For whatever reason, Andre Ward and Andre Dirrell will not be facing each other in their “Super Six” bout this weekend, as originally scheduled. The exact reasons are unknown as it seems there is a code of silence from everyone involved in this fight. But it's been speculated that the two world-class super middleweights are reluctant to face each other because of their friendship. Or at least this early in the Showtime super middleweight scrum, for the amount of money being offered.
It's not clear if or when they will ever face-off (more on this issue later) but the brutal reality is that in this sport, sometimes the business calls for you to punch your friends in the face (over and over). That's just the way it is.
That was certainly the case on March 18th, 1991, in one of the most famous instances when close chums squared off versus each other when Simon Brown and Maurice Blocker fought to unify their WBC and IBF welterweight titles. The two, it was said, we're not just friends who had spent plenty of time at the gym in the past, but their families regularly broke bread together. But on this night at the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, it didn't prevent them from putting on a savage fight that saw them rip into each other from the very onset, eventually seeing Brown knock his pal out in the tenth. This bout, which was on the undercard of Mike Tyson's first encounter against Razor Ruddock, was among the best that decade.
Perhaps it was because they were from a bygone era but these guys lived by a code. Friendship be damned, they had mouths to feed and money to make. And when it's all said and done, it was nothing personal, just business.
If they do ever meet, it's doubtful that Ward and Dirrell will come close to matching the violence and intensity of Brown-Blocker. Not only are the respective styles not conducive to producing a slugfest but the stark reality is that today's generation of fighters are generally softer and not as hungry as their predecessors (Yeah, I said it; prove me wrong if you can).
But in the past, such closeness never prevented great fights from breaking out.
A relatively unknown example of this is the historic clash between Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns. Yes, they were actually very close friends leading into their match-up in September of 1981.
"In fact," said Emanuel Steward, who trained and managed Hearns, "when Tommy won his amateur championship in '77, first person in the ring to meet him and congratulate him was Ray Leonard. Ray trained at the Kronk Gym in '76 in order to make the Olympic team and he really became the star of the Kronk Gym, believe it or not, during that time. And when he won the Olympic trials in Cincinnati, he beat Ronnie Shields in the finals. I mean the whole Kronk Gym was there cheering him and he came to help Tommy get his pro career off the ground in November of '77, Thanksgiving Day in Detroit. He could've been with his family.
"When he [Leonard] was fighting Floyd Mayweather Sr., he [Hearns] sparred with him to help him prepare for the fight. Next thing you know, the public wanted the big fight between Tommy and Ray and I called and talked to Mike Trainer, who was with Ray and handled his affairs, and we met and the fight was made. And they've been friends afterwards, still are today. And they had two fights."
Leonard stopped Hearns in 14 pulsating rounds that saw wild shifts in momentum. To this day, it is considered a modern-day classic, a bout that will stand the test of time. Regardless of who won or lost, it elevated both men and the sport.
"That's the fight that the public wanted," Steward continued. "It was a good fight and when you have those type of fights, usually nobody is going to be disgraced by a loss. It's going to be a credible loss, if it is a loss. And I think when you're part of a sport where you need to make fights- regardless of what relationships are- I mean, sometimes I even talk to Vitali and Wladimir [Klitschko] and they laugh and say, 'We'd use the excuse that we made the promise to our mother. But if we did fight, one of us- maybe both of us- would be physically damaged for life.'"
If you've seen “Fight Camp 360,” which is Showtime's insightful behind-the-scenes look at their “Super Six” tournament, you know that Ward and Dirrell have a history going back to their days as amateurs and representing USA Boxing as teammates. But Steward says in instances similar to this, "I think what usually happens, you have the best fights. When you put friends and brothers together, they're the best fights there is. It can go one way or the other."
Steward recalls, "It was a tournament many years ago, about '79, and I had DeJuan Johnson and Milton McCrory; they were not only on the same team; they slept in the same bed during the tournament and they were playing little card games and then they had to fight each other in the finals and DeJuan had surprised everyone. He had knocked out Donald Curry, I think, the day before- I think he stopped him. He was a future champion. The next night in the finals, he was fighting Milton McCrory and he knocked Milton out. But these were not just teammates but they were able to stay in the same room and they fought and it was no mercy. He had Milton hurt; he got him out of there with a wicked body shot. Milton and he fought two months later and he [Milton] beat him. But both of them were good fights."
Then there was the case of Evander Holyfield and Henry Tillman, colleagues on the 1984 United States Olympic Team, who began their careers as cruiserweights. After capturing the WBA crown in July of 1986 in a grueling affair versus Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Holyfield then faced Tillman in February of the following year.
