by David P. Greisman
Floyd Mayweather and Andre Ward are two of the best boxers in the world. One of them is often in the news even when he’s not fighting. The only time the other is in the news these days is because of why he’s not in the ring.
Mayweather’s latest headlines came from the most recent chapter in his feud with rapper and former friend 50 Cent — a feud that led to the release of audio in which Mayweather had tremendous difficulty reading out loud a promo provided to him by a radio show.
Coverage of Ward, meanwhile, came from his latest defeat in an attempt to break away from his longtime promoter, Dan Goossen of Goossen Tutor Promotions. Last week, a California court ruled in Goossen’s favor. Ward’s battle nevertheless is likely to continue on.
In each case, the fighter’s detractors took to the news with apparent glee, finding one more reason for critique and mockery.
In each case, some of these reactions are both understandable and unfortunate.
Mayweather’s transcendence from pound-for-pound talent into a multimillionaire mainstream celebrity is due in large part to his polarizing personality. He is an antihero who is brash and flashy, cocky yet cool. There are those who want to see him win on fight nights and who then live vicariously through the lifestyle he touts ever so publicly the remaining 363 days of each year.
There also are those who pay to see him be defeated — and dislike him so much that they hope to see him lose outside of the ring as well. Many of them are turned off by his words and actions, be it his revelation that ex-girlfriend Shantel Jackson had gotten an abortion or be it the numerous criminal and civil allegations he’s faced over the years, including more than one case of battery involving female victims.
The latter group hopes for karmic comeuppance, for someone with such an ego and such behavior to be knocked down a few pegs. They look at the vehicle collection, private jets, large homes, rich purchases and sports bets, and they wait for the day they say will come in which Mayweather will be as bankrupt as two superstars of recent vintage, Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield.
They laugh at Mayweather’s difficulty reading and judge him harshly.
First, let’s get out of the way the incorrect conclusion that “Mayweather can’t read.” Let’s also note that we don’t know why Mayweather may indeed have trouble reading out loud, whether it is due to education or if he may have dyslexia.
In the grand scheme of things, it wouldn’t be surprising that an athlete — one who grew up how Mayweather grew up, who was likely part of an educational system that didn’t care if students’ reading skills were weak, and who found success in sports from an early age — would have the difficulty he seemed to have.
I recall Dexter Manley, the former NFL defensive end who spent much of his career playing in Washington, D.C., and who was illiterate even though he had played four years of college football.
“He got out of Oklahoma State with second-grade reading skills,” wrote Steve Jacobson in Newsday in 1992.
“As a child in Houston, Manley had a learning disability that went undiagnosed,” Roger Simon wrote for the Los Angeles Times in 1989. “His only memories of grammar school consist of playing with blocks. Manley went to a high school that was known for its football team, and he had no trouble passing his courses.”
Manley recalled his time at college in a 2012 interview with the Ottawa Sun:
“When I went to Oklahoma State, I could not read or write, but I will tell you one thing, I was a good football player. I went to class, I had good verbal skills. But I did a lot of cheating. I don’t advocate that, but that’s what I had to do to make it.”
Earlier this year, CNN’s Sara Ganim — the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter behind the investigation into the sexual assault allegations against Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky — published a report titled “Some college athletes play like adults, read like 5th-graders.”
The report mentioned as one example a study of 183 football and basketball players at the University of North Carolina between 2004 and 2012.
“60 percent read between fourth- and eighth-grade levels. Between 8 percent and 10 percent read below a third-grade level,” the article said.
It’s unfortunately common. And it’s not really a surprise that there are athletes out there whose lifelong focus on sports comes at the expense of other life skills. That’s not an excuse, but rather an explanation.
Mayweather, for whatever difficulty he has, has done great in boxing and has seemingly surrounded himself with a good team to ensure that he and his family are comfortable.
There are plenty of other reasons to judge Mayweather, for better or for worse. This need not be one of them.
