Great champions are revered for their courage and heart. The tradition of a fighter going out on his shield is at the core of boxing lore. But of late, a different phenomenon has been on display in the heavyweight division.
In three so-called heavyweight "championship" fights this year (Wladimir Klitschko vs. Ray Austin, Klitschko vs. Lamon Brewster and Shannon Briggs vs. Sultan Ibragimov), one of the participants seemed to show up and go through the motions to collect a paycheck without trying his utmost to win.
Fighters have always found ways to quit. But this recent epidemic of less-than-scintillating performances has damaged boxing and cast further doubt on the machinations of the world sanctioning bodies that mandate these "championship" fights.
Also on the heavyweight front
Earlier this week, Scott Hirsch (the manager of Jameel McCline) announced his intention to file an official protest with the WBC regarding his fighter's loss by decision to Samuel Peter at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 6. Team McCline is not seeking to overturn the decision (which would require a ruling by the New York State Athletic Commission). Rather, it's asking that the WBC order a rematch based on the silly contentions that (1) referee Mike Ortega gave Peter too much time to recover from the knockdowns he suffered in Round 3 and (2) the fight was closer than the judges' scorecards indicated. In his announcement, Hirsch made the mandatory declaration, "We have a tremendous amount of respect for Jose Sulaiman and the WBC."
If Sulaiman and the WBC grant this request, they will have forfeited whatever respect they have left in the world of boxing. Short of a brown paper bag, it's hard to see how any sane person could side with the McCline camp on this issue.
Team McCline would be better off focusing its energy on reports that a grand jury has heard testimony that McCline received more than $12,000 worth of steroids, human growth hormone and related drugs in 2005 and 2006.
As an aside, it should be noted that, on Oct. 16, the New York State Athletic Commission took action against Dino Duva (Peter's co-promoter) for "misconduct." On three occasions during Peter-McCline, Duva left his seat and, despite being warned repeatedly by commission officials not to do so, sought to look over the shoulder of the commission official who was tabulating the judges' scorecards. There is no evidence that Duva transmitted any information to the Peter corner during the fight. The NYSAC suspended Duva Boxing's license for six months and fined the company $10,000.
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Imagine Joe Louis punching Billy Conn at a prefight news conference. Or Rocky Marciano declaring that he was going to send Archie Moore home to his mother in a body bag. It wouldn't have happened. And if it had, the participants would have been fined (and possibly suspended) by the supervising state athletic commission.
Unfortunately, this type of misconduct is common in boxing today. Ricardo Mayorga and Fernando Vargas are prime examples. Indeed, the promoters of their Nov. 23 matchup seem to have encouraged sexual slurs and other misconduct as a marketing tool to promote the fight.
Trash-talking has become an all-but-mandatory part of most prefight news conferences. In the short run, it might sell a few (very few) tickets. But in the long run, it's demeaning to boxing.
Boxing isn't the only sport that screws up. Other "major" sports are also prone to idiocy from time to time.
Let's start with baseball. Eighth inning, Game 2 of the American League divisional playoff series. The New York Yankees, down one game to none, were leading the Cleveland Indians 1-0 when literally millions of tiny bugs swarmed onto Jacobs Field from Lake Erie.
Rookie sensation Joba Chamberlain was on the mound for the Yankees. The bugs covered him like something out of a bad horror movie. The Yankees trainer all but bathed Charmberlain in bug spray, but it didn't help. The bugs crawled all over his body, flitting up his nose and in his eyes and mouth.
At that point, an intelligent decision-maker would have stopped the game and waited for the bugs to leave. The integrity of play was compromised. But the umpires continued play. Chamberlain was distracted and walked the leadoff batter, then another. He also hit a batter and threw two wild pitches, allowing Cleveland to tie the score.
Forty-five minutes after they arrived, the bugs left. But the damage had been done. The Indians won 2-1 in 11 innings. Yankees manager Joe Torre should have pulled his team off the field and taken the consequences, but he didn't.
The NFL has also had a collective "senior moment" (several of them, actually) this year. There's a new ploy in football. A team lines up for a game-winning field goal with seconds left in the fourth quarter. The clock ticks down … The kick is up … It's good (or no good) … One team rejoices; the other is dejected. The hometown crowd is euphoric (or sad) …
Wait a minute! The kick didn't count. One second before the ball was snapped, Coach So-And-So told the linesman he wanted a timeout. That has happened several times this season; most famously at the close of the Oct. 8 "Monday Night Football" game between Dallas and Buffalo. Cowboys kicker Nick Folk had to kick the winning 53-yard field goal twice.
Change the rule. If the offensive team is lined up for a field goal attempt, the defense shouldn't be allowed to call a timeout if there are fewer than 10 seconds left on the play clock.
Boxing has a lot of problems. But not like these.
A tip of the hat to Larry Holmes, one of the greatest heavyweight champions ever. Last month, Holmes attended the Great Sports Legends Dinner that's held annually to raise money for The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis. Other attendees included John Elway, Magic Johnson, Mark Messier and Gary Player.
Then there were the second-tier sports celebrities, including New York Knicks guard Nate Robinson. At one point, Holmes and boxing memorabilia expert Craig Hamilton found themselves talking with Robinson.
"I hope you're not embarrassed," Robinson told Holmes. "But I don't know who you are."
"I'm not embarrassed," the legendary champion responded. "But you should be."
Thomas Hauser is the lead writer for Secondsout.com. His most recent collection of boxing columns -- "The Greatest Sport of All" -- has been published by the University of Arkansas Press. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.