by David P. Greisman
Promoters can be parents, nurturing their fighters from the early years, recognizing their potential, providing them with opportunities, celebrating with them when they succeed and mourning with them when they fail.
Promoters can be pimps, sizing up fighters and signing them for what they can do – and what the fighters can do for them. They ply the fighters with play and pay, giving them attention so long as the investment is beneficial to both.
Some fighters remain worthwhile, their name value carrying forth long after their talent has faded. Others wind up treated like a flavor-of-the-month girlfriend. If they cannot sell tickets, or if they lose their titles, promoters lose interest. They become ignored, inactive.
Most promoters are a mix of both.
That is why the latest chapter in the story of Jermain Taylor and Lou DiBella is so different than the norm.
Taylor is 31 years old. Four years ago, he was the new middleweight champion, an undefeated talent with the backing of HBO marketing him a star. He was the heir apparent made heir actual. The future looked bright.
Today, everything about Taylor is former. He is the former champion, formerly undefeated, formerly on HBO, formerly a star. The future looked dark the moment his lights got turned out for the third time in his career.
That loss was in October, in the opening round of the round-robin “Super Six” super middleweight tournament. It was the 12th round when a straight right hand from Arthur Abraham sent Jermain Taylor falling backwards. Taylor’s head slammed onto the canvas. He was unconscious, his right arm angled stiffly above.
There were six seconds on the clock, just six seconds left in the fight, when the referee stopped counting.
Six months before, that number was 14. Just 14 seconds remained when Jermain Taylor was knocked out for the second time in his career.
That loss came in April against Carl Froch. Taylor was ahead on two of the three scorecards, 106-102. He had knocked Froch down in the third round, but Froch got up and battled back. In the final round, Froch hurt Taylor, knocked him down and then finished him soon thereafter against the ropes.
Ahead early. Knocked out later. That was the same story as when Jermain Taylor was knocked out for the first time in his career.
That loss came in September 2007 against Kelly Pavlik. Taylor put Pavlik down in the second round but could not seal the deal. Five rounds later, Pavlik hurt Taylor with a right hand that sent him staggering to the ropes, following with a fusillade that left Taylor unconscious in a limp heap.
Lou DiBella was there with Taylor in January 2001, the night the Olympic bronze medalist made his professional debut. While other DiBella prospects eventually fell short of expectations, Taylor succeeded on the path so many promoters use for their fighters, a path DiBella has also used for Andre Berto and Paulie Malignaggi – build up their record, get them experience, get them on television, get them in the rankings, get them to challenge for a world title.
DiBella was there in July 2005, eyes closed, hands on Taylor’s shoulders, when Michael Buffer announced that Taylor had outpointed middleweight king Bernard Hopkins. DiBella jumped in the air and then cried as he embraced his fighter. He was there when Taylor retained the title in a rematch with Hopkins and for every subsequent defense of his championship.
DiBella was there with Taylor after the knockout loss to Pavlik, after the decision loss to Pavlik in their rematch, after the technical knockout loss to Froch, and after the knockout loss to Abraham.
DiBella can’t be there anymore. It’s hard to blame him.
“I have just been informed through numerous press reports that Jermain Taylor has elected to continue with his participation in the Super Six: World Boxing Classic tournament and will face Andre Ward in April,” DiBella said Friday, Dec. 11, in a press release. “It is with a heavy heart, but strong conviction, that I will recuse myself and DiBella Entertainment as Jermain’s promoter.
“Jermain’s career has been outstanding, and it has been a pleasure and honor to promote him,” DiBella said. “His victories against Bernard Hopkins remain the highlights of my career as a promoter. Jermain is not only a great fighter, but a good and decent man with a wonderful family. It is out of genuine concern for him and his family that I am compelled to make this decision.
“I informed him, as I do all my contracted fighters, that my goal was to help him secure financial stability for his family, maximize his potential, and leave our unforgiving sport with his health intact,” DiBella said. “It is my belief that the continuation of Jermain’s career as an active fighter places him at unnecessary risk. While he is undoubtedly capable of prevailing in future bouts, I cannot, in good conscience, remain involved given my assessment of such risk.”
Few would have batted an eyelash had DiBella instead played the part of the pimp, profiting while Taylor continued for a minimum two more bouts in the Super Six tournament.
Rather, DiBella is acting like a parent, worried about Taylor’s wellbeing, resorting to tough love.
The consensus following the knockout loss to Abraham was that Taylor should withdraw from the tournament and consider retirement. Reports were that Taylor had suffered a concussion and short-term memory loss. He had fought five times in the past 25 months, losing four of those fights, three by knockout.
Taylor could try to convince himself that he wasn’t done as a fighter, that he had gassed out in the first fight with Pavlik and done better despite coming up short in the rematch, that he was beating Froch and was just 14 seconds from victory when he lost, that Abraham is favored to win the tournament and there should be no shame in being beaten by a world-class opponent.