As for Ward, it’s fair to be critical of a legal battle that has kept him sidelined. Ward has said he’s asked Goossen for fights despite the ongoing litigation. Goossen has said Ward has turned down offers. No matter what, between an injury in early 2013 and the arbitration and lawsuits, Ward has fought just twice since defeating Carl Froch in the finale of the “Super Six” tournament in December 2011. Ward went on to stop Chad Dawson in September 2012, had to pull out of a fight with Kelly Pavlik, and last stepped between the ropes to outpoint Edwin Rodriguez in November 2013.
People have been critical of Ward for years while still recognizing his talent. First, they felt the 2004 Olympic gold medalist was being moved too gradually for the first four and a half years or so of his pro career. Then they complained about a style that accentuated defense, with plenty of grabbing, holding and other tricks thrown in. And they bristled when Ward shrugged off such criticism.
Ward is the antithesis of Mayweather’s antihero, yet his personality still rubs some the wrong way. So do some of his career choices — and it’s understandably frustrating that Ward isn’t in the ring as a 30-year-old who is in his prime. Even if Ward’s battle turns out to be right, which hasn’t been the case in the courts so far, it’s fair to be critical.
Yet some of these critics don’t actually care to see Ward fight. They just want to see him humbled and proven wrong.
All of which is par for the course in organized sports. Fans have rooting interests, want their heroes to win and hope the villains will lose.
Those passions should be limited to on-field activities. I do not want our athletes to commit crimes or do anything else to damage their own careers. I do want them to live good lives when they’re not competing, even if they shouldn’t be expected to be role models.
But it’s unnecessary to take joy in Mayweather’s literacy struggles. And the only hope I have with Ward is that his saga ends soon and brings him back to the realm where he first made headlines: with gloves on, going 12 rounds or less against some of the best.
The 10 Count
1. I wish Floyd Mayweather and 50 Cent would just talk out their differences, but I don't think 50 has his Stack of Money Walkie Talkie™ anymore…
2. The World Boxing Association’s “super” champion at heavyweight is Wladimir Klitschko, who captured that belt from David Haye more than three years ago and has defended it six times since.
One of those defenses came against Alexander Povetkin, who had been the WBA’s “regular” heavyweight champion dating back to August 2011, shortly after Klitschko-Haye. Povetkin beat Ruslan Chagaev for the trinket and defended it four times before losing to Klitschko last year.
Just this past july, Chagaev picked up the vacant WBA “regular” title by beating Fres Oquendo. Chagaev, mind you, hadn’t beaten a top 10 heavyweight in more than seven years. Oquendo had never even done that, nor had he even truly mattered in the sport for about a decade.
And because there’s rarely such a thing as shame in boxing, the WBA will have an “interim” heavyweight title fight this September between Luis Ortiz and Lateef Kayode.
Ortiz, 35, knocked out Monte Barrett — yes, that Monte Barrett — this past April. That’s the best win you can find on his record. Two bouts before that, Ortiz faced an 11-25-1 foe named Joe Rabotte. And not too long ago, in November 2012, Ortiz faced a guy who was making his pro debut.
Kayode, 31, had been a heavyweight when he first turned pro before dropping down a division. He has competed in two heavyweight fights since his cruiserweight bout against Antonio Tarver back in June 2012. One was a win in December 2013 against a 21-33-1 opponent named Travis Fulton. The other was a win this past January against a 9-7-1 foe named Jonte Willis.
Here’s to you, WBA, for making Ortiz your No. 2 heavyweight and Kayode your No. 5 heavyweight and for sanctioning yet another bout for a BS belt.
3. There are 17 weight classes in boxing. The WBA has 12 “super,” “unified” or “undisputed” champions. It has another 15 “regular” titleholders. And it has 11 boxers carrying “interim” belts.
That’s 38 titles for 17 weight classes. By tomorrow (Aug. 26), after the bout between 108-pounders Randy Petalcorin and Walter Tello is over, there will be 39.
