As usual, boxing's year was controversial one

December 26, 1991|By Michael Katz | Michael Katz,New York Daily News

NEW YORK -- This is Boxing Day, the day in England they carry out the boxes of Christmas presents for their servants, as good a day as any to un-rap the year -- a year that marked the end of the first century the sport has been wearing gloves.

The gloves, first used in a heavyweight title fight Sept. 7, 1892, when Gentleman Jim Corbett upset John L. Sullivan, came off this year in various ways, and there was no Gentleman Jim HTC involved when:

* The sport's biggest star, Mike Tyson, was charged with raping an 18-year-old woman.

* Tyson's trainer, Richie Giachetti, was stomped at in the ring by Razor Ruddock's promoter, Murad Muhammad -- he missed and was suspended by the Nevada commission -- after a quick stoppage in Tyson's favor by referee Richard Steele.

* Journeyman Elijah Tillery was wrestled from the ring by opposing manager Rock Newman, who was upset that his fighter, Riddick Bowe, was being kicked.

* Grandpa Larry Holmes, following the Geritol trail, marked his return by running along the tops of cars in a hotel driveway to jump on old rival Trevor Berbick.

It was a year when the heavyweight champion, the sport's flagship, made a lot of money, although Evander Holyfield's $30 million guarantee to defend the Marquis of Queensberry's honor against Tyson is very much in doubt, pending the rape trial.

Holyfield will have to make ends meet with a $22 million payday for turning a jolly giant, George Foreman, into a folk hero and $6 million for surviving a third-round scare against Smokin' Bert Cooper.

It was a year in which Muhammad Ali, thanks to a loving biography by Thomas Hauser, was still The Greatest.

It was also a year in which Sugar Ray Leonard and Mark Breland were sent into retirement and most boxing fans were wishing Hector Camacho would join them. And a year in which Mark Gastineau and Mickey Rourke began new careers.

Roberto Duran contemplated another comeback, Eusebio Pedroza started one at 38, and the only punches Marvelous Marvin Hagler apparently landed were against an old girlfriend. But the Old Breed was still winning titles -- see Thomas Hearns, Edwin Rosario, Bobby Czyz and Vinny Pazienza, whose latest fight is to overcome serious neck injuries suffered in an auto crash.

Stars like Julio Cesar Chavez, Pernell Whitaker and Meldrick Taylor rolled along with nary a major fight as it became more and more difficult to arrange bouts with fighters from competing pay-per-view outlets.

It was another year in which the major networks again chose not to underwrite the game, making it more difficult for new stars to emerge.

But talent succeeds even in comparative vacuums. Buddy McGirt regained status as one of boxing's best with a Willie Pep-like shutout of Simon Brown for the welterweight title. James Toney first knocked Michael Nunn out of the middleweight division, then only the judges held him to a draw against Mike McCallum.

Still, no one has been beating a path to the doorstep of Orlando Canizales, the bantamweight champion and one of the three best fighters at any weight, leaving McGirt and Toney to battle for fighter-of-the-year honors.

Ballots are not yet in the mail to the Boxing Writers Association, so the thought process here will continue. It already has arrived at these conclusions: Al Certo, McGirt's guru, is manager of the year, and Bill Miller, Toney's guy, is trainer of the year, and Tyson will be found guilty at his trial beginning Jan. 27.

*

It's looking more and more like the fat man will swing again.

George Foreman, with only a farcical victory over the inept Jimmy Ellis since losing 10 of 12 rounds to Evander Holyfield in April, is the obvious front-runner for the heavyweight champion's first 1992 defense.

Rock Newman, Riddick Bowe's manager, said his talks with Holyfield promoter Dan Duva had convinced him that the 43-year-old former champion will get the call.

"Dan's trying to make Foreman; I'm trying to make Bowe," Newman said.

Foreman is the largest possible payday for Holyfield this side of Tyson. Duva won't wait until Tyson's trial verdict to announce the champ's next fight. If Tyson is acquitted, Holyfield will take him on next.

Bowe is having trouble lining up opponent for Feb. 1 "Night of Young Heavyweights" on Time Warner's HBO. Carl (The Truth) Williams turned down $250,000, which should get him haunted by ghosts of thousands of better fighters who never made that much.

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