Monday, June 05, 2023  |



Is death really better than defeat? George Foreman weighs in, with words for Wilder

Fighters Network

The buzz lingering from the Tyson Fury victory, a possibility to some, a probability to few, a certainty only to him, is still with me six plus days later.

There are a few elements involved in that “buzz,” actually. One is, the Feb. 22 show didn’t draw as well, from a PPV perspective, as planners had hoped. They guessed, basing that on decades of accumulated knowledge, and the ability to read signs and trends, that there’d be over a million buys of the event.

Co-promoter Bob Arum said he thought they’d get two million. (Sometimes he can be a mega-optimist about such things, I think he likes to signal to potential buyers that the Smiths and the Joneses are gonna watch, so they better, too, or they will feel left out.)

There was no million, not on the books, anyway. Maybe 850,000 homes/devices hit the “buy” button in America, while millions more snagged some sort of a bootleg stream. That all is another issue entirely, and has been a hot topic among the people that planned the card since Sunday/Monday.

Something that has been rattling around my brain even more than the results from a commercial POV, and what the ramifications of that might be, is this: I’m still struggling with the whole towel deal, and Deontay Wilder’s reaction to the humanitarian outreach by co-trainer Mark Breland.

Mark Breland throws in the white towel, to save Deontay Wilder more punishment against Tyson Fury, Feb. 22, 2020.

That scratchy mini bath towel may have saved Wilders’ life, but it may also have meant the end for Breland as Wilder co-trainer. Complex world, is boxing. (Mikey Williams picture)

In the ring, right after he’d been bludgeoned, Wilder told Bernardo Osuna, “I’m doing good. Things like this happen. The best man won tonight, but my corner threw in the towel and I was ready to go out on my shield. I had a lot of things going on heading into this fight,” he said, and referred to his legs being weak, which he soon clarified, blaming his too-heavy robot costume. “It is what it is, but I make no excuses tonight. I just wish my corner would have let me go out on my shield.”

Wilder’s head trainer Jay Deas said an hour after the fight that Wilder has told them not to do that, and Breland disobeyed that edict, and would be talked to.

Wilder (42-1-1) didn’t back off from that take in the days after the shocker loss. A couple days after the defeat, he said he’d likely dismiss Breland, known as maybe the very nicest guy in the game, for being insubordinate.

“I told (my trainers what) my wishes are, as the fighter, as the one in the ring, I wanna go out on my shield,” Wilder told Keith Idec of Boxing Scene on Thursday.”Fury’s the same way. He said that to his team, ‘Do not ever throw that towel in.’ When you have a warrior and the mindset is so strong, death is better than defeat because if you’re gonna get defeated in the ring you’d rather die in the ring, doing something that you love to do. And I’m every bit of that.”

Chew on that, “Death is better than defeat.”

Sounds good in a movie script, but in actuality, coming from the mouth of a boxer, a boxer who has 8 children, I can’t wrap my brain around that.

I go immediately to the children. As I wrote on Sunday morning, I’m pretty darn sure every Wilder kid, if asked, would answer that they’d rather have dad alive, than dead, because of his ultra warrior mentality. I want to respect Wilders’ thinking, but to me, this “death before defeat” belief is selfish.

So, that in mind, I reached out to a guru, the Texas preacher/ex-puncher George Foreman (76-5 record, 68 KOs, lost by knockout once).

He’s a regular on my Everlast “Talkbox” podcast, and before the fight, he said that Fury surely had a chance to get the W. He’s been there, done that, big time…So, I asked him about Wilders’ desire to die before being defeated, his craving to “go out on his shield,” rather than submit, or be saved by a cohort. What’s that all about, George?

“So I was told by Archie Moore and Dick Sadler, my corner, if you ever get knocked down, listen to the ref’s count, find your corner, let us count,” the Hall of Famer Foreman told me. “I did get knocked down, Sadler told me to wait, then he signaled, ‘Get up.’  When I got up, the fight was over, ref said, ‘That’s it.’ Walking to my corner, then to the dressing room, it was like death.”

Foreman told the team after he’d been proved to be pregnable by Muhammad Ali in Zaire (10-3-1974) that he was about to KO the crafty master of lip and ring generalship.

“No one wanted to hear me. ‘You lost,’ they said. Then I said, ‘The next time I’m counted out it’ll be on a stretcher. It’d be better to die than to go through that again. Thus the Ron Lyle fight (1-24-1976). Lyle knew what I was doing and didn’t want to be a part of it.”

