Archives for category: General Boxing

by Johnny Walker

A Response to Stephen Brunt’s “Requiem For Boxing: The Decline of the Sweet Science”

(article first published by Boxinginsider.com)

In Canada, the city of Toronto and its inhabitants are often the subject of snide humor among non-residents. “The center of the universe” it is mockingly called, because Torontonians often seem to think that nothing outside of the city’s borders exists, a sort of mass solipsism.

That attitude is typified by Toronto-based sportswriter and boxing scribe Stephen Brunt in his recent Globe and Mail column, “Requiem For Boxing: The Decline of the Sweet Science” (the essay can be accessed at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/requiem-for-boxing-the-decline-of-the-sweet-science/article2004683/ Subscription required).

To refute all of the specious arguments in Brunt’s lengthy, often nostalgia-soaked and maudlin column, would take more time and space than I want to spend on it. Much of it reads like the lament of a man entering his 50s who can’t deal with the fact that his childhood sports heroes have now been eclipsed by other athletes. But a couple of Brunt’s assertions are so illogical that they must be addressed.

Brunt writes, “On Saturday night, 55,000 paying customers will fill the Rogers Centre in Toronto to witness the first promotion by the Ultimate Fighting Championship in Ontario. Until this year, mixed martial arts (MMA) … was banned in the province. This show will be the single biggest sporting event of 2011 in Canada’s most populous city, barring an unlikely Toronto Blue Jays run to the World Series. In part, that is an expression of pent-up demand from the outlaw years. But mostly it is a true and legitimate measure of the popularity of the sport and its No. 1 marquee attraction, Montreal’s Georges St-Pierre.”

Brunt then goes on to lament boxing’s supposed comparative lack of popularity in 2011.

First of all, Brunt seems to think that because an initial MMA event in Toronto can draw 55,000 people, this has some wider implication for boxing. I suppose this is because Toronto is or was such a boxing hotbed, eh Stephen? Funny, I am huge boxing fan and I lived in Toronto for 10 years, and can’t recall a single major boxing card that I ever attended while I was there – because there wasn’t one! I saw more live boxing during my very brief tenure as a resident of Halifax, Nova Scotia, than I ever did in Toronto.

So the fact that the UFC can finally get licensed in Ontario and draw 50,000+ might simply mean that Dana White was smart enough to exploit a heretofore untapped market for combat sports in the Toronto area. Not to mention that the card, as Brunt points out, featured a Canadian UFC star, Georges St. Pierre, which also no doubt heightened interest in the event. But to make some sweeping judgment from this UFC event in Toronto and conclude that boxing as a sport is dying or dead is either very naïve or purposefully obtuse.

What really rankles is this line from Brunt: “As MMA has grown, boxing has evaporated except in a few isolated outposts (Quebec and Germany, most notably).” Here we get back to my original point about the solipsism of Torontonians. If it ain’t happening in English Canada, or in Brunt’s heavily mythologized version of America (such as only a Canadian can muster), it just ain’t happening!

Brunt’s sheer arrogance here is breathtaking. There is some rich irony, of course, in a Canadian calling Germany an “outpost.” The world heavyweight champion Klitschko brothers, Wladimir and Vitali, regularly draw crowds of close to 50,000 people to their fights in Germany, but Brunt ignores this troublesome fact because Germany is an “outpost,” so it doesn’t count. This is intellectual dishonesty, and shame on Brunt for trying to get away with it.

“There’s no arguing with the marketplace. Fifty-five thousand people can’t be wrong,” Brunt writes. Unless they are Germans attending a Klitschko fight, of course.

Even worse for a Canadian, Brunt labels an entire province in his own country, Quebec, an “outpost,” presumably because it isn’t Ontario. So when boxers Jean Pascal and Bernard Hopkins sell out the Bell Centre in Montreal (home of hockey’s immortal Canadiens) as they did a few weeks back, again, this is not proof for Brunt that boxing is alive and well, because those French-Canadians, like those Germans, well, what do they know?

