COMMENTARY : These Heavyweights Are Lightweights


This being a boxing essay, it requires a reach of the imagination to haul the late Rudolf Hess into the act. Yet the howling misadventure of Hitler's former No. 1 pal is useful here.

Remembered is that 50 years ago, Hess had this cockamamie notion he could secretly fly a small plane to London and offer the British a war-ending peace plan they couldn't refuse. More the sneaky, because he wasn't telling Hitler of his idea.

Oh, how he botched it. Hess landed in Scotland, not London, was collared by the British and played out the rest of his life in prison cells in England and Germany.

It is recalled that in Washington, Hess's plight, the Big Bungle, was best captured by the tabloid Daily News's big-lettered headline that shouted: "MELL OF A HESS."

Those words, with minor rearrangement of the lettering, could accurately describe the current state of boxing's heavyweight division. It is hellish. It is a mess. In many ways it is an ongoing slum in multimillion-dollar settings.

Begin with the latest ratings that show Evander Holyfield as champion, Mike Tyson the No. 1 contender, George Foreman No. 2, Razor Ruddock No. 3 and a youngster named Riddick Bowe No. 4. Except for Holyfield, who seems a decent sort with splendid skills, none of them could be considered an ornament to the profession.

And hovering out there in the offing, trying to recycle himself in the manner of George Foreman, who promoted himself into that $12 million payday against Holyfield, is that old moola-smelling rascal, Larry Holmes, once more on the comeback trail after proving he could last three-plus rounds against Tyson. Holmes can brag that he is younger than the 42-year-old Foreman, by one year.

The strange factor is the new admiration for Foreman, a former fat slob who is still fat and still can't fight much, yet curiously has achieved darling status by staying the limit against Holyfield, who beat up on him in every round.

It was 17 years ago that Foreman lost his title to Muhammad Ali, but somehow he is now being taken seriously as an opponent for Tyson, with the pay TV tycoons on his trail. His new image is that of the amiable, cuddly, old guy who beams at everybody, says nice things and can stay upright.

But Foreman wasn't always the nicest guy around. The morning after he stopped champion Joe Frazier in two rounds in Jamaica in 1973 to win the title, he held a news conference, telling us: "I'm the champ now. I'm calling all the shots. You guys listen to me." How charming.

Consider the others in the top ranking. There is Ruddock, who did well for seven rounds against Tyson in March and wound up lucky he wasn't killed by the next punch Tyson was poised to throw before the referee rescued him, badly dazed but upright against the ropes.

Maybe the fight was stopped a mite too soon, leaving the Ruddock crowd to scream "Injustice!" and thus paving the way for the rematch in Vegas next week and the gorgeous $12 million payday for Ruddock, with of course much more for Tyson. All made possible by a hyperactive referee. What luck.

Bowe, who beat somebody of little account the other night, is now being touted as a prime opponent for either Holyfield or Tyson. He is being accelerated far beyond his skill. The amateurish Bowe is a flailer still unacquainted with a straight right hand or any semblance of an uppercut, two of the most valuable tools to carry into a prize ring. He also fights straight up, a knockout waiting to happen, and not to somebody else. This guy is unbeaten in 25 fights?

The most telltale statistic about the top four heavyweights is that incredible collective record -- only five defeats in a total of 166 fights. This says less about them than about their opponents, raising the question: Who are these bums they've been licking all the time, those opponents who lost 161 of those 166 fights? It sounds mighty like a lesson in garbage recycling that every environmental agency could admire.

Of the group, Tyson is the accredited no-good, whose latest activity is reported to be a punch-out of the $20,000 TV camera of an ABC photographer he didn't seem to like. Before the first fight, Tyson called Ruddock a transvestite on television and before their second fight he has told Ruddock, "I came out of bed with girls to beat you last time."

Tyson and his crony promoter, Don King, are the fellows most foul in boxing today. King is the emperor, the ex-con who has been calling most of the shots in the heavyweight class. When he couldn't wheedle Bill Cayton out of his managerial contract with Tyson, King obtained his ends simply by superimposing himself on the situation and styling himself as Tyson's "promoter."

It was King who also tried to job Buster Douglas out of the title Douglas won by flooring Tyson in Tokyo with his ringside screams to the WBC that Tyson was victim of a long count. King is said to own the WBC because of his close relationship with its chairman. In Tokyo, the WBC sought to uphold King but later caved in to public opinion.

Despite King's claims, he apparently is no father figure to Tyson. The Boston Globe has reported that Tyson is griping loudly about the payoffs from King, that he got only $2 million from the $20 million-plus he earned in the Douglas fight and only $2 million thus far from his Ruddock bout. Mike is not pleased and it is noted that Tim Witherspoon has been suing King for $25 million for five years on the same type of claim.

Tyson lately has been showing that he is boss of his own camp. He has just added a fourth trainer to assist Richie Giachetti, Aaron Sowell and Jay Bright. The new man is Panama Lewis. However, when Tyson fights Ruddock in Vegas, Lewis will not be allowed in his corner. Something about a story on Lewis being banned from boxing for life seven years ago for the high crime of loading the gloves of Luis Resto. How fascinating.

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