Sunday, April 02, 2023  |


A decade after losing to Lewis, Grant still believes

Fighters Network

“This is his Rocky movie.”

It seems unusual to cast a 6-foot-7, 260-pound man built like Ivan Drago in the role of Rocky Balboa, but that’s exactly what promoter Kathy Duva did on a recent conference call in reference to Michael Grant. This Saturday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., Grant will enter the ring as about an 8-1 betting underdog according to the various online sports books, even though it’s his opponent – 6-1, 220-pound Tomasz Adamek – who’s physically cut from a Rocky-like mold.

However, nobody who has paid attention to the careers of the two fighters should be surprised by Grant’s underdog status. If anything, the surprise came when the fight was signed and many observers did a double-take because they didn’t realize Grant was still an active boxer.

Adamek is one of the Top Five heavyweights in the world, mostly because of an impressive victory over Chris Arreola in April. Grant was once one of the Top Five heavyweights in the world. But it’s been more than a decade since you could say that.

Yes, that’s right, it seems hard to believe, but it’s been over 10 years since Grant, then among the hottest young heavyweights in the world, challenged Lennox Lewis for the championship. Grant was knocked down three times in the first round (injuring his knee on the way down the third time) and taken out in the second.

His knee healed, he returned 15 months later, ate a left hook from Jameel McCline, broke his ankle on the way down and lost by TKO in 43 seconds. Seven straight wins against modest opposition followed, then Grant suffered a brutal seven-round stoppage loss to then-undefeated Dominick Guinn. To most, it seemed that the 30-year-old Grant was finished.

But he believed otherwise. It’s been a slow journey with little fanfare and no opposition ranked in anybody’s Top 50, but Grant has managed to win eight straight over the last 6¾ years.

Michael Grant turned 38 years old a few weeks ago. He’s in a significant fight again. Most observers are just waiting to see how hard the big man will fall this time. But Grant, a man of faith to the end, insists we’re going to see him rise instead.

“Time is a good thing. People look at time as getting old, but it brings wisdom. It brings experience and patience and endurance,” said Grant, a religious man who walks a fine line between deep philosophy and empty platitudes with every sentence. “I’m absolutely a better fighter now than I was 10 years ago. I’m stronger mentally and stronger physically. We are an impatient nation. We don’t want to wait for nothing. We want instant gratification right then and there.

“But I’m happy with the development and what I’ve been through and what I’ve endured, and this is a blessing, man, for Adamek to have given me this opportunity. I’m extremely grateful for this.”

You could read into that gratitude that Grant hasn’t earned a fight of this magnitude. But what heavyweights do earn their opportunities nowadays? The division is so shallow behind Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko that one good win makes you a top contender, and veterans who haven’t scored a major victory since the 1990s can hang around and cash in on their names. For Pete’s (McNeeley, that is) sake, Shannon Briggs will challenge Vitali Klitschko next! In a division that is constantly looking for somebody, anybody to fill the opponent slot, there’s incentive for older heavyweights to stay in the mix.

In Grant’s case, he’s hung around because he honestly didn’t feel his story was done being written. Even after the punishing loss to Guinn – the point at which most observers wrote him off and/or wanted him to retire – Grant never once thought seriously about hanging up the gloves.

“I knew then that Teddy Atlas wasn’t the right trainer for me,” Grant said. “This is not to speak negatively of Teddy, because Teddy’s a hell of a trainer. But certain trainers are not for certain fighters, and at that point in time, I wasn’t ready for Teddy. I knew that I had a lot of information and a lot of knowledge that I’d gained, and I knew that retirement wasn’t an option because I wanted to put everything that I’ve learned through the years out on the table. And, hey, you’re going to see it against Adamek.”

So how exactly does Grant, who is now trained by highly respected former light heavyweight champ Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, plan to defeat Adamek? Not by trying to use his bulk and outslug the smaller man, but by taking advantage of what he perceives to be the Polish contender’s weaknesses and outboxing him.