The theme of Brunt’s column brings to mind the old Stranglers song whose refrain was “No more heroes anymore.” When his column starts into its flowery, nostalgia-drenched passages on Ali and Frazier, it becomes clear what Brunt’s real problem with today’s boxing is. He can’t stand the fact that boxing has changed, that its current stars are not the stars of his youth or even reasonable facsimiles thereof. For Brunt and those of his ilk, like Burt Sugar, nothing that happens now can be as great as it was in the mythic Golden Past when America ruled the boxing world, and more specifically, ruled the heavyweight division.

“Nothing that boxing could produce today,” Brunt writes, “could … mean much of anything. Even before MMA began its assault, the sport was edging toward irrelevance. There’s no boxing conversation to be had. Even heavyweight champion of the world – that great, all-encompassing title – has been rendered close to meaningless.”

Meaningless for whom, Stephen?

Brunt implies that because there is no-one similar to Cassius Clay / Muhammad Ali in boxing today, there is no-one left to admire or idolize. The Klitschkos, two educated, intelligent men whose own inspiring back-story includes their improbable rise from the ashes of the Soviet Union and their escape from the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl — are by implication discounted by Brunt as almost meaningless champions. Yet I’m very sure there are many, many young boxing fans in Ukraine, in Russia, in Germany, and indeed from all over the planet for whom Wladimir and Vitali mean every bit as much as Ali did to Brunt and his ilk. Some will no doubt will be inspired by the Klitschkos to take up the sport themselves in search of fame and fortune. But Brunt, trapped within his own narrow frame of reference and in mourning for his own lost youth, can’t or won’t acknowledge that fact.

What has really happened in boxing’s marquee division is that American fighters have declined at the same time as the fall of the Soviet Union has opened the floodgates for Eastern European talent that before had no chance to compete in professional boxing. The Klitschkos led the way, becoming superstars in Germany and then across Europe. Now many Europeans, Eastern and Western, are following them up the ladder, with names like Denis Boytsov, Robert Helenius, Alexander Dimitrenko and Tomasz Adamek being the top heavyweight contenders. This leads old-timers like Brunt, who is Americentric and who longs for another Ali, to make declarations like “Boxing Is Dead,” when that is not at all the case.

The truth is, boxing’s power base has shifted and it is alive and well across the globe.

Alive and well, except in the minds of those sad nostalgists who long for a past that is never going to be repeated.

In that sense, Stephen Brunt’s column about the death of boxing is accurate, in what might be termed a microcosmic, as opposed to a macrocosmic, sense.

Boxing is indeed dead…. for Stephen Brunt.   RIP.

By Johnny Walker

A recent Wikileaks cable that features material from the US Ambassador to Nicaragua has some surprising revelations for the boxing world. 

One section of the document entitled “NICARAGUA’S MOST WANTED PART I: THE CRIMES OF DANIEL ORTEGA AND HIS FAMILY,” contains the bombshell that super middleweight Ricardo Mayorga, who was accused of raping a woman in a hotel in Managua, Nicaragua in September 2004, made a secret deal with President Daniel Ortega, head of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FLSN) government, allowing him to beat the charge.

According to the document, the FLSN “agreed to protect the boxer in the courts if he would give the party a large portion of his international boxing winnings and “advertise” for Daniel in public.  Mayorga agreed, and an FSLN judge found him not guilty in December.”

Following the alleged fixing of the trial, the document states that, “much of Mayorga’s winnings now reportedly go to Ortega, and when Mayorga fought in Chicago in August 2005, he dedicated the fight to Daniel, wore the FSLN colors, and flashed the number of the FSLN slot on the Nicaraguan electoral ballot (“casilla”) to the international media.”

Mayorga, in other words, in return for his freedom, was allegedly to function as a source of funding and as a puppet who spreads propaganda for Ortega’s leftist regime.

Interestingly, after the Supreme Court in Nicaragua had initially cleared Mayorga in the rape case involving a 22-year-old woman, a lower court found “irregularities” in the trial and in 2005 ordered a retrial, only to be blocked by the Supreme Court, which quashed the lower court’s ruling, again effectively clearing Mayorga.

Mayorga, who recently scored a TKO victory over Michael Walker in Miami after more than 2 years away from the ring, declared the WikiLeaks cable where he is concerned to be “absolutely not true.”

Mayorga is next slated to fight Miguel Angel Cotto for the WBA “Super World light middleweight title” on March 12 in Las Vegas.

Kelly Pavlik faces a new battle outside of the ropes.