Lyle was a beyond-tough cookie. In ’75 he lost to Ali and four months later gloved up and stopped Earnie Shavers. His reward was being booked with Foreman, in Vegas. That’s like felling Godzilla, and your prize is a rumble with King Kong.

The Foreman-Lyle matchup had me thinking about the term “mutually assured destruction.”

In 1967 the Secretary of Defense was Robert McNamara, brought on board by President Lyndon Johnson, then treading water in the Vietnam quagmire, while pondering how to handle Soviet relations, regarding the buildup of arms.

McNamara gave a speech in San Francisco and please do grasp his theme, and then hit your reset button regarding the collective state of mind, in terms of anxiety over the ways of the world, then, versus now.

McNamara gravely shared that homo sapiens from this point forward shall be mentally “overshadowed with the permanent possibility of thermonuclear holocaust.” He continued: “One must begin with precise definitions. The cornerstone of our strategic policy continues to be to deter nuclear attack upon the United States or its allies. We do this by maintaining a highly reliable ability to inflict unacceptable damage upon any single aggressor or combination of aggressors at any time during the course of a strategic nuclear exchange, even after absorbing a surprise first strike. This can be defined as our assured-destruction capability.”

An analyst named Donald Brennan, who’d been president of the Hudson Institute, a conservative “think tank” born in 1961, advanced the phrase. In a 1971 NY Times op-ed column, Brennan wrote, “I believe that the concept of mutual assured destruction provides one of the few instances in which the obvious acronym for something yields at once the appropriate description for it; that is, a Mutual Assured Destruction, as a goal is, almost literally, mad. ‘MAD.”

When Ronald Reagan re-vivified the “Cold War,” the term had been tweaked to “mutually assured destruction,” and yet another generation of impressionable minds felt and feels the effects of cortisol overload. Point being, decisions made by men inclined to pick fighting over talking it out, people who need to top of their narcissistic supply tank  affect people outside their sphere, and too often their myopia spurs ripples of trauma that literally carry on for generations.

So…Foreman versus Lyle was made at the behest of the boys running Caesars Palace in Vegas. It ran, live, on Saturday afternoon, on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. (Starts at 8:34 mark, below)

Candice Toft wrote about Lyle in “Off the Ropes: The Ron Lyle Story,” out now from Hamilcar Publications, out of Boston.

Ron never wanted to be responsible for causing another boxer permanent injury, or, God forbid, death in the ring. But while he monitored the strength of his own punches, he had to be ever aware of the damage that could be inflicted on him, and he believed no one could dole out as much pain in the ring as Foreman. Ron knew he had to do it all in this fight–hurt and be hurt.”

Mutually assured, if not destruction, then at the least, considerable, or maybe grievous harm to be subjected to.

Hall of Fame sportswriter and character Bert Sugar described the fight as “a marvelous melange of mayhem, with Foreman and Lyle playing it to the hilt, turning it from comedic sketch into a war, a war in which neither side was seeking survivors.”

George gave you some insights into his mind when he spoke to the NY Times after the thermo-nuclear sparring session.

“It was most definitely the toughest fight I’ve ever had,” Foreman told Leonard Kopett. “It could have gone either way. But I think I showed determination. I hope I proved I have a little heart, and I could have got up in Africa too.”

Foreman sure did show “determination,” though in fact his entire career to that time showed the same. He said he “hoped” that he proved he had “a little heart.” In fact, anyone walking the steps and going through the ropes and taking the risk of possible destruction of self has more than “a little” heart, he could have been told, though he likely wouldn’t have believed it, back in the day.

Believe it, Foreman gave plenty of thought to what it might mean to perish in a contest, and also how he’d feel if his fists sealed the demise of a foe.

Hey, we can get deeper with this, if we want. But I think it is safe to say much of what Foreman did in the ring, and spoke on after the Lyle bout, when he was 27 years old,  has to do with ego. With how he regarded himself, and how he’d act out and about in the world, to reflect and convey that.

Regarding Wilder, 34 years of age, most of you reading this are at least fairly familiar with “The Bronze Bomber.” He’s a bit complex, right? Seems to have a soft side, you’ve seen him speak on having a daughter born in 2005 with spina bifida. Deontay has eight children who call him dad. My thoughts flashed to them when he said after Fury smashed him up that he’d have preferred to go out on his shield, and when he went even further, talking about his desire to be killed in the ring rather than surrender.