By this Saturday, after the bout between bantamweights Yonfrez Parejo and Luis Hinojosa, there will be 40.
By next month, when Luis Ortiz and Lateef Kayode fight, there will be 41.
And that’s not even including its intercontinental, international, interpretive dance, Intergalactic Planetary and Inter-Gender Wrestling belts.
4. The news that Jermain Taylor will be challenging Sam Soliman for a middleweight title this October raised concern. There are those who recall the brain bleed Taylor suffered five years ago in his knockout loss to Arthur Abraham — and who have seen how far from world class Taylor has looked in his four fights since returning to the ring at the end of 2011.
Some of these voices are people I hold great respect for. Quite eloquent was this segment from Corey Erdman of Fight Network:
I can see where their perspective comes from, given our collective concern over fighter safety in general, never mind boxers who have suffered serious injury already. We don’t need to look too far into the past for sobering examples, be they the death of Frankie Leal or how Magomed Abdusalamov nearly died and will likely never be anywhere near fully functional again.
But I also need to give weight to the experts who have examined Taylor and found that his brain is not at any more risk now than it was prior to the Abraham knockout.
Here’s Dr. Tim Trainor, a consultant to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, as quoted in 2011 by Dan Rafael of ESPN.com when Taylor was licensed to fight again in the state:
"I have thoroughly reviewed the comprehensive medical records pertaining to combatant Jermain Taylor. In this regard, it is noted that his physical and ophthalmologic examinations were found to be completely normal. In addition, his current ECG, CXR, HIV, hepatitis panel, chemistry panel, CBC, and urinalysis are all unremarkable. Furthermore, his current cerebral MRA and MRI are normal.
"As you are aware, Mr. Taylor has a history of a subdural hematoma following a boxing match in Germany in October 2009. As a result of this prior history, Mr. Taylor has undergone extensive additional testing including multiple MRI and MRA scans, neuropsychological testing, evaluation at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and evaluation at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health here in Las Vegas. He has been examined by both neurologists and neurosurgeons. All of these evaluations have demonstrated him to be medically fit to compete in boxing, not discounting the risk of head and brain injury that all unarmed combatants take.
"Furthermore, the Nevada State Athletic Commission Medical Advisory Panel recently convened to discuss the medical safety of Mr. Taylor continuing his boxing career. The meeting was held on Sept. 22, 2011. The conclusion of the MAP was that it would be medically safe to grant Mr. Taylor a boxing license. Therefore, I am confident that it is medically safe to grant Mr. Taylor a license to compete in boxing and agree that this combatant is medically cleared for unarmed combat."
Former Nevada chief ringside physician Dr. Margaret Goodman was quoted in an ESPN The Magazine piece in late 2013 as saying: “There's no major study documenting that after suffering a hemorrhage, a fighter is, or isn't, at increased risk of another one.”
That’s not to say that Goodman has been in favor of Taylor’s comeback. Here she is in an article on RingTV.com following the fighter getting his license from Nevada in 2011:
“This is the perfect example of why a federal boxing commission is needed. If the physicians and commission had reviewed all of Jermain’s performances, they would not have been able to come to this conclusion. He was a wonderful boxer and is still a tremendous athlete.
“How can anyone, especially a commission, claim they care about acting in a fighter’s best interest, then license Jermain? Sure, you can match him light — that is what will happen. But if he hopefully never bleeds again, the accumulation of any punches to his head are a risk for his eventual retirement.’’
And that’s where further squeamishness comes from: For all of Taylor’s athleticism, he’s shown himself to be hittable — and able to be hurt badly by top-level fighters, including Kelly Pavlik, Carl Froch and Abraham. Taylor also went down late in his 2012 bout with Caleb Truax, getting back up to take the decision.
Soliman is not on the level of Pavlik, Froch and Abraham, and he only has 18 knockouts in his 44 wins. But people are concerned about Taylor getting hit over and over and over again, something that is even more dangerous than single-shot endings.
