The Boxing Esq. Podcast, Ep. 30: Author Brin-Jonathan Butler
The Ring is proud to present “The Boxing Esq. Podcast with Kurt Emhoff”. Emhoff, an attorney based in New York City, is a top boxing manager who has represented over 10 world champions in his 20-plus years in the sport.
Listen to episode 29 with Herbert Goldman here.
His guest on this podcast is author Brin-Jonathan Butler. They discussed the latest news in the boxing world including the good, the bad and the tragic. They went over the Manny Pacquiao-Keith Thurman and Jose Carlos Ramirez-Maurice Hooker title fights; the administrative mess that was the Dillian Whyte-Oscar Rivas bout; and the tragic ring fatalities of Maxim Dadashev and Hugo Santillan.
Additionally, they spoke of Quentin Tarantino’s latest film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and its connection to boxing.
Below are a few excerpts from the interview:
On the Maxim Dadashev tragedy and the risks of being in the ring:
“They did everything they could (to save Dadashev). But I mean, this is the big risk that I think people outside of boxing don’t really get. It’s just the cumulative damage that’s incurred. When is a headache a response to a blood clot, you know, to something more than just a swelling that that is going to be treatable. We just don’t know when these guys need to be in immediate care? What do they have to do? These are people also where they get criticized if they quit.They get criticized as not having balls and that sort of thing. So this is a very touchy subject. A lot of people don’t realize that in the 20th century, over a thousand people have been killed, involved with boxing, sparring, training, fighting. The first time Americans ever watched somebody get killed was watching a Emile Griffith beat a man into injuries that eventually led to Benny Paret’s death. So, America has really used boxing as a means of exploring a very dark issue.”
“Everytime these guys are fighting, they’re a little less after they fought. Even when they win, they’ve taken shots and you see it when you meet them. You watch these documentaries to be nostalgic about great moments. Very often these guys need subtitles even though they’re speaking our language. They get the thick time and we see it. I remember as a little kid, the first time I saw some of these great fighters come to a place that they don’t go too often, Vancouver, they needed the money. Joe Frazier came out to Vancouver, I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. And it’s this amazing, incredible guy that you can’t believe he’s come all this way, but he’s broke and I can’t understand what he’s saying.
And he’s only, at that time, I think he’s 55, 60 years old. And then you watch Facing Ali and over half the guys who fought him in the documentary need subtitles. So I think the bigger question is, are we okay with it as fans in terms of voting with our money? And are they okay as willing participants volunteering to do a job that nobody has a gun to their head to do, where they understand these risks? And I appreciate what (Sergio) Mora is saying (Mora tweeted that fighters understand the risks of getting in the ring) by recognizing the courage and bravery it takes to step in there. But I haven’t met too many smokers who didn’t acknowledge that smoking leads to cancer. And yet when they get diagnosed with cancer, there’s a kind of shock.”
On why fighters take on the risks that boxing presents:
“I just don’t know that these guys if you gave them the alternative of what the next job would be if they weren’t fighters, I can’t see 1% of them saying, yeah, I’d rather do that. I just can’t. I haven’t done an independent study of the fighters I’ve spoken to, but these guys are so driven to be who they are and this risk is their identity. Taking this on. There’s a reason when they get into that ring, the other athletes look on with a kind of awe of just that they’re not accepting the same risks to do what they do that fighters are. And you can see it. Michael Jordan going to Tyson-Spinks. Like he’s just a guy in the crowd who dunks basketballs or makes beautiful shots with pressure. But with (boxing) it’s life or death all the time. And they pride themselves on it as much as it’s a terror to their families and the people who love them. But I don’t know how you remove the bath water from where the baby is. It’s just so inextricably mixed that this is an existential game as it were.”
On the Pacquiao-Thurman fight:
“The script kept changing. Huge respect for Keith Thurman. I don’t think the wheels have fallen off with this performance. But he doesn’t seem to be the same fighter he was at his peak. But still very strong, very aggressive, extraordinarily competitive, smart, some real interesting plan Bs and Cs that he was coming up with to deal with a Pacquiao who was in such surprising form. And then all the rumors come out as, how is Pacquiao in such good form? The drug testing, is it up to snuff? How are these guys getting better at 40? How are we seeing such a stark improvement from some of the other performances we’ve seen with him in the past? I guess (Jeff) Horn would be the prime example.
This shouldn’t be able to happen against a guy 10 years younger who’s an elite champion. So is Pacquiao capable of it or is it sort of a Sammy Sosa, (Mark) McGwire phenomenon. Going after Maris. Like how are they doing it? Um and I don’t know. I mean I just thought it was an extraordinary performance. It’s unbelievable. He’s 40 and able to do it. Some really thrilling moments in there. I mean, that first knockdown, I thought the footage was appallingly bad and that it looked like he stepped on (Thurman’s foot).
(Thurman) found a groove in those middle rounds. It was really interesting where he seemed to time Pacquiao. Really disrupted Pacquiao’s rhythm. You just wondered was it sort of going to be an echo of Marquez, just timing him for something. But it just didn’t happen. And that body shot (by Pacquiao in the 10th round) was just so, I mean. I think this is what brings up all the drug rumors is whenever there’s not really stringent testing, there’s this knockout power that seems to emerge. And when there is testing, the only knockouts we’re seeing from him are the ones that Freddie Roach is endlessly predicting with every opponent he fights. So, I don’t know, it’s definitely suspicious, I think unavoidably. But it was a thrilling fight and I was very impressed with Thurman. I mean, Pacquiao is a lot to handle, but still, he’s just so much smaller. Thurman looked huge next to him.”
