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Tuesday, June 2, 1998
Updated: March 9, 9:57 PM ET
On the boxing beat

By Eric Karabell

Give us your opinion about the boxing page or the sport in general

March 8: A Real Deal Happy Meal

Everybody has an opinion about what will happen on Saturday night when Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis finally meet in the ring. Well, here's mine.

1. Evander Holyfield Will come through like he always does
2. Lennox Lewis Okay, fella, here's your big shot
3. Michael Grant Moves to No. 2 when Lewis loses
4. Ray Mercer He's here on past merit. Couldn't be for any recent fights
5. David Tua He beat Rahman, kind of. Either way, he's good
6. Hasim Rahman Could be better than Grant. Must recover from Tua loss fast
7. Andrew Golota May still rise to the top
8. Chris Byrd Starting to fall off the face of the earth
9. Kirk Johnson Might be great if ever got tested
10. Ike Ibeabuchi Glad to have you back, Ike
11. George Foreman Would be higher if not for inactivity, which we hope continues
12. Michael Moorer Have to stick with him and hope he does fight again

One can't help but be impressed with the accomplishments of Holyfield. He's now dominated at two weight classes, overcome huge odds in terms of size and health, and has Hall of Fame and all-time great written all over him. He's been in big fights and proved his mettle time and time again.

Then there's the overrated Lewis. (If you're a regular reader, you know I'm not a big Lewis fan.) I don't want to deflect anyone from thinking this is one of those battles for the ages, but Lewis has accomplished virtually nothing! Sure, a lot of what has happened to him hasn't been his fault (see Henry Akinwande's octopus impression, Andrew Golota's preparation problem, etc.), but some of it certainly has been. If you can get past the Oliver McCall close-your-eyes punch -- and personally I can't (that would never happen to Holyfield) -- what win has impressed you? Yep, same here.

Let's look at Lewis' fights since the McCall disaster, which was in Sept. 1994. Forget about the Lionel Butler and Justin Fortune comeback fights. Tommy Morrison was a punching bag and the Ray Mercer fight ended dead even after 10 rounds with Lewis getting the close decision. Lewis made McCall cry in their rematch, but that was without even hitting him, so I have trouble crediting him with much. I admit that's not Lewis' fault, but McCall was shot even before he beat Lewis.

Then came Akinwande, Golota, Shannon Briggs and Zeljko Mavrovic. Briggs, given a gift decision over George Foreman, just about knocked Lewis out in the first round before succumbing a few rounds later. Mavrovic managed to take Lewis the distance. It's possible that Golota suffered from Michael Spinks syndrome (aptly named for his career-ending Mike Tyson sitdown) and couldn't handle the pressure of facing Lewis. If anything in a strange career, Golota has always showed he could fight. Something must have been wrong with him when he faced Lewis.

Regardless, this is not an impressive cast of characters. There's no Holyfield or Riddick Bowe or Mike Tyson on his pro record ... Emanuel Steward, Lewis' respected trainer, says that his charge has shown up and taken care of business each time he's been tested. I'd like to ask Manny which time that was. Against Bowe in the Olympics? The Razor Ruddock fight? Certainly not against Mercer.

At this point, Lewis' most impressive victory is the fact he has managed to fool the sport of boxing into thinking he's done something. I know a lot of boxing is about image and impression and such, but come on. Lewis won his first title when Bowe tossed the WBC belt into the trash. He won his second title when McCall imploded. Lewis could be the spokesperson for any group preaching abstinence. He's avoided just about every good heavyweight out there.

Holyfield says he'll dispose of Lewis in three rounds. It may take a little longer, but I'll say The Real Deal bursts this Lewis bubble quite easily.

Feb. 22: Dose of reality

A few minutes after Felix Trinidad issued Pernell Whitaker the first decisive loss of his Hall of Fame career, and make no mistake, it was a blowout, HBO's Larry Merchant posed the obvious question. Foolishly, I was hoping to hear the ever-cocky Sweet Pea answer it and own up to the worst performance he's ever had.

