Some months back, my brain encircled and ensorcelled by an inflammatory barrier -- what feels like a wall between the outside world and those cognitive centers meant to process it -- I gave up on writing for a time. And even paying attention to certain sports and films -- basically, anything audiovisual that would, in recalling sharper moments, remind me how perversely fucked the present was.
My return is prompted neither by cognitive improvement nor some fun threesome free agent action (if you don't sign up for The Athletic's boxing package, they will shoot that dog, I've been told).
No, it's the background of the above-pictured pug -- Indian super-middleweight Vijender Singh -- whose tonsorial choice (Backstreet Boy by way of BP oil spill) barely registers on a CV far crazier than I expected when I contacted Top Rank about him a week ago.
What I already knew: Singh is 10-0, but he turns 34 in October. He can work with Freddie Roach for years (he's been with him for two already), but he'll never be great. He's just the Indian version of Ryota Murata and Zou Shiming -- accomplished amateurs who turned pro too late and whom Top Rank signed to open up their nations for business (Japan and China, respectively).
Murata, until he magically found a body attack and left hook Friday in his fake-belt title bout, has historically been tongue depressor-stiff. Zou, never quite polished, lost vision in his left eye after a 2017 bout and hasn't fought since. But Bob Arum now has a nice pipeline of game Japanese gents from the Teiken stable in Tokyo for his ESPN cards, so that part worked out.
A week ago, I asked someone at Top Rank whether, in the interval between Singh's Saturday bout in Newark and whatever follows it, I could hang with Singh and watch Bollywood flicks with him.
With utter naivete, I figured I'd need that fluffy material. Er, naw...
Singh: He comes from the northern Indian state of Haryani, whose largest city, Faridabad, is 17-mile commuter-train away from New Delhi. It's the locale's secondary status, in fact, that led producers of the country's "The Office" adaptation -- which debuted last year -- to locate the "Wilkins Chawla" paper company there (a near-must-stream, if only for the faithfulness of the Jim, Pam and Dwight characters -- Amit, Pammi and Mishra -- icons of our lost Aughts whose tales I wanted to follow again from the start).
But Haryana is more than a Subcontinental Scranton -- its neighborhood of Bhiwani is called "Little Cuba" for its production of boxers, including Singh and three of his 2008 Olympian teammates. The rural, agrarian town had five fighting academies at one time and women pupils from the start.
Also, in an otherwise pug-indifferent populace: Bollywood did give top amateur assassin Mary Kom the Priyanka Chopra-treatment a half-decade ago, and if the representations are over the top, surely, they're no more so than those in "Million Dollar Baby," "Creed II," and "Whiplash" (which is more of a boxing film than anything else Miles Teller has done, if you really think about it):
That brings us back to Singh, the only man who ever eyed Mark McGrath's tresses and thought, Yes -- but what if were more like a Medieval flail?
Because his story is far more twisted and interesting than my humor. Singh is the son of a bus driver who attained a university degree and worked as a policeman while training for the Olympics -- during which time he also modeled for magazines, leaving that professional option open if the fisticuff-stuff broke the wrong way.
Which it nearly did -- years after Singh won his bronze medal and attained national fame, via a confounding incident worth the sort of deep exploration ESPN-Top Rank seems unlikely to desire (but please prove me wrong; also, this would be a hell of a sports doc).
Spring 2013. Police in the state of Punjab raid the house of a Canadian-Indian drug dealer whose alias is Ruby. The seizure: 26 kilos of heroin -- worth about $19 million. Near the house: a car registered to Singh's wife, Archana. Singh himself is said to be in Mumbai, 1,700 miles south.
Then things get weirder. The Punjab police arrest Singh's sparring partner Ram Singh (don't let the surnames distract you), and Ram concedes to cops that he and Vijender both used heroin provided by Ruby. The police, without disclosing any evidence, claim Vijender took dope 12 times exactly. Then they raid the sparring partner's brother-in-law's house -- where they find five kilos of meth.
Meanwhile, another Vijender sparring partner, Dinesh, claims the Punjab cops framed Vijender -- that the cops deposited Vijender's wife's car at the scene.
Please recall that during this period, Vijender himself is a policeman.
After a full month, the country's sports minister asks its anti-doping agency to test Vijender for recreational drug use -- although instead of taking a hair sample, which might yet contain evidence of past indiscretions, the agency asks for blood and urine only (one account suggests the agency didn't have the tools needed for hair analysis, which strains credulity on numerous levels).
Finally, almost three months after the raid on Ruby, and once his non-drug-test-test comes back clean, Vijender gives an exclusive interview to the Press Trust of India (their version of the AP or Reuters).
He sounds more humble than defiant-- but there's an odd lack of protestation for someone who really never disproved any allegations (although unlike others, he was never arrested, and even if he had been, the Ministry of Sport publicly offered to send him to rehab for help in a truly graceful national gesture).
Vijender: "Every incident, good or bad, teaches you something...I won’t ever be as casually friendly with anyone as I used to be. I won’t ever leave my car keys or my mobile phone with anybody. I have become wary of people, which is quite natural given what I went through...
"May be the TV channels love me a lot -- that’s why they kept showing me for so long. It’s okay. There is a price to pay if you are famous."
Either he never did anything wrong, in which case that last line sounds innocent and generous, given the widespread speculation about him. Or he was never quite forthright and that last line is his justification -- stars do what they want -- then you gawk at us -- then we go back to our thing -- so the cycle continues.
You're the Press Trust of India, after all -- who'd know this pattern of apotheosis, apoplexy and apology better than you?
Because the tale wasn't complicated enough, Singh ran for a seat in the lower house of India's parliament earlier this year and lost -- meanwhile, the aforementioned kick-ass Mary Kom was named to the upper house.
Singh's alliance with Top Rank is his cash-out before he gets hurt. Top Rank, in exchange, wants just one Singh-inspired Himalayan wonder; consider that Pacman hails from the Philippines -- or a country 1/20th India's size.
Singh's buried on the Newark undercard Saturday (its headliner is returning native and featherweight prospect Shakur Stevenson). On Wednesday, Singh held a meet-and-greet at the Piggyback Bar in Jersey City. Most of his compatriots had already filed out of such establishments for the day, following India's deflating Cricket World Cup semifinal loss.
"My blood boils when everybody goes gaga over cricket," Singh told the BBC 11 years ago, when he was just 22. He felt his compatriots weren't paying his efforts in such a brutal sport enough heed.
One decade -- and a bronze medal, drug scandal and election loss -- later, Singh seems to be calibrating just how much attention he actually wants. And/or needs.
Are you deciding how strong of an impression you want to make in your hot-summer-in-the-city? Try -- and this is real -- Vijender Singh's fragrances -- Knockout for Him or Knockout for Her.
Already in possession of a surfeit of scents, I'm gonna pass on Singh's signature perfumery, especially as it comes in a basic package. I'm far more likely to blind-buy Reyane's Fight Club Marines, knowing it may smell of unaccounted-for diesel emissions but will still look cool on my desk (see the image to the right).
Once upon a time, Vijender Singh walked out to the song "Singh is Kinng" from a film starring his famous actor friend Akshay Kumar. It's not bad, as ring entrance songs go:
And yet I so badly want instead for Singh to walk out to the hypnotic, entrancing film tracks I can't stop playing -- "Marana Mass" and "Rangamma Mangamma" (although the latter film treats deafness in the retrograde way "Mr. Magoo" did blindness).
And yeah, I should probably do a real interview regarding the dirty-cop-stuff at some point. Or Hauser should. I dunno. I feel like this is about as far as I've got energy or inclination to go. So what? So, let's dance!
The first few pages of Mikey Garcia's senior high school yearbook feature two back-to-back spreads with conflicting messages (both inspired by the school's name -- Pacifica). The first is titled "Taking a dive into the abyss." The second: "Fear the abyss."
You could argue that the tension between the two -- the conflicting impulses to follow one or the other at various points -- defines Mikey's career (the years he spent away from the ring, not challenging anyone, including an undefeated man he'd been slated to meet, Yuriorkis Gamboa; the attempts at conquest he's made in his return, including his failed effort Saturday night against Spence) -- and perhaps any boxer's -- or person's.
We all sense the unknown just ahead. To enter it without any hesitation is more than unwise -- it's damn dangerous. Think of the men who fought with such abandon -- dudes already deceased, if inimitably electric while still alive -- Valero, Tapia.
And yet, the appeal of Mikey's recent bids for belts has indeed been their daring -- even as the later rounds against Spence seemed a result only of harmful heart, of obstinate, self-defeating endurance.
I literally -- and involuntarily, to the degree speech is ever voluntary in the first place -- yelled at Robert to shut it down 20 ringside rows back. To save his brother. Wrote it on Twitter. Felt helpless.
Urging the Oxnard team to tack to the first message -- to be fearful.
Not of immediate loss or bodily injury (though Mikey endured both) but of the darkness that sets in years later, insidiously and then suddenly, when the body, as if vengefully recalling past wounds, betrays a certain type of boxer.
That was the abyss Spence presented. Only a fool or neophyte would consider Mikey's uprightness at the final bell an accomplishment (a tip: don't take medical advice from the camp of Jake LaMotta).
It is 13 years now since Mikey posed for the above yearbook photo in his pre-knotted bowtie. Nobody stays 18 forever. And sure, we all amount to much more than what's outwardly visible. Which doesn't mean newer photos can't tell a story of where we dared to go and the consequences thereof.
You look at the kid, and your impulse is to protect him. Then the week rolls on, and by Friday or Saturday night, you've got that poisoned blood again -- that red heat, those itchy fingers, to see the primal and gab about it.
If you're lucky, you see a hero brave the abyss and reemerge with only a minor blemish. If not, there's always the following week.
"Now, hindsight, I should have taken control of [Salido-Lomachenko] much earlier. I tried to get involved -- it was too late. It was out of control."
"HBO, Jim Lampley -- to me they get what they deserve by not being on TV anymore. Because every fight, there was controversy."
"I'm 55 years old, and I'm single. I'm dating. I meet a girl. She googles me. What comes up? 'Incompetent referee' -- and I mean, these are old articles."
The Texas state boxing commission -- officially known as the "Combative Sports Program" -- has a reputation for suspect decisions and chicanery.
That includes the work of referee Laurence Cole, who'll be working the undercard of Spence-Garcia on Saturday (perhaps as many as four bouts -- a ref doesn't learn the number of state assignments in Texas until the day of the bout; similarly, the refs are urged to stay away from the weigh-in, to keep things above board).
To name just a few examples:
Cole's taken heat for letting Salido maul Lomachenko with dirty tactics. For allowing Chaniev and Velasco to hit the canvas three times each (unnecessarily) in separate bouts. For brokering insurance for fight promotions while also making on-the-fly medical decisions as a referee.
For the presumptive nepotism that allows him to work in the commission, which his father, Dickie Cole, now 88, ran for decades.
As fight night approached, however, I recently began to wonder what would happen if I asked the younger Cole about this most unsavory reputation. Last August, the Boxing Writers Association of America censured him.
What does he truly believe about himself? If fed certain facts, like some robot learning the boundaries of its artificial, programmed existence, would his head spin out of control and then combust?
There was only one way to know -- though I didn't anticipate our conversation would last 80 minutes.
What's your take when someone says, 'Ah, Texas. You don't want to go to the judges there. You don't want to go to the refs there. You're not gonna get a fair shake' -- like Paulie Malignaggi before and after his controversial decision loss to Juan Diaz, in Houston?"
"It's offensive. Why did he take a fight here if he knew he wasn't gonna get a fair shake? He's the one who signed the contract. I didn't. The judges didn't."
Cole then looks up the fight online and feels vindicated when he sees that two of the judges were not from Texas. Which obscures the fact that the Texan judge, Gale Van Hoy, had the only truly inexplicable scorecard -- one that had 10 rounds for a local in a very close bout.
Cole decries "the lack of journalism" on the part of the commentators who paint matches as Texas-tainted even when only part of the officiating crew is Lonestar-State-linked.
"I'm attacking the guys on TV," he says. "HBO, Jim Lampley -- to me, they get what they deserve by not being on TV anymore. Because every fight, there was controversy. Teddy Atlas (formerly ESPN's color commentator on all boxing matches) -- every fight there was controversy.
