(Brian Kenny and Floyd Mayweather, after breaking bread)
Welcome, Awful Announcing readers visiting The Queensberry Rules for the first time, and welcome, TQBR regulars. Somehow, we couldn’t fit everything we wanted in the 6,000 (!) word piece we teamed up on over there about the five-year anniversary of Brian Kenny’s sizzling interview with Floyd Mayweather and its place in the sport, so there are a few more stray thoughts to share. For one, there were a couple quotes we didn’t use from Kenny that shed light on his broadcast philosophy and his views on boxing. For another, when I’m writing a more straightforward journalistic piece like that one, I don’t offer any opinions in ’em, so I’ll bloviate on some of the things Kenny brought up about the nature of boxing champions, on who’s to blame for Mayweather never fighting Pacquiao, and on some other subjects raised in the piece, like performance enhancing drugs.
If you don’t know us over here at TQBR, the philosophy is to cater to both the diehard boxing fans and the occasional traveler alike, and to do so in a way that is both entertaining and analytical. So let’s say you saw that thing on TMZ last week about heavyweight boxer Deontay Wilder beating up an “Internet troll” — you could come here and read about how everyone was very wrong about what went down. Or you could come here just to know what fights were scheduled for the week and why you should or shouldn’t be interested him them, or read a preview of how a fight might go, or read about what happened when the fight was over. For this (and here’s the part where I brag a little!), we made Time Magazine’s list of the best 25 overall blogs of 2013, and we’ve been called an “indispensable boxing blog” by The Wall Street Journal.
From this moment on, consume what you want below a la carte! I divided this up into sections with headers to make it so you could skip around.
Kenny On Boxing Champions (And A Potential Cure For All The Belts)
Kenny talked frequently about who the real boxing champions are, as opposed to who has all the silly trinkets labeled “championship” belts. How might someone tell who the real champions are? A group of writers from across the world, many of them writing for the sport’s biggest publications, have joined to form the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board in order to identify them. (I’m a chairman of that organization.) You can read more about the Transnational Rankings here, here, here and here. Here are some of Kenny’s additional thoughts:
Mayweather “was always the example of what I’d call the real champ. I focus on the champions in boxing – not where have three, four guys walking around in the weight class with belts saying they are the champions. Floyd was frequently the champ in his weight class.” (Comment: In fact, Mayweather has been the lineal champion in four weight classes, tied with Pacquiao for the all-time honor. Mayweather is the current champion at junior middleweight, starting a new lineage when he beat Canelo Alvarez.)
“Roy Jones, Jr., Bernard Hopkins, Floyd Mayweather, those guys are real champions, and they’d cleaned out their divisions. The nature of boxing is you win all three belts, it could be four now – the three major belts and the WBO. Even when one fighter is totally dominant and has beaten the man who beat the man, and he’s beat the champ, there’s another guy running around with a belt. It dilutes the entire product. I take it very seriously for the fans. When I introduce people, I say, this is Roy Jones. He is the light heavyweight champion. This is Bernard Hopkins, he’s the middleweight champion. This guy is the real champ and there are other people with belts walking around, but they’re not the real champ.” (Comment: There is some cause for dispute about whether Jones was the lineal light heavyweight champion. When Ring Magazine restarted its custodianship of the championship lineage, they made a controversial call to anoint Jones at 175 pounds, rather than the man others thought had a better historical argument, Dariusz Michalczewski.)
On the 2006 interview with Mayweather: “Frequently, the real champs will tell you they know the difference between fighting for a world championship or a belt or a trinket. Everyone’s working in their own self-interest; that makes sense. Just don’t try to sell me a bill of goods. Most broadcasters not following boxing, they just don’t know any better. Any promoter or network can sell a fight by saying it’s for a championship. No one can quiz them on it. But I know, and I knew, who the real champ was. Floyd was the real champion at lightweight. Anybody who had a belt, it was meaningless to me. I might say they won a belt or a title, but they weren’t the champion.”
“[Zab] Judah, [Vernon] Forrest, [Arturo] Gatti, guys who are real champions fighting for a trinket, we’d say to them on the air, it’s only for a belt. Mostly these guys would laugh and say yeah, or explain why it would make them the real guy in the division.” (Comment: Gatti once contended for a lineal championship, against Carlos Baldomir, but lost.)
On the 2006 interview with Mayweather, again, referring to the fight for Judah’s title after losing to Baldomir: “It is a sense of justice. It also would diminish the accomplishment he had in his career, to call [Mayweather] champ. It diminishes the product and the whole sport.”
Kenny On Subsequent Mayweather Interviews
Kenny says fans give him hell sometimes for allegedly going easy on Mayweather since the 2009 interview, but he says it’s not deliberate — it’s just that Mayweather has answered his questions directly ever since. Given that Mayweather has moved to Showtime from HBO, and given his often contentious interviews with HBO’s Larry Merchant, and given how the usually pugnacious, cookie-slapping Jim Gray has also been friendly with Mayweather in interviews, I asked if there was any kind of Showtime edict to go easy on Mayweather. He said, flatly, “No.”
After the 2009 interview, he said he did watch the tape.
