The Sun Rises Again*: Boxing Commentary, Musings on Jermain Taylor, Jim Gray vs. Jameel McCline & More
11.10.07 - By Christopher Roche - Boxing Questions (and answers)
Article posted on 11.10.2007
1) Where did the Jermain Taylor fans go on September 29? For those of us at Boardwalk Hall for the Jermain Taylor vs. Kelly Pavlik fight, it was amazing to witness the disintegration of Taylor’s fan base. Taylor was a very popular fighter for years, and he has all the pedigree.. Taylor is a bright, young man who represented his country in the Olympics. Taylor fought some of the best fighters of our era, and until he squared off with Pavlik, he had never lost. Taylor looked like the man who could rebuild American boxing.
Trouble started brewing for Taylor when he had his draw with Winky Wright. Many boxing fans felt that Taylor actually lost the bout, but Taylor handled himself with class and dignity after the fight. Taylor had just come off two big wins against Bernard Hopkins and facing Wright was not a small challenge. Wright and Hopkins have the ability to make any fighter struggle to look good, so the performance against Wright was forgivable.
The major blow to Taylor’s momentum was his uninspiring showing against Kassim Ouma, who is an awkward, tough fighter. Taylor was supposed to knock out Ouma, just as he did Daniel Edourad nearly two years earlier. However, in front of his home crowd in Arkansas, Taylor could not give his fans what they wanted, and Ouma survived the distance.
Taylor’s next match against Cory Spinks was billed as “The Border Battle”, but it was a borderline disaster. Taylor could not corral the much smaller Spinks, and Taylor was often left looking foolish and sluggish as he slogged through twelve miserable rounds. Taylor’s work rate was “Shannon Briggsian”, and Spinks nearly won the middleweight title. Taylor slumped away with a lackluster split-decision.
Taylor could not harm a small junior middleweight who was previously knocked out by Zab Judah. Further, Taylor looked like he was boxing in mud, and whatever his new trainer was telling him was not working.
For some reason I thought Taylor could recapture some of the old magic and outpoint Kelly Pavlik. However, after experiencing the massive pro-Pavlik crowd, it was clear the cards were stacked against the champion. Taylor entered hostile territory at Boardwalk Hall that night, and HBO seemed to aid the Pavlik fervor, especially by flashing Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini’s face on the broadcast and the arena’s jumbotron just before the bout started. The pro-Pavlik crowd went into a frenzy at the sight of Mancini, and the torch was all but passed to Pavlik at that moment.
Taylor, and a select few of his fans who bothered attending the fight, had other ideas, and Taylor nearly decimated Pavlik in the second round. However, the will of Pavlik could not be denied, and he of course stopped Taylor cold in round seven. The crowd went nuts, and once Taylor got his wits about him, he briskly left the ring and the arena, while the new kid on the block, Pavlik, basked in the crowd’s adoration.
The fall of Taylor is extremely stunning. While any boxer can be beaten in the ring on any night, the events leading up to the Pavlik fight were ominous for the former champion. Taylor was on a clear downward trajectory ever since the second fight with Hopkins, and he and his team could not plug the holes in the sinking ship. I thought the ship hit rock bottom against Spinks, and I previously reported those feelings in this column, however, Pavlik blasted the ship into a million pieces at the bottom of the ocean with a massive straight right hand and two sharp uppercuts.
The ship of Taylor was left crumpled in a corner in Atlantic City and hardly anyone in the arena seemed to care, in fact, about 95% of the folks relished the it. Taylor’s fall was complete, and the lack of fan support was perhaps as stunning as the stoppage.
I do not know if Taylor will recover from his demise. If this was just one bad performance, then yes, I would say he could easily recover. However, Taylor’s fall from grace was an long, arduous and painful one, and it is clear that he needs to change many things in order to be successful and win back the belt and his fans. Further, Taylor needs to think about whom he wants in his corner, when he decides to make another title run, because what he has now is clearly not working.
2) Is it ever appropriate to ask a boxer about a pending investigation, moments before that said boxer is about to head into the ring?
On Saturday night, moments before Jameel McCline entered the ring for the biggest fight of his life at Madison Square Garden against Samuel Peter, Jim Gray of Showtime felt it appropriate to ask McCline about steroid allegations that surfaced days before the fight. The nature and source of the allegations against McCline are still somewhat foggy, but the New York State Athletic Commission allowed the bout to happen because McCline’s drug tests were clean.
Before the bout, there were numerous opportunities to interview McCline and ask him about the allegations, and questions about the allegations should have been raised appropriately at pre-fight press conferences or in private interviews. However, Gray felt the need to fuel a controversy and confront McCline about the allegations on fight night. Gray also chose to stick a camera and a microphone in McCline’s face, and I am sure that McCline was not very pleased with Gray’s confrontational tactic, especially since he was mentally and physically preparing for the fight of his life.
