A draw? How did that even make sense? None of the commentators could believe it. Neither could me, Dad or Dad’s friend Radcliffe as we watched the pay-per-view feed in Dad’s third-floor apartment. To most observers, Lennox Lewis soundly defeated Evander Holyfield and had won almost every round. But, the judges saw differently.
“I’m never buying another pay-per-view fight,” Dad said.
That was more than 13 years ago. Dad has kept his promise.
But not for a lack of interest. Dad’s a huge boxing fan. He rarely misses an installment of Friday Night Fights on ESPN2, he gets Showtime and HBO largely for their boxing inventory and he’ll occasionally watch a fight on one of the Spanish-language channels even though he barely understands what the commentators are saying. I can ask Dad about any fighter, no matter how obscure, and he’ll give me a detailed scouting report on him. However, Dad isn’t a fool. And, his decision not to order a pay-per-view boxing match stems largely from his desire not to be hoodwinked. Boxing is notorious for odd decisions and shady endings, so why pay for something you aren’t even sure is on the up and up? Plus, as Dad likes to remind me, they always replay the pay-per-view cards on Showtime or HBO a couple of weeks later anyway.
I used to love boxing; it helped that I came of age during the Mike Tyson Era, when Tyson headlined a fantastic group of fighters in the heavyweight division in the late 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s. But, Dad is the main reason I love the sport. He helped me gain an appreciation for the finer points, helped me realize it wasn’t all power and pizzazz, even though the power and the pizzazz are the most enjoyable parts of boxing. Dad would call me when a big fight was going to be on Showtime or HBO – Mom and I didn’t get those channels – and invite me over. Heck, it didn’t even have to be a big fight; Dad had a keen eye for knowing what boxers are good matchups for each other and which fights have a chance to be riveting and action packed. But, Dad and I didn’t just enjoy what happened when the bell rang. We both cracked wise when it came to the over-the-top introductions and pre-fight machismo, pageantry and posturing. We loved the bravado-filled post-fight interviews, which always seemed to begin with the boxer thanking Jesus or Allah and often end with the winner proclaiming his greatness and the loser claiming he was robbed or that he wants a rematch. We enjoyed the fact that almost everyone in the boxing establishment – the fighters, promoters, corner men and commentators – seemed to have inflated opinions of themselves and of the fights in which they’re involved. Boxing is tremendous theater for the sarcastic, so it was right up me and Dad’s alley.
My first year out of college, I worked as a sports reporter for the New York City bureau of the Yomiuri Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper; I mostly assisted the bureau’s sportswriter when it came to securing media credentials, doing research and arranging interviews. However, I did get to cover a few sporting events, including one boxing event: the press conference announcing the much anticipated fight between Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson. Lewis was at the peak of his powers and widely considered the best heavyweight in the world and one of the best ever. Tyson was on the downside of a brilliant, yet disappointing, career regularly marred by controversy. In the seven years since serving a three-year prison sentence for rape, Tyson had fought mostly lackluster opponents and, although he was past his prime, most in the boxing world wanted to see him fight Lewis, a matchup that was also the most lucrative option for both fighters at the time.
The press conference was held at a theater in Midtown Manhattan that was a short walk from the Yomiuri’s offices at Rockefeller Center. The people who cover boxing regularly are just as quirky and unique as the boxers themselves and the media horde taking advantage of the finger-food buffet prior to the press conference’s start was unlike any I’d been around. There were guys who would’ve fit right in as extras on The Sopranos, others who looked like the press conference was interfering with their daily back-room poker game and/or their visit to the track and many more who appeared to be ready to sell me a used car. None of them looked like they could be trusted.
We took our seats as Jimmy Lennon Jr., the fight’s scheduled ring announcer, welcomed us and introduced a video showing clips of Lewis and Tyson beating the daylights out of other boxers. After the lights came back on, Lennon introduced Tyson, who took his place on a raised platform onstage. Next was Lewis, who ascended a platform about five feet away from Tyson’s. Tyson then stepped down from his platform and got into Lewis’s face – or, more accurately, Lewis’s stomach, since the 5’9” Tyson is much shorter than the statuesque Lewis – leading to shoving which was followed by grappling on the ground as the handlers and entourages for both sides joined in on what became a full-scale melee. It was a surreal image. Even though I was no more than 40 feet away from large men in expensive suits who were duking it out, I didn’t feel threatened; it felt like what I was watching was happening on a television screen in front of me rather than in person. Those of us not involved in the chaos sat in stunned silence. After tensions simmered, it was announced that the press conference had been cancelled. The Lewis-Tyson fight was now in doubt.
After clearing several hurdles, Lewis and Tyson finally fought six months later. I paid $50 to see the bout, which Lewis dominated before finally knocking Tyson out in the eighth round. A normally boisterous Tyson was contrite and humble afterwards, congratulating Lewis on his victory and recognizing that his resounding defeat meant his days as a big boxing draw who fought the world’s best were over. Lewis-Tyson was the last fight I watched from start to finish. In the decade since, I’ve lived all over the country, making it impossible for Dad and I to watch fights together. I’ve refused to purchase Showtime or HBO, since I doubt I’ll watch either channel enough to justify the expense. Boxing keeps adding more belts and titles, making it harder to follow. And, the shady decisions and questionable matchups continued unabated. I have friends who try to get me into mixed martial arts, but those bouts aren’t as enjoyable to me. I know there’s tremendous skill involved, but the ability to win a fight using more than just one’s fists doesn’t appeal to me.
Dad is still as consumed by boxing as he has ever been. I gave him my press credential from the infamous Lewis-Tyson press conference that wasn’t. We still talk about the sport, usually with me asking him about fighters I’ve heard others mention but that I haven’t seen. Of course, Dad’s seen every fighter of note (and many fighters who aren’t of note). Every time we talk boxing, I mention how I need to follow the sport closely again. Dad just listens without trying to steer me in either direction. He knows what a great sport boxing is, but he knows how frustrating it can be to follow because all of those involved seem hell bent on ruining it.
It’s not the same watching fights without Dad. But, maybe I’ll get into boxing again. Maybe I’ll wade through all the various titles, the contenders, the wannabe contenders and the questionable decisions. Maybe I’ll get excited about a big fight again and continue to remain excited even if most big fights seem to have disappointing conclusions.
But, I’ll follow Dad’s advice and never order another boxing match on pay-per-view.Follow @raford3