By Thomas Gerbasi
It’s been a while since I’ve knocked one of these out, and with so much going on in the boxing world, this is as good a time as any for some ramblings on the sweet science in all its various forms.
Pacquiao vs. Mayweather – Seriously, this fight had better be good. I expect this kind of gossip, innuendo, and general time wasting from my teenage daughter, not from the two best boxers in the world today. According to the latest salvo, Floyd called Manny and the two discussed the bout. Bob Arum didn’t have a comment, Todd duBoef said negotiating should be done behind closed doors and not in the media (I agree), and Leonard Ellerbe said he knows what was said but that was private. ENOUGH. Make the fight. We know it’s going to happen, we’re confident that it’s going to be this year, the fighters have reportedly / allegedly / apparently (depending on who you talk to) agreed on their financial terms and all the other major issues, so just make the fight. This drawn out, tedious process is doing nothing but alienating true fight fans, most of which probably won’t be able to grab tickets to the bout once the casinos swoop in, so at least let us have the thing signed so we can talk about the fight, and not the negotiations. No one wants to see Floyd or Manny fight anyone else but each other. When all the parties involved realize that, we can get on with the latest fight to “save boxing.”
Sergio Martinez – Yet while the two best have Twitter and incessant media coverage in which to fight their fight, the man many consider to be the third best boxer in the world, Sergio Martinez, is getting more impressive by the minute. And that’s not just in the ring, where he’s won four in a row, but in everyday life, where the 36-year old Argentinean has taken aim in recent weeks on Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Manny Pacquiao, Top Rank, the WBC, and HBO. That’s not even touching on his work on garnering awareness about women’s issues and bullying. We’ve always wanted our sporting heroes to mean something outside of competition as well as inside of it, and Martinez is a free spirit, a free thinker, and a bold man who has no qualms attacking the status quo. We haven’t seen the likes of him in a long time. The only negative about “Maravilla?” All our wives would probably leave us for him.
Main Events – Kudos to Main Events on their latest attempt to get boxing back in America’s living rooms with this Saturday night’s premiere of Fight Night on the NBC Sports Network. Yes, they lost their main event between Eddie Chambers and Sergei Liakhovich, but they bounced back with a fight that has the potential to be even better between unbeaten Philadelphians Maurice Byarm and Bryant Jennings, which will join up with the Gabriel Rosado-Jesus Soto Karass matchup for the first broadcast. Kathy Duva and her team may not have the muscle behind them of a Top Rank or Golden Boy Promotions, but they are always trying, whether it’s packing the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey for Tomasz Adamek bouts or continually knocking on doors in search of deals like the one they secured with NBC Sports. That’s real promoting, and with Russell Peltz doing his magic on the matchmaking side for the series, one of these days, you’ve got to expect that all this work will one day see a nice reward for the Jersey-based promoter.
TV Talk – Speaking of boxing on television, I like what I’m seeing thus far from Showtime in the early stages of the Stephen Espinoza era. The network made an immediate impact by picking up the Victor Ortiz-Andre Berto rematch, and Espinoza has made it clear in various interviews that he’s going to use every resource at his disposal, whether it’s airing undercard bouts or including the power of CBS and its various new media outlets, to get the sport to the forefront of the sporting world once again. It’s a lofty goal, but here in the early stages, Showtime looks like it could be making a run at HBO. We’ve yet to see the first salvos fired by their new boss, former Showtime leader Ken Hershman, but you’ve got to expect that something’s going to be coming soon, and if the two premium cable leaders get into a virtual shoving match, the fans will be the eventual winners. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the recent announcement that EPIX will be airing three consecutive weeks of heavyweight title fights, including Vitali Klitschko vs. Dereck Chisora, Alexander Povetkin vs. Marco Huck, and Wladimir Klitschko vs. Jean-Marc Mormeck. Will these all be epic wars and can’t miss television? Probably not, but just the fact that these bouts will be available Stateside is good news, and solid viewership will mean that even more top European action will find its way here. And the more televised boxing the better, right?
