Five fights that should’ve been made … but weren’t
Things being what they are in the bizarre world of negotiations for high-stakes professional fights, it’s premature to call the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather fight dead.
There is much posturing that must yet occur, and many more threatened lawsuits and countersuits. And stay tuned for more publicist-authored press releases that purport to contain quotes from the fighters that would suggest that, despite all evidence to the contrary, both men speak in sentences that are grammatically perfect and, curiously, conclude exclusively with exclamation points.
This is the business we’re in.
At any rate, the amount of money at stake exerts enormous pressure on all sides to get the deal done. There are many summer homes, Lamborghinis and Ivy League college educations at risk, not to mention the burgeoning trust funds of Bob Arum’s as-yet unborn great-great-great-great grandchildren.
The involved parties should not dawdle. History tells us that unlikely circumstances, bruised egos and other tragedies and human failings often conspire to prevent even the most-lucrative and attractive fights from happening. Here are a five examples.
JAKE LAMOTTA-MARCEL CERDAN II
You couldn’t blame Cerdan for remaining on his stool after the ninth round of his June, 1949 middleweight title defense against LaMotta. Fighting in front of 22,185 fans at Detroit’s Briggs Stadium, Cerdan reportedly tore a shoulder muscle in the first round while throwing a left hook. In the fourth, he tried another hook. Referee Johnny Weber later told the press he’d “heard something pop,” and from the fifth through the ninth, LaMotta took Cerdan apart.
Lew Burston, Cerdan’s American representative, told the press afterward: “The man can’t do himself justice. Why kill him? He has a return bout.” It seemed a reasonable position.
On Oct. 27, Cerdan was on an Air France Constellation plane headed from France to New York for the rematch when the aircraft veered off course and slammed into 3,600-foot Monte Redondo in the Azores. All 48 passengers aboard were killed.
“They loved him before,” fight manager Irving Cohen said on learning of Cerdan’s death. “Now that he’s dead, they’ll love him even more. Now they’ll realize how great he really was.”
LENNOX LEWIS-RIDDICK BOWE
On Halloween 1992, Lewis flattened Razor Ruddock in two rounds in a WBC title eliminator in London. Two weeks later, Bowe out-slugged and outpointed Evander Holyfield in Las Vegas to win the undisputed heavyweight title.
The WBC wanted Bowe to defend against Lewis. Bowe and renegade manager Rock Newman flipped off the WBC and threw their belt in the trash — most days a good idea, but this time not so much. The WBC named Lewis its champion.
At any point over the next four years, Bowe-Lewis was the biggest fight that could be made. Many believed Bowe was afraid of Lewis, who had stopped him in the gold-medal super heavyweight match of the 1988 Olympics.
“Bowe is just scared witless,” Lewis’ manager, Frank Maloney, told THE RING after Lewis stopped Ruddock. “I made an offer of $12-million for Bowe to come to London to defend his title against Lewis. But I’ll be honest and say I don’t think it will happen.”
Bowe insisted that was never the case. And as late as 1996, Newman claimed he was still trying to make the fight happen.
“(Bowe) has always wanted to fight Lennox Lewis, and that is something we will continue to try and arrange,” Newman told KO magazine. “I think that’s a huge fight in the heavyweight division ÔÇª for a lot of reasons — personal, professional, status and otherwise — that’s the fight Riddick desires, and I’ll try to make it reality.” They didn’t try hard enough.
LENNOX LEWIS-IKE IBEABUCHI
There wasn’t a hotter heavyweight in the world than Ibeabuchi in March 1999. He’d just obliterated undefeated Chris Byrd in five rounds and was slated to make more than $1-million to face fellow undefeated prospect Michael Grant on HBO.
The knockout of Byrd marked Ibeabuchi’s second win over a highly rated undefeated contender; two years earlier, he’d outlasted David Tua in a magnificent slugfest.
Provided he beat Grant, which was all but a certainty, a shot at champion Lennox Lewis loomed.
“Champions fight once a year. Everyone knows I deserve a title shot. When is it going to come?” Ibeabuchi asked during an interview with KO magazine. “I don’t need to have 100 fights before I fight for a world title.”
There was one problem: Ibeabuchi was unhinged. He snatched his estranged girlfriend’s son and drove into a highway overpass at 65 mph. He was jailed briefly then imprisoned again for violating bail restrictions. There were several other “incidents.”