"They lost viewership because everybody had the interpretation that the sport is corrupt."
Nah, not the reason HBO left the game.
"I've known (ESPN writer) Dan Rafael for years. He's told me he doesn't like the way I referee. I can live with that. If I see him, I'm going to be cordial to him because he's not attacking my character."
Meanwhile, he attends seminars each year on officiating at sanctioning body conventions. "So Max Kellerman, when he makes (character-based) comments that he makes, has he ever been to a seminar? I've been reading all my life. Am I a journalist?"
So the fight game's entirely clean?
"I don't think there's any corruption within the sport -- in this sense, in this sense, as a ring official, I've never been approached to swing a fight."
Yes, he repeats "in this sense." A curious and limited disavowal.
What about the apparent conflict of interest presented by his brokering of fight-insurance?
"If I let fights go on and people get hurt, then the rates will go up, and I can make more money off that commission. So there's not a conflict between my job as a ring official and my job being a broker for insurance. I drive a car, I also write the insurance on my car. So do you think there's a conflict of interest there?"
I argue here that cars and boxing are very different. What I don't say -- because I want time to listen to it again on the recording -- is that his answer seems a textbook definition of conflict of interest.
Are you more scrutinized more because of who your father is?
"I will give you a 'yes', but I was refereeing before my dad became the commissioner." He then goes on to praise his pops before dropping this:
"Now, I'm not saying he did everything right. He was horrible at delegating authority, he didn't handle stress well, he chewed out a lot of people, got in a lot of trouble, he pissed off the state a lot."
Later, indications that his relationship with his father is a more sensitive topic than boxing people even realize:
"Don't talk about my dad. You don't know what my dad's given up to be in a position he is...I had a cousin one time trying to get my goat, an older cousin trying to stir things up, and she goes, 'You'll never be half the man your dad is,' and I said 'If I am, I'll be just fine.'"
Why should he receive complaints of nepotism, he says, when there are plenty of families with two generations in the judging game -- Harold and Julie Lederman, for example?
He claims people pick on Texas because it's "low-hanging."
Wait -- wouldn't it only be low-hanging if it were making obviously bad decisions? It seems like an accidental admission, but it comes in the middle of a longer monologue of Cole's, and I forget to revisit it.
Ref Steve Smoger is praised for letting guys rumble, for not ending fights at the first sign of real trouble: "Why do they like Smoger when he lets it go, and they criticize me?"
Cole says even his mother could've officiated Pacquiao-Margarito because there was little for the ref to do.
"And guess what? The Filipino media criticized me for not stopping the fight."
"Well to be fair," I say, "Margarito went blind."
"I put my hand over his good eye, I said, 'How many fingers I'm holding up?' He answers two -- alright, he can see, let's go. I brought the doctor up there twice."
"When someone just goes, 'You screwed up,' then it sounds like my ex-wife." He needs the reasoning. And he wants to work on improving, even if it's not always a comfortable effort.
Watching film with colleagues at the sanctioning body conventions, during which they evaluate each other and make suggestions, is "embarrassing," Cole says, "as if we're up there naked."
He says he wishes he'd handled the 2015 Omar Figueroa-Ricky Burns match better -- one that saw him dock two points from Burns for holding. He volunteers that he was very unsure of the job he did reffing 130-lb. champ Masayuki Ito's title defense last December in Tokyo.
After Ito won by KO, Cole asked fellow ref Vic Drakulich and a few other officials present whether he'd effed up -- even the event's promoter, Akihiko Honda.
"I still play soccer, and you still miss goals that are wide open. I've got to accept that I'm fallible. I don't know what faith you are, but my dad used to say there is only one person who walked on this planet who was perfect and look what they did to him."
Okay, but what does he tell the women he dates when they encounter all the online criticism of him?
"You're just honest with them and you say, They don't write fan pages for a referee. Half the fans -- one of their fighters loses, unfortunately, and they're upset, and we're an easy target to blame."
Does that work?
"Yeah because if I'm meeting somebody they actually can talk to me. You had an opportunity to talk to me...I'm actually discussing the situation, like we should be able to discuss everything."
About an hour after I first posted this interview , Cole called me, feeling vulnerable, in light of how open he had been, but more than that, concerned that the person the quotes evoked piece was a jerk (though he used a term that begins with "d").
"I don't want to be a bleep," he said, almost plaintively.
He wants the world to know, contrary to what his comments about Max, Teddy, Lamps and HBO might indicate, he really does blame himself, for the 10 or 20 fights he's screwed up of the 1,000 he's reffed.
"I want to take true accountability."
My Wednesday flight into Texas was delayed for so long on the tarmac in New York and then Dallas -- due to 80-mph winds that ripped apart nine skybridges at DFW -- that the pined-for ping sound, signaling passengers could finally escape an aircraft that was thankfully older (a Boeing 737 not yet replaced by the grounded, crash-prone Max models), unleashed a Black Friday front-door bash-dash.
Took an elbow to the back of an already-inflamed head and, dizzier than Jerome Herman Dean, more down than Dao, I passed out in my nearby hotel that seems situated almost beneath the highway. Woke up at midnight.
Thanks a lot, weather.
But here's what I can tell you about the Spence-Garcia hype in its near-home-city, so far -- it's muted.
My Lyft driver Thursday from the stadium in Arlington back to my hotel -- Wangchchu, originally of Kathmandu, Nepal -- was unaware of the looming contest -- despite his longstanding, Tyson-triggered love of boxing.
Dude told me -- without any prompting -- he wants to see Spence-Crawford and Joshua-Wilder -- and that GGG disappointed him in the second fight against Canelo. He even brought up Spence's 2016 opponent on Coney Island -- the now-44-year-old Italian Leonard Bundu.
If Wangchchu -- who retains a residence in Nepal, with a kitchen overlooking the mountains -- ain't aware of the event, something's off.
The two bigger live attractions in this area, just north of the Design District, so far seem to me Medieval Times (didn't know they still existed, then considered attending a joust, only to see that admission cost $85 for any of Thursday's three shows -- how could they not be killing it at the box office?) and this weekend's "Gun & Knife" expo at Market Hall.
As the gun show forces guests to empty their magazines before entering, I was thinking of dropping in and loudly pronouncing my opposition to the whole arrangement. Highlights would've included "guns do kill people!" and "before you lynch me, may I call my brother? He has the flu, and I just wanna see how he's feeling before my larynx is crushed."
Or maybe, convergence: On Sunday of St. Paddy's Day, I find myself deposited, by way punishment, in the faux castle's green moat.
You ever been in the bowels of the Cowboys' stadium, searching for the home team's locker room -- so you can snap photos of the cubby where Zeke stores his headphones, say -- and, after wandering a warren of suites, hallways and storage rooms, found yourself inside the cheerleaders' dressing area (whose whiteboard still features dancing instructions)?
Um, no, neither have I.
I reached out to a people in a variety of impressive professions to solicit Spence-Garcia predictions. Straight-up punditry can be found elsewhere anyway.
A senior-vice president at NBC News, the deputy political director of Kirsten Gillibrand's 2020 presidential campaign, a manager of business development at American Express.
The head of marketing at Patron and Grey Goose.
Yet only one cohort of cool cats got back to me: Secret Service Agents.
Paul Eckloff is a special agent in charge of the Presidential Protective Division -- effectively, this means he stands right behind the President inside the White House and directly in front of him in the wider world.
He has been doing this for decades -- this is the third POTUS he's guarded.
Here's Eckloff, whose team sweeps any area the President visits before the official arrival, on why Secret Service agents find fight prognostication intriguing.
"Our job is vulnerability assessment analysis. You have to approach it from statistics and other factors...You go to a site and, though we don't like to put it this way, [we explore], How would I attack it? Where are the weak points? How will I get in there? Where's the soft, fleshy underbelly I can punch? And then we work with a site agent to close those gaps.
"It's the same as looking at a fight...Our model is advance-driven. We do our homework upside and downside, go inside a place, tear it apart, and do every possible assessment."
Also, fun fact: Secret Service officers watch combat sports together. "If you were to ask agents about MMA, you'd probably get more answers because when we watch boxing we're always like, 'Just kick him. Just kick him already. Come on, let's end this.'"
Alright, so Spence-Garcia speculation -- for which Eckloff not only did research on his own but asked fellow agents' for input.
"It's gonna be a closer fight than a lot of people think."
He likes how Mikey handled well the size of long lightweight Robert Easter last July. But he's also mighty impressed by first-round KO Spence scored against Ocampo via right hand hook to body (almost the kidney).
He also thinks Spence's size is not totally to his advantage if he hasn't brought in the proper sparring partner. "It's gonna be tougher to guard your mid section with someone who's three and a half inches shorter. It really opens up some angles that Spence may have not defended from" previously.
"It's all gonna hinge on the first couple of rounds. If Garcia can do some damage in the first couple of rounds, then I think he's got a shot, but other than that I'd have to go with Spence."
Britt Gardner is an agent based in the Dallas office who watched fights with his father when he was growing up. He also used to protect Second Lady Biden.
"Spence! Height, weight, reach, age. Physics. Even though Garcia has a ton of experience. Two weight classes is a big jump especially against a really good fighter. Maybe it goes the distance, but a unanimous decision and not particularly close. I think Garcia is fighting to stay up and in it in the late rounds...But I could be completely wrong about everything🤷🏻♂️"
Rafael Barros, Assistant to the Special Agent in Charge at the US Secret Service in Washington, DC: "I’ll have to go with the bigger guy. Spence."
Spence is a southpaw who works off a power jab that pushes guys back. His counter straight left over another guy’s slightly-drooping right is an anvil. He jabs where defensive hands aren’t – agnostic as to whether he lands upstairs or down.
And then you have his power shots just above the belt-line and their sonic signature – a thump followed by the sound of escaping air, of a quick, inorganic deflation. A wham and a wheeze. A homer off the bat’s sweet-spot followed by a squeeze of the bellows.
Spence bruises Mikey to the point the latter’s corner decides to stop the fight around the 10th.
Mikey is perhaps talented enough to figure a way to hang for all 12 even in a loss.
And Mikey is the man who arranged this evening -- made it such an event that Spence couldn’t turn it down. There's an undeniable mental advantage in being the instigator -- a point that gives me pause, even if it may not stop Spence for a second from strafing Life Cereal Shorty.
Errol “The Truth” Spence, Jr. is a singular talent who hasn't been treated like one.
Which is totally unfair, given his skill -- but also in keeping with a larger life story of which even he is not fully aware -- one that touches on three other men with the same name and what we pass down through the generations.
On the decisions we make whose effects we can't possibly foresee. On those Paltrow-ian sliding doors separating what was and what might have been.
Spence is a 29-year-old, 24-0 champ, whose rightful coming out party should’ve been his 2016 post-Olympics match that peaked at six million viewers. And whose every bout thereafter should’ve been Christopher Wallace-BIG.
Yet when he faces Mikey “Upward Mobility” Garcia next Saturday in a PPV live from Dallas, it’ll be because the opposing lightweight called for the match – not because Spence was ever granted himself a major stage in his own division.
Ludicrous – the man charged with “advising” Spence being unable to land him any of his other banner advisees (all current or former 147-lb. strapholders, all three of whom have looked weak in their most recent outings – Porter, Thurman, Garcia).
(I do like Spence’s independence in matters sartorial, though – from his firing of his stylist and taking on fashion duties himself to his taste in watches – if I had his cash, I’d go Patek Philippe, too #NautilusAllDayEveryDay.)
One trainer of a prominent PBC fighter in another weight class recently shared his own dismay:
“When have you seen a fighter of that caliber not get any aging big names in his stable? He’s only fought one PBC welter in (Lamont) Peterson. Just one, and they have eight or nine viable [options]."
Which is to say, part of Spence’s prime was wasted. He’s wide-framed and bursting – composed of a million little muscular knots (but not in that big-chested, Andre Berto-way that impedes full arm extension – and not in that hulking Jeff Lacy way that allows only wide-lunge hooking -- upper-body muscles appearing a weighty burden).
Spence was always gonna have a limited run at welterweight before his body, having begged for years, blackmailed him -- via slower metabolism -- into moving up a division. He should’ve already been afforded a chance, then, to make a greater mark at 147, to attempt title unifications.