But to many, Taylor has a pattern of getting knocked out against the upper tier of competition. In a time when there is more awareness of head injuries and how every concussion makes a person more vulnerable for suffering another, continuing in the tournament would be akin to playing Russian roulette.
That was the decision Taylor had to make: Was it worth it to bet his health, to say the knockouts were not part of a pattern, but a fluke, and to assume he could come back and redeem himself? And if he were to drop out of the tournament, would it be worth it to no longer compete at the highest level, to swallow his pride and face lesser opposition for smaller paychecks?
Taylor made his choice. And so DiBella made a choice of his own.
Parents nurture their children, recognizing their potential, providing them with opportunities, celebrating with them when they succeed and mourning with them when they fail. They give their children second and third chances, hold their hand when they struggle and hold them upright when they are unsteady.
Sometimes, however, there is nothing more that can be done.
Their love never dies. But the best choice left is to walk away and hope their children will understand why before it is too late.
The 10 Count
1. How bad was Kevin Johnson’s performance against Vitali Klitschko?
He was so defensive that he was offensive – offensive to those of us watching, that is.
What made it even worse is how much Johnson had talked in the past few years about what he was capable of – even while putting on putrid performances that did little to back up his words.
This is what he said on ESPN2 before a fight in April 2008, responding to criticism:
“Teddy Atlas said, ‘How far does a one-note jab take you?’ I’ve got an answer for that. It takes me very far. It takes me very far. As a matter of fact, you’ll see how far that jab takes me, because that jab is unspeakable. Nobody could stop it. It’s so fast that it scares me.
“If I want, my jab can take me to a title. That’s if I want. But if I want fans behind me, I’ma have to put a little bit more on there, put the combinations [sic], be a little bit more entertaining, market myself a little bit.”
Here’s what he said last month about the Klitschko fight:
“If he tries to jab with me, his mouth will be wide open and his eyes will be closed by the middle of the fight. If he wants to fight, I’ll go toe-to-toe with him and use my speed to knock him out.”
And here’s what he said after the Klitschko fight:
“I showed about 90 percent of my skills,” Johnson was quoted as saying on German television, according to BoxingScene.com correspondent Andrey Krikunov. “And I’m able to do much more than that.”
Yeah, no kidding.
2. How bad was Kevin Johnson’s performance against Vitali Klitschko?
Johnson landed 5 of 54 power punches in 12 rounds against Klitschko.
Arturo Gatti landed 10 of 56 power punches in six rounds against Floyd Mayweather Jr.
In Gatti’s case, he couldn’t do more. In Johnson’s case, he just wouldn’t do more.
The CompuBox punch counter assigned to Johnson must’ve had an easy night.
3. How bad was Kevin Johnson’s performance against Vitali Klitschko?
Johnson threw only 332 total punches over 12 rounds, an average of about 28 punches for every three minutes. Johnson landed just 65 of them, a 20 percent connect rate, an average of about five landed shots for every three minutes.
Almost all of those punches were jabs – Johnson threw 278 of them, landing 60. He was 5 of 54 when it came to power punches – on average, less than half a power punch landed for every three minutes.
Johnson didn’t even throw a single power punch in the first round, instead opting for the superior strategy of going 3 for 22 with his jabs. Here’s his power punch connect rate for rounds 2 through 12: 0 for 2, 1 for 5, 0 for 6, 1 for 2, 1 for 5, 0 for 6, 0 for 4, 1 for 4, 0 for 3, 0 for 5, and 1 for 12.
Klitschko, for comparison’s sake, threw 1013 punches over 12 rounds, an average of about 84 punches for every three minutes. Klitschko landed 298 of them, a 29 percent connect rate, an average of about 25 landed shots for every three minutes.
Most were jabs: Klitschko threw 749, landing 157 against an opponent who refused to engage in much of anything but awkward defense. He did land 141 of his 264 power shots, a 53 percent connect rate, an average of about 12 landed power punches for every three minutes.
4. How bad was Kevin Johnson’s performance against Vitali Klitschko?
BoxingScene’s own Cliff Rold described Klitschko-Johnson as “but another candidate for worst heavyweight title fight of all time in perhaps the worst heavyweight decade since the gloved era began in the late 19th century.”
Klitschko-Johnson is up there – or down there, really – with recent heavyweight title fight snoozers such as (but, sadly, by no means limited to) Wladimir Klitschko-Sultan Ibragimov, Chris Byrd-DaVarryl Williamson, and Shannon Briggs-Sergei Liakhovich.
And as Bart Barry of 15rounds.com noted Saturday night on Twitter, with the WBC world title fight taking place in Switzerland, open scoring was in use – Johnson knew he was getting shut out on the cards and still didn’t show any sign of desperation, of going for the win.
It’s amusing that Klitschko-Johnson took place in Switzerland – after all, forcing anyone to watch that fight would surely violate the Geneva Conventions.