By Johnny Walker 

Back in 2008, when middleweight champion Kelly “The Ghost” Pavlik, 28, of Youngstown, Ohio, defeated ex-champ Jermain Taylor for the second time, his future prospects in boxing seemed limitless.

Pavlik was set to be boxing’s newest American superstar, a working class kid from small town USA made good. 

Soon he had his own line of Affliction t-shirts, and was looked upon by the boxing community in the US as a possible savior for the sport, someone who could elevate boxing from its current niche status back into the mainstream.  

Losses to Bernard Hopkins in 2008 and to Sergio Martinez earlier this year dimmed Pavlik’s star, however, and rumors began to circulate that all was not well in his personal life, although these rumors were constantly denied by those around Pavlik. 

When Pavlik pulled out of a fight with Brian Vera on the undercard of the recent Manny Pacquiao – Antonio Margarito contest, the chatter about Pavlik having a problem reached a deafening pitch.

Now comes the news that Pavlik has checked into the Betty Ford Center in California to deal with alcohol abuse issues. 

People around boxing, according to ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael, have known about Pavlik’s issues with the bottle for a long time.  “Pavlik’s drinking problems are widely known in boxing even though nobody on his team will say it publicly.  But it is a major problem,” Rafael said during an online chat on November 5. 

After all the denials, however, the latest word from Pavlik’s team that their fighter is not only in rehab, but may be done with boxing for good.

Apparently an 8-hour intervention-like “conversation” between Pavlik, his parents, and his wife, Samantha, led to the fighter’s decision to check himself into rehab.  According to Pavlik’s father, Mike, his son was unable to handle the fame that came with being the middleweight champion.

“I’m not complaining about him winning the title, but it was instant stardom after that and the demands on his life became so hard and so intense that he couldn’t deal with it,” the senior Pavlik told Yahoo Sports.  “Everywhere he went, everyone wanted to buy the champ a beer. He didn’t want to disappoint anyone or say no and it wound up causing him a pretty serious problem.”

Pavlik’s recent career trajectory is almost certainly linked to his alcohol problem: according to co-manager Cameron Dunkin, this is Pavlik’s second stint in rehab this year, the first being a two-week stay at Betty Ford shockingly only 10 days before he lost his WBC and WBO middleweight titles to Martinez.

Now, Pavlik plans to stay in rehab as long as it takes to correct his behavior.

“Three months, six months, whatever it takes, he’s going to do it,” said Dunkin, who also admitted, “I don’t know if he’ll ever fight again.”

Javier Capetillo and Antonio Margarito

By Johnny Walker

The “Bible of Boxing,” The Ring magazine, has just published an in-depth interview with Javier Capetillo, disgraced ex-trainer of Antonio Margarito

With the Margarito – Manny Pacquiao fight only days away, the until-now silent Capetillo responds to Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach’s allegations that Margarito had been using illegal hand wraps in previous fights with Miguel Cotto and Kermit Cintron: ““I respect Freddie Roach … He’s a great trainer, but someone needs to tell him to stop being an a__hole” says Capetillo. “I thought he was a friend before the Mosley fight. He was always friendly, but since the incident, all he’s done is run his mouth.”

Capetillo goes on to deny that Margarito’s signature wins were the product of anything but the fighter’s own talent.  “I think Freddie knows we didn’t cheat in any of those fights,” he says. “What he’s doing now is selling the controversy. He’s selling it to the media, the media is running with it and the public is buying it.”

As for the illegal wraps that were found before Margarito’s KO loss to “Sugar” Shane Mosley, Capetillo says he was panicked by his fighter’s drastic efforts to make weight for the fight — which left Margarito drained, weak and ill, with flu-like symptoms — leading him to make a mistake: “It was too late to pull out of the fight. But I want to make it clear that I did not plan what happened. Maybe I was feeling the pressure of the fight and not paying attention to what I was doing when I reached into my bag and grabbed the training gauze, but I didn’t do it on purpose.”

Capetillo makes it clear that he still has great admiration for his former pupil, and picks him to stop the Pac-man: “Tony has never fought with anything illegal in his gloves. He won’t have anything in his gloves on Saturday, they’ll make sure of that, and he’ll beat Pacquiao.”