Trainers tell me Spence can get all the dudes he wants at 154 in the PBC because they're not afraid to rumble with each other – Hurd, Harrison, Jermell, Lara, J-Rock, Lubin, Trout and now Castaño.
Think how often a pairing of any these guys has entered the ring together. It's actually an impressive web -- there are more connections between these pugs than attendees of a Jewish wedding.
Oh, you fought Trout, too! How is he – everything good by him?
The problem is general audiences have always paid far more attention to welter and middleweight than to the betwixt-and-between stepchild level between them.
I kinda want Spence, after beating Mikey (and more on predictions a little later), to spend only a minor period at 154 -- say three fights, the way Trinidad did between welter and middle, taking out David Reid and Fernando Vargas along the way.
Let Spence meet Hurd and Jermall up at 160 and give the PBC some depth there, a few intriguing possibilities on which fans can ruminate (and against which we all can inveigh, because that's ultimately more fun and we're about five-years-old maturity-wise online).
Which brings us to the second Spence (dunno when my articles began resembling a Seder Haggadah in structure -- it kinda just happened): the Spence who, unlike his namesake, wasn't evaded by his peers but instead fled from them.
It's 1992. In the state of Florida, a man named Antonio Spenz, distraught after a break-up, tries to remedy the situation by kidnapping his now-ex-girlfriend. She escapes, thankfully, and warrants for Spenz’s arrest are issued -- initially for that crime but later for others committed while he remains on the lam.
For three years cops work to find the fugitive, though their stated reason for not succeeding seems pretty weak.
He “moves around a lot,” the local police chief says.
Three years later, an informant tells the cops they can find Spenz in the attic of a house between the wildlife refuge and the big Lake.
Naturally, Antonio Spenz has been using aliases during his 900-day flight from justice.
He has been telling people his name is, in fact, Errol Spence.
Obviously, this is no more than a coincidence, and yet you can read myriad clips from that era, when our Spence was a toddler, entirely about a man answering to that name being everywhere chased. And having heard from inside the PBC bubble how fast its welters were scurrying to avoid pug Spence, it almost seems like a karmic balancing of the scales.
One Spence flees, the other sends them packing.
Which is why the notoriously messy presser at Barclays last year, in which Adrien Broner told the press about Spence dissing fellow welter Shawn Porter in their private conversation, is the lone example of AB acting a fool I can applaud.
Broner -- as Anger Translator Luthor -- was calling out a dynamic the measured Spence never would. And so far, you could argue Spence hasn't had to -- when Golden Boy offered Spence a $2.5 million promotional deal in 2017 that included a shot at Miguel Cotto in the latter's final bout and options on future fights, Spence could take the offer to Haymon and have Al pay $3.5 million for Spence to take a different bout (without any clauses about future events beyond that one).
Financially, Spence -- called by "EJ" by kin -- hasn't needed worthy opponents to make bank. But you cannot direct-deposit legacy, and it took a seemingly-sodden Broner to begin making that point, albeit in shambolic fashion.
I’m gonna drop that Broner line randomly in conversation from now on, just for the laughs it’ll bring me, if not my interlocutors – Talk to ‘em, EJ!
Thing is, I wonder whether even Errol knows fully why he doesn't jabber much (this impression is so universal that a famous Texas referee -- recall that Errol is from Dallas -- mused to me on the phone today that Errol just does not know how to talk smack -- only time I've heard a ref marvel at a fighter's lack of foul play).
In 2016, when I asked Spence at a restaurant in NYC's East Village about a teammate of his from the 2012 Olympic boxing squad, he looked me square in the eyes and with a steady tone and without raising his voice, said, We don't talk.
I jotted in my pad back then that the look, the clipped words -- all of it indicated Spence had some negative opinion about -- or grudge with -- the guy I had mentioned.
But I couldn't be sure. Spence has a way of curtailing a line of inquiry before you've quite finished probing. He is concise in that "King of the Hill" Texan way -- it's an economy of words born of pragmatism or respect or maybe humor. Maybe moroseness.
It's deadpan but maybe also dead-serious.
It's ingratiating and discomfiting.
It signals Spence can't handle the media -- or that he manipulates us brilliantly.
One fight game observer, whose counsel I often seek, told me she couldn't understand Spence: How does a man with his laconic drawl, his wariness of overstepping certain lines, hang out with PBC buds whose lives abound in anarchy -- Broner and Tank, say.
Her answer some time later to me: Spence must need a social lubricant -- perhaps alcohol, but who knows -- to loosen up sufficiently to the company of his peers. It was the only way she could square the arrangement.
An alternative answer: Spence senses strongly, even without knowing every detail, what his father expects of him. The third namesake.
Errol Spence, Sr. is an immigrant from Jamaica who originally moved to New York -– (becoming an LL Cool J fan) before settling with his family in Dallas. You could argue his dreams and expectations for his son, however, were seeded back in Jamaica, in his own youth, when he and his six brothers listened to Muhammad Ali bouts on a small radio in the ‘70s (no one had electricity in the Spences' neighborhood of Hanover –- let alone a television).
There's nothing unusual about the Spence Sr. immigration story (one wishes the man in office realized how common and workforce-sustaining such moves are, but that's another argument for another time). Neither of Jr.'s parents ever pressured him into boxing -- the kid was naturally gifted at a number of activities. Boxing wasn't his way out of a bad situation.
And yet the larger arc from radio-listening to ringside-viewing of his own son is an epic one for Spence, Sr. One so cosmically grand you can understand why Jr. might be afraid of messing it up, even subconsciously.
The Cowboys' AT&T Stadium, where Jr. will fight Mikey on Saturday, seats 100,000. Its famed scoreboard is 60 yards long. A man who listened to Ali with merely a transistor radio will now experience a boxing event in which his son's face occupies the world's grandest screen.
And it goes deeper. To the fourth Spence. If Jr. can't fully appreciate the reasons underpinning his reticence, then Sr. can't take full credit for avoiding a potential tragedy. And yet he did.
In 2007, Spence lost to Omar Figueroa, a fighter in the same amateur weight class who'd been born a month earlier than Spence, in Texas -- they were both 17. Figueroa's win meant he'd advance to rep Texas in the national amateur Golden Gloves tournament.
At that point, Spence could've bailed on the amateur game and tried to turn pro (guys have done it even younger than that), but he chose instead to stick to the amateurs until he had something to show for it.
It was during this period of refinement -- when he wasn't getting a check for ring work -- the happy outcome of which was selection to the national boxing team for the 2012 London Olympics -- that the full magnitude of Sr.'s decision to leave Jamaica became clear.
If not to him, then to the writer who'd eventually try to tie it all together.
In May of 2010, under pressure from the US, Jamaica attempted to raid the compound of notorious drug dealer Christopher Coke (that's his original surname) -- who employed a militia and ran a fiefdom inside Kingston -- so he could be extradited to the States.
The operation was more than a disaster -- it was a clear extrajudicial killing spree from the jump. Before Jamaica's forces raided Coke's neighborhood of Tivoli Gardens, he and his henchmen escaped.
When Jamaican authorities finally entered, only basic, harmless citizens remained -- the males of whom, young and old, were rounded up and taken away, even if they had neither weapon nor allegiance to a gang. Even if they had never committed no crime at all.
The government wound up shooting dead at least 70 of them. The day after the operation, the prime minister realizing he had a crisis on his hands, sent a team to investigate the bombed-out, blooded area. The New Yorker: "In a flat near Java, the investigators saw a waist-high bullet hole in one wall and blood on the floor; witnesses said that Errol Spence, a twenty-two-year-old barber, had been shot and killed there."
Meanwhile, the Errol Spence whose father had transplanted his family to the States, continued training to represent America abroad, on the world's most-watched global stage. When Jr. finally reached the Olympics in 2012, he was 22 -- the same age as the barber of the same name when his own country shot him to death.
Stay tuned for Episode 3: Predictions from Unexpected People.
Episode One: Mikey and Al and Me
Spence-Garcia – like any potentially great fight – flashes more angles than Georgie Benton when you try to nail it down, even once. So you try as many approaches as you can.
It's an old Hollywood star emerging from a restaurant, shot up, from every side, by the flashes of the tabloid photogs. A mob fink before a firing squad, a body convulsed every which way via Tommy guns.
It's the greatest lightweight alive (if not that, then the second best) against the best welterweight, in a stadium that seats 100,000 people, available for PPV viewing at home and for considerably less in myriad bars and 300 movie theaters. In a week.
Let’s go back and let’s go deep (and by deep, I mean, as an example, Al Haymon's senior college thesis and the real reason Mikey Garcia sued Top Rank and left boxing for two years). Cue the Liev-Ray-Schreiber-Donovan voice:
This is Spence-Garcia Numerator-over-Denominator.
Mikey Garcia never really wanted to fight – but don’t stop me if you’ve heard this. There’s more.
Despite his being the much-younger brother of ‘90s IBF lightweight champ Robert Garcia, the son of trainer Eduardo, the nephew of trainer Danny.
That Mikey took up boxing is hardly a surprise, then – even if that past has been whitewashed for television and print, even if Mikey has been made to seem a man who chose the sport at 14, when the sport chose him before he was old enough to decide anything all – and not just because of the above milieu.
Because his dad, "Big G," who hails from Michoacán, Mexico, threw him into a ring when Mikey was 5 and demanded Mikey make a display of “huevos” (that’s the testicular term his bro-trainer Robert recalls Pops using) by sparring another child, who really did wanna bang.
Mikey’s tearful pleas, his resistance, was met with a spanking from his father – the agony of the moment eventually leading Robert – a top boxer about to begin his very necessary training -- to pick Mikey up and haul ass out of the gym anyway by way of rescue.
Outta Oxnard's La Colonia Boxing Club – housed in an old red firehouse at first, then in the basement of the Boys & Girls Club and then back at the (now-renovated) firehouse. The gym that turned out 1996 US Olympian Fernando Vargas, who became the youngest junior-middleweight champ in history as a pro.
If there’s one thing about the Garcias that marks them – aside from a fighting legacy and a wardrobe covered in ads for Mitsubuishi dealerships – it’s their communal, clannish vibe. Which is apparent at a glance, no Googling required.
Last week suddenly more than ever, for the worst of reasons, as Mikey’s extended gym family endured repeated tragedy: the deaths of a one-time assistant trainer in the gym to overdose and a friend who helped set up arenas to a car crash and the paralysis and ICU-hospitalization of a featherweight whose career the Garcias helped guide.
And yet, imagine some small act of defiance. Six years ago Ryan Songalia quoted Robert on Mikey in The Ring:
“He’s very smart, so I thought he was going to be doing other stuff, but now that he’s boxing, I’m proud of him, and he’s doing a great job.”
It’s almost all there, the larger dynamic: Robert’s near-admission that boxing is what earns a Garcia pride -- and his simultaneous recognition of old-country machismo’s limits – that if Mikey could transcend their small-scale re-creation of a pueblo, he should.
Depending on which source you trust, Mikey graduated Oxnard’s Pacifica High with a GPA of 3.2 or 3.8. He graduated from Ventura County’s police academy four years later. He had career options.
Or maybe he didn’t. Maybe he came to believe that what you’ve already read above was railroading by way of circumstance – that for 25 years what had been presented to him as choices were, in effect, orders.
Because the defining moment of Mikey’s career so far – its point of inflection – is not a single victorious fight (he remains undefeated at 39-0 with 30 KOs) – but the two years he chose not to fight at all, suing Top Rank to release him from a promotional deal that was about to reward his efforts with millions of dollars and high-profile shows on HBO.
And not because his in-ring efforts haven’t transcended the legal squabble in the 31-year-old’s comeback. Just the opposite.
His remove from the game is seemingly the thing that has imbued ever since him with vivacity and verve in both his selection of opponents and his confrontations with them (okay, maybe not every moment of his confrontations – as Larry Merchant told me the other day, Garcia is talented enough to know how to win in hum-drum fashion, if needed; also, who’s to say he couldn’t have rampaged through contenders had he remained at Top Rank?).
And it’s not like Mikey’s choices have always accorded with fans’.
Did I wanna see Mikey oppose Broner (do I ever wanna see Broner)? Am I unimpressed by Mikey’s power above lightweight, given that he’s gone the full 12 rounds in his last three bouts? Has Garcia actually attempted to face Lomachenko, after calling him out as early as 2016?
