|A New Year yields fresh opportunities for the world’s greatest fighters to adjust their positioning in the mythical pound-for-pound stakes. Such honors are always subject to fierce debate throughout the boxing industry, but if the majority of fans and supposed|
experts were asked to set aside their personal preferences, I’m sure they would admit that the battle for the title of boxing’s number one pound-for-pound fighter lies between two prime candidates: Bernard Hopkins and Floyd Mayweather Jr. Both fighters are conscious of this subliminal contest, and yet, their opening statements for 2005 could not be more contrasting. Hopkins, generally regarded as the current world number one, will capitalize on his execution of Oscar de la Hoya with a record twentieth middleweight title defense against Howard Eastman, an enigmatic, world-class opponent. However, Mayweather will begin his campaign against the obscure Henry Bruseles later this month. Considered as statements of intent, these fights on paper alone assure that even the most scintillating of performances from Mayweather will not be enough to gain him any ground on Hopkins in the pound-for-pound race.
Occasionally, I examine the lists of past opponents of the great fighters. Between the championship occasions and the defining moments there are always those names that inspire little more than a vacant response. Floyd Mayweather’s next fight is the greatest thing to happen in the career of Henry “El Nitro” Bruseles, but unless his alias indicates something of a hidden fire, his sharing a ring with Mayweather will accumulate as much meaning to the boxing world as his deserving to do so in the first place: None.
Press coverage of Mayweather at one time centered on his gangster-type behavior in public and the turbulent relationship he has with his father, negativity that somehow managed to supersede his sheer brilliance in the ring. If we allowed our knowledge of the activities of fighters external to the boxing world to cloud our judgment, Diego “Chico” Corrales would receive more than hostile treatment for his assault on his former wife who was pregnant at the time, a crime for which Corrales served a yearlong prison term. Corrales’ personal troubles occurred around the time of his fight with Mayweather and Mayweather mercilessly used Corrales’ private business as embarrassing taunts, even inviting Corrales’ former wife to be at ringside, claiming that he would defeat Corrales in the name of all battered women. How ironic it is to behold now that Mayweather, one of the most talented fighters in the world may find himself incarcerated for similar crimes.
Mayweather’s past indiscretions have included an assault on the mother of his children and battery of two other women in a nightclub for which he received a one year suspended prison sentence. Most recently, Mayweather failed to attend a court hearing for his part in a bar fight that occurred in late 2003. A warrant was issued for his arrest and Mayweather eventually turned himself in, he paid a personal recognizance bond and he continues to pursue his boxing career parallel to these highly undesirable events. The thing about prison is that it is a rather indiscriminate institution as many of the highest profile fighters have come to realize over the years.
Increasing percentages of boxers have spent time in jail or have serious legal issues pending including drug offenses (Michael Nunn and Calvin Davis), rape (Mike Tyson), murder (James Butler), kidnapping (Riddick Bowe) and attempted murder (Paul Spadafora). Regardless of status or achievements, correctional facilities continue to be furnished with some of the finest fighters of the modern age, an absolute travesty for boxing’s fans and a public relations nightmare for the sport that is dying a slow death. Boxing observers on all levels lament the loss of heavyweight contender Ike Ibeabuchi, fawning over his stoppage defeat of current IBF champion Chris Byrd, and absolute in their belief that Ibeabuchi would have assumed the mantle of the heavyweight championship. Even Hopkins lost many years of his life in a penitentiary although his story is one of the rarities in that he managed to turn his life around.
Predominantly, fighters are not in a terrible financial situation when they commit their crimes, they just make bad choices. Incarceration is not a rite of passage or evidence to support a tough, uncompromising image; it is a dead end and one that has befallen too many fighters. In these instances, more than one crime is committed; the squandering of talent and the infliction of shame upon themselves and to some degree, the boxing world is also unacceptable.
Bernard Hopkins has reached his zenith, he has little more to achieve than a simple promise he made to his mother that he would retire before a certain age, and that promise is one he expects to fulfill very soon. Therefore, if Floyd Mayweather Jr. can keep himself out of prison, he will become the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in the world. He has previously displayed as much skill, speed, ring intelligence and tenacity to be involved in the great fights as any fighter could want. Furthermore, his idyllic positioning in the light welterweight division sees him surrounded by a multitude of talented fighters with contrasting styles and numerous money-making opportunities as the industry salivates over the prospect of superfights such as Gatti-Mayweather, Tszyu-Mayweather or Mayweather-Cotto. Fighting Henry Bruseles is not the greatest of starts, but it should merely turn out to be one of those nights, nestled between defining moments and if all goes to plan for Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2005, it should turn out to be a “pretty” good year for boxing indeed.
Jim Cawkwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org