Heavies harm troubled sport Title-bout cancellation latest in series of woes

June 12, 1998|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

Eight years ago, when he ruled his division with an iron fist, Mike Tyson mused about the drama of a heavyweight title bout.

"There's nothing I ever saw that can compete with a heavyweight championship," Tyson said. "When you go to a comedy show, you know you're going to laugh. When you go to a horror show, you know you're going to be scared. But with heavyweights, it's the idea you never know what will happen."

Not even Tyson could have anticipated his horrific ear-biting episode with Evander Holyfield that resulted in his suspension last July. It was the most bizarre in a series of fiascoes that have marred heavyweight title bouts the past few years, bringing ridicule to a sport already struggling with its public image.

The most recent occurred last week at New York's Madison Square Garden, long hailed as the Mecca of boxing. A Don King pay-per-view promotion featuring a heavyweight match between champion Evander Holyfield and Henry Akinwande was canceled when Akinwande tested positive for hepatitis B.

Through boxing's political machinations, Akinwande somehow had become the International Boxing Federation's mandatory title challenger less than a year after being disqualified for continually holding World Boxing Council champion Lennox Lewis.

Because the New York State Athletic Commission delayed testing, it did not discover the positive result until the eve of the fight.

"It's awkward and questionable to get test results the day before the fight," said Holyfield's manager, Jim Thomas.

Adding to King's embarrassment, ex-heavyweight champion Ray Mercer, on the undercard, also tested positive for hepatitis, and female boxer Maria Nieves-Garcia, who was scheduled to fight Christy Martin, was found to be 21 weeks pregnant.

If Akinwande is not deemed fit to fight within four months, Holyfield will face Vaughn Bean, the World Boxing Association's No. 1 challenger. Bean reached this lofty station without having beaten a top 10 contender.

In the 1970s, the heavyweight division featured Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Jerry Quarry, Earnie Shavers and a young Larry Holmes.

Now, because of the myriad sanctioning bodies, ring enthusiasts have to settle for harmless pretenders such as Akinwande, Bean, Frans Botha, Zeljko Mavrovic, Herbie Hide and Corrie Sanders.

Competition has reached such a nadir that the most anticipated heavyweight bout is a scheduled fall match between ex-champions Foreman and Holmes, both flirting with 50.

There was hope that Andrew "Foul Pole" Golota, who delivered two fearful beatings in 1996 to former champion Riddick Bowe only to be disqualified both times for repeated low blows, would provide new excitement and, perhaps, become the first white heavyweight champion since Rocky Marciano in the mid-1950s.

But after being stopped by Lewis in 95 seconds last October and suffering an anxiety attack afterward in his dressing room, Golota was exposed as a bully without substance.

A jubilant Lewis would boast, "I just wanted to get rid of all the misfits in the heavyweight world."

In a year's time, Lewis would make successful defenses against an emotionally spent Oliver McCall, a reluctant Akinwande and a frightened Golota.

The heavyweight division suffered another blow last week when Bowe, contemplating a ring comeback after retirement at 30, pleaded guilty to abducting his estranged wife and five children from North Carolina. He faces a prison term of 18 to 24 months.

In his prime, Bowe accounted for two of the three losses on Holyfield's professional record but never seemed to recover emotionally from his two beatings at the hands of Golota, the first ending in a wild brawl in Madison Square Garden.

A brief, embarrassing fling as a Marine recruit ended with Bowe resigning after a week in boot camp. Within the past year, he was charged with assaulting both his wife and a nephew.

Bowe's problems typify the malaise of the heavyweight division. The religiously devout Holyfield does his best to put a positive spin on his sport but, to date, has been deprived of his goal to unify the heavyweight title.

A showdown with Lewis is the only fight that would stir the blood-lust of the fight mob. But it has been put on indefinite hold while rival promoters, King and Main Event's Dan Duva, and dueling cable networks, HBO and Showtime, seek their pounds of flesh.

Meanwhile, the public waits for a new heavyweight Wunderkind. Promising youngsters such as New Zealand's David Tua, Baltimore's Hasim Rahman and Canada's Kirk Johnson are not quite ready for prime time.

Unranked Michael Grant, 26, an athletically gifted 6-7, 250-pounder might be the best hope of the under-30 crowd.

Meantime, the heavyweight class packs as much clout as a straw-weight.

Pub Date: 6/12/98

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