You know the answers. Yet if Mikey’s choices have been eccentric, they have been, at the very least, entirely his own (okay – 85 percent his, 15 percent Al’s). But the undeniable agency at play here – in his laying down the gauntlet at the feet of Errol Motherfucking Spence – rippled, knotted, on the verge always of eruption -- it does feel like the glorious cap to the Garcia 2.0 victim-queue.
How many athletes have such a quarter-life crisis, let alone one that ends in such sublimely definite reassurance? The way he Zambonied Zlaticanin. My gosh. We were all floored.
You knew that he knew – This is quintessential Mikey. My truest self.
It came from a choice not to fight.
We know so little about the eminence gris/puppetmaster whose ubiquitous name has become grating to my ears – perhaps in part because of its detachment from corporeal detail. I know Buffer signed with DAZN, but I wanna hear him just once say:
From Cleveland, Ohio, a man whose 1977 Harvard honors thesis was about staging concerts in Boston, who tried to build an NBC show around an actor from “In a Different World” 10 years after producing Kool and the Gang’s tour, in the shadowy grey corner, Mr. Alan Haaaaaaaymon.
I wanna see Al in action in his own life story because there seems something prima facie wrong with his Howard Hughes-esque hiding. As if it enables unaccountability. Oh, the fight wasn’t competitive? Well, you can’t bitch to the man who set it up – you may never even see him.
I’ve asked Richard Schaefer, Tim Smith, and a member of Swanson PR whether any alcohol outfit was sponsoring the Spence-Garcia card (there’s some deal with ticket retailer SeatGeek, but that’s all I know). Nobody among them says he or she knows.
Not that it matters whether the canvas will be branded with some tequila company insignia or not. The confusion just bespeaks the need for the real man with the plan to testify. For the PBC poohbah to step in and hype his wares.
This is where I enter the picture – although until this past week that would’ve been news to me.
In 1999, Haymon began moving away from the music business, although he still co-promoted the 2004 “Ladies First Tour,” featuring Beyonce, Alicia Keys and Missy Elliot – about which he said to the press:
“We are very excited to present this very special and unique event” – which bran flake of a line has me reconsidering my initial position on Al talking publicly.
Just before Al Haymon signed his first boxing client, as a manager, in 2000 (the late Vernon “the Viper” Forrest) – he offloaded 50 percent of his entertainment business to SFX, while retaining control over the enterprise (I guess he had super-voting shares, or some private arrangement to that effect – it’s not clear).
Only months before that SFX had acquired the company for which my father worked. The company was packed with big personalities – clashing sports agents assembled into a corporate structure that defied common sense – including Arn Tellem, (Albert Belle, Kobe Bryant) David Falk (Michael Jordon, Patrick Ewing) and the Hendricks brothers (Roger Clemens, Kerry Wood).
By the end of 2001, SFX repped more than 15 percent of all NBA and MLB players. It had three of the top five guys in that year’s NHL Draft. Then, because of the egos involved and the sale of the company to a culturally-unalike Texas corporation, Clear Channel, the whole thing unraveled.
Meanwhile, Al Haymon was fluttering about the place, certainly figuratively but perhaps also literally, in control of assets SFX ostensibly owned.
And I was there.
I had fractured the L-5 vertebra in my back in high school and, wanting to build back something of a basketball game after months of sitting out, I was playing each day one summer in the big white bubble above the equestrian center at 23rd Street and the Hudson River (#RIPBasketballCity).
Everyday afterward, I walked to the Candler Tower, drenched in sweat or, sometimes, rain, usually having spent a half-hour along the way checking out new sneakers at the Champs. Then I bummed a ride home with my pops.
But that’s not where the two narrative strands come undone.
Al continued to move into boxing during these years, positioning himself as a manager (or, for legal purposes, an “adviser”). He tried to sell fighters on the idea of being free – of paying fewer fees to fewer intermediaries, on having more control over when and whom they fought. He is said to have referenced often his brother, Bobby Haymon, a 1970s pro welterweight whom Al said had been treated shabbily (Bobby’s final record was 21-8-1).
Funny thing about Bobby Haymon – he fought on an Aug. 31, 1973 card held at the Spectrum in Philly, an event promoted by hall-of-famer Russell Peltz (whom I just spoke to briefly about this event) and topped by a closed-circuit broadcast of a George Foreman bout (Joe Hand Sr., who’d once had a stake in Frazier, handled that side of it).
What’s crazy is that this card, as evidenced by the poster, featured two welterweight 10-rounders – one with Bobby and another with similarly surnamed (though there’s an orthographic difference) Alfonso Hayman.
That dude – Alfonso “Fonzie” Hayman – was a decent welter – perhaps an underachiever – controlled at one point by mobster Arnold Giovanetti (who wound up disappearing at the end of the decade, literally – police found his car at the airport but nothing else).
Frustrated by Hayman’s stagnation in the game, Giovanetti assigned him a new trainer, another South Philly guy who’d helped run rackets at one point but also worked as a coach at the Passyunk Gym.
His name was William Patterson – and I met him in the fall of 2005 in Philly and spent untold days thereafter in his Newport-scented, cat hair-covered apartment, listening to stories and taking notes. He died of cancer just before my last semester of college.
That “Hayman” name you see opposite “Haymon”?
That’s the man whose stable is most responsible (and I say this with tremendous deference toward Lamps, Larry, Ross and Rick) for my ever having written a word about boxing. Ever. Because while I already had a connection to the game, I’d never considered applying my love of words to it.
That year, I enjoyed watching my bald Pops wave at my brother and me from a ringside seat at Taylor-Hopkins II. Boxing was unusual, anachronistic, an oddity at the turn of the Millennium.
It took a peripheral figure from the sport, poor and pitiable, a forgotten trainer whose heat had been cut off – whose former charges didn’t keep in touch – to awaken me to its literary potential (yes, that’s entirely exploitative and I said as much to Patterson – whom everyone in the neighborhood called Mr. Pat). This guy taught former bantamweight champ Jeff Chandler how to jab when he was a nobody.
Hate Al Haymon? Love him? Either way, that brother of his he has cited in recruitment pitches occupied the same space, literally and figuratively, with the man who made me – for better and worse – a fight writer.
If Al was sincere in telling first Floyd Mayweather and, later, our two stars, Spence and Garcia, that his career shift owed something to his firsthand look at his brother’s experience -- if that was more than a cynical ploy -- then he and I have shared the same inspiration for nearly 15 years.
Of course, I get paid in crackers and he owns a six-bedroom house in a ritzy Massachusetts suburb (among several residences).
In Dallas-du did Jerry Jones a stately pleasure-dome decree (but fans’ noise is often lost in the cavern, dissipated before it can fall onto the field; I sensed this watching Canelo fight there and believe the stadium eliminates a good deal of the Cowboys’ home field advantage).
Voices that should be heard, whose opinions I’ve sought.
Artist Amanda Kelley, whose relationship with the Garcia family includes her time painting Robert (when the finished canvas was delivered, Mikey was sparring MMA star Jose Aldo in the background) – and whose application of a refined sensibility to fighting regularly yields ideas of which I’d never myself conceive:
“For me, the most interesting part of this fight is that Mikey is being reckless. And this excites him. He asked for this. You can see it in his eyes. It is such a contrast to the way he was before his comeback. It is as if he felt the thrill and danger of racing cars, and he only wanted to return to boxing if he could replicate it.
“It was too easy before.
“And I wonder if he is testing Robert and Big G. How much can they stand to watch from the corner? When they could always depend on Mikey to be smart while they pushed other fighters, like Rios and Margarito, past their limitations.”
Larry Merchant, whose eyes still twinkle when he talks of fantasy match-ups, calling me from Cali (and I can see those eyes even through the phone connection):
“I love the fight on paper. I love it in my boxing degenerate head. I hope I’ll love it in the ring.”
Says Spence might be stronger than any current 154-pounder, strafes the body like an old school Mexican, and if he wins, politics aside, should face Canelo somehow. Spence-Canelo would be a brilliant bout and command serious public coinage, too.
On Mikey: “He imagines something more…A brilliant technical fighter with cojones.” And with a specific willingness to increase riskiness in opponent selection as moves up in weight, as opposed to Mayweather, who dialed it down once he got to 147 (#Ortiz #Berto).
Also, says Larry, the match has historical dimensions. Between the two World Wars, a number of well-schooled craftsmen past their primes took on bigger guys for good money, like Mickey Walker, the “Toy Bulldog,” and Ted “Kid” Lewis.
“I’m curious how this resonates with other fighters [who’re] schooled to keep perfect records,” Larry says. He hopes we’ll see as a result more fights that are events.
A parting shot: “I saw footage in which [Garcia] was bulking up. Part of me understands why, but there’s also a part of me [that says] ‘He’s willing to perhaps sacrifice his advantage – quickness – is that good?”
To answer Mr. Merchant, enter Garcia’s strength guru for this bout, Victor Conte, head of SNAC labs in the Bay Area, the post-BALCO training facility whose greatest asset is Conte’s constant study of new research in the field of exercise physiology.
Well, that and his investments in workout equipment -- he estimates he possesses about $200,000 of it, which he buys with fees from fighters and all the licensing money he makes in the supplement world (he has trademarked the name ZMA for his formulation of zinc, magnesium aspartate and vitamin B6, and he also supplies the supplement under license to the big brands that retail at GNC and The Vitamin Shoppe).
Mikey was at the SNAC campus for five weeks, though afterward, Conte sent two coaches to Garcia’s boxing camp to keep up his conditioning in twice-weekly sessions.
Conte and his team, including 86-year-old track coach Remi Korchemny (banned for life from the US national track and field program after the BALCO affair), worked to build up Type IIb fast-twitch muscle fibers, says Conte.
Which shouldn’t slow Mikey at all.
Korchemny had Mikey do repeat sprints of 20 and 40 yards, working on his explosiveness off the line (Conte derides the five-mile roadwork most boxers do, which he says doesn’t mirror burst-movements in the ring).
Another exercise: Conte wrapped elastic bands 40 feet long around a pole and then slipped them around Mikey’s waist and hands and had him spring forward.
Conte manipulated oxygen in his work with Mikey -- SNAC features a yurt-like room in which altitude can be simulated, the amount of O2 dialed up or down -- even though he rejects Abel Sanchez’s Big Bear approach because it calls not just for training in a low-oxygen environment place but living in one (and you need oxygen-rich air in which to recover, especially during sleep).
Inside the O2 tent, Mikey sprinted on non-motorized treadmills called Skill Mills (the brand actually spells it in all caps and as one word, which I refuse to do) and jumped on a foam surface canted at a four-percent incline (the foam is to minimize impact on the knees during plyometric work).
All the while, Conte was pricking Mikey’s finger for blood, so he could measure levels of nutrients to correct imbalances via supplement but also so he could examine Mikey’s immune system – the counts of certain cells and enzymes (neutrophils, creatine kinase – “which is the best index of muscle tissue damage” – lactate dehydrogenase).
A diminished immune system indicates over-training, Conte says.
I want to get hard numbers on Mikey’s performance in all these exercises but got only this:
Mikey gained 10% in mass during his five weeks at SNAC. And he might weigh in at the welter limit of 147 but step into the ring 24 hours later closer to 160 pounds. Conte thinks Spence, whose character and athleticism he praises highly, will be 165.
Five years after Mikey Garcia’s lawyers first claimed that his contract with Top Rank was both illegal and expired (first in California court and later in Nevada when the case was moved) and three years after the case was settled, there remains an essential unresolved riddle:
Not whether Mikey was bound to Top Rank, which involves the question of extensions (contracts whose life is lengthened if a fighter receives a high sanctioning body ranking or a title shot), but why Mikey wanted to depart in the first place.
“That's the million-dollar question,” one source with knowledge of Top Rank and HBO’s offerings to Mikey in 2014 told me. He said Mikey had moved up the ladder at an admirable clip, considering Mikey had never made the Olympics or won the national Golden Gloves (his biggest amateur win was the 2005 National PAL tournament, and some observers thought he’d benefited from a couple questionable calls, but every call in the amateurs is questionable, and I put little stock in that take).