Yes, Wilder pushes buttons on some folks, with some of his pronouncements.

Someone’s faith in a higher power can be admirable, but now and again, it can feel like it has gone over the line. When Wilder says he is gifted from God, does that not mean that he’s a chosen one..and why would a God choose him, over Tom Smith or Tina Jones?

Also, God has decided to give extra talents to a dude so he can be a great prize-fighter, rather than a super scientist, who cures cancer?

Wilder pushed more buttons when in 2018 he told Charlamagne Tha God (no relation), “I want a body on my record. I want one. I want one, I really do. That’s the ‘Bronze Bomber,’ he wants one. I always tell people, when I’m in the ring, like I’m the ‘Bronze Bomber.’ Everything about me changes. I don’t get nervous, I don’t get scared, I don’t get butterflies, I don’t have no feelings towards the man I’m gonna fight.”

Wilder lost more fans than he gained when he said in 2019, before fighting Dominic Breazeale, “His life is on the line for this fight and I do mean his life. I am still trying to get me a body on my record. Dominic Breazeale asked for this. This is the only sport where you can kill a man and get paid for it at the same time. It’s legal. So why not use my right to do so?”

Some whispered, wondering if Wilder was OK. The alter ego stuff, is he alright? This sort of talk, he knew it made many people uncomfortable, but he didn’t back off.

In the days before the Fury rematch, Wilder said, “It’s a crazy feeling to have so much power. I tell people it’s like a blessing and a curse. I don’t regret what I say because I mean what I say and I say what I mean,” when asked if he regretted announcing he wanted to kill a foe in the ring. He also said he didn’t think Fury could punch.

So, even if you weren’t disgusted, or offended by Wilders’ WWE style speechifying–if you want to give him the benefit of a few doubts– you might have been thinking his ego was speaking too loudly when he was announcing he’d rather adhere to his construct of what it means to be a man, or a “warrior,” than what it means to be a father.

Maybe you argue no, persons have to follow their hearts and souls and paths, we only have one life and it shouldn’t be lived primarily through a filter of how we affect someone else, like our offspring. I disagree; I think most of the people in power the world over too much factor in what benefits them, and feeds their ego. Ask around, talk to kids, 10-12-15, see what they think about climate change, and how the adults have (mis)handled the matter. They’ve done that to maintain their power, their net worth, their comfort level, rather than see it from the viewpoint of those who will be living long after they are dust. Selfish.

I went back to George Foreman.

George, Deontay has eight kids…isn’t it sort of selfish for Wilder to be announcing his choice to be killed in a prize-fight, rather than seek to live another day?

“Regarding ‘dying,’ when I found religion, I found reason, boxing became a game,” Foreman told me. “So when I left the sport (for the first time, in 1977), I became a son, father, preacher and friend that was needed. I had to live as long as possible. When I returned to boxing (in 1987), I knew this competitive spirit could be contagious. And that my family needed me alive more than the money I brought in. I watched a replay of Muhammad Ali fighting Larry Holmes. Ali, like all boxers, knew not how to quit! After so many rounds of being beat, his trainer Angelo Dundee said, “I’m the chief corner man and I stop the fight,” and he was for a moment the most hated man alive. But I saw this and said I need Angelo in my corner, someone who would not be afraid of me, to ‘save me from me.”’

Foreman offered some details that might prove prescient down the line as Wilder thinks more about his place on this Earth, and if he should really fire Breland, the sweetest soul in the sport.

The reaction was nearly unanimous, pretty much everyone applauded Breland’s act of humanitarian insubordination.

“I was angry with Sadler for years, but I was healthy and ready (to return to boxing in some ways better than before) so many years later,” said Foreman, who in 1994 beat Michael Moorer and gained the WBA and IBF heavyweight crowns at age 45.

“Thank goodness I didn’t beat the count (against Ali). Wilder is still a wounded young lion, he’s most dangerous then. In another month, he will regain his health. The lion will be more than a big, roaring cat,” said Foreman, wisely dispensing a call for patience and tolerance, too-rare traits in the digital age. “He’ll know and learn better about life, that life is much more that fisticuffs. There’s children, graduations, grand-children and electric bills. Let him heal, he was run over by truck.”