I can’t say that Taylor is in any more danger than other defensively flawed fighters would be. But I know that those who are concerned have their hearts in the right place.
5. Boxers Behaving Badly: Former featherweight titleholder Scott Harrison has been accused of assaulting a woman, according to Scotland’s STV News. The case is scheduled to go to trial in February. No detailed information on the case was available in the article.
Somehow Harrison has also recently received a license to box in the United Kingdom. And somehow Harrison is still free despite lingering consequences from his many run-ins with the law.
In May 2013, it was reported that Harrison’s appeal on one case had been denied and that he would spend four years behind bars for being part of a group that assaulted three men at a Spanish brothel back in 2007. He had been prison until 2011 for another case, spending two and a half years locked up for an incident in which he assaulted a police officer and another man and attempted to steal a car.
The 37-year-old had six and a half years off following his November 2005 win over Nedal Hussein. He returned in 2012 with a pair of victories, then lost a unanimous decision to Liam Walsh back in April 2013. That brought him to 27-3-2 with 15 KOs.
6. The late, great boxing writer Bert Sugar was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame back in 2005. His “fist cast” in Canastota, unlike the clenched hands of the various fighters, pays homage to his trademark cigar: It has two fingers holding up a wooden stogie.
If ever I last long enough and do well enough in this business to be enshrined into the same Hall, it’d only be proper if my casting shows my hands tapping away at a laptop, writing the words “Boxers Behaving Badly” and “Scott Harrison.”
7. Boxers Behaving Badly update, part one: Former welterweight titleholder James Page has been sentenced to seven years in prison for robbing eight California banks over the course of about three months last year, a spree that raked in more than $20,000 according to the San Jose Mercury News.
“By the time he won his title [in 1998], he had already served two stints in prison, including 10 months in San Quentin in late 1996 and 1997 after he was convicted of theft from a Concord athletic club,” said a past article from the newspaper. “He was stripped of his title after he failed to appear at a mandatory fight in November 2000. In December 2001, he was arrested in the robbery of a bank in Atlanta and later sentenced to 11 years in federal prison.”
Page, 43, had a comeback fight in November 2012, losing a second-round knockout to an 8-9 opponent named Rahman Yusubov, according to BoxRec.com. That loss dropped his record to 25-5 with 19 knockouts.
8. Boxers Behaving Badly, part two: British welterweight Lee Purdy has been found not guilty of money laundering in a fraud case that landed five other people behind bars, according to BBC News.
Those other defendants had been arrested in connection with overcharging 42 people “for shoddy building work,” the report said. One of the defendants was Purdy’s father, Van, who will spend two years in jail for conspiracy to convert criminal property. Lee Purdy had been accused of cashing checks for his father and another defendant.
The 27-year-old last fought in 2013, suffering stoppage losses to Devon Alexander and Leonard Bundu. He is 20-5-1 with 13 knockouts.
9. I think it’s good to have more promoters in the sport, so long as they find ways to work together. It’s better to have more opportunities for the fighters and more businesses attempting to build a market for boxing.
With that said, we’ve seen so many come in and attempt to make a big splash, only to fizzle out and then shut down.
And so while I understand that rapper Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports was attempting to send a message with its $1.9 million purse bid for the middleweight title fight between Peter Quillin and Matt Korobov — neither of whom is under its promotional banner — I hope that the company looks at promoting as more of a marathon than a sprint.
Fortunately, Roc Nation Sports does have Dave Itskowitch, who worked for HBO and DiBella Entertainment before becoming chief operating officer of Golden Boy Promotions (he left Golden Boy last year). Roc Nation also represents some major pros in baseball, basketball and football, which may pad the coffers.
That bid, by the way, was slightly more than Golden Boy’s and Top Rank’s bids combined.
10. Boxers who want to waste their money start rap labels. Rappers who want to waste their money start boxing promotions…
“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]