The larger world – including HBO execs – didn’t care that Oxnard was his father, his father was Oxnard, that La Colonia had produced Robert Garcia and Fernando Vargas (and Vic Ortiz and a whole SoCal generation). Top Rank had to push, I’m told.
The result? While Mikey had never previously received a purse larger than 700K, Top Rank’s offering at the time was a three-fight deal on HBO that would see him ultimately earn seven figures for a bout and include a tilt with Yuriorkis Gamboa – a high profile foe Top Rank had mentioned to Mikey repeatedly whom he seemingly didn’t want to face (Terence Crawford wound up taking the slot to fight Gamboa, and his dramatic win raised his profile and purses).
I totally understand Mikey wanting to assess his value on the open market once he had already been built up by TR. But I’m not so sure, contrary to what his legal team argued, that all boxers, Mikey included, should always enjoy free agency, match to match.
Consider the “Black Mirror”/Bildungsroman hypothetical:
Mikey’s family pitches him to California hustlers each event, guys with an economic incentive not to develop Mikey’s skills gradually but put him in tough to maximize attendance, over and over. Would Mikey have ever made it to the grandest stage in television (HBO then and Fox now)?
You really don’t even have to imagine the scenario – for one night, Mikey lived it.
In his 10th fight, he actually was placed on such a card – this one held in a ring outside the Sagebrush Cantina in Calabasas. It was only the sixth time the landmark restaurant had ever hosted a boxing show – and it would be the last.
In the bout before Mikey’s, his cousin Javier Garcia garnered a six-round draw against the rare Native American pug, a 28-year-old from the Klamath Tribes named “Action” Jackson Bussell.
After the final bell, Bussell hugged Javier – before collapsing to the canvas and falling into a coma. The MC hadn’t even announced the decision yet. Bussell was rushed to Northridge Medical Center on a Thursday night and was dead by Friday afternoon.
Of course, after the fact, the state commissioned investigated what went wrong.
Which was when the Cantina’s beloved, foul-mouthed owner, Bob McCord, was struck with a prion disease – Creutzfeldt-Jakob – that ate away at his brain before killing him at 69. Particularly grim, sure. Random and unrelated to boxing– most definitely.
But that’s life on the second circuit – on cut-rate cantina cards with nominal oversight – which seems to attract more than its fair share of bad luck (Creutzfeldt-Jakob affects 1 in a million people, literally).
In fact, McCord only opened the restaurant after receiving money in a settlement -- he was in a plane that crashed in the Arizona desert. Two men had died in the crash, but McCord's fate was hardly easy: Because the plane's location transponder broke, he was alone and without means of communication, under the beating sun, for days.
Mikey was back at the shiny MGM Grand for his next bout.
So why did Mikey suddenly decide his arrangement was unfair?
Top Rank suspected Al had been sharing the gospel of free agency – of fighting the man -- with Mikey, either directly or through an intermediary, in 2014. They felt further affirmed in that belief when they saw Mikey’s counsel was an entertainment lawyer who was new to boxing but not the concert and TV world Al had inhabited for decades.
Thereafter, they also believed somebody in Al’s extended network was paying Mikey’s legal fees and keeping him liquid during his layoff.
Tim Smith, of Haymon Boxing, said, “I have no idea” when asked to comment on these claims.
I’ll add comment instead, then: that Al ran his own black scholarship fund, for which he was honored by Harvard Law alongside future Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan; that Al, by 2007, had contributed between $100,000 and $249,000 to the Cleveland Clinic (the figure likely has risen since then); that Al was able to take a summer internship at a civil rights group in 1975 only because Harvard awarded him a grant to cover money he would’ve made had he taken a summer job.
We’re all of us weasels outside the ropes in boxing, writers included (and some boxers in-the-ring included, too #LowBlowGolota). The best we can hope for is that once the negotiations conclude, once dirty deeds are done (dirt cheap), what remains is a competition we need to see, even if its outcome seems not entirely in doubt (we think the bigger dude will prevail because of his power, if nothing else, though we can’t know it).
I wanna see this – an impulse I’ll perhaps regret later. Wouldn’t be the first time I was thusly rewarded. We’ve all been burned.
But, c’mon – let’s stick our hands out again, see if the flame’s our friend. That’s seemingly Mikey’s MO now. And despite the disputatious path he took to get here, it’s hard to distrust those dimples.
Stay tuned for Episode 2: Six Spence None the Richer
I should have been at the Barclays Center last night to watch the two supposedly-39-year-old Cuban fighters in the twilights of their careers.
The pairing does make me wonder how Al went about throwing bones Showtime sheriff Stephen Espinoza's way after signing the Fox deal: "So Mayweather has his guys -- you know the BTB Team -- Broner-Tank-Badou. You've got them. And the Cubans. We'll give you the Camaguey Kid and Gitmo Split (he never gets unanimous decision, never). The more añejo the better, no?"
Man, life is crazy. Espinoza learnt the game from his Mexican grandfather in the border town of El Paso. Went to Stanford -- hell, when the school hits up his class of '92 peers for money, right before they reach out to Espinoza, they call his former peer Ralph Ermoian, who only treats pediatric brain tumors at the University of Washington now.
If that seems weirdly unrelated to everything, I'm just saying, we're all pinballs bumping against each other, making momentary contact, only to ricochet in myriad directions we cannot quite predict in advance.
Now Espinoza is overseeing the professional end days for two defectors from a flaking, pastel humidor of an island. Who are no one's consolation gift. Who'll always carry themselves with a certain stoic professionalism -- that stogie-strong whiff of a game-learnt-unmercifully-young from slight men in second hand tank-tops (and maybe a couple wrinkled old-heads in guayaberas).
There's something lyrical about them riding off into sunset under the gaze of the El Paso Kid. One of them -- Ortiz -- this advocate for rare disease research, his 10-year-old daughter, Lismercedes, afflicted by epidermolysis bullosa, a condition that lets skin blister and burn at the slightest touch.
Journalists like when athletes do unimpeachably good work -- fans, too -- it gives us unusual certainty that someone's case should be adopted -- that a man or clan can be rooted for wholeheartedly -- in age when TMZ tempers that enthusiasm too often.
But I bring up the case not to elicit those sorts of sports sympathies but because it actually didn't strike me as so improbable when I first heard the Ortiz tale. Enter FOP -- whose neat acronym belies just how utterly fucked the ailment is.
Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva: In this mother of a malady, you're born with muscles that, upon contact with outside objects, turn into bone -- muscles that therefore become eventually a second skeleton, one that effectively locks you into your first, so year-by-year you wind up able to move body parts less and less. Until you can't move at all.
I learnt of that disease by chance, while in college, because the world's only expert on it, Dr. Frederick Kaplan, a man whom Newsweek called one of "15 people who make America great," ran his lab on campus.
Though Kaplan discovered the gene whose errancy causes FOP, he has yet to find a cure.
Skin that reddens, burns, slips off, when you press it; skin that hardens into bone when touched. These were -- are -- to my mind associated scourges, even if they share no biological basis.
There are easy lessons to be taken from the side-by-side look -- for one, don't think for a second that medicine yet grasps fully elements even as basic as skin.
Not to mention that that cancer doc whose name appears just before Stephen Espinoza's alphabetically on Stanford fundraising materials for the class of '92 -- the abovementioned Dr. Ermoian -- his office, at the University of Washington, exists alongside one called the Miller Lab, specifically dedicated to understanding and curing epidermolysis bullosa, the skin condition that afflicts Luis Ortiz's daughter.
All I wanna say, by way of stoner-esque non-conclusion, is that we're pinballs, a bunch of colliding dreidels -- unaware of the effects today's pinging against one another will have tomorrow. Thin, admittedly. But this is all I had as I stayed up not by choice for 30-straight hours despite ingesting sedatives sufficiently strong to put down a Shetland pony.
Betrayed by my own wired-but-tired brain in the run-up to Showtime, I missed the boxing...but not completely.
I did spare moments in my zonked state to consider the possible free agent status of heavyweight Deontay Wilder. Yes, you can be a hurt game degenerate and rare disease advocate simultaneously (just listen to Teddy Atlas rightly rail against a fix and also any one of the number of sicknesses his charity helps fight).
And I realized: Whether Top Rank knows it or not, if Deontay is free, it's because Arum's lawyers enabled it three years ago -- in a lawsuit they lost.
A California court dismissed a suit Top Rank filed against Haymon during that initial wave of anti-PBC litigation, in 2016, but only after Haymon Sports waived a provision of its contracts in May of that year.
The canceled clause?
"If during the Term hereof, Fighter desires to enter into any promotional agreement or bout agreement to which Fighter is not then bound, selection of the promoter shall be at the sole discretion of the Manager."
Yup -- Top Rank's challenge of the larger PBC structure was obviously unsuccessful -- but three years later, what may have seemed a meaningless victory in a larger lost war may yield Arum a Deontay-Fury sequel under his own corporate umbrella -- because Al legally no longer can determine the promoters his boxers choose.
I'm reminded of the battle in "I Heart Huckabees" between the philosophers trying to convince Schwartzman and Marky Mark everything's connected and the French foil whose mission is to prove none of it means anything, each event a Sartre-separate look into the void.
Embarrassed too much by my absence to watch the full card, I did nevertheless tune in briefly to the preliminaries on the Showtime Facebook channel. Who signed on to watch a moment later (and yes, Facebook tracks and reveals even this sort of personal info)?
None other than Top Rank matchmaker Brad Goodman.
If you sleep all day, you wind up awakening to a daunting number of news developments at night. Not that you could have dealt with them had you been conscious earlier. But there's an additional feeling of helplessness at the midnight hour.
Besides which, as a reporter, you really shouldn't call people so long after work to get reactions to the shakeup at WarnerMedia, say. It's considered bad form to rouse someone from a pill-induced stupor just to ask, "Is Stankey's removal of Richard Plepler and David Levy good or bad news for Peter Nelson?"
I've heard it's similarly rude to disrupt a person's sex life to ask why Bob Greenblatt didn't greenlight the Tina Fey-produced sitcom "The Sackett Sisters" at NBC in 2017 -- or whether BG, about to be hired by the Embiggened Bell, might let Turner air boxing to complement the NCAA tournament and Champions League broadcasts already produced under the Bleacher Report brand name.
Such are the issues involved in eating your Eggos at the owl's first hoot.
What to do, then, if your body has you aligned with the wrong time zone -- if at 3:20 am Eastern you've more questions than answers and more answers than conscious friends? Fences may make good neighbors, but somnolent neighbors make for a unique, discomfiting solitude, even in NYC.
You know your schedule is off when you find yourself loading up on Lucky Jack Triple Nitro (concentrated cold brew spiked with espresso) and Honey Bunches of Goat in the corner Rite-Aid and the security guard's fixed gaze indicates not just that you're alone in the store with her (the would-be cashiers busy unloading a truck's contents) but that you're the creep training and common sense dictate she track.
Of course, there's a peace to be found in perusing and parsing material in the gloomy winter darkness. A sense of additional space -- a diameter for more expansive, becalmed, breathing.
This -- besides the mechanical wizardry and craftsmanship -- is why I find independent watchmaker Masahiro Kikuno's wadokei timepiece so stunning: Dividing the day into an equal number of segments (the length of which stretch and contract per seasonal changes) it imbues a hunk of gold with the push-pull, betwixt-and-between dynamics of twilight mornings.
Suspended between dusk and dawn, then, I'm thinking about ...
The fate of Ivy League-aimed clothes retailer J. Press, whose stores in DC and New Haven, whose reopened New York shop, might still hold attraction for naive Biff-wannabes unaware of corporate co-option, in search of their first grosgrain, d-ring belts -- and whose Spring-Summer catalog was released this past week.
In truth, J. Press as WASP clothier was always something of a myth -- for one, the "J" stood for Jacobi and the dude was Jewish; for two, the firm was bought by Japanese brand Kashiyama almost 33 years ago, when Sony seemed fated to take over the world, if not merely Midtown real estate.
I began to read the new catalog eagerly anyway, caring less about misleading branding than about editorial history and Garment District envy.
J. Press: the firm which, at varying points in their own retailing lives, J. Crew and J. McLaughlin and Abercrombie and Vineyard Vines and Structure all wanted to be -- the clothing store whose catalog Tom Wolfe chose to write about, alongside Brooks Brothers', in his overwrought, Kandy-Kolored way:
"At Yale and Harvard, boys...can hardly wait...They're in the old room there poring over all that tweedy, thatchy language."