1. Roy Jones By default
2. Oscar De La Hoya It wouldn't be such a crime had he lost
3. Felix Trinidad I'm surprised how easy he dismantled Sweet Pea
4. Floyd Mayweather Jr. His TNT outing was a disappointment
5. Ike Quartey Look, he nearly won. Let's see it again
6. Shane Mosley Still needs a signature fight
7. Naseem Hamed A showman, but a good fighter
8. Ricardo Lopez It's about time he moved up!
9. Johnny Tapia Romero rematch in the works
10. Evander Holyfield I still think he'd rather have Tyson
11. Mark Johnson Best of the flys, but we need more
12. Bernard Hopkins King of the middleweights

But then I remembered, no fighters admit losing. It's just not in their nature. Especially someone like Whitaker, who finally had to deal with the "L" word after having a right to blame the world for each of the previous blemishes on his record.

Merchant praised Whitaker for his guts and asked him, more or less, what it felt like to finally suffer a defeat in which nobody could argue the decision. Of course, Whitaker did argue it. You see, Whitaker really did beat Jose Luis Ramirez 11 years ago, he really did beat Julio Cesar Chavez in 1993, and many argue that Oscar De La Hoya should have a loss on his ledger, thanks to Whitaker.

He had no idea how to answer Merchant's question. Maybe after Whitaker watches the tape he'll realize that the best defensive boxer of this era, and maybe ever, has finally seen the last of his pound-for-pound days. I suspect his management knows that already.

Can Whitaker still outbox just about every welterweight out there and win another title? Of course he can, but that's not what guys like him are looking for. Whitaker is looking for respect, and six-figure paydays. He's looking for rematches with Trinidad and De La Hoya and probably Chavez, too. Unfinished business, you know. For those reasons, we are guaranteed to see Whitaker fighting on TV again, at least when his broken jaw heals. And I'm fine with that. He's still a wonderful fighter, no matter what he looked like against Trinidad.

"Off this fight, I'd say no, he shouldn't fight again," longtime respected cornerman Lou Duva said right after the fight. "But you don't want to make any quick decisions."

Fair enough. We're not looking for retirement here, just reality. Whitaker already has everyone's vote for the Hall of Fame, but his postfight ramblings took the spotlight off of where it should've been, on Trinidad. Trinidad had an easier time with Whitaker, the same guy De La Hoya still has nightmares about, but there are those who argue that Trinidad dismantled a fighter who looked nothing like the elusive wizard De La Hoya could never catch up with less than two years ago. Those same people think Trinidad deserves a higher spot on the pound-for-pound list than Oscar. I think a case can be made. He connected with 54 percent of his punches, an extraordinary figure in any fight, let alone against Whitaker. For now I'm sticking with De La Hoya at No. 2 and moving Trinidad to No. 3.

Immediately all attention now focuses on a Trinidad-De La Hoya match. If you were Bob Arum, would you risk De La Hoya against anything tougher than Oba Carr? Let the public pressure build for, oh, say a year or so, then match them up.

The obvious question someone like Merchant should ask me is, why be so greedy? You just saw two of the biggest welterweight fights of the last five years! Well, Larry, I guess it's just not in the nature of fight fans to have patience. And that's reality.

Feb. 13: Golden ending

Going into the final round on Saturday night, I had Ike Quartey ahead of Oscar De La Hoya on my scorecard by two points. As a result, I had the final result a draw. I make no apologies for it.

This next line is going to be controversial, but I'm removing The Golden Boy from the top of my pound-for-pound list. I can already hear the fan mail now. Let me explain.

De La Hoya's incredible 12th-round salvo, in which he not only secured his greatness in the boxing community but nearly killed Quartey in the process, was a beautiful thing to watch. However, the fact is I thought he was losing at that point. Give him all the credit in the world for coming through when he needed to (though, according to the weak judges, he didn't need to), but he very nearly lost the fight. And combined with the Pernell Whitaker war, that makes two near-loss experiences.

I didn't want to do it, but, Roy Jones, I now have to regard you as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world.

My removal of Oscar at the top shouldn't be taken the wrong way. He did come through like a champion in overcoming a generally lukewarm performance. After Quartey took a seat early in the sixth round, the man from Ghana was really the one in control for a few rounds. Quartey returned the knockdown favor later in the sixth and built a lead by the 10th. I thought for sure we were going to see a new WBC welterweight champion.

