15 years later, TV championships laced up

BOXING

May 03, 1992|By ALAN GOLDSTEIN

Fifteen years ago, Hank Schwartz, a pioneer in the use of television satellites for producing an international audience for major sporting events, joined veteran boxing promoter Don Elbaum in staging the World Television Boxing Championships.

Five of the competitors -- Eddie Gregory, Matthew Franklin, Vito Antoufermo, Billy Backus and Bruce Curry -- went on to become world champions.

Don King liked the idea so much, he copied the format and sold ABC on a U.S. boxing championship.

Unfortunately, most of the fighters were controlled by King and his associates. Ring records were falsified, and when heavyweight Scott LeDoux lost a questionable decision to Johnny Boudreaux at the Naval Academy, LeDoux screamed fix, kicked off sportscaster Howard Cosell's hairpiece and started a national investigation that ultimately killed the tournament.

"All the negative publicity ruined our tournament, too," Schwartz said. "For two years, professional boxing was all but dead."

But now Schwartz and Elbaum believe the boxing climate has improved, and, on July 8, will launch World Television Boxing Championships II, featuring 14 fighters in five weight classes -- welterweight, middleweight, light heavyweight, heavyweight and super heavyweight (more than 200 pounds).

"We're going to use the same [pay-per-view] format as before," said Elbaum. "Our TV audience will be made aware of the judging after each round, and there will be no draws. We will have a 'victory' round to decide the winner."

There will be few big-name fighters competing for purses that begin at $1,500 and escalate to $25,000 for the championships Nov. 24.

"This is an opportunity for young, upcoming fighters to earn a reputation without being tied up by major promoters like King or Bob Arum or having to align themselves with the WBA, WBC or IBF sanctioning groups," said Schwartz. But Schwartz acknowledged that the tournament winners would be signed to one-year options.

Schwartz is the man who supplied the TV know-how for a number of major heavyweight bouts in the '70s, including Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier III in Manila, Ali-Joe Bugner in Malaysia and George Foreman-Ken Norton in Venezuela.

But his partnership with King in producing Ali's 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" with Foreman in Zaire is most memorable for Schwartz.

"It was the most bizarre event I've ever been involved in," he said. Which led Schwartz to recall a shaggy dog story that almost kept Ali-Foreman from happening.

"Foreman kept threatening to pull out unless he got an extra $500,000. He wouldn't talk to reporters, but only communicated with his white German shepherd.

"I'd bought the dog for George after his fight with Norton in Venezuela, when the government held us hostage until they got all their tax money. This was my peace offering.

"Well, George insisted on having the dog with him in Zaire. But he wouldn't let us fly him cargo from the States. I had to talk the airlines into letting the dog fly in the first-class cabin with George to France, and then from France to Africa.

"The day I arrived in Zaire, Foreman is showing the reporters how smart his dog is. He's sitting on the wall outside the Intercontinental Hotel in Kinshasa. Beyond the wall, it's a sheer 25-foot drop to an asphalt parking lot.

"George says the dog is trained on command to leap into his arms. But when George yells 'Come!' the dog flew right by him, over the wall, and went splat, right at my feet. Now George was going berserk. He screams at me, 'If the dog dies, the fight's off.' "

A veterinarian was immediately summoned. The dog recovered, and, a week later, Ali used his "Rope-a-dope" trick to beat Foreman.

"To me," said Schwartz, "the most amazing thing is how Foreman, the most ornery fighter I knew, became the jolly green giant of today."

*

Fighting gentleman: Bobby Czyz, who defends his World Boxing Associatio cruiserweight title against Donny Lalonde Friday in Las Vegas, boasts of having boxing writer Rosemary Ross of the Passiac (N.J) Herald News as his mother-in-law.

Two years ago, Ross introduced her daughter, Kim, an aspiring actress, to Czyz at a fund-raising dinner for a boys club.

"I didn't even ask Kim for a date at the time," Czyz said. "I did it properly. I called Rosemary two days later and asked her permission."

Czyz credits domestic bliss with helping to straighten out his boxing career after losing the light heavyweight title to Prince Williams in 1987 and after subsequent losses to Dennis Andries and Virgil Hill.

"Things weren't going smoothly for me in or out of the ring," Czyz said. "So I laid off a year and started looking at boxing from the outside.

"When I came back, I adopted new training techniques and got on a healthier diet. And my wedding to Kim last October gave me peace of mind. I'm 30 now, but I'm fighting better than when I was 25," said Czyz, who has won his past five bouts.

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