Former firm president (and founder's grandson) Richard Press had written an opening note that didn't quite live up to Wolfe's work (and his online essay about deceased tailor Felix Samelson, hired by Jacobi after Samelson survived Auschwitz and emigrated from Europe, is well-intentioned but disturbingly casual).
But there's still the world evoked by seeing the look of the brochure and by its typeface, even though I know both are carefully calculated to resemble an older world by the production team of Sako Hirano and Risa Akita.
And I don't blame the Japanese keepers of Preppy faith -- this is an undeniably romantic realm, without which we certainly have more gender equity if less stilted parents for JD Salinger to shock. The beauty of conjuring a prep society without reconstituting it is that only the good survives -- the plaid, herringbone, gingham. There's no inherent paternalism in tattersall -- though I suppose one can't rid madras completely of its colonial origins.
Also, a beautiful effect of being awake while others schluff: there seems less immediacy to the newspaper front page -- it's already a day-old, giving it the effect of being just one out of hundreds of thousands. And so I look at J. Press and think -- when exactly did its offerings make headlines? How long before Ezra Koenig turned it into musical irony did the upturned collar truly die?
Sure, Whit Stillman's answer in the film "Metropolitan" was 1990:
But while you're in a REM cycle I can find instead this New York Times front page from Saturday, May 8, 1976 -- exactly a month and a day after "All the President's Men" hit the box office -- when, apparently, Brooks Brothers stopped offering truly bespoke suits due to a shortage of old Italian tailors.
Which development the New York Times found sufficiently sociological to pair on its front page with news of an actually destructive Italian earthquake -- which is perhaps not as editorially misguided or sensationalist as it sounds or looks now.
Meanwhile, J. Press pressed on with the service.
I have no idea whether that means, in another era of mendacity, we're all gonna be okay. I do think a shrug is maybe more honest and called-for than doomsday alerts, even as I am really glad the diurnal people are treating the public degeneracy as dire. Someone has to, and if I were less tired, maybe I'd volunteer (but here's an easy one: Yo, PG&E -- you seriously spent five years putting off maintenance on a 100-year-old electricity transmission line -- possibly the cause of the fire that killed 85 near Malibu last fall? That' would be some really basic, and therefore evil by way of negligence, at best, Grenfell Tower-Rana Plaza shit -- like someone remade "Chinatown" and replaced water with fire).
I'm thinking about how, in a Rangers season intentionally lost, not long after the Blueshirts engineered their further diminishment, sending away Hayes and Zuccarello (more on the latter man in a moment), my inner hockey idiot loved seeing the Islanders welcome back former captain John Tavares with admirable crassness, in the home they should have never left (the Barn).
I'm not for Don Cherry-inspired CTE-causing ice brawls -- the only sport in which I really wanna see punches is the sport that calls for them by nature. But I am for telling the guy who left Long Island in free agency that he's a sellout and an asshole -- not because it's true (it might be) but because to do so requires unity. And if hockey is about anything, it's about rolling out lines that gel -- about joint eruptions and mutual jeering.
Also, Tavares said he didn't wanna leave. Maybe that was so, but if you've spent your life in Nassau or Sussex County, no one was offering you a contract to go yourself. You're by nature left back. So kill him verbally -- attack his character (within some bounds, but even as your enemy, I'd say, keep 'em as loose as the swinging bathroom door on the last LIRR train outta Penn Station on a Saturday night).
How effing great is this?
And major credit to the Swedish press for not pulling punches or going euphemistic in its coverage of the game. I don't speak the language, but you don't have to in order to pick up this Aftonbladet headline: "Utbuad och sågad av fansen: 'Asshole, asshole, asshole.'”
Also making news in Aftonbladet Friday: A man in Saffle, Sweden, has been ordered to prevent his goats from staring through the window at his neighbors while they eat dinner. The headline is: "Your Goats Are Staring at Us When We Eat Dinner."
And the sub-head continues: "Now Staffan is forced to move his animals."
Staying in Sweden, I was remiss not to wish a happy birthday to Anders Hedberg four days ago, when he turned 68 -- he was one of the first Scandinavian skaters to navigate the NHL, and he's also the scout who supposedly spotted Norway's Mats Zuccarello for the Rangers a decade ago (incidentally or not, he was dropped as a scout four years ago).
An anniversary I'm gonna get ahead of here: Saturday, when Cuban super-welter Erislandy Lara faces undefeated Argentine Brian Castaño for a belt in Brooklyn (and live on Showtime), will mark exactly 39 years since an Emanuel Steward-trained Kronk kid won that pairing its first title -- and while Thomas Hearns scored a KO on the card, he wasn't the boxer who nabbed it. It was lightweight Hilmer Kenty, before a packed local audience that included Detroit-returnee Joe Louis in an arena already named after him:
Kenty held onto the belt for only a year, but managed in that time to make three defenses. We all know what Hearns eventually managed. I can't say I've kept up with Kenty, who's said himself he didn't handle success well. I believe Kenty works for an IT firm now called Strategic Staffing Solutions -- I'd reach out to him, only it's the middle of the night at the moment.
What I can say is that even to get that pro title shot, Kenty had to face a merciless line-up in the amateurs -- this dude lost to Sugar Ray Leonard in the finals of the Golden Gloves and Aaron Pryor in the '76 Olympic Trials.
In 1974, he fought in the first amateur world championship in Havana, Cuba. True story: on the day I went inside a Havana boxing gym to do some interviews four years ago, the kids were all gone -- they were fighting in an amateur tournament elsewhere.
(How long I stay writing in this space is entirely dependent on how long the startup I spent two years working for decides to avoid remunerating me as promised.)
Happy 39th, Hilmer -- you inspired a hell of a lede from Times writer Michael Katz that night:
"Kronk. Say it softly and it's almost like saying it loudly."
Spence-Garcia seems a bizarre set-up in the history of boxing pay-per-views.
You've got a classy lightweight champ in the latter man -- Mikey Garcia -- who keeps gunning for belts against bigger dudes when he might earn more mainstream renown (and bigger bucks) staying put in one division.
And then you have welterweight champ Errol Spence -- an irrepressible force in the ring who's been constrained outside it by his inability to get a unification fight, despite sharing a stable with three fellow strapholders (the law firm of Pacquiao, Porter & Thurman).
The result is a match seemingly made for the boxing fancy only -- two exceptional talents (perhaps generational) who are nevertheless unknown to Joe Trade-Deadline-Obsessed Schmo -- a Hispanic kid who believes himself -- not unreasonably -- the reincarnation of Henry Armstrong against the welterweight equivalent of Harry Wills, the not-to-be-forgotten original "Black Panther" (if you think that last bit is hyperbole, check out the inside work Wills does against Firpo with his free hand when they're semi-clinched and then watch Spence do the same against Brook -- the shot angles are remarkably similar).
That both men have reached this point under the aegis of the always-unseen "adviser" Al Haymon is an almost tautological addendum: You could make the argument that both boxers would be better known by this point in their careers if they hadn't -- if they were signed to one of the few remaining carnival barkers (Arum, Duva, Eddie Hearn when Eddie is back in England, as the American milieu still seems to evade him, Lou DiBiscuits when his signees are the major league attraction).
But I come not to decry the state of disunion but to ask a clear-eyed question -- to stay in the realm of realpolitik: Alright, these two dudes are set to meet in the first-ever Fox pay-per-view in two weeks -- how can a company attract Deportes Dave to this spectacle to be broadcast from the Dallas Cowboys' JerryWorld?
It's not a hypothetical question, not exactly -- or at least, it's inspired by a very specific set of circumstances. No doubt, Fox Sports has a plan to blare these boxers' names across Murdoch's media properties for the next two weeks. On Tuesday, Spence will stage a workout in his native Dallas, and from the coverage of that alone, you'll be able to assess the volume of the Fox vox.
But say you had to garner viewers for the property without the power to command for-show shadowboxing. That would be a hell of a challenge, I thought, after receiving a press release about the closed circuit coverage of the fight a week ago. These two guys are as good as they are overlooked and ignored.
Fathom Events, the Colorado-based theatrical distributor of Metropolitan Opera showings and recently-released Japanese anime and big-time boxing (it's owned by the big-three cinema companies AMC, Regal and Cinemark) is set to air Spence-Garcia in more than 300 theaters.
Even knowing basically nothing about the contemporary closed-circuit business (incidentally, the broadcasts don't use closed circuits anymore, but the terminology has stuck around) I thought that seemed an ambitious number.
So I emailed the PR heads at Fathom and asked: How many people need to show up for Spence-Garcia for Fathom to make a return on its investment (any room that shows boxing might make more money showing the weekend's latest release, remember -- #AMadeaFamilyPassover)?
How many fight patrons were their popcorn vendors expecting?
Here's a chunk of the statement I received in return from Fathom CEO Ray Nutt, preceded by the clip his surname demands (with apologies to those who can't hear the Simpsonian humor here because of the anachronistic caricature executing it):
Okay, so Fathom CEO Ray Nutt: "We are...very selective about the content we show to ensure that it is a profitable event for all partners involved."
Not super helpful, though the CEO did share some basic chestnuts -- usually, tickets retail for $20, they have seen 75,000 people hit theaters for a single match (not that anyone expects that number this go-round) and their all-time high gross was for Mayweather-MacGregor in 2017 -- a take of more than $2.3 million (this doesn't account for closed circuit events that preceded the birth of Fathom in 2005 and also doesn't account for inflation).
For further context, I glanced at the box office charts myself -- from the start of 2016 till today. In that three-year-plus period, Fathom has shown exactly 190 programs across America -- including evangelical Christian films, the Bolshoi Ballet and, of course, sanctioned violence.
Here's where showings of the last type slotted into the charts, with sincere apologies regarding the shoddiness of the screenshot (I tried to erase everything but fighting words, but instead of learning Adobe software, I learned Quark once upon a time, and oh, well, fuck it):
Many nougats...er, nuggets:
According to Box Office Mojo, whose numbers insiders told me to trust, Mayweather-MacGregor, farce that it was, earned $2.6 million (or 300k more than the CEO himself indicated). That discrepancy aside, what stood out to me foremost was the confirmation of what we already know from home PPV buys:
Canelo Alvarez -- built up by an HBO and Showtime machine whose stewardship of the sport has ended, even if the latter entity still broadcasts fights -- is the sport's only current PPV star. He's one half of two-thirds of these fights (and the A-side each time, no matter how much we all like GGG's body shots).
I also wanna credit Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions for Canelo's success, except the company has been such a pain to deal with since detaching from PR firm Mercury at the start of 2019, I can't bring myself to do it. I hope Oscar and Eric and Robert and Ramiro in Downtown LA realize sooner rather than later that DAZN and Matchroom are no substitute for the firm that so diligently set up interviews, facilitated connections and kept Oscar and Bernard on the right side of most reporters.
Back to the charts: Not that this will suddenly change promotional thinking, but look at the disparity between views for the first Canelo-GGG fight and the delayed sequel that went down one year (and one Canelo PED suspension) later: They crammed the sequel into an additional 68 theaters but grossed only $4,479 more. Or an additional $66 per new theater.
If you assume the Fathom gross is just a third of each ticket sale, that's literally just 10 more people per theater. Ten!
Not that I'm fool enough to think those Shotcallers who just called off an immediate rematch between heavyweights Deontay Wilder and Lazarus Fury will now recognize the diminished returns delayed rematches can offer. And yet...
The chart also vindicates Anthony Joshua, who refused to give Wilder and Fury any credit for renewing American interest in heavyweight boxing despite my urging him twice to do so last week at the Garden presser for his June 1 title defense there.
Fathom fed Wilder-Fury into 486 theaters -- more than it allocated to Canelo-GGG I -- and it grossed less than half of what those two middleweights made. Three thousands smackers less than the Met Opera's "The Magic Flute," which came in 98th place.
Here's where I pause and rue reader interest -- and my own, also, fine -- in the business side of this hurt game. Tim Smith, Haymon Boxing spokesman and former fight writer for the New York Times, recently wrote to me in correspondence regarding this promotion:
"One of my mentors told me that no one ever pays to see two businessmen hash out a contract. I’m not sure that’s the case anymore."