On whether he wants to see Mayweather-Pacquiao II and write about it again:
“No. 20,000 words was enough about the wonderful chemistry that was Mayweather-Pacquiao. Yeah. I really did enjoy watching people play tag when I was six or seven years old. But the idea that somebody would get $150 million, $200 million to do it, it wasn’t. Honestly, that fight, one of the things that was really extraordinary about it was not just this array of the highest concentration of celebrities that have been assembled. When you think about it, it was an event that had every, you know, Trump is there next to Michael Jordan. I went to the bathroom and was in the urinal next to Dave Chappelle. We walked out and we’re in orbit of Nicki Minaj’s behind. Louis CK walks by us and then we find our seat and there’s Sting, Jesse Jackson, Magic Johnson. And it was just everywhere you looked. It felt like there were more celebrities than just people whose faces you didn’t recognize.
I’ve never seen anything like it before. And there was such anticipation just before that bell rung. And, a friend of mine made the point with Mayweather long before the fight happened, but it was never more true than in that fight. That Floyd Mayweather unequivocally is the most exciting fighter in the history of boxing, until the bell rings. It’s a nasty line and early Mayweather that’s not true. He was a hugely exciting fighter. Phenomenal fighter. I was a huge fan of him. But the Mayweather with the brittle hands and the Mayweather where the sizzle before the fight sells the fight – that’s a guy that I haven’t heard too many people reminiscing about how wonderful those fights were.”
On the potential that the bubble of big money in boxing today will burst:
“How long are we going to have this infusion of money? You know, boxing has always been this hemophiliac in terms of, we get this money in and we just think we’re going to be flush for a long time. But the dysfunctionality is just, it’s so overrun with dysfunctionality. Nobody can play well with others and so much antipathy and no concern with the welfare of the sport. Just for the overall health of the sport. You know, Haymon comes in with all of this money. What is his concern? Is it for the betterment of himself or is it for the betterment of the sport? Yes, he’s helping out the fighters, but why is he doing it? For his own benefit? For the benefit of consolidating his power in the sport to remove the other guys. And it’s an effective strategy. But once he runs out of the money, what is the goodwill he’s created in order to have that be the gravitational pull to bring in more fighters? It doesn’t exist. So I just wonder, once these people recognize that boxing maybe isn’t the best place for their money to invest.”
On the Dillian Whyte situation and the reality of boxing’s anti-doping situation:
“Fundamentally, it’s just like the drug war. They’re always going to have a bigger advantage to cheat. And I mean, this is not the drug war because there’s an incentive for this industry to permit these guys to cheat, to give this impression as if they’re trying to scrutinize it or keep the sport clean. They make more money with guys cheating.
Pacquiao just won an incredible title in an incredible fight at 40 years old and to see Teddy Atlas on ESPN say, “I want to take the supplements that he’s taking.” I think that’s a verbatim quote. I don’t believe the fountain of youth was discovered by so-and-so, I think Manny Pacquiao discovered it. That (Atlas) who holds himself up to be a truth teller in no way is scrutinizing the achievement is quite something. Why? Because it’s it’s making a lot of people a lot of money in ways that we don’t have stars of Pacquiao’s caliber. So to have them for as long as we like. How is Muhammad Ali passing brain examinations to fight his last few fights? Because there’s so much money to be made to have Muhammad Ali. Where’s another Ali step in? It doesn’t exist.
So I just wonder if at a certain point do we just say f–k it. There’s no way to stop it. Everybody’s cheating anyway. You’re kind of a dumb athlete not to be cheating with the testing not being that competent at catching cheaters. You know Tommy Morrison’s whole career, he was juicing. Evander Holyfield, you know, clearly that body type to become a heavyweight. We know with ‘Evan Fields’, like you assume that there’s piles of stuff going on and and many of these guys have come out after their careers are over to talk about how extensively they were cheating. I was watching a show, speaking of Lance Armstrong, it was called the Tour de Pharmacy. It was like a mockumentary about the Tour de France and they had a huge host of big name actors in it. And Lance has a cameo where Lance is playing this like 60 Minutes shadowy figure talking about the cheating that goes on in cycling.
And I was thinking like you made hundreds of millions of dollars defrauding taxpayers and cheating out people who, if you played fair in that sport, you had no way to compete. Same with Mark McGwire. You’re stealing somebody’s job where if he plays fair, he can’t compete against you. And what is the real hazard of doing that cheating? Do you lose all that money? It was worth it for all of them. Watch when Lance gets asked, gee, should you have to give some of that money back considering that you’ve admitted to Oprah that you cheated during your entire career? And he’s like, give my money back? Well what are you talking about? So the idea that it’s not worth it for these guys, it’s crazy. It’s just crazy.
This is Wall Street. If you f–k it up, your losses are going to be subsidized. It’s capitalism for everybody else and your losses are socialized.”