- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 22, 2005

We had our little fling with the illusion of big-time boxing here in Washington at MCI Center more than a week ago, and everyone appeared to have a good time, even though we didn’t see a real fight in any of the three pay-per-view bouts.

Sharmba Mitchell’s bout was a bust after he had to stop fighting in the fifth round because of a head butt to his eye. He got the win because the fight had gone on long enough to go to the judges’ scorecards, but fans got less than half a fight.

Then they saw Laila Ali beat up some biker chick for three rounds, and the crowd seemed to enjoy seeing Laila and really got a kick out of seeing her father, Muhammad Ali, in the arena. But that was women’s boxing, and it is more carnival sideshow than boxing.

Finally, the crowd got to watch Mellow Mike Tyson take a beating from a guy whom, at one time, he would have beaten with a sneer at the prefight press conference. The crowd of more than 16,000 — some of whom paid more than $700 for a seat — watched Mellow Mike try to break Irish Kevin McBride’s arm, intentionally head butt him and then quit on his stool before the start of the seventh round. (By the way, Tyson-McBride is believed to have done about 275,000 pay-per-view buys, which is a respectable number for such a farce. Mellow Mike will be fighting again someday, someway, somewhere.)

Yet the crowd did not seem particularly unhappy about the events of the evening of June 11. There were no calls of outrage or dissatisfaction, and there appears to have been no bitter aftermath even though they did not see one real fight for their money. The crowd came to see a spectacle, and it had been entertained.

Now, if they really want to see a fight, they should be paying attention to what will be happening Saturday night in Atlantic City, when one of the legendary warriors of boxing, Arturo Gatti, faces perhaps the best pound-for-pound fighter in the business, Floyd Mayweather, in a battle of junior welterweights.

Actually, many of those fans who showed up at MCI Center probably don’t realize there has been one great fight after another for the past two months. It’s just that the fights have been out of the limelight because they have not been in the heavyweight division.

Here’s a tip: Forget the heavyweight division. Act as if it doesn’t even exist anymore or is a sideshow like women’s boxing. Start pretending boxing only goes up to the light heavyweight class. If you had been doing that, you might have tuned into the Antonio Tarver-Glen Johnson battle Saturday night on HBO from Memphis, a terrific fight with no spectacle except the best boxing has to offer: heart, toughness and respect.

Tarver lost to Johnson the first time they met but was better prepared this time and outboxed him in an action-filled fight. The 11th round produced excitement like we haven’t seen in the light heavyweight division since its glory days of Michael Spinks and Matthew Saad Muhammad more than 20 years ago. And with Tarver winning the decision, both fighters met in the ring and praised each other. There was no quitting, no head butting.

“I’m proud of myself when I win, and I’m proud of myself when I lose,” Johnson said, and he should have been proud. There likely will be a third fight between these two. (Roy Jones, one of the HBO analysts for the fight and someone who has lost to both fighters, is making noise about coming back but should stay retired. The Tarver-Johnson fight was more entertaining than any Roy Jones fight in memory.)

These kind of performances have been taking place in boxing all summer, starting with one of the greatest fights anyone has seen lately, the Jose Castillo-Diego Corrales bout May 7 in Las Vegas, a dramatic brawl with brutal punishment and a startling ending. Appearing to be out after being knocked down twice by Castillo in the 10th round, Corrales came back and beat Castillo so severely in that same round that the fight was stopped. The bout wasn’t without controversy because Corrales, while he was down the second time, appeared to spit his mouthpiece out on purpose, and the referee stopped the fight while he had it put back in, giving Corrales a breather. No rules cover what happened, but the controversy did not take away from the remarkable fight.

The following week in Las Vegas, Washington’s Winky Wright destroyed Felix Trinidad in one of the most satisfying and enjoyable one-sided fights ever. It was a boxing clinic, with Wright, a southpaw, using a great jab and combinations to beat Trinidad back into retirement. He did all this right in front of Trinidad, using his ability to slip punches — a dying art in boxing. There are ways to avoid getting hit other than running and clinching.

Three weeks later in Manchester, England, local hero Ricky Hatton went toe-to-toe with one of the greatest junior welterweights of his time, Kosta Tszyu, and came away with a hard-fought win when Tszyu could not answer the bell for the final round. It was another action-filled fight, and the entrance of Hatton in front of his hometown fans alone was worth watching, as was the postfight respect both fighters showed for each other.

In between all of this, you had a fat James Toney beat the worst heavyweight champion of all time, John Ruiz, and then had the World Boxing Association crown stripped from Toney when he tested positive for steroids.

That was another circus act. The main events have been taking place below the radar. The next one coming up Saturday night, the Gatti-Mayweather bout, may have enough juice to get people to stop watching the dozen or so clowns trying to fit into the tiny car known as heavyweight boxing.

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