By GEORGE WILLIS
Boxing is a sport that can take you through a myriad of emotions from the excitement of an upcoming fight to the disappointment or elation of its outcome. Its characters and performers are always part of the equation putting their personalities, emotions, struggles, triumphs and defeats on public display.
Even in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic the ups and downs of boxing are evident. This week it took us from excitement to skepticism to ultimately a heavy sadness.
The week began with Showtime and Premier Boxing Champions announcing a lineup of nine live boxing events featuring 18 undefeated fighters and eight world championship bouts. It’s a strong schedule headlined by some of the top names in the sport, including Gervonta Davis, Leo Santa Cruz, Jermall Charlo, Jermell Charlo and David Benavidez. If you don’t know those names, you need to start paying attention.
It begins August 1 and runs through the end of 2020 with the bouts set to be held without fans at the Mohegan Sun Arena. “We are thrilled to return to live boxing with this star-studded schedule of exciting, meaningful fights,” said Stephen Espinoza, president of Sports and Event Programming at Showtime.
It felt like boxing is finally back with meaningful championship bouts by fighters entering their prime. But that news was quickly overshadowed by former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson announcing his return to the ring for an exhibition match with the legendary Roy Jones Jr. set for Sept. 12. Tyson, who turned 54 in June, hasn’t fought since 2005. Jones is 51. Suddenly, excitement turned to skepticism.
Look, if Lee Trevino and Tom Watson announced they were staging a golf exhibition, no one would bat an eye. Or if Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took on Julius Erving in one-on-one few would complaint. (Oh, they already did that.). Boxing is a bit different, especially with all the health and safety concerns.
We’ve seen all those videos on social media of Tyson looking buff, while training and Jones, never really officially retired. If two grown men want to make a buck and the California Athletic Commission sanctions the bout, I’m sure enough eyeballs will tune in to make it a profitable venture, if it actually comes off.
There’s enough mystique about Tyson (50-6, 44 KOs) that even the skeptics can’t help but pay attention, and Jones (66-9, 46 KOs) was one of the all-time greats, becoming the first middleweight in 100 years to win a heavyweight title when he defeated John Ruiz in 2003. But figure on both being gassed by the fourth round.
Then we heard on Friday that long-time Philadelphia trainer Naazim Richardson had passed away. In a cutthroat sport, Brother Naazim always provided an authentic dose of truth. He was a highly respected member of the boxing community, not just in Philadelphia, but throughout the country. I took every opportunity I could to talk with him about boxing, being a trainer and his athletes. He never called them boxers. They were athletes or soldiers. Bernard Hopkins, Shane Mosley, Steve Cunningham were just a few of his athletes. But he spoke of the amateurs he coached with the same reverence as his world champions.
He never sought the spotlight. It just naturally found him, and he may have saved Mosley’s life when he caught Antonio Margarito loading his hand wraps with a plaster-like substance before their fight in 2009 at the Staples Center.
“It don’t matter what I see or what you see,” he once told me. “The intangibles are inside the ring. This isn’t something that can be done on a computer. You have to be in there.”
I’ll get excited about the Showtime schedule and whether Tyson and Jones has any pay-per-view value. Right now, I’m on the sad part of this boxing journey. RIP Brother Naazim.