The media has every right to report facts and allow opinion to circulate. Members of the media also have a right to provide commentary, as long as it is clearly labeled as such. Opinion should not be disguised as fact, and controversy should never be created based on rumors and unclear allegations.
The report that Gray used to question McCline was a New York Daily News report that was based on the always-reliable “anonymous sources”. Gray created a controversy over something that is little more than a rumor at this point, and he attempted to steal McCline’s moment as an athlete. McCline responded to Gray’s question with a “no comment”. What did Gray expect?
Espn.com recently published an article by their ombudsman, Le Anne Schreiber, who touches on the very subject of the deterioration of hard news reporting, especially related to sports. Sports reporting has morphed into one big “opinion cycle”, according to Schreiber, and the cycle creates controversy after controversy. In my opinion, Jim Gray is part of that vicious cycle, and the opinion cycle has created a chasm between the athletes and the reporters.
If every time an athlete speaks, he must worry about his words being twisted, then he will give generic, boring answers. If every allegation, whether true or false against an athlete gets shoved in his face before game time by journalists like Gray, then athletes will deservedly shun the media.
Whether Gray is interviewing Mike Tyson, Pete Rose or Jameel McCline, controversy always seems to follow him. It is my opinion that tactics like Gray’s hurt the sports world immensely. The relationship between athletes and the media is not healthy, and the public misses a lot of great reporting because the top athletes are often defensive and measured in their answers, and the audience loses the essence of who the athlete is. There is a time and a place for everything, and asking a boxer on fight night about shadowy allegations is out of bounds.
Fight I Would like to See and Why
Kelly Pavlik vs. John Duddy
We have heard the rumors, and we have read the reports, now let’s see if they are true. Pavlik vs. Duddy in Madison Square Garden, New York City, USA is a huge win for everyone. The Saint Patrick’s Day season will be amazing, and Pavlik and Duddy will both get huge paydays and much deserved fan attention and adulation. Plus, the fans will have a reason to party and watch an intriguing boxing match.
Duddy has two tough challenges coming up, so I do not want to jinx him, but I hope he pulls through undefeated and faces Pavlik in March.
Quote of the Week
"It is becoming a trend for fans to put too much faith in punchstat numbers and commentators’ opinions that are often not totally in touch with the reality of what is going on in the ring."-Danny Serratelli, Doghouseboxing.com.
Serratelli had Taylor ahead on his scorecard at ringside against Pavlik, as did I. In fact, most ringside observers we talked with had Taylor ahead by 4-2 or 5-1, so we were perplexed when we found out HBO and much of the TV audience thought Pavlik was winning the fight.
Quote of the Week II
“This must be a good fight. I already have five dots of blood on my shirt.”-Larry Merchant while calling the Taylor vs. Pavlik fight.
Quote of the Week III
“I thought I was losing. It was my understanding I was losing, so I was trying to get some punches off.”-Jermain Taylor when told by Merchant that he was ahead on the scorecards when he was knocked out by Pavlik.
I do not know what Emmanuel Steward saw that made him tell Taylor he was losing the fight. I had Taylor up 5-1, just like Julie Lederman, who was an official judge.
Quote of the Week IV
“Steve Kim, the ace columnist at MaxBoxing, pulled no punches of his own with his assessment of the major differences between the old champ and the new champ. Kim wrote:
`Kelly Pavlik's knockout win over Jermain Taylor for the middleweight crown was about a real fighter with a real manager and a bona fide promoter, who was properly nurtured and developed as a prizefighter.
Pavlik is what boxing needs. He's a pleasing fighter who will bring fans wherever he fights. Unlike his fallen foe, he's not an HBO creation who has a glorified booking agent for a promoter that was just living off their network annuity to line their pockets twice a year.’
Ouch.”-Tom Thompson of Tigerboxing.com, who was quoting Steve Kim of Maxboxing.com.
Injustice of the Week
The injustice of the week is that they did not play the “Star Spangled Banner” before the Taylor vs. Pavlik fight.
Last year we purchased a trial lease from a major timeshare company. The idea is that we spend four days at their lovely resort, and they try and sell us the property. After a year of waiting to book our vacation, my wife and I were finally able to get the days we needed. When I called to book, the cheerful woman down in Florida told me she was very sorry but “There is a convention in town and you cannot have those dates.”
I think it is a safe bet that I will not be plunking down $25,000 on a lovely timeshare that I cannot even reserve during the trial period.
The moral of the story is, “Always try before you buy!” You will never receive a better experience or better service than you do during the sales pitch, and that company obviously failed by shutting us out before we even got started.
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*This column is inspired by the premier novel of the twentieth century, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Hemingway spoke highly of the sport of boxing, and he participated as both a fighter and a referee. Every other week this column will humbly pay homage to the man who helped glorify the fight game back in its early stages. With a little hard work, the Sun Will Rise Again for Boxing, as together we can restore the sport to the top, one fan at a time. Thank You for reading the column.
The next edition will appear in two weeks.
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