Boxing--whose campaign slogan might as well be “Hey! You can’t prove that!"--has had a rough ride these last few weeks.
Rough enough to set off a round of self-examination in a sport that considers open fraudulence business as usual and figures that last month’s federal indictment leads to next month’s big-money fight.
In a crowded and, for the most part, corruption-free sports marketplace, the sweet science is losing appeal, and you can bet boxing’s big-time money men see that clearly.
But can they do anything about it? Do they want to do anything about it?
Basketball has Michael Jordan winning championships, baseball has the pennant races, football has Super Bowls, tennis has the Grand Slam, golf has a built-in upscale audience. . . .
Boxing? Gee, boxing has a pay-per-view audience of millions witnessing grand theft title. That’s what it was when Pernell Whitaker was backhanded with a majority-decision draw last Friday after he had whacked Julio Cesar Chavez all over the ring.
As everybody knows, Chavez is the favored fighter of Don King, who is the favored promoter of the World Boxing Council, which appointed the two foreign judges who made sure the fight was scored a draw.
After the NBA finals, everybody leaves talking about Jordan. After the Super Bowl, everybody leaves talking about another Dallas Cowboy dynasty. After the biggest fight in the last several years, everybody leaves talking about Don King and WBC President Jose Sulaiman.
Boxing: Scoring as simple as your WBCs . . . Boxing: The thrill of victory, and the agony of the cheat.
This doesn’t even include the debacle in an undercard fight, in which Azumah Nelson kept his WBC super-featherweight belt in a draw with James Leija--thanks to cordial scoring by Nelson’s Ghanan compatriot, Keith Dadzie, the same guy who was suspended in Barcelona for oddball judging in the 1992 Olympics.
So here’s another teeny problem boxing has: It is the only major professional sport we know of that allows its championship matches to end in ties. Does the World Series end in the ninth inning of the seventh game so we can all wait for--and pay for--the wonderful rematch two months later? Do they replay the Super Bowl if the game is tied after four quarters and Michael Jackson is ready to sing again?
In boxing, you pay your $30 for pay-per-view, invite the friends in, then see a fight that nobody wins and has WBC officials saying afterward, “Hey, this way, everybody makes money.”
Draw your own conclusions, and pay that $30 for the rematch at your own peril.
Save time: We can tell you who won the fight before it happens.
* The smelly situation evoked the wrath of Bob Arum, King’s main promoting rival, who called the WBC-King relationship “a criminal conspiracy.” Arum vowed to take measures, in conjunction with the Duvas, boxing’s third great power, to limit King’s influence.
Of course, little more than a week earlier, Arum had his own wonderful moment, pulling tubby Tim Tomashek out of his normal life in Green Bay, Wis., and putting him into the ring against World Boxing Organization heavyweight champion Tommy Morrison at Kansas City when Morrison’s scheduled opponent took a fight-night walk.
Arum offered refunds and now says he might have done some things differently. But the show went on, ESPN televised the mismatch and the WBO, in a decision wisely reversed this week, dutifully went along, calling the Morrison-Tomashek debacle a title fight.
“In the advertising market, it’s very, very competitive out there,” said Kevin Monaghan, director of new business development for NBC and the network’s boxing matchmaker back before the network replaced fight telecasts with advertiser-friendly pro beach volleyball. “You had better market your sport correctly.
“Boxing is a sport that refuses to market itself at all. There’s no one out there looking out for the best interests of the sport. Everyone’s looking for their own short-term interest. No one’s looking to see if the sport survives.”
There is no immediate payoff for the promoters to be visionaries, so they aren’t going to bring the sport back to a semblance of respectability. The boxers, all vying for that one big-money spot, can’t do it. The casinos that hold the huge fights are already backing away from a lot of the unsavoriness, so they’re not going to do it.
Who’s left? The state commissions, whose mandate is to keep the sport, at least in their jurisdictions, clean and in control. The most powerful commissions? Nevada and California.
After Chavez-Whitaker, and with all the increased scrutiny it has created, can those two states do anything to revive the sport’s public standing?
“I don’t know what good has come out of (Chavez-Whitaker),” said Richard DeCuir, executive officer of the California State Athletic Commission.
“I do know it makes me more inclined to use the (judges and referees) I know who are good, and that’s my own. A little self-scrutiny never hurts, I don’t believe.”
DeCuir says the California commission has approached the Nevada Athletic Commission, asking for reciprocity, meaning that if managers, promoters or alphabet organizations run into trouble in one state, they can’t simply run to the other.
If the WBC, or any other outfit, wants to put on a fair bout, it can come to Nevada or California. If not, DeCuir is suggesting, it can go elsewhere, and everybody will know why.
DeCuir says the Nevada commission is considering the proposal. If it’s implemented, he says, that will be a start toward eliminating the free-for-all aspect of the sport.
Even if Nevada and California got together in some other fashion, it wouldn’t stop promoters from going to Texas or Missouri or any other state with weak or nonexistent commissions.
But it would be a beginning, perhaps, a glimmer of cooperation in a sport brain-dead for years. And if the sport can’t even try to crawl back into the light of day, then it is probably better off dead.
Boxing: We put the piracy in conspiracy.
The collapse of the Oscar De La Hoya-Michael Carbajal co-main event Dec. 30 at Las Vegas, plus the increasing friction between promoter Bob Arum and Olympic Auditorium owner Jack Needleman, might be hand-delivering De La Hoya’s first world title fight to the new Anaheim Arena. Arum says he has had serious talks with the arena’s managers, and is now penciling in a February title fight for De La Haya in Anaheim, possibly against World Boxing Organization junior-lightweight champion Jimmi Bredahl. Problems involving season-ticket revenue and advertising licensing remain to be ironed out.
The fight would be shown on HBO as the first in the cable network’s new 2 1/2-year deal with De La Hoya that guarantees the 1992 Olympic gold medalist an HBO fight--and seven-figure payday--at least once every six months. De La Hoya, who would be free to do pay-per-view or network fights in between HBO appearances, also has a deal to be an HBO spokesman.
De La Hoya, meanwhile, has an Oct. 30 fight against Narciso Valenzuela in Phoenix on a card with Carbajal, and is apparently close to signing a deal to fight Nov. 17 at Atlantic City on ESPN against an opponent yet to be chosen.
The Carbajal-Humberto (Chiquita) Gonzalez and Rafael Ruelas-Freddie Pendleton portion of the original Dec. 30 card probably will be moved to January, either in Phoenix or Las Vegas. . . . Arum has until mid-October to decide whether to back out or stay committed to the Olympic, but says he believes it won’t be ready by the scheduled January date--and probably not until March or later. That means the Anaheim Arena could be getting a few fights. “I just have no confidence that it will be done by January, just none,” Arum said.
There’s talk that 35-year-old WBC super-featherweight champion Azumah Nelson could be giving up the title to move up to the 135-pound division. The No. 1-ranked super-featherweight contender is Sylmar’s Gabriel Ruelas.