5. “Nate Campbell Settles With [Don] King; Golden Boy Deal Close?” reads the headline on this very Web site.
This is the same Nate Campbell who had railed against the politics of boxing – in particular, Golden Boy Promotions – whose owner, Oscar De La Hoya, also owns “The Ring” magazine.
To Campbell, Golden Boy once was freezing him out from the magazine’s lightweight championship belt (seen by many as signifying the division’s lineal champ) by only having fighters from Golden Boy face each other for it.
The problem, at the time, was that Campbell had three of the four lightweight world titles and was seen as having a claim to the top of the division, though he lacked that lineal recognition.
Campbell, in a posting some 19 months ago on the MaxBoxing.com message board, said he wouldn’t sign with Golden Boy, “because that won’t make it right, just make me a part of the people doing it.”
So now that Campbell could be leaving Don King and signing with Golden Boy, what changed?
“What changed is Nate getting a better understanding of the nuts and bolts of the industry,” Campbell’s adviser, Terry Trekas, said via e-mail. “He finally accepted that it’s business, it’s not personal. And to give himself the best possible chance to get the fights that are best for him, he needs to be with the company that has the most opportunities.
“Even though we may not agree with everything [Golden Boy] does, there is no denying that they are the company that can best maximize Nate’s opportunities,” Trekas said. “They have the dates and the working relationships to get Nate the fights that just weren’t available through [Don King].
“To quote a common political catch phrase, ‘It's the economy, stupid.’ Nate’s economy, that is,” Trekas said.
Campbell, now competing at junior welterweight, has fully recovered from the eye injury he suffered earlier this year against Timothy Bradley, Trekas said. There will be a purse bid Tuesday (Dec. 15) for a bout with Kendall Holt.
“The decision on whether to do that fight or a different fight will be discussed with Golden Boy in the next few days,” Trekas said.
6. Boxing Trainers Behaving Badly: I hesitate to include this because it seems so utterly ridiculous, but, well, a boxing writer has sued Freddie Roach, alleging assault, according to TMZ.com.
Some dude named Alex Vidal filed a lawsuit a couple of weeks ago in Los Angeles County Superior Court, claiming Roach got angry with Vidal over an article called “Sick Roach Misses Conception’s Last Workout.”
Though Vidal writes for the PhilBoxing.com Web site, the article, for some reason, isn’t available online.
TMZ.com says the sequence of events went like this: “Roach … allegedly challenged Vidal, claiming ‘he was not sick and that he only went to a clinic.’ Vidal says he apologized and said he was merely quoting a statement from boxer Bernabe Conception’s [sic] manager. Roach was unmoved, allegedly went on a tirade, pushing him ‘roughly’ in the left shoulder and yelled, ‘The next time you write about it, I will kill you.’ ”
The article doesn’t indicate that Vidal ever pressed any criminal charges, and it says the writer is “suing for all sorts of unspecified damages.”
7. Boxers Behaving Badly, part one: Miguel Cotto and his father have been sued for sexual harassment by one of Cotto’s former employees, according to the Associated Press.
The lawsuit was filed in August in Puerto Rico. The woman, who ran a residential property Cotto owns, claims the former 140- and 147-pound titlist made advances toward her, and she gave in because she was afraid of losing her job.
She claims she was fired in October 2008 after ending the relationship.
The article says the lawsuit went unreported until last week, when the Cotto family released a statement calling the litigation “frivolous, empty and a total fabrication.”
The woman is asking for $261,000, according to TMZ.com.
8. Boxers Behaving Badly, part two: A former heavyweight titlist could spend as much as a year in prison, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Tony Tubbs, 51, pleaded guilty Nov. 30 to a charge of cocaine possession. His sentencing, scheduled for Jan. 14, will decide whether he will serve time in a drug rehabilitation facility or in prison.
Tubbs, according to the article, “has been to prison [before] for cocaine-related crimes and not paying child support for some of the 16 children he said he has.”
Tubbs captured the World Boxing Association heavyweight title in April 1985, winning a 15-round unanimous decision over Greg Page. Tubbs lost the belt in his next defense, a majority decision loss in January 1986 to Tim Witherspoon.
Tubbs is listed as 47-10 with 2 no contests. His last fight was in 2006, a six-round decision over some dude named Adam Smith.
9. Boxers Behaving Badly, part three: Ryan Scott, one of three men charged in the beating death of a 36-year-old man outside of a social club in Scotland, has been found guilty – not of murder, though, but of assault, according to the Hamilton Advertiser.
Scott, 26, is a boxer with one pro fight on his record, a first-round stoppage in November 2008 of some dude named Mark Bett.
Scott’s brother, Gary Scott, 22, was convicted on a charge of culpable homicide. The third man, Brian Smith, 23, was found guilty of assault.
10. And, with this, I’ve now taken as many shots at Kevin Johnson as the number of power punches he landed on Vitali Klitschko…
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. He may be reached for questions and comments at [email protected]