"In fact, the fight took place on Valentine’s Day and Evander was scheduled to be a groomsman in Henry's wedding, which I believe took place about six weeks later in April," recalled Kathy Duva of Main Events, whose company promoted “The Real Deal” in those days. "They were literally best friends; they were roommates at the Olympics. And during the lead-up to the fight, the two of them were literally walking around hugging each other and everybody is going, 'How the hell are these guys going to fight each other? It doesn't make any sense. But Evander, when he was asked that question, said, 'Listen, this is my job. This is a sport. If I play basketball against my brother, I try harder than I do against a stranger. You want to beat your brother. This is just a sport; it's a game. The minute the bell rings, I've got to try to win because I always want to win. And when the bell rings and the fight’s over, he'll still be my friend.'"
There was no brotherly love that night from Holyfield as he butchered Tillman in seven one-sided heats.
"A few weeks later, there's a little picture of them in Time magazine of Evander being the groomsman at Henry's wedding and they were still friends when it was over," Duva recalled. "But it was one of the most brutal beatings I have ever seen anybody administer. It was simply Evander looking at it like an athlete. 'I'm an athlete; I want to test my skills against the best. This is the person that they put in front of me and I'm going to go out there and do my best and he'll still be my brother when the fights over.'"
The rivalry between the late Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward was a case of familiarity breeding anything but contempt. Going into their first memorable battle in May of 2002, they were two guys who had a deep respect for each other. By the time this historic trilogy was completed in June of 2003, they had forged a tight relationship.
Ward explained of the transformation, "It was just a business. The first fight we fought, we just knew each other but we weren't friends. We became friends like after the second one. We respected each other but once we got in the there, we tried to kill each other."
There is that memorable scene captured by HBO of the two joking, side by side as they were at the emergency room after one of their bloody battles. It's clear these two men enjoyed each other’s company and as the rounds piled up between the two, the respect only grew. "It did grow but I didn't realize it was growing, obviously, when it was happening. I look back now- but that did not deter me from trying to beat him or fight hard. If he was living today, we fought again, I'd try to beat him as bad as I did the first time," said Ward, an honest fighter till the very end.
To him, boxing was about the bottom line. This is what he signed up for, which is something that is lost to many of today's contemporary prizefighters.
"You gotta understand; it's a business and if you're fighting for dirt money, maybe not," reasoned Ward. "But if you're fighting for a championship or a lot of money and it's a fight that people want to see, I think you should fight. Give the people what they want to see. Fighters should understand that it's a business. Afterwards, you shake hands; you become best friends again or great friends.
"But when you're in there, it's a business. That's just the way it is. That's boxing."
On Monday, after confirming that the rematch between Paul Williams and Sergio Martinez was finally inked, I asked Dan Goossen, who promotes Andre Ward, about the progress of the Dirrell fight. He answered, "Uh…that's off limits right now, as you can imagine. Let me keep working on it."
That didn't sound too promising, I have to say.
But on Wednesday, another source close to this fight told me that it's getting closer and closer to taking place on November 27th, with several venues on hold.
OK, but at this point, seeing is believing.
PENNANT RACE FLURRIES
It looks like Bryan Vera- not Giovanni Lorenzo- will be facing Kelly Pavlik on the Pacquiao-Margarito undercard at Cowboy Stadium on November 13th...Told that Brian Viloria will fight again on November 6th in Manila...Speaking of Nov. 27th, tickets go on sale for the clash between Juan Manuel Marquez and Michael Katsidis this Saturday. They are priced at $350, $250, $150, $100 and $50. They can be purchased by calling 800-745-3000 or logging onto www.mgmgrand.com or www.ticketmaster.com...I really don't think Braylon Edwards of the Jets was drunk- it was his beard...Unless Darrelle Revis is walking through that door, the Hurricanes should beat Pitt, simple as that...Hey, anyone else catch the premiere for the new “Hawaii Five-O” on CBS? [Editor’s note: Yep. DVR’ed it. LOVED it.] Seriously, I liked it a lot. Not just because it has Grace Park in a bikini and that Korean guy [Editor’s Note Two: Electric Boogaloo:That’s Daniel Dae KIM. Shame on you, “Seoul Train Steve”!] from “Lost,” it's really a good show all the way around. It's made my regular rotation as did “Boardwalk Empire” on HBO. A country with no legal alcohol? Wow, I don't want to even imagine such a thing...I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet at www.twitter.com/stevemaxboxing. We also have a Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/MaxBoxing.