Friday Nighting Fighting: I'll Write About Pacquiao-Clottey Later Edition
It's always a treat to get a new column from the living dean of boxing journalism, Thomas Hauser, especially when he digs even deeper past the typical he-said-he-said fighter/manager/promoter press-release bullshit than he normally does. When he's really cooking -- I could read his Javert-like ongoing series of investigative articles about the palace intrigues at HBO Sports until the sun implodes -- Hauser achieves the Platonic ideal of a critic/chronicler; he writes like he has the entire world and history of his field in his right hand and a Rolodex of everyone in it to his left.
This time, Hauser countenances the frankly embarrassing grudge match between Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones, Jr. -- "better never than late," indeed. After sharply drawing thumbnails of Jones' evergreen greatness as a man, his rapid fall from pound-for-pound perfection as a boxer and his long, somewhat ridiculous feud with Hopkins after he decisively beat B-Hop [with an apparent broken right hand, no less], Hauser reveals the sort of details one usually only discovers by reading biographies and histories long after the events unfolded -- like that the nature of the deal for Jones-Hopkins II is such that Jones may wind up not making anything from it.
But Hauser does lose the thread for a bit while examining the knockout bonus [more money for the winner, less for the loser if the fights with a KO] in the Jones-Hopkins contract. Having been brutally knocked out several times, most recently to an Australian journeyman in what was supposed to be a tune-up fight for the big Hopkins rematch, Jones is expected to lose. Badly. A knockout bonus looks like Hopkins and Golden Boy adding further injury to insult, as it seems likely that the fight will not be stopped by the ref nor Jones' corner will stop the fight to prevent Jones' purse from shrinking even more, a la the facial destruction William Joppy received from B-Hop's fists a few years ago.
I used to be totally in favor of KO bonuses because it makes for better fights, it brings back the "prize" in "prize fighting" and it actually protects outmatched fighters from taking a full beating. It does all three things, but -- like the death penalty -- it's a tool trapped in a system too imperfect [or corrupt, depending on how polite you want to be] to not use that tool to screw over the have-nots even more than they've already been screwed. Unless there are real consequences for promoters who regularly arrange gross mismatches to pad out their fighters' records, a KO bonus just makes it easier for a promoter to squeeze an Opponent's payday.
By the way: Generally speaking and contrary to how it looks, brain damage in fighters comes from repeated blows to the head, not concussion-giving/equilibrium-destroying shots. Muhammad Ali, easily the most famous case of Pugilistic Parkinson's Disease, was never knocked out in any of his 61 fights as a professional boxer. [The 1 in his KO record was when he retired on his stool to end the Larry Holmes execution.]
Back to Jones-Hopkins II: the cloud of cynical, petty nastiness surrounding the fight is so thick that it wouldn't raise too many eyebrows if we later learn that Jones owes Golden Boy money for the pleasure of being savaged on the PPV because its sales were even worse than expected. It's pathetic and telling that hottest promoter and the gold standard for American-televised boxing are peddling a $49.95 pay-per-view show [in the middle of The Great Recession] headlined by a fight that, best realistic case, ends with a flash knockout within the first minute so that no one in the ring gets any more hurt or embarrassed than they already are or should be. It would be swell if Jones took a bath in the river Styx and regained his invincibility, of course, but it's nowhere near Pensacola, FL.
What this fight dredges up in my memory the most vividly is not Holmes vs. Ali -- although I approve of any reason a boxing journalist can think of to call that charismatic straight-shooter Holmes for a comment -- but the dramatic, ultimately tragic 1995 middleweight war between Gerald McClellan and Nigel Benn. Maybe it's because Jones and McClellan are friends and were true peers at a time when Jones really didn't have any -- McClellan gave Jones one of his rare losses prior to Jones growing old over 40 minutes in the Antonio Tarver fight -- or maybe it's that Jones is reported to be the only boxer who visits The G-Man these days. Here's a video that shows why even McClellan's closest boxing pals may be uncomfortable seeing him, especially if they're still fighting:
The rumors and stories of McClellan suffering too-easy-to-dismiss headaches and similar damage in sparring come to mind every time I see Jones get beat up and knocked out from headshots. I fear that, unless Hopkins chooses to box Jones into looking like a chump rather than beat him up, Roy Jones Jr.'s future won't be modeled on Ali's post-ring life -- it will be based on McClellan's.
Here's the whole Benn-McClellan fight: It's an extraordinary match despite its tragic ending and the obvious homecooking; the G-Man had to fight the referee as much as Benn -- they should use that first round as an example to teach what not to do at referee school -- and I don't think you have to be nationalistic to call bullshit on the judges scoring the fight almost even after McClellan knocked Benn out of the ring in the first and knocked him down again in the eighth. [There is a sharper video of the fight on YouTube, but it's the British version of the telecast; those announcers are heavyweight-champion douchebags. Here's a great article about the fight and its messy aftermath, guaranteed to make you grind your teeth a little with outrage sooner or later.]
McClellan was apparently not the nicest guy before his brain damage, but no one deserves the life he has now.
ps. Hauser is wrong about being wrong; Mike Tyson would have annihilated Evander Holyfield if the fight's referee, Mitch Halpern, had done his job and taken away Holyfield's best punch -- the accidental headbutt.
SATURDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: I would rather send Jones and Hopkins $49.95 cash money dollars [or Paypal, whatever they prefer] for them to not fight -- maybe with a 60/40 split to whichever man calls it off -- than watch that fight for free. [This may be the stuff that Facebook groups are made of.]