By Ivan G. Goldman
I hope I’m wrong, but Showtime boxing may be in the throes of a nervous breakdown. I mean I’m really getting worried. It’s trotting Antonio Tarver, Jermain Taylor, and yes, maybe even Winky Wright out of the barn again. Pray tell, who wants to see these people fight? Where are the fans for this stuff?
After sports programming wizard Ken Hershman, the architect of so much Showtime success, walked away at the end of last year for bigger money and a bigger job at HBO, Showtime lost it. It’s acting like some torn-up guy whose girlfriend left him, taking the car and the dog. A guy who now sits around in a ratty old robe hunched over a smart phone munching Twinkies and playing Farmville with other broken dweebs. We can almost hear deeply depressed Showtime interrupting his play to take a call. “You want us to put on Tarver against Lateef Kayode May 26? Winky Wright against whathisname on the undercard? Sure, whatever. Gotta go. My virtual cows need milking.”
These programming disasters are material for Ripley’s Believe It or Not, along with the news that New York College of Health Professions is giving Don King an honorary doctorate May 6 for his humanitarian accomplishments. Apparently no one over at the college is aware King has left a trail of swindled fighters who sued him for millions and won settlements to cover some of their losses. The list of victims includes Mike Tyson, Terry Norris, Muhammad Ali, and so many others. If you spend your life conning old ladies out of their Social Security checks and then share a little of your loot with charity, guess what? That doesn’t make you a humanitarian. But I digress.
At 43, cruiserweight Tarver, who was basically run out of the light heavyweight division, is slow and reticent in the ring. His principal strategy is to make sure not much happens and hope to squeak through on the judges’ pencils for old times’ sake. Tarver, not coincidentally, is advised by mysterious Al Haymon, the Harvard-educated Rasputin who emerged from the world of hip hop and R&B entertainments to run boxing from his smart phone.
Haymon also advises Peter ‘Kid Chocolate’ Quillin, who is slated to meet Wright on the undercard. If the usually dependable Dan Rafael of ESPN.com is right, Wright-Quillin will also be televised. “I think it’s a fascinating matchup,” Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer said. Uh huh. Wright, who hasn’t been involved in an exciting fight since forever, turns 41 in November. Even at the peak of his career he didn’t have enough fans to fill a walk-in closet. He’s scored one knockout in his last 12 outings. That was back in Feb. 2002 against Jason Papillion. In his time, Winky was a tough nut to crack, but he hasn’t competed in three years, and if there’s anyone clamoring for him to make a comeback, I don’t know who it could be, other than Haymon.
Taylor, 33, who faces middleweight Caleb Truax April 20 on ShoBox, may or may not have been paid to leave the network’s flawed but exciting Super Six tournament. His skills had eroded so dreadfully there was a real fear he would be killed on camera. This time he’s back down to middleweight, and he stopped Jessie Nicklow in December after a two-year layoff. He’s reportedly got plenty of physicians who say he’s good to go, but it doesn’t feel right. Taylor is also advised by Haymon. See a pattern here?
Overseeing these potential disasters is Hershman’s replacement Stephen Espinoza, longtime attorney for Oscar De La Hoya who’s also done work for Golden Boy Promotions. Golden Boy is tight with Showtime these days. Disclosure; I have a rocky history with Golden Boy. But truly, like any other fan, I want to see good fights. I don’t know Espinoza, but I wish him well. I take no pleasure in the fact that he’s either on a long lunch break or just plain lost his mind. But TV runs 24-7. No time for convalescence. Showtime needs to pull out of its funk, shower, put on some sharp threads and get out in the world, see other people. There are plenty of exciting fighters out there. Go get ‘em before the other guys beat you to it. Again.
Goldman’s next novel, Isaac: A Modern Fable, will be out next month from The Permanent Press. It can be pre-ordered at Amazon HERE.