De La Hoya certainly responded. Mitch Halpern deserves kudos for letting the fight continue when De La Hoya was seemingly on his way to decapitating Quartey. There aren't too many times each year in boxing that you stand up out of your seat and yell at the TV, but I was doing just that at that point and pleading with Halpern to not stop the fight. He didn't. Good thing Richard Steele had the undercard, not the main event. I was also pleading with Quartey to fight back, which he kind of was.

You can make the case that De La Hoya deserves the No. 1 pound-for-pound slot more than ever because of the way he won the fight (assuming you think he won). He came back when things didn't look real good, and did what champions do. Other than Rocky Marciano, everyone has lost at some point. The great ones, when they inevitably lose, come back and win the rematch. In a way I was hoping to see just that. Had De La Hoya lost the fight, Bob Arum would have had the rematch signed before James Brown was off the air. Now we're not likely to see De La Hoya and Quartey mix it up again. Oba Carr, fresh off a less-than-thrilling standoff with Frankie Randall earlier that night, gets a third shot at a major world champion in a title fight. He doesn't deserve it. I want Ike.

Quartey has the best jab in boxing, but curiously enough he stopped using it in the later rounds. The 10th and 11th rounds weren't vintage De La Hoya by any means. He did enough to win the rounds, but had he merely won the 12th and not dominated, I would've been disappointed with him winning the decision. The way it ended, with De La Hoya winning the fight, is something nobody can argue with. But this was such a close fight that I find it hard to justify De La Hoya winning by more than two points. I've seen some people giving Oscar the fight by five and six points, and I just don't see how. You can easily make the case that Quartey, despite falling at the end, won by a point. I don't subscribe to the line that you have to take the title from the champion by winning impressively. A scorecard is a scorecard, no matter who is the titlist. Mine ended up even.

No matter who you felt won, there's no argument over how good this fight was, and how good it is for boxing. We may have already seen the fight of the year. I mean, the sixth round, in which each fighter took a seat, was a classic. Some years go by in which no major title fights feature a knockdown of each fighter in the same round. We already have this in the first major fight of the year. Quartey hadn't fought in 16 months, but he still looked the more active fighter, and he didn't tire. If you didn't know much about the Ghana native before, you certainly know him now. I hope we get to see him again in a major fight soon, because he earned better than to lose a tough fight and that disappear while Oba Carr suddenly becomes popular.

In pound-for-pound terms, this is all it takes to shift things, since De La Hoya and Jones were barely separable anyway. In fact, I felt a little guilty with De La Hoya at the top since the Whitaker fight. I thought he beat Sweet Pea by a point. Most people I encounter think Oscar lost that one. Meanwhile, Jones has never even come close to a legitimate loss. He would've knocked Montell Griffin out if he hadn't chosen to hit him while he was taking a knee. Jones destroyed him in the rematch. There's no way De La Hoya would destroy either Quartey or Whitaker if had the chance, which he probably never will. And on the nice-guy-o-meter, De La Hoya drops a bit for his postfight excuses and weak reasoning for not wanting a rematch. De La Hoya said there are more exciting fights out there for him. Really? More exciting than this?

De La Hoya has now been in two wars and plenty of people think he lost both. Fair or not, he's held to a higher standard than Jones because he faces tougher competition. Now he has to come back and earn the top spot with a big win, and beating Carr won't do it. He has to impressively beat Quartey or the winner of what should be another welterweight classic this week, Trinidad-Whitaker.

Promoter Dino Duva, representing Quartey, said it perfectly after the fight: When it's this close, you can't argue when it doesn't go your way. But there are only so many times you can give Oscar the benefit of the doubt. Bottom line is this is great for boxing and they should do it again.

Feb. 9: Enough already!

Mike Tyson this, Mike Tyson that. I'm getting sick of the whole thing. Has everyone forgotten that the best fighter in the world, which, by the way, Tyson hasn't been in more than a decade, is fighting this weekend?

I don't want to see Iron Mike go to prison. I understand that he's likely on his way back to the joint not merely because he kicked an old man in the groin following a traffic accident, but because of the total package; his brutal history of getting in trouble, in and out of the ring. By the way, if we send every person who gets a little too angry after a car wreck to prison, we're going to have to start turning a few of our 50 states into prisons, but that's a story for another day.

