by Johnny Walker
The sports fans out there who claim boxing is dead and should be buried were handed a gift tonight during a farcical three-hour card presented on ESPN-2 that ended up with drug cheat and former light-heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver returning at age 46 as a heavyweight and knocking out 32-year-old Johnathon Banks, also trainer of world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko.
And to add to the proceedings, those who could remain awake were treated to the manic ramblings of analyst Teddy Atlas, who was both at his best and his worst during the course of the evening, and who seems to be begging someone at ESPN to fire him with remarks describing boxing as “corrupt” and a “sham.”
Atlas rightfully became incensed during the second bout of the evening when Canadian super bantamweight Tyson Cave (no relation to either Nick or Fury) was totally shafted by two judges in a bout against a lifeless Oscar Escandon. Perhaps the other two judges were not fans of Trailer Park Boys, the raunchy comedy filmed in Cave’s hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Something must have gone wrong, for all the viewers following the fight on Facebook and this writer gave Cave every round of the fight, and even Atlas only gave Escandon one frame out of 12. Yet what seemed to be a sure thing for Cave ended up as split decision, with two pro-Escandon scores of 117-111 and 115-113 overcoming one score of 115-113 for Cave.
Atlas was predictably apoplectic as the scores were read, and described boxing as a “corrupt sport that doesn’t do justice to these great athletes.”
“This is a sham!” Atlas screamed.
Yes, it certainly was.
After a decent opening eight-rounder that saw Terrell Gausha TKO a game Cesar Vila–with a quick stoppage by referee Jack Reiss following a three-punch combo knockdown at 2:30 of the final round–the proceedings quickly degenerated.
Though Tyson Cave fought a lethargic opponent in Escandon who performed with no urgency–using his superior speed to weave inside for multi-punch combos and then artfully dodging back out to avoid anything that was thrown his way, round after round for twelve straight times–the Canadian still somehow lost the fight.
Then after the wild-eyed rant from an incensed Atlas–who even admitted that if he were younger, he’d look for something else to do–to the background of booing boxing fans, things just kept spiraling downwards.
Former world light middleweight titlist Austin “No Doubt” Trout said he needed a “head turning performance” against Luis Grajeda — instead he turned in a “head-drooping performance” against a guy who threw two — yes TWO — punches per round and decided to quit on his stool at the end of round seven, handing Trout a TKO.
But even Trout’s “knockdown” of his disinterested opponent was the result of tangled feet rather than a solid punch during a boring affair that brought to mind David Haye and Audley Harrison staring at each other for three rounds before the referee demanded that they actually, y’know, fight.
Trout’s fight was punctuated by more booing from the audience during its many lulls in the action, and by this time one just knew things were going to keep heading downhill.
Though Atlas sounded righteous earlier in the evening, it didn’t take long for the name “Klitschko” to drag him down into the mud, as it usually does.
Since the sad demise of Emanuel Steward, Kronk gym regular Johnathon Banks, you see, also trains the world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, who, Atlas never fails to remind the ESPN audience, is “boring” (even though his last fight against top challenger Kubrat Pulev was an exciting affair that saw Wlad dispose of the Bulgarian via a vicious early knockout).
Actually, Atlas attacked the “boring but effective” Klitschko brothers — he doesn’t seem to have noticed yet that former WBC champion Vitali has retired and is now the mayor of Kiev, Ukraine.
But Atlas went further: he implied that Wladimir Klitschko was disloyal enough that should Banks lose, especially by knockout, to a relic like Tarver, that he might soon be facing unemployment as an embarrassed Klitschko looked for a new trainer. Atlas hammered home this theme for most of the fight.
And of course, after a perplexing series of rounds in which very little happened (“You’re not doing much, but he’s doing even less!” said someone in an excited Tarver corner between rounds) and with fans once again booing, Tarver finally decided to take a chance on actually throwing some punches in round seven.
What a shocking idea!
And it worked, as series of lefts from the southpaw put Banks down in round seven. The fighter beat the count, but a left-right combo from Tarver put Banks down again. This time when he woozily arose, the action was soon called off, with Antonio Tarver the winner by seventh-round TKO at 2:25 of the stanza.
“Bottom-line, I’m a star, baby,” said the man who torpedoed his own promising career as a boxing analyst with Showtime by testing positive for PEDs after a cruiserweight fight with Lateef Kayode. He also lost a coveted spot as Olympic boxing analyst for the same infraction.
“I’m a knockout artist now. I will become the heavyweight champion of the world,” Tarver proudly exclaimed.
When asked if he would be willing to face untested power merchant Deontay Wilder, though, Tarver avoided the question.
It’s obvious that like Klitschko stalker Shannon Briggs, Tarver is only interested in one thing: a big payday against the man who easily sells out 40,000 seat arenas in Germany, Wladimir Klitschko.
And then, bye-bye.
And on a night like this, it’s hard to disagree with the recent comments on Briggs’ behavior made by the heavyweight world champion.
“Sometimes I feel embarrassed to be involved in a sport with such people,” said Wlad.
And no one could blame any boxing fan for feeling a twinge of embarrassment while watching this whole sorry spectacle on ESPN-2 tonight.