Gutsy Kenny Weldon and The Truth About Boxing Today
02.02.06 - BY MIKE CASEY: Praise be to Kenny Weldon for telling some harsh truths about the state of boxing today. In a recent letter to Houston Boxing Scene, Kenny outlined some of his major concerns about lax boxing commissions and the alarming ease with which managers, trainers and boxers can now obtain licenses. He also took a well justified shot at the many odious creeps and so-called boxing fans who constantly cheapen this great sport of ours with their trash talk and foul-mouthed rants.
Article posted on 02.02.2006
Hats off too to our mutual friend Jim Amato for immediately picking up on Kenny’s missive and syndicating it on Amato Boxing, a rare and welcome haven for genuine boxing people who don’t labour under the tiresome delusion that a fight fan has to prove his credentials by spouting the industrial language of a Tony Soprano or, for that matter, a James Toney. For the benefit of those of you who weren’t around at the time, Kenny Weldon was a good class featherweight of the seventies who notched 42 wins in his 50 pro fights in a ten-year career. He currently owns the Galena Park Boxing Academy in Houston and doesn’t care for much of what he sees in the greater boxing world beyond.
“Fans and boxing people alike evidently do not realise the state of disgrace we have all achieved around the world,” says Kenny. “It’s not just that we are no longer producing the world class talent we once did, the opponent has unified forces against us. The Bin Laden of boxing has become the boxing commissions. They now allow just anyone to train and/or manage boxers. Even our amateur boxing coaches must take a clinic on safety, fundamentals and all aspects of the sport and pass it before they are allowed to work a boxer’s corner or run a boxing club.
“The professional boxing commissions do none of this. I have met more professional managers, matchmakers and trainers in the past five years who knew as much about the sport they represent as Abraham Lincoln knew about space flight.”
I agree whole-heartedly with Kenny Weldon’s sentiments and I share his frustrations for one simple reason: I love boxing with all my heart. I have loved it since I was a young boy in the sixties and will continue to love it until the day I die, whatever its faults and whatever cancers try to ravage it and eat it away. I love my fighters as well as my fights and genuinely care about their welfare. It saddens me greatly when I hear of old fighters losing their money and the minds, even though their misfortunes are often self-inflicted.
I always feel the need to set out my stall in this way before discussing current issues, since the unfortunately haughty term of ‘boxing historian’ implies that I only have time for what has gone before. Not guilty. As a boy, I was thrilled by the ring exploits of the young Muhammad Ali, Dick Tiger, Bob Foster, Joey Giardello, Emile Griffith, Carlos Ortiz, Vicente Saldivar and the wonderful Eder Jofre. Eager to know as much as I could about boxing’s rich history, I would also plunder my father’s vast collection of old magazines to read about the likes of Sam Langford, Jack Dempsey, Stanley Ketchell and Harry Greb.
Today I derive no less pleasure from the skills and fighting hearts of Floyd Mayweather, Ricky Hatton, Arturo Gatti, Winky Wright, Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and that whirlwind of a fighting man, Manny Pacquiao.
I have nothing against the fighters of today. I have everything against the increasingly gauche and tacky circus in which they are required to parade their wares.
Whatever made boxing want to be like wrestling? In my youth, the two sports went hand in hand and more or less shared space in all the popular magazines. Even The Ring magazine carried a wrestling section for years, until the boxing fans persuaded the editors to get rid of it. Followers of the sweet science didn’t wish to be associated with a long devalued sister sport which had degenerated into a synthetic and largely pre-arranged farce. Wrestling was about guys in silly masks and silly trunks making overblown entries to the ring and trading cheap and badly acted insults with their opponents. God forbid that boxing should ever go that way. Ho-hum.
I don’t entirely blame today’s boxing fans for lapping up all this hokum. It is all they have ever known. But those who aren’t just passing through really should take the time and trouble to dig below the surface and compare what we have now to what we had in comparatively recent times.
One doesn’t have to travel back to the year dot to uncover the former glory. In fact we can stop the clock in 1969, when man landed on the moon and folks in general weren’t entirely boring. Just recently I re-visited that memorable fight between Joe Frazier and Jerry Quarry at Madison Square Garden, which offers emphatic proof for me that the excitement and sense of anticipation in that era was far greater than it is today, simply for being more restrained and considerably more dignified.
The presentational aspect of modern boxing might seem to be a cosmetic and somewhat trite issue compared to its larger and more significant warts, but much of our present troubles have sprung from the depressing drop in general standards.