Isn't it time, especially this week, that we just focus on boxing, not the unfortunate Tyson soap opera? We can talk about it, write about it, analyze it all we want, but like Don King, it's just never going to go away. Deep down I care how much jail time he gets and how much he owes the IRS and who is calling the shots in his camp, but in reality all that matters is the real reason we watch boxing. And it clearly is no longer Tyson.

The sport, which is actually thriving now, does not need Tyson or the embarrassment that comes with him. Not only doesn't boxing need this trouble, it should get rid of it. Boxing has squeezed all the life out of the biggest cash cow in history, so much so that you and I, while we may not admit it, apparently watched Tyson's pitiful performance against Frans Botha in January. Someone watched it, because it did really well on pay-per-view. And someone apparently watched it again when it was replayed on Showtime a week later.

However, Oscar De La Hoya's showdown with Ike Quartey Saturday night should be what people are talking about this week, as well as the equally long-awaited match between Felix Trinidad and Pernell Whitaker on Feb. 20. In four weeks the biggest heavyweight fight of the decade (along with Tyson-Holyfield I, I suppose) will take place. Instead, it's Tyson, Tyson, Tyson. Enough already!

Let's face it, boxing has a crummy image to start with, so relying on Tyson for anything positive is a bad idea. Was I interested before the Botha debacle? Of course, because no fighter in this era has brought this kind of twisted excitement to boxing, maybe any sport. (Alright, I grant you Dennis Rodman, but he's the only other one.) Tyson sells tickets and attracts pay-per-view numbers. Period.

But when you see Tyson promoted as the sport's savior, it's embarrassing. He's a freak show, and merely a shell of not only his true championship days but even his Peter McNeeley days. I ranked him in the top 10 among heavyweights because I think with proper training, both physically and mentally, he can still destroy certain limited contenders. I never thought he'd destroy Botha. I felt all along that Botha would give him some problems, which he did in winning all four of the completed rounds. I picked Tyson to win on points. Apparently, since Botha has a rock-hard chin, Tyson hasn't lost his power. That's enough in the heavyweight class to get ranked. The rest of his game, predictably, along with his career after this week's events, is history.

We all need to move on, though it's difficult since Tyson is liable to bite someone's ears or try to rip their arms out of the sockets. These are the highlights from his last two outings, at least in the ring. Boxing has many other personalities, and some of them can even fight pretty well. We all need to realize that De La Hoya and Roy Jones and all the other pound-for-pound entrants are never going to be the 1988 version of Mike Tyson, the one who not only was the best and most feared fighter on the planet, but also the guy most likely to end up on the cover of your supermarket tabloid. Guys like Tyson and Rodman just don't come along too often.

De La Hoya is getting married soon, to an actress from some show called "Pacific Blue," and I promise you the fact that she is already pregnant is not nearly enough to land The Golden Boy in any public hot water. There's no interest, and this is concerning the best fighter in the world. A decade ago Tyson could make the 11 o'clock news just by being seen at a bar, whether he did something unusual or not. Maybe this is a good thing, though. Don't boxing fans want the sport to be about fighters (in the ring) and fights (also in the ring)? We want SportsCenter to show up at De La Hoya-Quartey, not Tyson's trial in Maryland.

Here's what we know, or can reasonably predict: Iron Mike's going back to the clink, maybe for a really long time after Indiana gets involved and pulls the plug on the probation. Even if Tyson only serves a few months in Maryland and trains like a lion, he won't be fighting again this year. Any day now Nevada will take back the license it recently granted him. Remember how everyone in boxing lived and died with that license mess?

Everything Tyson does, and it's really no different today than it was a year ago or five years ago, makes news, and that won't change. What should change is what everyone pays attention to when it comes to boxing. By the way, if Tyson only serves a few months in prison and can get a license to fight, I guarantee he will perform for all of us again. He will return. Axel Schulz and a horde of others are already lining up.

It's a shame the only reason people are interested in boxing this week is because of Tyson, but we're used to that. I guess De La Hoya is going to have to rob a bank or something.

Feb. 3: Pound-for-pound we go

Frans Botha as a legitimate comeback foe? Andrew Golota against the Boogeyman? Roy Jones and a cop? Maybe it's just me, but January wasn't exactly the most exciting month for boxing, despite the return to the ring of Maryland's most renowned backseat driver/fighter.