The Fight of Their Lives – If you haven’t seen the ITV documentary on the tragic Nigel Benn vs. Gerald McClellan fight, The Fight of Their Lives, you must find a way to see it. It is, without question, the most compelling boxing documentary I’ve seen in a long time, perhaps ever, and if you don’t get chills watching some of the scenes, you need to get your heart and your soul checked. Featuring interviews with several of the major players surrounding the 1995 bout in England, including Benn, McClellan’s sister Lisa, his trainer Stan Johnson, former trainer Emanuel Steward, and controversial referee Alfred Asaro, the producers have done as comprehensive a job on everything having to do with the fight and its aftermath that they could have, even filming McClellan at home in Illinois and when he traveled to the UK to meet up with Benn for the first time since 1995. When it’s over, you will feel drained, and may even temporarily question why you still love this sport. But my greatest takeaway from The Fight of Their Lives is something I really didn’t need a reminder about, and that’s the love Lisa McClellan shows for her brother. She has been there with him as soon as he got home from London and she remains with him to this day. She has, for all intents and purposes, sacrificed a lot of her own life over the last 16 plus years for the sake of taking care of Gerald. You hope that if something ever happened, someone like Lisa would step up to the plate, but we all know that’s not always the case. Thankfully, I’ve gotten to know Lisa over the years from covering Gerald’s story, and I can say without reservation that she’s one of the best people I know. Watch The Fight of Their Lives and you’ll see why I say that.
Adam Pollack – You may not know the name of Adam Pollack, but if you’re a fan of boxing history, you should. In one of the great literary projects I could possibly imagine, Pollack has taken on the task of writing individual volumes on every heavyweight champion, from John L. Sullivan forward. He’s currently six books in (Sullivan, Corbett, Fitzsimmons, Jeffries, Hart, Burns), and what separates these tomes from others on the aforementioned group is the amount of research that he’s done to deliver the definitive picture of these champions in the ring, hence the titles “In the Ring with…” It’s really spectacular material, and while these books aren’t likely to hit the bestseller list or the gift table at Barnes and Noble, if you’re a boxing fan, they need to be on your bookshelf. You can find Adam’s books on Amazon.com or at www.winbykopublications.com
Women’s Boxing – I may be wrong, but I think it’s safe to say that with the exception of my buddy David Avila, no one covered women’s boxing back in its Christy Martin / Lucia Rijker heyday more than I did. Yet these days, if you can even find a women’s bout, it’s buried on some out of the way undercard or has no television coverage, and while I know the common answer is that once Laila Ali left things died, but I think everything started going south way before then. Why? There’s really no definitive answer, but in looking through some of my old clips, I came across a piece on Jill “The Zion Lion” Matthews. The New York-based Matthews was a brawler of the highest order, but what separated her from the pack was her backstory and personality. Her husband wasn’t just her manager, but they also played in a punk band – Times Square – together, and when it came to quotes, she would have given Bernard Hopkins a run for his money. Best remembered by people who covered the sport back then for a three fight series (1-1-1) with another badass in Anissa Zamarron, Matthews pretty much summed up her philosophy in a quote she gave me before the third bout with Zamarron: It was like well, I'm gonna go out there, and I might not win, but I want to hurt her real bad. I swear. So she could show her belt to everyone in the f**kin hospital. That was basically my goal.” That was Jill Matthews, and in that era, there were so many great personalities like her: Martin, Rijker, Baby Doll Riley, Downtown Leona Brown, Valerie Mahfood, Kathy Collins, Leah Mellinger, Veronica Simmons, and I could go on. So while being a spectacular fighter is great, having a great story and charisma makes people care.
Heavyweight Rankings – I was researching a story this week and happened to take a glance at the sanctioning bodies’ heavyweight rankings. I know, bad idea. But really, Hasim Rahman, Mo Harris, and Kali Meehan all in the Top Ten? And 40-year old Jovo Pudar (remember him?) sneaking in at number 15 and thus eligible for a world title shot? I think I may need to make a comeback because it looks like anybody can get a world ranking at heavyweight these days.
Seth Mitchell – Anyway, last but certainly not least, the young man I was referring to above in terms of researching a future story was unbeaten Seth “Mayhem” Mitchell. You probably couldn’t find a more humble, down to Earth boxer in the entire heavyweight division, and while he’s capably and quietly carrying the mantle of “best American heavyweight,” let’s not put the burden on him of being “the next” whoever in the division. He’s doing just fine being the first Seth Mitchell.