It's gotten to the point at which you have to cover the fights in
case a press conference breaks out. The actual sporting event is
beside the point, and certainly dull compared with whatever
tawdry histrionics can be staged in advance of it. Mike Tyson and
Lennox Lewis rolling on the deck, even in their street clothes,
is what passes for excitement these days. Just let us know the
next stop on their boorish barnstorming tour, and we'll have the
Not even the prospect of Shane Mosley and Vernon Forrest,
welterweights of honest distinction, squaring off was enough to
remind us that boxing can produce a wonderful spectacle. No
matter the worth of their rivalry, they were elbowed off the
front page the very week of their long-awaited title bout when
Tyson went off on Jan. 22 at the announcement of his April 6
fight with Lewis, and the boxing world suddenly became
preoccupied with acceptable parameters of sociopathic behavior.
Should Tyson be allowed to fight if, as was reported, he bit
Lewis, or will a sexual-assault charge against Tyson, being
investigated in Las Vegas, quash the bout?
Fine print: Two undefeated fighters, one touted as the world's
best pound-for-pound, were stepping into the ring in the
5,000-seat theater at Madison Square Garden last Saturday night.
Sorry, but given the principals' preference for dignity, all
action will be limited to the actual bout.
Publicitywise it was no contest. Tyson's reality show dominated
the news. It's hard to compete with nervous breakdowns,
especially ones staged so magnificently. (Tyson works a little
blue, so you might not have seen his postbrawl comments in their
entirety, but trust us.) The problem, as Forrest said during his
modest press conference a day after the Tyson-Lewis spectacle, is
that "we're gentlemen."
The solution, as it turned out, was that they are also two superb
fighters, competing with more heart than a dozen heavyweights
could produce, in the ring or on a dais. That boxing's brightest
light was shuttered does the sport no harm. Decked twice in the
second round and crumpled by horrible body shots in the 10th,
Mosley probably did more to honor himself in defeat than he could
have done in victory. How did he survive that second round,
And Forrest, who was plucked from a decade of obscurity on the
flimsiest of pretenses (he held a victory over Mosley from their
amateur days, thus a promotional angle), did not have to be a
star in the pay-per-view hierarchy to ennoble the sport with his
crafty win. So emphatic was his victory that by the end of the 12
rounds, the result no longer seemed stunning.
"Vernon did a number on me, didn't he?" said Mosley. "He stuck to
his plan; he did his thing." Mosley was almost more appreciative
than upset, although he wished that Forrest hadn't
"boxed-clinched" so much and that their foreheads hadn't collided
in the second round, an accident Mosley believed led to his being
knocked down later in the round. Yet there was nothing he could
say, the margin of victory was so wide. (One judge gave Mosley
only two rounds.) "Maybe," suggested Mosley, "a rematch."
Bring it on, said Forrest, who used his three-inch height
advantage (6 feet to 5'9"), a stiff jab and timely clutching to
smother Mosley's speed. Forrest believes, and many witnesses will
surely concur, that his style beats Mosley's every time. Mosley,
who had outpointed Oscar De La Hoya in 2000 to become boxing's
most highly regarded talent, was thought to have such quickness
that he would cut through any opponent. At 30, with a record of
38-0 (35 KOs) and with the IBF lightweight and WBC welterweight
championships on his resume, he was expected to hold sway for a
few more years, chasing De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad and Fernando
Vargas through the upper weights into pay-per-view riches.
Forrest, also 30, wasn't thought to be in the class of such
boxers, though he was undefeated in 33 bouts and (until he was
stripped for taking this fight) an IBF welterweight king. He
wasn't dazzling and had never faced a big-name opponent. He was
left behind in a 147-pound hinterland as the other stars moved
up. Only Mosley, whom he'd outpointed in the 1992 U.S. Olympic
Trials, lingered to give him a fight.
As grateful as he was for the chance, Forrest was frustrated by
the buildup (though not to the point at which he felt he needed
to bite anybody's leg). This fight was cast as a Mosley showcase,
with the anointed adopting an air of puzzlement that they
actually had to go through with it. "I can't understand what he
could possibly do to take me 12 rounds," Mosley said, not
unkindly, just bemusedly.
Forrest, an ebullient sort, took none of it personally, but he
chafed at his underdog status. "Everybody's so hyped on his hand
speed," he said earlier in the week. "Julio Cesar Chavez, he
didn't have hand speed, and he ate fighters up." Plus, Forrest
pointed out, he--like Chavez--did have a right hand.
On Saturday, in the biggest fight of his life, he used it early.
It all had a deja vu aspect for Forrest, who said that he had
dreamed the entire fight the night before so vividly that he was
surprised he wasn't sore when he woke up on Saturday morning. In
the second round, after they had cracked heads, Forrest caught
Mosley with a left-right and then a thunderclap of a right
uppercut that sat Mosley down for the first time in his career.
Forrest decked him again seconds later, but somehow Mosley
survived the round and, still wobbly, the next round too.
Mosley never got close enough after that, even with a cleared
head, to deliver meaningful combinations, and his heralded speed
was nullified throughout by Forrest's jab and clinching. For
emphasis Forrest delivered three shuddering left hooks to
Mosley's ribs in the 10th, nearly folding him in two.
The bout wasn't always elegant, but the effort was remarkable and
honest enough that for the moment, anyway, it seemed possible to
enjoy a fight more than its press conference. That was good news,
even if it was hard to find amid all the fiasco footage last
week. Hey--idea!--what if we only went to the fights?