Months like February, in which there are two major welterweight fights, don't come around often. Check that, they never happen. We've been waiting years for this division to produce a pair of fights like this, and we get both in the span of a week. And I'm not talking about Oba Carr vs. Frankie Randall, though I must admit that's a pretty appealing No. 3.

Oscar De La Hoya has been so pampered in his career you have to wonder if Bob Arum was ever going to test him. Why he is actually letting him fight Ike Quartey on the 13th is a question a lot of us have been asking. In fact, the first time they were supposed to fight, Arum pulled his Golden Boy out with some questionable injury. De La Hoya makes millions fighting guys tailor made for him. This match will be tougher for De La Hoya than Pernell Whitaker was, or at least more dangerous. Quartey has pop, though the fact he last fought just before the '97-98 NBA season tipped off is a concern.

I'm one of the few who still rank De La Hoya as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world, though I confess I'm looking forward to him either looking great or horrible, so the top spot becomes more definitive. I've stuck with Oscar as No. 1 for years because I think he got there before Roy Jones did and hasn't done anything to lose that honor. Likewise, Jones has done nothing to earn it. After De La Hoya-Quartey we should know more. My pick is De La Hoya by difficult decision, which, depending on how it happens, could push Jones to No. 1 in my book.

Plenty of people believe De La Hoya lost to Whitaker, though I'm not one of them. It probably could've gone either way. I don't think Felix Trinidad will be as lucky when he takes on Whitaker on the 20th. Whitaker has never lost badly, if he's lost at all. He manages to outsmart everyone, partly by lulling them to sleep and outboxing them. It may not be real exciting, but it counts just the same on the scorecards. By the way, nobody in this era has been better at fighting the way Whitaker has. Power is not an issue with him but cunning is. De La Hoya was able to deal with it enough to survive. I'm not so sure about Trinidad.

"Tito" has been high up on most pound-for-pound lists for five years, though much of that has been based on potential, which has never really come to fruition. He's hit the canvas a number of times, to such heroes as Anthony Stephens, and his biggest wins are over one-dimensional Yori Boy Campas and Carr. I've never been that impressed, though I have Trinidad at No. 4 pound-for-pound because nobody else deserves to be higher. Trinidad's terrific power won't help him much against Whitaker. Is Whitaker, who can't stay out of trouble, a nice guy? Of course not, but you're not going to dinner and a movie with him. You're watching him fight, and I say he makes Trinidad look silly and wins on points.

Where will the actions of February leave boxing's top division (at least below the heavies)? It leaves it in great shape. We've been waiting for years for protected kids De La Hoya and Trinidad to be tested like some of the new breed of kids (Mayweather, Mosley, etc.). This month it finally happens.

Jan. 11: Same ol' Tyson

Mike Tyson's new trainer, the very respected Tommy Brooks, says he wants to get Iron Mike to fight like he did when he was 20. You know, back when Tyson blew out everyone in sight with a controlled rage seldom seen since. Good luck.

With all due respect to Kevin Rooney, Brooks, who formerly trained Evander Holyfield, the guy who knocked Tyson off his comeback horse and then frustrated him so much in the rematch that the challenger sunk to biting, is the best trainer Tyson has ever had. But it still may not be enough.

Tyson returns to the ring (doesn't it seem like he's always coming back from something?) on Saturday night against Frans Botha, a fighter known fondly as "The White Buffalo." Will we see a different Tyson than we have for much of this decade, a watered-down version of the killer who had Michael Spinks so scared that he was in retirement a mere seconds after their 90-second disgrace? Don't bet on it.

Brooks can teach Tyson everything in the book, or, at least his book, but it still comes down to execution. He can teach Tyson how he needs to be patient, not wild, when he attacks, how he needs to throw more combinations, how he needs more head movement and how he needs to control his rage -- it doesn't matter what he tells him. Tyson will still resort back to being the raw street fighter that he's been all decade if Botha can get him to that point.

Botha may not be all that threatening as a comeback opponent, but I still think he's a strange choice here. He does have some ability, which differentiates him from the infamous Peter McNeeley, Tyson's choice in 1995 after his prison term ended. Botha, who actually captured the IBF heavyweight title and held it a month before he was stripped due to testing positive for steroid use, is not going to get knocked out. So it's likely that he will not make Tyson look very good.

