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Some fights are better left un-fought

02
Jan

We should be grateful that a golden-oldies fight between George Foreman and Larry Holmes never happened. Photo / FightWireImages.com

Dec. 28 is known in some Spanish-speaking cultures as “Dia de los Santos Inocentes,” which translates as “The Day of the Innocent Saints.” It’s basically the equivalent of April Fool’s Day. And at the close of 2009, someone played a Dia de los Santos Inocentes joke on the boxing community that wasn’t funny at all.

The Puerto Rican newspaper El Nueva Diai ran a story claiming that a Felix Trinidad-Miguel Cotto fight was in the works for June at a catchweight between 158 and 164 pounds. The mere thought of a washed-up Trinidad returning to fight 2¾ years after his last bout and 5¾ years after his last win was unsettling enough. But add in the element of Cotto fighting 11 to 17 pounds over his natural weight just to make a little money from a gimmick fight, and you had something fully nauseating.

Fortunately, the story was nothing but a holiday prank. Trinidad vs. Cotto isn’t going to become reality. In a sport where comedy and tragedy often go hand in hand, this joke of a fight really was a joke. One word: Whew.



At a time when nearly everyone who follows boxing is fixated on a fight that should be the richest in the sport’s history and appears closer to a nightmarish implosion with each passing day, Trinidad-Cotto presents an example where a fight not happening is cause for celebration.

This isn’t the first time in boxing history that’s been the case. The granddaddy of such fights – pun intended since both were granddaddies at the time – was George Foreman vs. Larry Holmes, which was scheduled for Jan. 23, 1999.

The pay-per-view fight matching former heavyweight champions with a combined age of 99 appeared to be a done deal. Foreman was guaranteed a purse of $10 million, Holmes $4 million, and each was given a non-refundable 10 percent advance. They went on a press tour, complete with all of the expected one-liners, both from the fighters and from the press in return. “Usually, the doctors check a fighter’s heart,” Foreman offered up, “but with Larry and me, they’re just going to see if we have a pulse.” The media playfully dubbed it “The Battle of the Aged.”

But as 1998 neared its end, it came out that the event’s promoter, Roger Levitt, didn’t have the financial backing he needed and couldn’t provide the fighters with the letters of credit they were requesting in order to go through with the fight. On Jan. 2, three weeks before fight night, Foreman officially pulled out.

And with that, boxing was spared a sad spectacle. “You got two guys almost the same age that are going to fight,” Holmes had said in the build-up to the aborted bout. “We might not fight like young guys today, but we are going to fight.” If that’s the best you can do to sell a fight, then it’s likely for the best that it not happen.

This one was three weeks away from reality when an angel of mercy intervened on behalf of the fans, and the future Hall of Famers were granted the most merciful outcome of all: Foreman pocketed $1 million and Holmes $400,000 without either having to take a punch.

That was a close call, but not nearly as close as Evander Holyfield vs. Henry Akinwande, which came within about 24 hours of disgracing the heavyweight division.

Akinwande, you’ll remember, was disqualified in an alphabet title shot against Lennox Lewis in July ’07, when he did so much hugging that it’s rumored Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger studied the tape in preparation for Brokeback Mountain. Akinwande got his shot at a heavyweight belt and flat-out refused to fight. Somehow, one decision win over Orlin Norris later, Huggin’ Henry again became a mandatory challenger. So a mere 11 months after his pathetic display against Lewis, Akinwande was set for another shot at a fragment of what once was the most coveted prize in all of sports.

The fight was scheduled for June 6, 1998 at Madison Square Garden, but Akinwande’s prefight blood work turned up positive for Hepatitis B. Sadly, the William Joppy-Roberto Duran disgrace on the undercard was rescheduled, but at least the main event never was.

When it comes to heavyweights undeserving of a major opportunity, however, Akinwande has nothing on Wilt Chamberlain, the basketball great who came dangerously close to having his head dribbled around the prize ring by Muhammad Ali in 1971. Ali wasn’t above engaging in sideshow spectacles – see his 1976 farce against pro wrestler Antonio Inoki – and “The Greatest” and “Wilt The Stilt” were close to an agreement for a fight at the Houston Astrodome on July 26, 1971.