Watching Frazier and Quarry limber up, the first thing that struck me was the vastness of the ring. That was because it wasn’t filled with irrelevant people. The boxers and seconds were in their corners and only moved a step further when referee Arthur Mercante motioned them to join him. Mercante was brief in his reminder of the rules and finished by saying a simple, “Take care.”
That was it. The fight was on. Two fighters who were lean and mean, quietly menacing but well behaved, went to war. There was nothing in their pre-fight demeanour that besmirched the sport or incited the crowd. When Jimmy Ellis, Frazier’s rival champion at that time, was invited up to the ring, he shook hands with Joe and wished him well. There was no brawl, no tantrums, none of the drivel we have to endure today.
Johnny Addie, one of the great ring announcers, did his bit sparingly and with class as he told us all we ever want to know: hometown of each fighter, colour of trunks, weights. End of story. Addie never felt the urge to linger forever in mid-ring in the hope of stealing the spotlight and becoming a ‘star’. Nor did he mangle the names of the contestants. Joe Frazier wasn’t ‘Joe Fraaazuuh’ and Jerry Quarry wasn’t ‘Jerreee Quarreee’.
The nearest comparison we have to Johnny Addie now is Jimmy Lennon Jnr, whose old man wasn’t too shabby as a ring announcer either. Everyone else, it seems, is now addicted to the dreadful drug of holding on to a fighter’s name in the way that dear old Roy Orbison applied his enviable grip to a high note.
Michael Buffer, I would be the first to admit, is wholly professional in his attitude and certainly chills the blood with his famous cry of, “Let’s get ready to rumble!” But is it good for boxing? Is it really appropriate to a sport which the traditionalists amongst us still like to refer to as the noble art?
Here in Britain, we have some real beauts. One announcer manages to add an ‘a’ to just about every word he says. Hence, we get “Ladies and gentlemena, we come to the main eventa of the eveninga.”
Another clown recently achieved the seemingly impossible by turning an old pro called Ernie Smith into ‘Oonie Smeetha’. African fighters, many of whom have never stepped outside London, are patronisingly announced in doom-laden tones that conjure up images of spear-throwing cannibals.
The fighters themselves are in no way blameless for enabling the circus to flourish and expand its range of tasteless products for the brain-dead and the transient tribe of dilettantes who now seem to constitute the target audience of the controlling bodies and the major media moguls.
The ring attire of many fighters today is no longer harmlessly amusing or original. It is gaudy and downright ridiculous.
What is so offensive about dignity and class? Frazier and Quarry looked like the real fighters they were when they clashed on that hot summer night at the Garden. They were superbly trained, tight as racehorses and looked deadly serious and manly in every way.
A fighter does not look dignified when he is wearing a pair of trunks that extend from just below his nipples to his calves. He does not look macho when he is wearing a creation that can only be described as a skirt. At best he looks like a pimp, at worst he looks like a half-hearted transvestite. One of Mike Tyson’s redeeming features was that he never engaged in that kind of nonsense.
NFL players must adhere to strict rules when taking to the gridiron. They are permitted to grow beards and wear their hair any length they wish, as is any man’s right unless the circumstances are exceptional. What players cannot do is to disrespect their uniforms. Even their shirts must be tucked in at all tmes. Is it too much to ask that we have at least some form of dress code in boxing?
On the subject of bad taste, Kenny Weldon has some pertinent observations on the crass comments and needlessly foul language now found on too many boxing websites. Quite rightly, he comments, “As for you guys on the websites talking trash and using language that wouldn’t be allowed in a New York bar, please have a little respect for the game and listen to the old guys. Your lack of knowledge and your bravado is totally inconsiderate of the sweet science and the people who made this sport the best sport in the world.”
For me, this is a very important point and one that needs to be urgently addressed. Never in my life have I been guilty of patronising new converts to the sport who know little about it. We are all ignorant when we first start out, and there is nothing more off-putting than being put down by a smart guy who thinks he knows it all. What I have no time for is the language of the gutter that comes with so many of the new breed. It is surely not impossible for even the barely literate to pen a few sentences without boring the rest of us with their knowledge of choicest Anglo-Saxon. Do they think this is the way that most genuine boxing people normally converse? It isn’t. It is the way that schoolboys talk when they discover profanity for the first time and cannot wait to try it out.
When I recently wrote an article on Carlos Monzon, a member of this site took issue with my points of view. He did so fairly and politely. For exercising this democratic right, he was promptly dismissed as ‘a clueless c***’ by the next contributor. Charming. Nothing like a good, intellectual debate, eh?