Michael Moorer punished Botha for much of their 1996 championship fight, and the then-unbeaten Botha never went down. The fight was stopped in the final round, with Moorer ahead, and Botha helpless on the ropes. But he fought well and image-wise clearly helped his career, proving he was at least championship quality. He hasn't lost since, and, earns his greatest payday on Saturday.

What should we expect from Botha? He's a durable grappler, a tough South African who doesn't punch particularly hard but does know how to fight. Although our proof was against only one decent fighter, he appears to have a world-class chin. Watching this "brawl" on Saturday may not be quite like watching Henry Akinwande in non-action, but there's little doubt Botha's best shot is to hold a lot and frustrate Tyson, forcing him to do something silly. Botha also needs to take a page out of Holyfield's book, and throw his punches first and not wait around to counterpunch.

Boxing is glad to have Tyson back. Getting Holyfield and Lennox Lewis together just isn't enough. The sport needs that Iron back in its diet. But Tyson blew up on a conference call as recently as last week, and his surly attitude has come across numerous times since his year-long ban was lifted a few months ago. Brooks can teach his new dog all the tricks he wants, but it's still going to be up to Tyson to fight smart. Against a non-puncher like Botha, it probably won't matter, but if Holyfield or Lewis ever come calling, then...

For this fight, I think it's pretty obvious: Tyson on points.

Dec. 23: Two for the price of one

HBO's Larry Merchant boldly said it was not only the most important fight in the heavyweight division in 1998, but in any division. Pretty strong words, wouldn't you say?

Merchant wasn't merely trying to keep viewers tuned in when he opened Saturday's broadcast discussing the David Tua-Hasim Rahman fight. He was serious. And in his defense, he had a point. Let's tone it down and say it was the most important fight in the heavyweight division, because, the division's top veteran guys (Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis) proved very little this year.

Both Tua and Rahman are young and very talented, and the fight was critical to their futures and would have a direct bearing on the heavyweight division, unless ...

unless the outcome of the fight was controversial, which it was. But still, we can deal with what did happen and what may happen.

What we do know from watching Rahman rock Tua's world for eight or so round and then have Tua win on a quick stoppage in the 10th is that both these guys are good. At this point, and to Chris Byrd fans I do not apologize, Tua, Rahman and Michael Grant are head and shoulders above the rest of the young heavyweight class.

But Tua does not deserve to fight the winner of the Evander Holyfield-Lennox Lewis bout in the spring. Rahman probably deserves it more. The easy solution is to have them fight again. If Rahman's people have their way, HBO will have them meet again. Because it would be a big money fight, Tua's people may even agree to it.

Rahman is big and strong, much like Grant, but a little unpolished. He hits hard and sports a first-class jab, which he used to befuddle Tua. Rahman had a 14-inch reach advantage, which is something you won't see every day in any division.

Tua, however, is a lot like Mike Tyson. He bulls his way in head first, throws a mean left hook, seems to have this soft side and hits hard. He gets hit a bit, and hasn't shown a big jab. He has good people in his corner, which is a big plus. In Tua's only loss, a shocker to Ike Ibeabuchi, Tua relied too much on the big left hook and never connected. He didn't do much against Rahman until the end, when he got a huge break.

The fact that Tua hit Rahman after the bell for the ninth round sounded, and that became the main reason Rahman was disoriented and thus pummeled into the stoppage early in the 10th, is a shame. Not only was the ending of the fight questionable, but Tua got to that point with the ninth-round foul. What's going on in boxing? Are the referees in this sport struggling as much as those in the NFL?

I think Rahman has a better future than Tua, though that doesn't mean both guys can't become formidable champions. The best fighters don't always earn the title shots and they don't always win them. Rahman was way ahead on two of the judges' cards on Saturday, and could have cruised to a well-earned win.

In the end, I say both guys won. Tua was on his way to a bad loss, and now he gets, at worst, a more lucrative rematch. At best he gets on the fast track to a world title shot. Rahman suffers his first loss, not quite in the same way Roy Jones did, but still in a curious way. He does not lose marketability, or at least he shouldn't.

It was the a pretty important fight, and a great way to end the year. Here's to hoping these guys meet again in the first, most important heavyweight fight of 1999.