“I just laughed. I watched it to study. The first time I saw it I’m studying my own reaction; it’s almost like watching tape of a sparring session and when I did well and when I didn’t do well. There were only one or two points where I didn’t like what I did. I don’t like it when I potshot people. I think I found it humorous with the exception of one or two occasions.”
He mentioned that there was a time in a later Mayweather interview where he felt bad about how it went. “There was one time where I had a subsequent interview with him later. After he was arrested [on a domestic violence charge], I just wanted to ask him a question about the arrest, the effect on his life and the effect on his relationship with his children. I didn’t like the way it all came down, the way I had asked it. I felt that I had hurt him and felt that it was unfair. It was something deeply personal. I called him right after and talked to [advisor] Leonard Ellerbe, I said, please tell Floyd I hope it’s all right and I didn’t want it to happen that way. I felt like I hurt him personally and needed to reach out and tell him about it. I’m responsible for the questioning. Leonard took that and Floyd and I have been fine since. I have to admit I don’t want to do that; if I go too far or it comes out being that it hurts someone.”
Kenny On His Interview Philosophy
He talked some about the kind of questions he likes to ask and the need for being persistent, but he also added: “I go in trying to ask the pertinent questions. I want all of these guys to make money and come out healthy. I have a real respect for fighters. I’ve never had anybody pull their microphone off. I’ve never had anybody walk out and say, I’m not doing this.”
“I interview fighters all the time, but I’ve never had anybody have an issue with me. They know I’m going to stand my ground, but I’m fair to them. Whether it’s publicity on Friday Night Fights, or me saying how great their fight is the or match-up, I’m always very positive.”
Manny Pacquiao Re-Signing With Top Rank, And Who’s To Blame On Mayweather-Pacquiao
Kenny’s right, both sides have been to blame for the fight not happening, at different times. I tend to point my finger at Mayweather more often, with Top Rank a close second. Pacquiao has always seemed willing, usually in his sleepy “sure, if it makes the people happy” way, and his trainer Freddie Roach has been downright eager. I’ve never seen Mayweather clamor for the fight, and Top Rank’s Bob Arum has usually only talked up a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight before random Pacquiao fights to hype said Pacquiao fights. I didn’t originally think Mayweather had much of a right to demand the kind of advanced drug testing he did in the original negotiations; it was unprecedented. But Pacquiao could’ve made the fight happen if he just agreed to it, so that’s a problem. At least he tried to compromise on the testing some by allowing it up to a certain date, even if it wasn’t as good a compromise as it needed to be to be most effective from the standpoint of good testing procedures. (Also, I wasn’t originally suspicious of Pacquiao being on anything. Recent remarks involving ex-strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza and re-hired S&C coach Justin Fortune are worrisome.)
Since, more often than not, Mayweather has offered a string of excuses for why he won’t fight Pacquiao. The latest is that he won’t fight Pacquiao as long as Pacquiao is with Top Rank. Well, Pacquiao just signed a contract extension through 2016. Pacquiao and Top Rank have been a good pairing, unlike Mayweather and Top Rank, so that makes sense that they would do that — especially because even if Pacquiao fled Top Rank, there’s no guarantee Mayweather would sign up for a Pacquiao fight, and nobody should be able to dictate to another fighter who promotes him. That said, when Arum tells you that Mayweather-Pacquiao can still fight despite the extension, that’s probably nothing he truly thinks. He just knows, as Mayweather does, that constantly talking up Mayweather-Pacquiao keeps both men in the news.
Boxing And PEDs
It’s a mess. It’s also hard to write about. Take the case of Juan Manuel Marquez. He enlisted a confessed PED dealer, one who said he has since reformed, as his S&C coach. In his welterweight fight before enlisting Memo Heredia, against Mayweather, Marquez was paunchy and ineffective. The man’s a natural featherweight, 21 pounds below welter. Post-Heredia, he nearly beat Pacquiao in their third meeting, and was more powerful and cut than before. In the 4th meeting, he was hulk-like and frighteningly knocked out Pacquiao — a guy he had never even put down before. Then he undergoes some advanced testing for the Timothy Bradley fight and the power isn’t evident. Then he fights Mike Alvarado with no apparent advanced testing, shows up with chest acne and the power is evident.
That all sounds suspicious. But there are actual plausible explanations for all this. Marquez leaped up two weight classes in his welterweight debut against Mayweather from one fight to the next. Over time, perhaps he has acclimated his body to the division, with the legitimate help of a reformed Heredia. The punch he KO’d Pacquiao with was absolutely perfect, and the perfect punch has a way of KOing people. He had a great deal less luck hitting a cautious, counterpunching Bradley with anything substantial, thus the power dip. He hd a ton of luck hitting Alvarado, a poor defensive fighter, thus the power rise. And the chest acne… I don’t know how he got it, but fighters who have tested positive for PEDs in recent years didn’t necessarily have it.
So, good luck writing about this without flat accusing someone of being doped up or appearing gullible in the face of suspicious circumstances.
It’s an important issue. In baseball, steroids mean more home runs. In boxing, it might mean death. For all we know, it already has. That’s because the best testing is purely voluntary. Most states only require a basic urine test, which only catches the dumbest cheaters. Here’s what I wrote about the various voluntary options at boxing’s disposal. Here’s a post with a link to a law paper I lent a hand on that goes deeper on the case for actual regulation.