Another persistent pest, who fails to see the crashing irony of his user name, even managed to soil the obituary of boxing writer Jack Fiske with two utterly inane and infantile observations.
On more than one occasion, I have seen one fighter or another being described as ‘a piece of s****’ by idiots who have probably never had a fight in their entire lives. That is a downright cowardly and offensive thing to say about any fighting man, whatever his level of talent.
What do these masked wonders do in their everyday lives? Are they all timid librarians and filing clerks who suddenly get brave at night under the cloak of anonymity? More to the point, why are they tolerated? Have the rest of us softened to the extent that our primary objective is not to offend the offenders?
Kenny Weldon quite rightly laments the increasing invasion of the sport by self-styled managers and trainers. A fighter’s corner should be a place of calm and reason, especially in a crisis. How many times now do we see three guys shouting different instructions at a troubled fighter in a scene of utter chaos? When a boxer is reeling from one of Jose Luis Castillo’s Sunday best, a meaningless cry of, “You da man!” isn’t going to do that much for his self-belief. When Kevin Rooney was working the young Mike Tyson’s corner, the sense of serenity was almost palpable. Jack Blackburn, Eddie Futch, Yancy Durham and Gil Clancy were great and knowledgeable trainers who knew exactly how to motivate their fighters and moderate the corner.
When George Foreman deprived Joe Frazier of his title in Kingston, Big George’s corner was a sanctuary in all the bedlam. Small wonder, since it was inhabited by Dick Sadler, Archie Moore and Sandy Saddler. Prior to the fateful second round, Foreman rose from his stool with one quiet and simple instruction in his ear: “Drop that hammer on him, George.”
It is so important that the good men of today like Freddie Roach, Buddy McGirt and Teddy Atlas continue to prevail and multiply their numbers.
There are certainly plenty of great trainers around. Last week I had the pleasure of watching one of the best in Johnny Eames, of London’s TKO Gym, who was outstanding in helping his lightweight charge Graham Earl upset the odds and outpoint the dangerous, world ranked Russian, Yuri Romanov. Earl had to work hard for his victory and suffered some very uncomfortable moments along the way, but not once did Eames get flustered or raise his voice. Urging his fighter to take deep breaths, Johnny issued his instructions with firmness and great calm. Earl knew exactly where he stood at all times and was a willing student.
Eames even handed out the occasional admonishment with a nice balance of authority and good humour. After Romanov had dangerously found the mark in a torrid ninth round with some solid rights, Eames said to Earl, “What did I tell you about that right?” Earl nodded and there the matter rested. In a nutshell, Johnny’s performance was a master class from a master trainer.
It was matched by an excellent refereeing job by the consistently able Richie Davies, who rules the ring with the minimum of fuss and with a rod of iron. When Romanov’s corner became too vociferous, Davies stopped the action briefly and barked, “You do that again, I’ll throw you out of the hall.” It was no coincidence that the fight itself was superb and a terrific advert for the game.
So much is still great and uplifting about professional boxing. More than ever before, I believe we need to stand up for the good side of the old game whilst having the courage to face down and condemn its ugly sister. We cannot simply ignore the gaping cracks in the road in the misguided belief that acknowledging their existence would be aiding the abolitionists. Like a clever computer virus, the ugliness has become depressingly diversified as it courses through boxing’s bloodstream. The behaviour of the politically motivated world boxing organisations is frequently appalling and has been so for years.
When you know the game well, you know the terrible things that go on, many of which you cannot report unless you are wealthy enough to employ some seriously heavyweight lawyers. When Bert Sugar was editing The Ring, he courageously ran stories on the grubby machinations of the game’s ruling bodies, but who does so with any consistency now? Even the television networks shy away from controversy. Teddy Atlas does the best he can, but other ex-fighters who guest as commentators are swiftly hushed up if they should so much as suggest that a judge is either blind or plain bent for producing a scorecard that defies belief.
The alphabet soup boys cry foul and call their lawyers at the mere mention of the word ‘corrupt’, yet any supposedly independent boxing body is corrupt from the first time it produces a set of world rankings that are not based on merit alone.
The team members of the International Boxing Organization (IBO) are proud of being the only sanctioning body that boasts a computerised and objective rating system, yet as one observer noted, “Unfortunately they don’t seem to consult their ratings when assigning championships.” Why? Would the IBO care to explain that to us?
