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Confessions of a Boxing Junkie
By Martin Wade (April 20, 2004) 
Chris Byrd
I should know better, I’ve read the media reports, the proposed boycotts and I am fully aware of the contestants and what they are capable of. I’ve suffered the wrath of John Ruiz’s “jab and grab” and I’ve sat in anger and disgust at yet another fight night terminated by Golata’s pathology. But I could not resist, because I you see am a “Boxing Junkie”. Part of an addicts reasoning is that bad boxing is better than no boxing at all, a mediocre (at best) pay per view is better than the playoffs in any other team sport. We also chase a rare high that only the unexpected theatre of boxing can provide. That high is when a fight or fighter exceeds all expectations culminating in human drama. The fact that respected boxing scribes unanimously predicted a stinker of a night only enhanced my “Jones”. By Friday afternoon I couldn’t take it anymore, I had to have it. So I called my local cable subscriber and ordered Don King’s “Night of Champions”. I said to myself; once you make a deal with the devil, don’t ever look back. I was willing to accept whatever fate my addictive behavior brought to me.

The day started with NBC returning to the sweet science with a double bill. I watched a grizzled amateur Sulyman do his best James Toney impersonation in systematically chopping down a rangy Romanian prospect. Throughout the bout I imagined Emmanuel Steward yelling at the 6’ 2 prospect to “fight tall”. Not only was the kid overmatched, but he didn’t seem to have a firm grasp of his physical gifts.

Next, the further progress of prodigy Juan Diaz against Maryland’s Martin O’ Malley. Interesting, I love seeing the effort NBC is giving to letting audiences get to know the “person” Diaz. Most fight fans don’t care if the kid is in college but the general sports fan is drawn to “the story” of a fighter. I also loved the way Diaz was able to shorten and throw triple hooks at this early stage in his development. I was disturbed by the news that Diaz is ranked #4 by the WBC and his team is already mentioning Erik Morales. Why the “cop and blow” mentality? Let the kid grow into his trunks for goodness sake.

As the time for the pay per view card neared, I started to hedge and work on a built excuse in case the card holds to predicted form. Uhhm, “Bad” Brad my Site Editor wanted me to check it out and write something. Only problem is Brad is out of town and probably lost all interest once Mayorga hit the scales. Next excuse: Uhhm, my Puerto Rican Homie “Lou” is really into the “historic” bout between Oquendo and Ruiz. That would be true, if Lou weren’t Lumarie and actually gave a damn about boxing. Nope I was left with my own sickness and the comforting presence of Barry Tompkins, Rich Moratta and Ron Borges, who probably needed this thing to turn out as much as I did.

The “Night of Champions” started with a defense from WBC Cruiserweight Champion Wayne Braithwaite. I’ve always been impressed with “Big Truck’s” power, but his athleticism was on par with that of a much smaller man. The way the cruiser champ was able to flow together inventive combinations (like uppercuts off of the right cross) was absurd. I think this guy should be looking for 20 pounds of muscle and fast, there’s nothing for him at the cruiserweight limit. I also recall reading somewhere that he wanted a piece of James “Lights Out” Toney. From watching this fight I would surmise that he get’s hit way too much for the likes of Toney. He’s too greedy in his combinations to stay effective with the hardened veteran. Next came the unexpected junior middleweight debut of Ricardo Mayorga. The bout started kind of slow and it was weird to see “El Matador” trying to adopt a more classic and patient stance. I dozed off several times, resigned with the error of my ways at this point, and amused by the chants of “we want Rivera” raining down on Don King’s head. I don’t know why the boo’s amused me, I was paying 40 bucks for this “event” so I advised myself to sit up and support the damn thing. Mayorga looked strong, but I don’t think his punches will dent the bigger guys at 154. If there is any truth to the report that King signed Winky Wright I see the Nicaraguan going down hard in a future bout.

Then the historic heavyweight bout between Latinos John Ruiz and Fres Oquendo. Viva Bourica! In my opinion, Oquendo should be coming into this bout with the IBF trinket so I considered it more of a partial unification fight. Norman Stone started the pre fight pleasantries in search of another Alton Merkinson moment that can be viewed for the guilty (that’s me) as “encouragement”. By round 6 the jab and grab fest, accompanied by the lusty chants of “bullshit” by the garden faithful led me to crisis intervention. OK, that’s it, I give, I stopped recording and tuned in to catch two big guys who “do” want a piece of one another Shaq and Yao. Fortunately for me the NBA playoff game deviated into a brick fest, so I tuned in just in time for the premature stoppage (of Oquendo) in round eleven. Now these two fighters are two of the nice guys in boxing, but by this point I already started to blame them for my addictive behavior. I knew this fight had a 95% chance of bring putrid, but when you’re a junkie you tend to misplace blame and refuse to accept responsibility for your actions. By this point Oquendo’s valid objection to the stoppage was falling on deaf ears; irrationally I felt the fight deserved to be stopped for reasons of prolonged boredom. And then, it happened.

Leave it to two of the most maligned heavyweights of the last couple of years to give me what I’ve been looking for. The boxing high, that feeling you got after Gatti Vs Ward, that feeling that you search for when you chase a promoters dream. The fight started off as a clever little boxing riddle and ending in a redemption song for two guys who needed respect for different reasons. Watching the cat and mouse of rounds 1-3 was intriguing, Byrd’s savvy boxing and counters melding with Golata’s commitment to “touch” Byrd at all stops. In round 4 you could sense Golata’s control over the terms of engagement; the polar opposite styles were starting to create a stylistic synergy.

Through the middle rounds we were witnessed to Byrd earning respect for his chin in the trenches at a price. Byrd learned that he could not “rope a dope” Golata, who unlike Foreman, threw compact, thudding shots that were starting to hit their mark. As the two fighters entered the championship rounds the announcers started to foresee the emergence of boxings latest epidemic, “big mans disease”. Golata spurned all doubters by maintaining a consistent attack while eating sharp (if not hard) counters by the Flint Michigan slickster. The fight ended with both fighters’ still winging punches, almost as if they were swinging at the labels that plagued them, “runner”, quitter, and boring. What better for a boxing junkie than the triple “fix” of great fight, high drama and redemption? I too felt redeemed for once again following my addiction for the sport of boxing, regardless of nay Sayers. In most cases (even with fighters we “respect”) pay per view’s are hit and miss. We all are on the same quest for that special fight, that singular gem. On Saturday, despite the objections of those far more esteemed and informed than myself I was able to capture one of those boxing moments. You see, when you’re a boxing junkie you don’t care who gives you that high or what people think of them. You know that on any given night two warriors can combine styles, efforts and constitution to create something special. Until the next time… From yours truly, a boxing junkie.

Questions or comments,
Martin Wade:
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