At least one good thing can be said of last Saturday night's World Boxing Organization light heavyweight title fight in Pittsburgh: Mercifully, it didn't go the distance. Michael Moorer, the WBO champion, dropped Danny Stonewalker, a durable 30-year-old preliminary fighter from Canada, three times before finally knocking him out 11 seconds into the eighth round. The result surprised no one, including Stonewalker, who was in the ring only because the world's four other light heavyweight champions had decided it was in their best interests to take the night off.
Such is the sad state of the 175-pounders, who, even in the best of times, operate in the shadows of the glamorous heavyweights and their smaller cousins, the middleweights. Willie Pastrano, a light heavyweight champion in the '60s, called it the "bastard division." Now, with the division pie sliced five ways by rival boxing organizations, a light heavyweight championship bout has all the allure of a B movie at the Cannes Film Festival—you go only if nothing else is playing.
"This is ridiculous," says Emanuel Steward, Moorer's manager-trainer, who has spent six months trying to sweet-talk several of the other champions into fighting his southpaw wrecking ball. Undefeated in 22 fights, the 23-year-old Moorer, a 6'2½" converted righthander, has knocked out all of his opponents; only five, including Stonewalker, survived beyond the fourth round.
Steward thought he had wrapped up Prince Charles Williams, the fragile-jawed International Boxing Federation champion, for Saturday's matchup at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena. Williams accepted a $40,000 advance on a $440,000 purse offer to fight Moorer. In addition, Steward gave Williams $25,000 for a tuneup against nonthreatening Bert Gravely last August (KO in 3). The Prince, however, decided he had more pressing regal duties than fighting Moorer. He will defend his title early next year against Mwehu Sugar Beya, a Zairian fighting out of Italy.
Ranked No. 9 by the IBF and 26th by the World Boxing Council, the 34-year-old Beya has a 14-6-4 record against mediocre competition. His last two fights were eight-round preliminaries, one of which he won. Fortunately, the Williams-Beya mismatch will take place in Europe. And how has Steward taken this news? He is talking about suing Williams.
Still, Beya is one of the better light heavyweights, a motley bunch counting so few live bodies that the boxing czars shore up their ranks with cruiserweights and middleweights. Try this one: Byung-Yong Min, the World Boxing Association's No. 12 contender, turned pro on July 17, 1989. He has fought four times.
Or this one: Graciano Rocchigiani, an Italian fighting out of Rheinhausen, Germany, has a 29-0 record, but in January 1989 he ceased being a light heavyweight. After gaining 22 pounds in 10 months, going from 168 to 190, he now campaigns as a cruiserweight. The IBF and the WBC continue to rank Rocchigiani among their Top 10 175-pounders. And Frank Winter-stein, a middleweight with a 50-1-1 record, is the WBA's No. 7 light heavy.
Stonewalker, a Swedish-Cree Canadian whose real name is Danny Lindstrom, was the WBO's No. 3 contender before Saturday's fight. He is a Top Rank preliminary fighter who came into the bout with a 10-4-2 record. Still, Stonewalker was the only contender Steward could find who was willing to face Moorer's fists for $15,000. For his 21 minutes of work, Moorer made $50,000.
As for the other light heavyweight champions:
•Dennis Andries, the 37-year-old WBC titleholder, a man of stout heart but old legs, defends against Guy Waters—who has gone 13-0-1 after being knocked out in his debut—next month in Australia.
•Virgil Hill, the WBA champ and the man Moorer really wants to fight, will make a Jan. 3 defense against Mike Peak (9-3-2), who has not fought since November 1989. Peak, the WBA's No. 1 contender despite his record and absence from the ring, has fought only seven main events, losing two.
•Andre Nelson didn't make anyone's list of contenders until—shazam!—he won the International Boxing Council's newly created championship, decisioning Tony Harrison in a 12-rounder in Detroit on Dec. 6. Another preliminary fighter, Nelson was a Moorer sparring partner fighting on a low-budget card. He was as stunned as anyone when he was unexpectedly anointed by the IBC, a recently founded organization run by 93-year-old Marty Cohen out of Miami Beach.
As new kid on the block, the IBC, the K Mart of boxing groups, takes only 2% of a title-fighter's purse, with a $30,000 cap. The most expensive organization is the WBC, which grabs 3% with a $150,000 cap. The other three groups are two-percenters, with $100,000 caps. For the Mike Tyson—Buster Douglas and the Douglas—Evander Holyfield heavyweight championship fights, for example, the WBA, WBC and IBF took a total of $350,000 from each fighter for each fight—$1.4 million in all. They'll share another $700,000 from the Holyfield-George Foreman fight on April 19. That's not a bad haul for nonprofit organizations.
Last Friday night Steward received a call from promoter Bob Arum, the president of Top Rank, who told him that the Hill-Moorer fight had been made. Arum told Steward that HBO was close to buying the fight, and Arum hoped to hold it in March at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Hill would receive $750,000, up a half-million from his previous best purse.
"We're only taking $500,000," says Steward, "just to get Hill in the ring. This is what the light heavyweight division needs: one super champion."
Herbie Lembeck, Las Vegas's top boxing odds-maker, says that Hill, a good boxer and fair puncher, and Moorer, a devastating puncher, would be a pick-'em fight. Either of them would be a 7-to-5 favorite over Williams, a competent boxer with a porcelain chin. Andries the Elder would be a 10-1 underdog against any of the three. And Nelson, the IBC champ? "I wouldn't open my blinds if he fought in my backyard," says one wit.
Hill, however, is still trying to negotiate a fight with Tommy Hearns, a former Steward fighter who briefly held the WBC light heavyweight championship in 1987. Hearns, 32, reportedly demanded $8 million to meet Hill, but has since dropped that to $3 million. He will have to go lower if he wants to fight Hill.
"It's Hill or no one." said Steward of Moorer's preferred opponent: "We are no longer interested in fighting any of the other champions. If not Hill, Mike moves up to heavyweight."
Between fights, Moorer carries 206 pounds. Steward expects him to emerge as a solid 218-pounder, easily. So much for the light heavyweight division. Certainly Moorer has heavyweight feet—size 16½. They go perfectly with his heavyweight punch.