A melancholy thought. Tim went out of his way to blame reader interest in made-for-Twitter hot takes and not writers themselves. Whatever the reason, I wish Spence were up at Grossinger's and I could hang about the Catskills watching him round into form.
In fact, Al, if you get this and decide on a lark to turn away from all your prior managerial principles, invite me down to Dallas to watch a Spence workout not staged for the media. A real one. I can't promise to be Liebling, but I can pledge my kvectchy, neuro-inflamed, insomniacal self will give his best impression thereof.
Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, I noted CEO Ray Nutt had only just assumed the reins of the company when Fathom staged Mayweather-MacGregor: he took office in late July of 2017, and that Frankenfight monster hit screens in August. Which means his predecessor was instrumental in setting it up.
The prior CEO was John Rubey, who, like Al Haymon, got his start in the music business, though his very first closed-circuit broadcast was actually distribution in 25 states of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
I called Rubey hoping he'd have more to say than his successor -- how would he go about marketing this event Nutt refused to crack? How much did he suppose Fathom was gonna take home from Spence-Garcia?
"If Ray wouldn't talk to you..."
Dammit -- where was the vengeful gabbing on which I'd counted?
Rubey kept referring me to Box Office Mojo. Then he said, "You know Mayweather?...He's got the big numbers."
At which point, I considered this man's surname and thought back to a Maharaja's more plentiful offerings.
Seriously, though, what the hell's with the closed-circuit code of Omerta?
Thirteen minutes and six seconds into what became a 48-minute-long convo:
"I can't speak to how I would do it (promote Spence-Garcia) as a theater event, coming from the music business."
(What? But you were just talking about Mayweather fluently?!)
"Fox would do a really good job to promote this...if they follow the playbook that HBO and Showtime have used."
"Millennials want choice. They don't want you to tell them what they will or won't do. So you've got to give, particularly in the entertainment band, the ability to choose the screen that they wanna enjoy the event on. "
Yeah, I was trolled hard. Many thanks to Mr. Rubey for his time, if not his determined discretion.
Roll the trailer Fathom has been playing in a theater near you...
And here's the similarly-themed fight poster Fathom has hung on theater walls:
I asked a bunch of people whether this was Fathom's best tactic in the situation -- as the fighters' names aren't widely known, focus instead on the impressive-looking records (it's not like the nominal promoters, Tom Brown and Richard Schaefer, can convey a message either more naughty or nuanced -- neither man is a tough talker and neither is expected by Al to be).
One graphics whiz who's helmed fight art for myriad promotions wrote back to me:
"When creating a fight poster targeting casual fans -- to convert [them] to customers -- you really need to capture their imagination and attention and tell a story at a mere glance. While I personally think the illusion of perfect records is a plague on the sport, I understand their decision to use it here as a tagline, especially for casual fans.
"I would have considered exploring the David and Goliath aspect a little bit. The natural lightweight defying all odds to jump up two weight classes and face one of the pound-for-pound best for another belt...To me, that is a much more exciting story than just undefeated records, which we can see virtually any time.
"They did a decent job attempting to capture the epic big fight atmosphere with the stadium lights and glow. I would not have gone for a completely greyscale color story, as my eye isn’t drawn to anything specific, and if I were walking past it, I would honestly not really take note.
"Adding their records would have been a smart move if the records are the main focus."
Someone intimately involved in the game for decades, though not this promotion, went for an analogy:
"I would say, Is Errol Spence a Marvin Hagler? A guy who is actually sort of squeezing himself to fight at 147 because he's really more 154, a monster, a beast, a body puncher, a tremendously physical fighter?
"And is Mikey Garcia a Ray Leonard? A fighter of skill who's had long absences from the ring in his career, who's doing things his way, in a very conspicuous way, and who has the audacity to say that, 'Under these circumstances, at this moment in my career, I can step up and fight a guy who many people in boxing regard as the most dangerous guy in his weight neighborhood, and fight him and beat him'?"
The insider then turned fatalist.
"The public knew Leonard, and they sort of knew Hagler. But they really don't know these guys in anywhere near the same way. And it's too late. It's too late to make this Hagler-Leonard.
"If I were the owner of the theaters where the thing is going to take place, I think I would have been saying, maybe two months ago, 'Where's the tour? Where are the stages on which these two guys stand next to each other and offer a personality contrast? Where's the vituperative language between the two of them, where they try to make clear to the public that they don't like each other? Where are the public workouts? Where are all of the trappings that have normally gone with a fight like this in the past? And if you're not going to do that, why am I putting this into my theaters?'"
To the insider, I'd say, great question -- now you ask it of Fathom's Mum-is-the-word and Sons (yeah, it's an awful music pun, deal). There has been a crammed schedule of press stare-downs, some involving words, too, in the last week. And there's the digital shoulder programming, whose effect I'll remain skeptical of till the final numbers come out, even if it's far better than none at all (you tell me how inspired or not this Mikey moment is, when with a measured pace he tells Spence he's superior in every way).
But that the public at large hasn't heard anything about 'em -- maybe they flitted by on your friend's social media pages, just Instagram gossamer, the digital diaphanous -- is an indictment itself.
"Mikey's a weird dude anyway," the insider concluded. "Spence is not front and center, in terms of being a public figure. Maybe there was no other way to get it done. But I think it's a loss for the sports audience and it's a loss for boxing that these two guys aren't being brought off the page in a very big way."
We'll see if that's how it all turns out -- inexplicably, Fox got rid of the best autumn baseball music of my lifetime in favor of the football tune that already could be heard on the channel every other season -- only to bring back John Tesh's "Roundball Rock" for select Big East college basketball games this year, when we all know that song, if not legally then at least culturally, is the sole property of '90s "NBA on NBC" tripleheaders.
The Fox robot has outlived all other graphic trends of its "Toy Story" I-era and remains pugnacious on the left-hand side of our -- now-flat -- screens -- the steroidal version of Microsoft's Clippy, defying decades of visual decluttering.
So while I see the competitors here -- back to Spence and Garcia -- as challenging fodder, I dunno that the first Fox PPV is doomed for the way it has handled them -- or that the unnamed clash would fare better in a couple weeks had it received more traditional Tex Rickard-type promotion (kinda PBC-damning, though: these guys have been thrust before us for four years now and I can't think of a nickname for their encounter that's a natural extension of their prior on-air work; maybe the best name for the bout would simply be "Ciphers").
Fox is always a wildcard when it comes to sports (or nearly any show: #COPS #TemptationIsland #WhoWantsToMarryAMillionaire -- and by the way, that final octothorped show has the lowest IMDB rating I've ever seen on a cold Google -- a 1.2 out of 10).
In a moment, the musical reason I attempted that awful Mumford pun; for now, here is the searchable index of all 300 theaters showing the bout, which you can examine alphabetically in a PDF, if you're so inclined, beginning with the Century16 theater in Anchorage, Alaska, which is actually a stunner, as it turns out (shoutout to Jeterga on CinemaTreasures.Org for the shot):
It's also worth recalling that while this is the very first Fox PPV, the PBC deal has the network telecasting four per year. There is time for improvement at the multiplex (turn, turn, turn) -- besides which, Canelo and Chavez Jr. proved you can make bank in just 300 rooms, though that was a unique Mexican grudge match.
You just don't know when we'll see this level of talent in both corners again, though. Which is why the stakes feel high for this first go-round. As Dan Patrick said two decades ago:
"He's listed as day-to-day, but then again, aren't we all?"
American and English boxing writers spent Monday covering Tyson Fury's move to ESPN and Top Rank, for obvious reasons:
It means the top three heavyweights in the world are allied with three different platforms and a sequel involving two of 'em is imperiled -- although when Deontay Wilder manager Shelly Finkel says he doesn't know whether Showtime has the rights to a Wilder-Fury rematch, you have to assume that is less ignorance than evasion, and that sooner rather than later, the home of "Billions" and "About Billions" will be emptied of "Bronze."
In which case spare a thought for Showtime Sports honcho Stephen Espinoza, who's had to sell in Wilder a bizarrely bad hype-man -- one whose most notable press moment was his witless claim on radio he wanted one of his opponents to die at his hands.
(People also love copy about how much money everyone else accrues, no matter how monied they are themselves; so for those so inclined, I provide a single stat that's cute now and hopefully never Nostradamus-esque in the future: Fury is set to make $20 million per fight, or the amount of money his namesake Mike Tyson owed when he declared bankruptcy in 2003.)
But what if I told you while Arum solicited Fury's signature, a boxer actually did beat a man to death with his hands, one of them clutching a karaoke remote? And what if I told you the victim in this sensational case was himself a former sumo wrestler?
Let's head to the Far East -- so far we reach Western Japan -- the city of Oyabe in Toyama prefecture, to be precise -- a place whose main attraction to tourists is an outlet mall -- the region's version of Woodbury Commons.
It's May, 2010. This is the semi-windup -- eight rounds in the super-bantamweight division. We're gonna eye the 5'7" fighter in sequin-shimmery black trunks with silver trim -- whose insouciance -- dropped hands, up-jab, pot-shots, torso-twists as a form of defense -- recalls Naseem Hamed's.
And doesn't register as sinister -- just dumb, for now.
Meet Tomoaki Hashizume, a 21-year-old with an odd record of 12-2-2 -- odd because those two losses are split decisions -- which means four of his first 16 bouts, a quarter of his record, have ended in actual ties or near ones. He could be undefeated, had he engaged in a little less stylin' and profilin' and a little more actual work.
You will hear cheering in Japanese for the other combatant, in the red and black harlequin trunks, who's actually Argentinean but currently involved in a four fight swing through Japan and teamed up with a local coach. But more on him in a moment. Watch some.
Depending on how far in you went, you might have seen the injurious sequence at 2:19 -- when Hashizume dips to his right and the opponent throws the perfect counter left hook over Hashizume's bent side, a well-timed, tight, inner-pocket scythe -- the perfect check on the cocky Kansai man's wide movement.
Of course, this being boxing, the opponent is rewarded by an injury either to his hand or elbow -- either way, the pain forces him to shake out his arm before resuming. This isn't fair, but it's also entirely consistent with the pug's past and future. His perdition from day one.
Speedo-up, señores y señoritas -- we're entering esoterica, and we're ain't merely wading.
This is a Triple Lindy Dive.
The unnamed man in the ring in the red-and-black trunks?
He's Nestor "El Torito" Paniagua -- whose "little bull" nickname reflects not only his featherweight frame but his lineage -- he's the son of Nestor "Pototo" Paniagua, who competed from 1981-1998. "Pototo" is local slang for "cutie" (I've been informed) and is bestowed upon pets -- and if I seem uncertain, it's because this isn't the Latin America -- linguistically or culturally -- one normally encounters in boxing.
No, both father and son -- two pugs named Nestor Paniagua -- hail from Esperanza, which literally means "hope" and was founded as an agricultural colony in Argentina 160 years ago by 200 families from Western Europe (Switzerland, Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and Luxembourg).
This is dairy country -- the Wisconsin of Argentina -- and its language reflects its contrived, polyglot origins.
And yet, the Paniaguas have played a more familiar role in the fight world than this history would have you believe. The older of the two was an admittedly mediocre soccer player as a teen -- until he saw his first fight at 16. That led him to abandon footie and visit a nearby boxing gym, whose studs included this hairy-chested, '70s slugger who would've made a fine extra in "Boogie Nights":
In reality, that's Mario Matthysse, as in the father of renowned welterweight Lucas Matthysee, who lost to Pacquiao last July and was likely conceived by a mere glance of his father's eyes toward his mother, sometime around the taking of this most-interesting-man-in-the-world arms-up victory shot.
Stay with me.
Pototo Paniagua sees Mario Matthysse and decides he wants to be a boxer, too. But he's picked up the game late -- he'll later claim to have amassed an amateur record of 90-1, which I can't refute but hesitate to accept (maybe he faced some of the cattle). His professional career then took Pototo to historic Luna Park in the capital city of Buenos Aires, where middleweight champ of the world Carlos Monzon invited him to stay at his apartment so the kid could save money.