However, when Ali lost to Joe Frazier that March in the first fight of their trilogy, Chamberlain had second thoughts, since his goal was to fight for the heavyweight title and Ali no longer laid claim to it. Still, promoter Bob Arum persisted and waved enough money under Wilt’s nose to keep him interested – until April 22, when Walter Cronkite reported on the CBS Evening News that Chamberlain had decided not to sign the final contract. Rumors abounded as to why, from the money falling short of the NBA star’s desires to Chamberlain having used the fight talk as a ploy all along to get more money out of the Lakers, with whom he was negotiating a new contract. Years later, Chamberlain said simply that his father had talked him out of it.

Too bad Papa Chamberlain wasn’t around in 2009 to put the kibosh on Shaquille O’Neal vs. Oscar De La Hoya.

There have been other fights throughout history that were discussed and never came to fruition without leaving fight fans in tears. Second-tier heavyweight Scott LeDoux revealed several years ago that he nearly had a deal to fight Joe Frazier in 1981 – the year “Smokin’ Joe” ended a five-year retirement to fight to a sad 10-round draw against Jumbo Cummings. A near-prime LeDoux against an over-the-hill Frazier might actually have been a competitive fight, but still, the fewer 1980s Joe Frazier fights, the better.

And not every fight we’ve been glad not to see involved heavyweights. It seemed absurd at the time and doubly horrifying looking back on it years later, but on two separate occasions, a Shane Mosley-Arturo Gatti butchering was discussed. Had Gatti beaten Ivan Robinson in ’98, it might have happened in the lightweight division, and a year or two later, as Mosley was transitioning to welterweight, the mismatch came up again. With all due respect to the late Gatti, that was one beatdown we didn’t need to see.

Thankfully, it never came to pass. Hopefully Cotto-Trinidad won’t either.

And while we’re on the subject of fights under discussion that boxing can do without, here’s hoping we don’t see Manny Pacquiao vs. Yuri Foreman or Floyd Mayweather vs. Matthew Hatton. Because if one of those yawners is signed, it will mean the fight that boxing wants and needs, Pacquiao vs. Mayweather, has gone the way of Foreman-Holmes, Holyfield-Akinwande and Ali-Chamberlain.

RASKIN’S RANTS

ÔÇó I got an interesting assortment of responses the last few days to my statement that fan polls shouldn’t be used to determine official award winners. One reader, Justin, thought it was pompous of me and insulting to the readers who support the site for which I write. Another, Jason, agreed completely that fans can’t be trusted to vote for anything, as evidenced by the fact that Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson are both currently on track to be voted into the NBA All-Star Game. And a reader named Chris praised me and wrote, “sometimes ‘elitism’ is just common sense.” Ultimately, if I may clarify, I don’t really object to hardcore fight fans voting on boxing awards. But when the mainstream fans who can barely name a half dozen active boxers can easily log on and vote for the one nominee they’ve heard of, that’s when the process becomes pointless.

ÔÇó On paper, Pacquiao filing his law suit seems like the potential backbreaker for the Mayweather fight. But how’s this for a wacky glass-half-full theory: It’s just a clever negotiating tactic from Pacquiao to get Mayweather and Golden Boy Promotions to back off on the random-testing demands and get the fight signed. After all, with legal bills to contend with now, the defendants all will desperately need their share of the nine-figure pie Pacquiao vs. Mayweather will produce. (Yeah, yeah, I know, “wacky” wasn’t a strong enough word for that theory. I’m just trying to keep hope alive here, people.)

ÔÇó I’ll save the rest of my thoughts on the Pacquiao-Mayweather drama for the next episode of Ring Theory, which Bill Dettloff and I will be recording this coming week. It should be up on RingTV.com on Thursday – and if it isn’t, that can only mean Bill refused to take my battery of requested pre-show blood tests.

Eric Raskin can be reached at [email protected]

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