“I see that his foot movement is not as good as it should be,” Grant said. “Basically, when he moves to his left, he steps correctly, but when he moves to his right, he steps wrong. And he has problems with boxers. So I’m going to box. I’m going to give him trouble just with the jab alone. I know what to expect from him. He’s going to try to move around. The same Adamek you saw with Arreola would be probably the Adamek you’re going to see with Michael Grant. With Eddie Mustafa, he wants me to be me and he sees the potential that I have and the attributes that I possess, and he wants me to put it all out on the table as well.”

For a short while, in 1998 and ’99, when he won five straight HBO fights (four by knockout), Grant was putting it all out on the table. But he went from the darling of HBO to a cautionary tale, almost overnight.

So the question demanded to be asked on the eve of what might be Grant’s final shot at resurrecting his career: If he had it do over, would he still fight Lennox Lewis on April 29, 2000?

“We have to live life forward,” he said. “But looking at it backwards, in a sensible state, I wouldn’t take that fight because I knew I had HBO behind me, and I know that that was what HBO wanted to build up to, but not at that time. At that time, 2000, fighting Lennox, I was on my fourth fight of a six-fight deal with HBO, and I should have fought him on the sixth fight. Because after the [Andrew] Golota fight, I grew right there, I grew up, and it wasn’t right for me to fight Lennox the very next fight. I should have developed a little more and made the sixth fight the ultimate test. But it didn’t pan out that way.

“They dangled the money in front of my handlers, and they wanted to jump on it. Honestly, financially, I was good. I was making a million dollars a fight for HBO, so I wasn’t starving for money. I was fine. But I was young in the business, I didn’t know, I was inexperienced. I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s go,’ but honestly, if I would have had a little bit more brains, I would have said, ‘Hey, that’s not the right move.’ But I’m not going to say it was a bad decision. I can’t say that because I learned from that. I learned how to look at life experiences and move forward instead of looking backwards.”

Is that deep philosophy or an empty platitude? How we’ll view everything Grant has to say depends largely on how he performs this Saturday night. If he loses to Adamek as the oddsmakers suggest he will, then he’ll be just another delusional, aging heavyweight whose words rang hollow. But if he upsets Adamek, then he’ll be a guy who can say whatever he wants and the boxing world will listen.

And he’ll be one of the biggest damned Rocky Balboa impersonators we’ve ever seen.


ÔÇó The great majority of the time, when I interview someone, I really only get to know them as an interview subject – not a real person. But Jay Larkin, whom I probably interviewed about 10 or 12 times during and after his tenure as Showtime Championship Boxing executive producer, had a warmth about him that made it feel as if you were talking to him person to person, not interviewer to interviewee. I can’t say I truly knew Jay deeply, but I knew him well enough to say he was a good man who will be missed.

ÔÇó They say admitting you have a problem is the first step. Unfortunately, with Chris Arreola, it’s the only step. Arreola has never denied that he doesn’t train hard enough. He’s also never done anything about it.

ÔÇó James Toney, get ready to sue. There’s a new series coming to the FX network next January entitled Lights Out, about a former heavyweight champ struggling through life after boxing. As TV critic Alan Sepinwall wrote, “It’s basically Rocky V if Rocky V was, you know, good.” Just knowing it’s on FX is enough to get me to watch, since this is the network that gave us The Shield (my favorite show of the 2000s), Rescue Me, Damages, and Louie, and has pretty much never produced a stinker.

ÔÇó Make sure to check out this week's new episode of Ring Theory, featuring a guest appearance by a man who spent last weekend in Montreal belting Jean Pascal. (Ladies and gentlemen, that’s the way you word a tease if you want to trick all 18 of Chad Dawson’s fans into tuning in.)

ÔÇó I tweeted two days before the Pascal-Dawson light heavyweight championship fight to be on “high alert” over judge Jack Woodburn. You’ll never guess which of the three judges had Pascal winning nine of 11 rounds, including the partial 11th round that Dawson dominated.

ÔÇó In case you’re a gambler who keeps a notebook of rules, here’s what we learned in the Pascal-Dawson fight: The rule that says “Don’t bet on the guy in the fuchsia trunks” is trumped by the rule that says “Don’t bet on the guy whose trunks label his backside a ‘Condom Depot.'”

Eric Raskin can be reached at [email protected] You can read his articles each month in THE RING magazine and follow him on Twitter @EricRaskin.