between Bernard Hopkins and Tavoris Cloud in which Cloud complained he’d been elbowed, opening a cut. The referee ruled that it was an accidental head butt. Replays showed that the cut came from a clean punch.
Adding instant replay to boxing could be good in theory. Let’s wait to see how it is in practice.
4. Artur Beterbiev is quickly stepping up his level of competition.
Beterbiev is a 29-year-old light heavyweight who represented Russia in two Olympics, competing at 178 pounds in 2008 and at heavyweight (a limit of 201 pounds) in 2012. As a pro, all of his fights have been in Montreal, which has been a home base for an incredibly diverse set of talented boxers.
He is 5-0. His next foe is former titleholder Tavoris Cloud.
It has the potential to be a good test for Beterbiev. But that’s only if Cloud is mentally and physically capable of providing one.
Cloud’s career has been one of fits and starts. He stopped the late Julio Cesar Gonzalez in August 2008 to earn a title shot, then sat out for a year until the title fight. He won a belt with a decision over Clinton Woods in August 2009, then spent another 11 months inactive until his first defense. He outpointed Glen Johnson in August 2010, defeated Fulgencio Zuniga in December 2010, stopped Yusaf Mack in June 2011 and then took a disputed split decision over Gabriel Campillo in February 2012.
It was another year until he returned, thanks in part to a bout with Jean Pascal being called off due to Pascal suffering an injury. Bernard Hopkins won a decision over Cloud and took his world title in March 2013. And last September, Cloud was battered by Adonis Stevenson for seven rounds en route to a stoppage.
Cloud will have been out of the ring for nearly a year to the day when he faces Beterbiev. If he’s hungry and capable, this could be an interesting fight. If not, then this will be one of those crossroads fights that does little more than further damage a faded fighter and put a recognizable name on a prospect’s record.
5. The Tavoris Cloud situation leads me to Roy Jones, who continues to fight at 45 years old and a decade since his back-to-back knockout losses against Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson.
Jones was last in the ring this past July, fighting in the Latvian capital of Riga and scoring a fifth-round stoppage over some dude named Courtney Fry.
Last week, my BoxingScene.com colleague Alexey Sukachev reported that Jones will return Sept. 26, facing some dude named Hani (or Hany) “The Egyptian Hurricane” Atiyo.
Atiyo is a light heavyweight from Egypt who has been a pro since early 2009 and will be turning 31 years old this November. He is listed on BoxRec at 14-2 with 10 KOs, with both of those losses coming by TKO and KO against Joey Vegas. Vegas is a Ugandan light heavyweight who calls the United Kingdom home, is now 16-9-1 with 9 KOs and has lost to some recognizable names.
As Corey Erdman of The Fight Network tweeted: “The tall gentleman fighting in this empty gym in Egypt is apparently who Roy Jones Jr. is fighting next”
(The video can be found at http://bit.ly/atiyoyoutube )
There are many who find what Jones is doing to be sad and an embarrassment, given that he’s a former legend lacing up his gloves against men who never would’ve been allowed to share a ring with him before.
I agree with that. But if a far-past-his-prime boxer is going to continue on with his career, I’d rather the lesser bucks on lesser stages come against less dangerous opponents. That, to me, is much better than sacrificing himself against capable contenders and titleholders.
6. Yes, the big boxing broadcast in the United States is Saturday’s Showtime card featuring Adrien Broner vs. Emanuel Taylor, Lucas Matthysse vs. Roberto Ortiz, and Andre Berto vs. Steve Upsher Chambers.
But don’t you dare limit yourself to just this show. You must — and I mean must — consume three other main events this coming weekend.
Friday brings the much-anticipated collision of lineal 112-pound champion Akira Yaegashi with Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez. Yaegashi was in a pair of highly enjoyable wars back during his time at strawweight and has held the throne at flyweight for nearly a year and a half. Gonzalez is a power-punching former 105- and 108-pound titleholder who is 39-0 with 33 KOs. Among those victories is a 2012 decision at junior flyweight over Juan Francisco Estrada, who has since gone on to capture a pair of belts at flyweight.
Earlier in the day on Saturday is a rematch between 122-pound titleholder Kiko Martinez and undefeated contender Carl Frampton. Martinez lost to Frampton via ninth-round stoppage in February 2013. Half a year later, Martinez picked up a world title with a technical knockout of Jhonatan Romero. Though Martinez-Frampton 2 is taking place in the United Kingdom, American audiences can catch it on AWE (formerly WealthTV). Unfortunately, AWE is no longer taking new subscriptions for online-only viewers, a service that was just a buck a month.
And later that night, beIN Sports Espanol will show the aforementioned Estrada against 112-pound slugger Giovani Segura.
It’s a ridiculously awesome weekend.
7. One fight that won’t be seen this coming weekend is Wladimir Klitschko defending his heavyweight championship against Kubrat Pulev. The bout was postponed to Nov. 15 after Klitschko tore his left biceps in training camp.
Pulev took to the press last week and was quoted as calling it a “fake injury.”
I can’t say for certain. But I will plant my tongue firmly in cheek and say this:
- On Aug. 19 or so, Klitschko’s fiancée, actress Hayden Panettiere, did the ALS ice bucket challenge and nominated Wladimir to do the same.
- On Aug. 24, Dan Rafael of ESPN.com also did the ice bucket challenge and also nominated Klitschko to do the same.
- On Aug. 25, word got out that Klitschko was hurt and the Pulev fight was being postponed.
8. Boxers Behaving Badly, part one: Former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor was arrested last and accused of shooting and wounding his cousin in an incident at Taylor’s house in Arkansas, according to Arkansas Online.
Taylor, 36, is facing one count each of first-degree battery and aggravated assault, according to Pulaski County jail records. He is free on bail. The incident left Taylor’s cousin hospitalized in serious condition.
“Prosecutors said during the hearing that Taylor said he had had previous problems with the two men [his cousin and another man who had accompanied him and that they showed up ‘uninvited,’ ” the Arkansas Online article said. “Taylor told them to leave and then retrieved a gun, ultimately shooting the cousin at least twice, prosecutors said.”
Taylor will have to sign an extradition waiver in order to be allowed to train in Florida and then travel for his Oct. 8 bout against 160-pound titleholder Sam Soliman, the report said. Taylor is 32-4-1 with 20 KOs.
9. Boxers Behaving Badly, part two: On a Saturday evening in Atlantic City, a 24-year-old lightweight named Omar Curry fought to a draw in his first pro fight.
Within days he was in a New Jersey courtroom, accused of shooting and killing a man this past January at an intersection not too far from where Curry would later appear in the ring, according to the Press of Atlantic City.
“Curry faces charges of murder and weapons offenses, including possession of a weapon by a convicted felon,” the report said. “He pleaded guilty to a weapon possession charge in 2010, after he was found with a stolen handgun inside his van during a motor vehicle stop, according to police and court records.”
10. Plaxico Burress shoots himself and spends two years in prison. Jermain Taylor allegedly shoots his cousin and will still be able to fight for a world title…
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]