Despite what you have been led to believe, winning the heavyweight championship is not necessarily the way to riches and fame. In the case of Tony Tubbs, who holds the World Boxing Assn. version, it has been a ticket to oblivion, with a stop at the poorhouse along the way.
It used to be, of course, that a title was more or less a license to print money. But then boxing organizations proliferated, and suddenly boxing had more heavyweight champions than Zsa Zsa had husbands. If you weren’t Larry Holmes, who at least had the advantage of a seven-year reign, you could get lost in the shuffle.
Witness Tubbs, who surprised Greg Page in April and who hasn’t fought since. He’s scheduled to defend in December against former heavyweight champion Tim Witherspoon but, then, he has been scheduled to defend before. So he trains at Hoover and 78th every day with no particular assurance of the fame and riches he’d been promised.
“I was thinking bright lights and big money,” says Tubbs, 27. “But the $75,000 I made for Page, that money’s gone. I got three kids back in Cincinnati and I got to pay bills. I figured I’d make bucks, but now here I am sitting on a shelf, can’t get fights at all. I don’t know what games they’re playing, but being champion is worse than being a contender.”
Tubbs falls under the promotional arm of Don King, who orchestrates the heavyweight division with considerable finesse. The finesse will eventually put Tubbs in the ring for some of that big money, but in the meantime--"Man, I got to make a living.”
Tubbs, who was a celebrated amateur in 1980, right up to the Olympic boycott--he had won the World Cup in 1980 and was ranked second behind Cuba’s Teofilo Stevenson--had come to Los Angeles from Cincinnati to join Harold Smith’s celebrated MAPS stable in Santa Monica. Before Smith ran into some trouble with Wells Fargo, it was a dream come true for Tubbs, who enjoyed the opportunity to work out with Muhammad Ali from time to time.
But after that it was slow going until he signed with King and was maneuvered into a title shot with another King talent. Unfortunately in upsetting Page, what Tubbs did was further devalue his own franchise. The WBA title has been rendered ridiculous over the years by the inability of any one champion to retain it. Since Ali’s retirement in 1979, there have no less than six WBA champions, and no fighter has had more than two successful defenses. The two champions before Tubbs--Gerrie Coetzee and Page--did not even make one.
Being WBA heavyweight champion, you see, is boxing’s version of the unlisted number.
But Tubbs, who has a record of 23-0, keeps waiting for that call, all the same. “See, I want to be a fighting champion, make as much money as possible,” he said. “I been blessed with the skill of boxing, and now what am I doing? I’m waiting.”
Jimmy Gilio had another big house at the Olympic Auditorium Thursday night when Rene Arredondo, the World Boxing Council’s No. 4 junior-welterweight, stopped No. 5 Saul Julio. The gate was more than $100,000 for a card that also included victories by Gato Gonzalez over Luis Urraca and by Ricardo Villasana over Ricardo Varela. . . . The Irvine Marriott show the same night was deprived of some of its attraction when local heavyweight Nick De Long pulled out. De Long, a driver for a beer distributor in Long Beach, was not allowed off work. On that card junior-middleweight Sean Mannion won by disqualification when he suffered head butts while ahead on the cards. . . . In addition to the comeback of former champion Alexis Arguello, there is now news that former welterweight champion Pipino Cuevas is back in training. That just leaves Larry Holmes to begin his comeback. . . . At the Sports Arena later this month is a curious card combining kick boxing, a tribute to Muhammad Ali and a non-title fight by WBA bantamweight champion Richie Sandoval. Also signed is Olympic gold medalist Paul Gonzales. The date scheduled is Oct. 27, which is the same as the possible seventh game of the World Series. Pomona’s Sandoval, incidentally, has had problems getting his mandatory title defense with Gaby Canizales promoted. No TV dates left, so no money either.