It's unclear whether Pototo actually took up Monzon on the offer -- he speaks repeatedly about having always been a loner and seems the kind of rural farmer who'd feel insulted by a city slicker's offer, however sincere. But Pototo and Monzon did go out together in Buenos Aires, bringing along a guitar to strum.
This is where things get somewhat weirder -- but I warned you. Pototo's progression in the pros can't even be called that -- he was a journeyman with a known (recall that word) record of 21-26-2 when he retired 20 years ago. Of those 21 wins, he won just two bouts by KO. He was knocked out nine times.
But that doesn't mean he didn't serve the sport.
What he did in the pros was establish a solid reputation for losing against fighters building resumes. His opponents had a collective 766 wins, against only 244 losses, when they faced him. Yeah, 766-244 -- the numbers boggle the mind -- as does Pototo's pivot following retirement. He used to play guitar while hanging about the rural gym in which he trained, and in the city, he strummed along, as aforementioned, with Carlos Monzon.
So Pototo, after putting the gloves down, picked up a guitar and started playing what his compatriots dubbed "cumbia" (but was distinctive from the genre of the same name in Colombia). The timing was fortunate: Cumbia regained popularity as the sound of lower-class dance halls in the early '90s -- and it had remained part of folkloric culture in the country's interior since the '60s.
Enter Pototo's act, called Nestor Luis y la Banda de los Pibes ("pibes" being another colloquialism, this one for "kids" or people who just manage to stay young -- and if I'm getting my santafesina Spanish wrong, lo siento, Argentina -- cry for me).
What does a boxer paid to lose sound like?
Like a legend, that's what:
So the voice you're hearing: that's Pototo's -- but wait, who's the fighter in the footage? It can't be Pototo -- he wasn't broadcast on TV that recently -- at least not as a boxer (his music, featured in a popular rural TV program, is constantly heard in his hometown on reruns).
You guessed it -- that's Pototo's son, "Torito" -- the Baby Bull I mentioned a bazillion words ago, the Argentinean fighter who wound up swinging through Japan for a four-bout tour, including one against a guy who committed murder in a karaoke room over the weekend.
So let's slow it down. Pototo's son decided to go into the family business of in-ring professional losing. I'm not saying he took dives -- given his competition, he didn't have to -- he was always facing a star. If you already know well how this process works (I hope there are matchmakers reading this, at least), you might be amazed at the extent of it in this singular case.
Torito Paniagua, of Esperanza, Argentina, (the farming colony of Hope) faced these future champs and challengers:
Anselmo Moreno (champ), Yuriorkis Gamboa (champ), William Gonzalez (lost a majority decision to champ King Kong Agbeko), Diego Oscar Silva (lost to champ Scott Quigg), Rey Vargas (a current super-bantamweight champ), Matias Rueda (lost to current featherweight champ Oscar Valdez).
Vargas fought just last weekend, and Valdez fought two weeks ago. They're young. Undefeated. In their primes.
They dined on Torito, his father's romantic tunes playing elsewhere in the world, their historical involvement with Monzon and Matthysse notwithstanding. But Torito, pictured below, did win his match the night he threw the crisp counter hook in Oyabe, Japan.
That bout was already nearly a decade ago -- not even a footnote in boxing's long historical ledger. In fact -- and I hate to stop a man from making money -- Torito is such a peripheral figure that he's now fighting off the radar of the establishment completely, in boxing's shadow (yes, even a sport seemingly devoid of all light can get darker).
According to the editors at Boxrec, Torito hasn't entered the ring since 2016 -- a good thing, as he turns 40 years old this year. Except that Torito has been competing in little wars in his hometown -- sanctioned by a bizarre local authority calling itself the "World Pugilism Commission." Last May, in a bout you won't see in any mainstream record books, Torito won that sham group's vacant featherweight world title by beating a Brazilian named Cid Edson Bispo Ribeiro, who turns 45 tomorrow (Wednesday).
Pototo -- paid loser and lyrical performer -- hugged his son after the decision was announced. And maybe that's karmically right -- maybe their manner of acquiring a win, the fact their title is not one, is well-deserved considering all the painful nights father and son accepted for the sake of a paycheck. At the end of 2018, Torito posted on Facebook this illustration of himself and the logo of the phony sanctioning body (okay, they're all phony, but the four acknowledged authorities at least do a better job pretending to be meritocratic):
The caption Torito added (in Spanish): "Anyone can be a chapter, but not all can make history."
Which brings us, after an indulgent detour into time and space that might interest me alone, to our Japanese boxer-turned-killer, 橋 詰 知 明 -- Tomoaki Hashizume, whom Torito actually defeated in Japan, and whose Twitter account, nine years later, has been the main source of images since he allegedly beat a sumo wrestler to death in a karaoke joint with just his hands and a remote control (called a "rimokon" in Japan, incidentally) over the weekend, while Tyson Fury was merely signing a contract.
Both stories are worth covering -- one conveys a sense of life at the top (and we know Fury worked hard to reach it) -- while the other reminds us of who's sacrificed along the way -- minor leaguers without a chance, whose genes doomed 'em from the jump.
Not that Hashizume's alleged beat-down in a Matsubara City club of Sosuke Asada, 40, should be chalked up to sporting failure or depression related to head trauma. The latter could be the case -- not that it would exonerate him. Actually, all three of his losses being by split decision, Hashizume can boast of a decent, swift, successful pro run that saw him eat few shots, relatively speaking.
There's something perverse in the fact that Asada, the victim, is the guy who died of a brain bleed.
As to the rationale, Hashizume, now 30, has told police only that he was drunk at the club and doesn't remember the assault, but he's innocent (he allegedly also broke the nose of a friend of the sumo wrestler's). Obviously, there was a dispute -- news reports say Hashizume objected to the sound coming from the karaoke machine.
During his '90s run in the third-tier of sumo, 6' 0" Asada competed in more than 250 matches, and at one point weighed 290 lbs. His attacker competed at 122.
As Carlos Ghosn has learned the hard way, the Japanese justice system doesn't presume a suspect's innocence in any meaningful fashion and prides itself repugnantly on a 99 percent conviction rate -- which all but proves, statistically, Japan engages in the jailing of innocents daily.
Tomoaki Hashizume doesn't appear to fit that category, though tabloid fare in Japan often takes melodramatic turns.
Which returns us to that one clip of Hashizume boxing. A fan of his posted this 2010 footage on YouTube three years after the bout. The person who posted the clip -- whose handle is "Golden Boy Gym" -- wrote a long message five years ago that ended (in Japanese) with this disappointed query: "What are you doing now, Hashizume? I wanted you to be more active as a talented player."
Last night, following his arrest, some Japanese online surfer added the first comment to the page since:
The fan running the account quickly deleted the comment but not before I saw it and copied it down:
"Tomoaki Hashizume has become a murderer."
Mikey Garcia row reactions....
Iwasa Ryosuke (岩佐亮佑)岩佐亮佑岩佐亮佑岩佐亮佑
Iwasa was a tricky southpaw...whose feints would fade away for a small moment and who'd then become prey instead of a 強い predator.
Figueroa on the left, Molina on the right
What was this fight week like? Like this.
Figueroa feinting, then coming with the up-jab -- which is then parried by a sharp Molina.
Hugo Centeno -- Oscar winner for the best (side) part.
What the lucky Fox broadcasters saw as they left, after three hours, with eight fights left for us non-television folk.
Iwasa backing into a corner...again.
Cool story -- you know the brand Hollister? That's the locale in California where surfer dude -- just kidding; I mean boxing judge -- Steve Morrow lives. Morrow is the guy who had Iwasa winning 98-92 (Iwasa's manager thought he lost, and if he did win, that Hollister margin is as uncool as the current Abercrombie catalog (all about the '90s near-porno circulars). Enter Cesar Juarez, the man I believe was robbed, seen here winging an overhand left into Iwasa's ear.
Iwasa's straight left splitting the Winky Wright earmuffs of Juarez. Okay, so the southpaw landed his money straight left -- why am I , then, giving judge Morrow grief? Because it was a powerless left. He'd push it through the guard but there was no snap action -- it almost seemed like he was wearing '80s aerobic wrist weights to slow his own hands down -- like he knew the 4K camera was broken and was providing slo-motion in real-time free of charge. Also of note: Mr. Too Cool to Watch (Plus He Has a Job) Security Man.
Only we can do that to our pledges!
Alright -- that blow might've knocked Juarez back some. Steve Morrow -- if registering this moment in time is cool...
More Cape Cod Iwasa Iwasa.
And we're the three best friends that anyone could have...
Here comes an Iwasa upper-cut -- maybe that Steve Morrow is a genius.
Iwasa was super straight-up all night, reminded me a lot of Takashi Miura. Dude has some admirably pronounced cheek bones.
"But all I want for Christmas is this little puppy -- pleeeeaaaase?"
"Pretend I'm Mayorga and let's see what happens..."
Juarez goes low for leverage and Iwasa presses him down -- happened repeatedly and irked Jack Reiss, the former fireman who can get you the house of your dreams as a realtor.
According to one person involved in this promotion, I was Shaqtin' a Fool on Twitter. Is it possible I was just very hungry?
Kenny: Are you gonna stay the whole night, even after the Fox broadcast ends, till the Marlon Tapales KO at 3 am on the East Coast?
Errol: I dunno...
Hitman: I put in 8 minutes versus Hagler. Ain't got more to give.
Derrick James: Hell, no, mothereffer -- are you outta your damn mind?
When neither guy was tired, and they weren't leaning on each other, there was some great pocket-pivoting action.
Both guys changing levels with their knees.
And this here is why -- despite all the evidence you've already seen above -- I believe Iwasa lost to Juarez. He would have some success in the middle of the ring, but if Juarez wanted the guy fighting for his life on the ropes, Iwasa voluntarily gave up ground and let himself be shoved baby-style in the corner. Then he'd get battered some. Look, it's a classic question -- do you give more credit for the sallies at the center of the ring, which have a certain attraction, sure, or the pressure work of the come-forward fella?
Juarez wasn't just an aggressor -- he was an effective one, dictating the spacing of the thing (or Iwasa wrongly thought he knew how to box off the back foot -- either way).
Iwasa had no idea, once pinned in the corner, how to respond with clean boxing, so he clinched, pressed down on Juarez's neck, built a stupid, expensive unnecessary wall by stealing money from the military. This is why Jack Reiss -- actually -- warned him and his corner constantly about clinching, neck-pressing, operating a commercial vehicle under the very low arched overpasses of the Henry Hutchinson Parkway.
Oh, and headbutting -- Reiss warned Iwasa about leading with his head - - which he does above blatantly -- not because he's a dirty fight, I don't think, but because he knew he had to slip punches , and his defensive idea of dipping is this telegraphed turtle nonsense.
In the end, it comes back to the star on the marquee -- the headliner -- featherweight champ Leo Santa Cruz. I took this photo Thursday; I love it because it captures the purity and associated appeal of Leo's smile. It's genuine, radiant and very inviting.
Unless we've all been conned, he's the most guileless person in the sport -- just look at how empty the Conga Room at LA Live is in this photo. Leo isn't flashing bleached whites to dupe the media or ingratiate himself with the public. This is a small moment that would have otherwise gone uncaptured by me, had I not walked by just as he broke into a grin.
The sad thing is that while the grin and heart are real they're also there in spite of his father's cancer weighing on his soul. I heard again tonight from someone on the stage at the Microsoft Theater: Leo didn't look particularly good (he landed some vicious liver shots I have no idea how Rivera took -- and Rivera landed his own torso attack), Leo couldn't put this guy away, he took shots, maybe he was distracted by his dad's protracted battle with the disease again.
The person talking was well-informed generally but not in this case's particulars (Leo is also bashful and private). So this was more speculation than wink-wink assertion, I believe. And that's a shame.
A shame we can't evaluate Leo outside of the context of his suffering inside from of his father's diagnosis. Maybe it had no effect last night. But no one can say but Leo. He deserves to have fewer worries -- and to be evaluated on his own terms. I hope he one day is -- and soon.
Speaking of fathers, I had Vampire Weekend's "Harmony Hall" playing in my head all weekend -- the first real track off the band's long-anticipated new album, expected to come out this spring.
Because all week we've seen Leo's ailing dad , and the album's name is "Father of the Bride." And then because of this haunting refrain:
"I don't wanna live like this, but I don't wanna die."