How easy is it to form a world boxing authority? Well, Pat O’Grady managed the feat as far back as 1981 when his son Sean was stripped of the WBA lightweight title. Pat invented the World Athletic Association – quite possibly during his lunch break – and appointed Sean as lightweight champion. Sean’s first defence was against Hawaiian hitter Andrew Ganigan, who knocked him out in two rounds. An unhappy ending for the O’Gradys, but a very disturbing point had been made.
Few things now make sense to sensible boxing folk, as the bully boys continue to get their way and tear and twist at every tradition. The evidence of their destruction hits us between the eyes from every direction.
The number of weight divisions (seventeen) is absurd, and the number of champions no less so. This senseless proliferation has left us with a depressingly low depth of talent and has unrealistically prolonged the careers of many fighters who really aren’t that exceptional and never were. Nearly every fight now has to be for some kind of championship, however worthless. Nothing seems to scare promoters more than staging a good old-fashioned ten rounds non-title bout.
In the eighties, the classic championship limit of fifteen rounds was abandoned by those who apparently care for the health of boxers, following a couple of high profile ring fatalities in Johnny Owen and Deuk Koo Kim. Johnny was knocked out in the twelfth round by Lupe Pintor, while Kim was KO’d in the fourteenth by Ray Mancini.
Has that measure helped to protect boxers? Of course it hasn’t. Preliminary boys are now fighting gruelling twelve rounders after only six or seven fights because there is always some meaningless title up for grabs. They simply aren’t given sufficient time to accustom themselves to eight and ten round fights and adapt to the longer distances. Many burn out long before they should. The great fighters find a way of plugging such holes in their education and flourishing on any given playing field, but these missing links can prove costly for lesser boxers who need more time to learn the ropes and progress.
We repeatedly hear of boxers approaching ‘must win’ fights. Why must they win? With all those titles sloshing around, there is always another chance just down the road. The obsessive ‘0’ on a prospect’s record has assumed ridiculous importance. Even an educational defeat is deemed a minor disaster. Too much pressure is placed on young fighters to thrill and please, to the point where any tactical game plan goes immediately out of the window. All the time, I see skilful boxers with significant height and reach advantages becoming locked in punishing wars of attrition at close quarters.
Why are we so outraged when fighters are a few pounds over the limit at the weigh-in? With the luxury of twenty-four hours to spare, they are only going to feast at the local burger bar and come into the ring massively overweight anyway. I do chuckle when commentators behold a featherweight and innocently exclaim, “My word, he looks like a welter from the waist up!”
It is not impossible, even at this late stage, to stop all this rot. What does seem impossible is the task of stopping the good people of boxing from warring amongst each other instead of attacking the criminals. As Kenny Weldon observes, “We cannot agree on anything.”
In the United States, the biggest boxing fish in the sea, a rescue act is especially urgent. If we are ever to move forward and cut out the cancerous growths, we need to commit once and for all to a definitive solution, even if it means inheriting one problem for every two we solve.
The greatest brains in the game, and there are a great many of them, need to form their own round table and hammer something out. Camelot won’t come out of it, because boxing can never be that and we wouldn’t want it to be. The sport can never afford to lose its roguish, outlaw charm or its glorious mix of characters. Its anarchic nature is as appealing as it is frustrating, one of the curious qualities that so shiningly sets it apart.
That is why, in my view, federal control of boxing in America is an eternal Catch-22 proposition. Apart from the usual few good men, today’s politicians can often be as distasteful and dishonest as the people they are paid to throw in jail. The one thing we do not need is better regulated corruption by way of political appointments and politically motivated policy decisions, leaving us with nothing more than a sanitised and bureaucratic façade.
How I fervently wish that I could offer an all-embracing solution to boxing’s problems. To my constant exasperation, I am unable to do so. The multi-layered composition of the disease is too challenging a conundrum for this humble writer and most others. That is why the great thinkers and the genuine lovers of boxing must come together, see eye to eye and start fighting the good fight.
Boxing will never be stopped or expunged, for the simple reason that men will always fight. Prostitution will similarly endure because certain people will always sell their bodies. But do we really want our great game to be compared to an old whore?
The enemy forces should not be underestimated. They learn quickly and know all the management mind games and tricks. Like rust, they never sleep. They are the blue-sky democrats who secretly despise democracy, free speech and fair play. Blue-sky thinking does not permit bad things to be said about bad situations. Speak up, and you are shouted down and labelled an extremist. A pox on them all. Do not let them win!
MIKE CASEY is a boxing journalist and historian, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization and founder and editor of The Grand Slam Premium Boxing Service for boxing historians and fans. www.grandslampage.net
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