Then, on July 22, Las Vegas police arrested Ibeabuchi after an incident involving a lap dancer in a hotel room. He eventually pleaded guilty to battery with intent to commit a crime and attempted sexual assault. He has been denied parole three times.
Grant got the title shot that almost certainly would have gone to Ibeabuchi. He didn’t last two full rounds.
EVANDER HOLYFIELD-MIKE TYSON
Yes, Holyfield and Tyson fought twice, with Holyfield winning both times. But the two were scheduled to fight years before they did and Tyson apologists have long held that the outcome would have been different if Tyson hadn’t spent three years in prison during what would have been his physical prime. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Holyfield and Tyson were first scheduled to meet right after Tyson disposed of under-achieving Buster Douglas in Tokyo in February 1990. That became moot, of course, when Douglas knocked out Tyson, then lost to Holyfield.
After Tyson twice beat Razor Ruddock, the two were scheduled to meet on Nov. 8, 1992 in Las Vegas. But on Sept. 9, Tyson was indicted for raping Desiree Washington. The fight was in jeopardy.
“Ever since they started the investigation we have been prepared for this,” said Dan Duva, the fight’s promoter. “We knew all along there was a likelihood this would happen. Mike Tyson has a contractual and constitutional right to fight.”
Duva’s motivation was clear: The fight would do huge numbers. The Caesars Palace outdoor stadium, which sat 15,000 spectators, was sold out 12 days after the fight was signed. TVKO, the pay-per-view network airing the fight, expected huge buy rates. Many predicted it would be the highest-grossing fight ever.
On Feb. 10, a jury found Tyson guilty. Richard Hoffer, writing for Sports Illustrated, observed, “Had (Tyson) been able to meet Holyfield ÔÇª and regain his title in the violent fashion that is so well rewarded in boxing, we might have continued to accommodate his lesser flagrancies as part of the package.”
He didn’t get the chance until five years later. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. But maybe it would have.
BERNARD HOPKINS-ROY JONES II
We all know the story here. This fight should have happened when the two were at the top of their games and the boxing world cared. That was in February 2002 when the two fought on a split HBO telecast, presumably toward making the rematch.
Hopkins, fresh off his upset of Felix Trinidad, pounded Carl Daniels for 10 rounds in Reading, Pa., in defense of the world middleweight title. In Miami, Jones defended the light heavyweight belt against hapless Australian Glen Kelly, scoring a seventh-round knockout.
Afterward, we saw a super fight break down right in front of us.
Hopkins challenged Jones to face him the following June with a 50-50 purse split. Jones countered that he’d already beaten Hopkins so why bother?
Hopkins tried again, saying Jones couldn’t claim to be the best fighter in the world since he hadn’t beaten anyone of note in years. And that if anyone deserved the bigger piece of pie, it should be him.
Again Jones fell back on his win over Hopkins in their first fight, and if he was to fight him again, which he clearly didn’t have to do since he’d already beaten him, he should get the lion’s share. It went on like that. And on. And on.
Fast forward seven long years and losses by both guys. They finally agree to do it and all Jones has to do is get by Danny Green. He can’t do it; Green pancakes him in a round. They won’t have to worry now about who gets the bigger piece of pie.
Some random observations from last week:
I don’t know what to suggest concerning the Pacquiao-Mayweather impasse. I don’t blame Mayweather for wanting stricter testing; what Pacquiao has done is unprecedented. On the other hand, I don’t blame Pacquiao for telling him to go screw himself. They’re both justified. This is why I wouldn’t have been a great trial judge or diplomat. ÔÇª
If Mayweather-Pacquiao happens, and I think it will, how about Timothy Bradley-Paulie Malignaggi on the undercard? Yeah, I know, I’m dreaming. ÔÇª
I wrote a whole column on this subject a few years ago (no longer available online), but it’s worth repeating here if only briefly: you want the whole steroids-in-sports issue to go away? Legalize them. Make them available to anyone who wants them. Let them sprinkle steroids on their damn Wheaties if they want. Banning performance enhancing drugs is arbitrary, illogical and ultimately impossible. ÔÇª
In case you missed it, Jones is claiming Green’s hand wraps were doctored. With what, dynamite? ÔÇª
Reports abound that Ricky Hatton is close to a fight with Juan Manuel Marquez. You’ve got to admire Hatton’s gumption, if not his intelligence.