The Fix Was In
My father used to work with a man who briefly owned a piece of the middleweight championship in the 1940's. He had been close to having it a year earlier, but was told by the powers that be that they didn't want him to win yet, he didn't. He knew the score. He lost a fight he could have won easily, then left New York for a time, headed for the West Coast, bided his time, then got a real shot the next year. He accepted it as the way things were done
We've all seen the fight movies from that era, the star is told by the gangsters that he had to lose, he either did it and became corrupted by the process, or resisted, resulting in severe reprisals or death, depending on the movie in question.
Boxers fascinate us, they sacrifice their bodies and their minds for their sport. They inspire writers from Damon Runyan and A.J. Leibling, to Joyce Carol Oates. The only song from the Simon and Garfunkel era that Paul Simon still likes to perform is The Boxer, where a poor boy "squanders his existence" for broken promises. As he says, "a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."
Boxing fans have traditionally disregarded a lot. Beside the damage to the participants, we ignore the obvious corruption. Could Don King and his ilk get away with what they do if the fans refused to tolerate it? No, we look the other way because it's the most elemental of sports, one which gives us a visceral rush like no other. In recent years, we've had to put up not just with King, Arum, et al, but with the alphabet soup of "governing bodies", which exist only to cash the checks they collect for placing their championship imprimatur on two mediocrities fighting for a cheesily bejeweled belt. They act not to effectively determine champions, but to prevent real champions from emerging, by avoiding unification bouts except under the most rare circumstances. Julio Cesar Chavez fought over 100 bouts and held the title for years without ever fighting the best fighters in his own division.
Finally, last weekend, a heavyweight championship unification bout was held. There was going to be one man to be called "Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World." Neither Holyfield nor Lewis is a great fighter; at his peak, Larry Holmes would have toyed with Holyfield -- but in the current atmosphere, so-called experts have built this man up to mythic warrior status.
Thousands of British fans crossed the Atlantic, hoping to see their countryman win the championship. At least all I had to do was drive to a friend's house to watch this latest mockery of the word "sport."
I'm not going to go into detail about the travesty in question. Here are a few notes on it:
Holyfield entered the ring singing. Not humming along with his music, or even quietly singing along, but singing like he was Pavarotti at the Met. He got to the ring, the music stopped, the introductions started, he kept right on singing. Strange? You bet.
Not as strange as his third round knockout prediction was. This was never Evander's strength, his KO's usually came from an accumulation of damage, not an explosion. Still, he did nothing the first two rounds, treated them like shadow boxing in his dressing room. Then before the third, when his cornermen exhorted him to begin fighting, he told them not to worry, because "this is the round I'm supposed to knock him out, right?" Strange? You bet.
He came out firing that round, almost had Lewis in trouble, and everyone on earth gave him that round, although by the end of it Lewis had regained control and landed more punches. After that, the fight had a regular pattern, Lewis would stand there, sometimes forgetting to do anything, but then landing jabs at will, firing an occasional power punch, while Holyfield stood there looking old. I had Holyfield winning two rounds with one even. You've seen the punch stats, over 2 1/2 to 1 in Lewis's favor, with a wide edge in both jabs and power punches. I'm not a big believer in those, but in this case they were accurate. There were six rounds where Holyfield landed fewer than ten punches and believe me, they weren't shortchanging him.
So what happened? I think the fight was fixed. In the old days, a fighter was required to take a dive. Now, they simply get to the judges. I know this is a big accusation, but let's consider what we have here.
The fifth round was as lopsided a round as I've seen without a knockdown. I actually scored it 10-8. Lewis pinned Holyfield against the ropes and pummeled him, landing about 15 consecutive punches, almost knocking him through the ropes. He outpunched him the rest of the round as well. Which brings us to Eugenia Williams, a judge who actually gave that round to Holyfield. There are only two possibilities: incompetence or corruption. She has judged 90 fights, 27 "championship" fights, so it's hard to say she's incompetent to judge who actually won a round. And since she had the first three rounds correct, she clearly knew which fighter was which (hey, I'm trying to cover all the bases here.) This leaves us with corrupt. Either she was ready to vote for Holyfield because she was rooting for him, or whether she was being paid off, directly or indirectly, she rendered a decision having nothing to do with reality. By "indirectly" I mean a promise of future lucrative assignments by the governing body that appointed her. The same applies to Larry O'Connell, but is harder to find a round so obviously wrong. She was the only judge to give Holyfield the fourth round, but she was the only judge to give the eighth to Lewis.
Since O'Connell returned home he has publicly stated that he thought Lewis won and was surprised by his scorecard having it even. He pleaded that since the rounds were submitted one at a time, he didn't know who he had winning. Personally, I score them one at a time, but I always know who is ahead and I think the two of them knew too. I think the respective commissions who appointed them told them what they wanted to happen. O'Connell just couldn't find a way to score the first, second, fourth, or fifth round for Holyfield, but made up for it by not giving Lewis another round until the twelfth. Williams didn't have that trouble, after Holyfield tossed away the first two, she never gave Lewis another round until Holyfield was ahead. She probably thought her total would be close enough to the others so that no one would notice the individual rounds. In the real world, she would be taken into a room and be made to explain to a governing body how she scored the fifth round for Evander. Apparently the District Attorney of New York County, as well as the New York State Attorney-General will be investigating, I wish them luck.
From the WBA, IBF, and even WBC standpoint, I think the goal of this fight was not to crown a winner, but to leave with everyone holding the same title as before. The cries for a rematch ring hollow to me. Lennox Lewis should not have to fight a rematch to get what he earned last weekend. I have a feeling the next fight ends up on Showtime, just to give them their taste --that's what Don King will want. And everyone will go away happy, except for those who spent money and a night of their life watching the first fight.
HBO is showing the fight Friday night. Their promo for it states "it's your chance to watch one of the greatest travesties in the history of sport." Hard to resist, isn't it?