December 31, 2016

R.I.P. Ali, Pryor, & Obermayer: For Whom The 2016 Ten-Count Bells Tolled

Lost Greatness
By Jeffrey Freeman

The year that wasn’t started off slowly last January, gaining little momentum as the months passed by, terminating in December with 51-year-old Bernard Hopkins being knocked out of the ring in his "farewell bout" by an obscure Long Island laborer named Joe Smith Jr. The "Executioner" of boxing was nearly executed.

Along the way, the unthinkable, the event of this year or any other.

The death of The Greatest, Muhammad Ali.

It’s been more than six months since the passing of the GOAT and our dwindling boxing community is still deeply mourning the loss of Ali; a once-in-a-lifetime boxer, American, and man. If it’s true what some fans and media are saying about the decline of boxing in 2016, Ali’s network televised funeral procession in Louisville, Kentucky served as a tragically apt metaphor for that very morbid notion.

Are things really that bad today? Ali’s funeral was seen by some keen insiders as boxing’s funeral.

Care to argue with them after this past year?

We now ring a final, memorial ten-count for those in the world of boxing lost in 2016:

Ali & Bingham
Muhammad Ali: On June 3 in Scottsdale, Arizona, in these United States of America, the first born son of Cassius and Odessa Clay passed away at the age of 74. Afflicted with Parkinson’s cruel Syndrome, Ali’s silent suffering is now finally over. We shall remember him not just as the greatest heavyweight champion of all-time but as one of the greatest human beings to ever share his vision of life with humanity. Ultimately, Ali’s greatest fights were fought and won outside of the ring in a struggle for equality and human dignity. Ali defeated not only Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman, but the U.S. Federal Government itself. As memories fade and the sound of Ali’s voice grows ever more faint, we will recall his faith, courage, and compassion for all he came in contact with. As a postscript to Ali’s passing, his friend and photographer Howard Bingham departed on December 15 in Los Angeles.

Bingham was 77.

Aaron Pryor: "Hawk Time" ended on October 9 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The former junior welterweight champion was 60-years-old when he left the neon world he once set ablaze with a windmill boxing style reminiscent of the great Henry Armstrong. Best remembered for a pair of knockout victories over Alexis Arguello, Pryor will almost certainly also be remembered for drinking from a "special" bottle, one "mixed" by his infamous cornerman and trainer Panama Lewis in 1982. Born into a life of pain, that wasn’t the only dark bottle Pryor drank from. At the time of his death though, Pryor was living a sober life and working with troubled youth, teaching them to box. In the end, Pryor’s turbulent high life was one of recovery and redemption.

The "Hawk" soared, crashed, and rose again before sailing home.

KOJO in action
Jack Obermayer: Known affectionately as "KOJO" to readers, Jack Obermayer was a very special boxing writer. A Vietnam War Veteran, father, grandfather, and good friend to many, Jack, 72, succumbed to liver cancer last June in New Jersey, approximately six years after receiving a much needed liver transplant that extended his life. As a new fight scribe on the beat in 2011, I was lucky enough to have a press row seat right next to Jack in New Hampshire for a "Fight To Educate" charity boxing card. As a long time reader of Obermayer in "The Ring" and in Bert Sugar’s "Boxing Illustrated,” I was working right next him, learning from the best, and making a new friend. What I didn’t know then was that I was witnessing the first leg of Jack’s post-transplant comeback to fight writing. Known for his relentless travel and attention to detail, Obermayer covered 3,514 shows in over 400 cities and towns in 49 states. One of those small towns was Skowhegan, Maine. Jack had never been but he’d heard good things about the old diners up there. On May 11, 2013, it was my great honor to carpool with and work alongside "KOJO" for the successful pro debut of Mainer Brandon "The Cannon" Berry.

Chacon was loved by all, even "Boom Boom"
Bobby Chacon: Before there was Arturo "Thunder" Gatti to electrify fight fans with inhuman resolve, there was Bobby Chacon. A human highlight reel of featherweight fisticuffs, "Schoolboy" Chacon engaged in some of boxing’s most memorable title bouts in the 1970s and early 80s. Singer Warren Zevon thought so highly of Chacon (and Ray Mancini) that he sang of both by name in his 1987 hit song “Boom Boom Mancini” written about Chacon’s ill-fated challenge of "Boom Boom" for the lightweight championship three years prior in 1984.

Hurry home early, hurry on home
Boom Boom Mancini’s fighting Bobby Chacon...

In his Hall of Fame career, Chacon, 59-7-1 (47) also battled warriors Ruben Olivares, Danny "Little Red" Lopez, Alexis Arguello, "Bazooka" Limon, and Cornelius Boza-Edwards. Sadly, Chacon lost his money and his health before passing on last September 7 at the age of 64.

RIP Iron Mike
Mike Towell: Boxing is a brutal sport. Every year it produces the same grim reminder when a brave fighter is killed or badly injured in the ring. Iron Mike Towell was a 25-year-old Scottish welterweight up-and-comer with a professional record of 11-0 with 8 knockouts. His young life and boxing career were just beginning to blossom. On September 29 in Glasgow, Scotland, Towell was beaten into submission in five rounds by a Welshman named Dale Evans. Towell was taken from the ring on a stretcher and he died the following day at a hospital after being removed from life support machines. Towell suffered a brain bleed during the fatal Evans bout after complaining of headaches in the lead-up to the match. Towell leaves behind his life partner Chloe Ross and their young son Rocco.

Tony Burton: As the actor who played Rocky movie trainer Tony "Duke" Evers, Tony Burton was well known to boxing fans for his reoccurring role on the big screen in the 1976 Rocky film, all the sequels, and in 2006’s Rocky Balboa where Evers trains Rocky one more time, imploring the Italian Stallion to "start buildin’ some hurtin’ bombs" while cracking his neck in a dusty gym. What you might not know about Burton is that he was once a fighter himself in real life. In the late 1950s, Burton went 4-3-1 as a heavyweight boxer hailing from California. Knocked out in his final two bouts, Burton chose the "reel life" instead, becoming a successful Hollywood actor. Burton was 78 when he died of pneumonia on February 25.

In addition to Rocky films, Burton also appeared in The Shining and The Toy.

Alex Stewart: This London-born heavyweight "Destroyer" was only 52 when he died on November 16 from a blood clot in his lung. Seen as shy with puppy dog eyes, Stewart began his boxing career in 1986 and quickly amassed an impressive 24-0 (24) record before stepping up to challenge Evander Holyfield in 1989. Stewart was beaten by "The Real Deal" in a brutally bloody encounter in Atlantic City. The technical knockout loss turned out to be the highlight of Stewart’s career. Losses to Mike Tyson, George Foreman, and Michael Moorer further defined Stewart as being a step behind the elites but almost always right there in the mix with them on fight night.

Harlib working with The Truth Spence Jr.
Todd Harlib: In boxing, it is the cutman who stops the bleeding but sometimes keeps the information flowing. I first met the late Todd Harlib in 2015 at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. Harlib was working the corner of Jermall Charlo as his charge challenged "K9" Bundrage for the junior middleweight championship. Before the bout, Harlib shared with me how Jermall and twin brother Jermell continued to push each other to greatness through the bitter competition of sibling rivalry. As my brief time in contact with Harlib continued, there were other tidbits he provided which helped me to gain content and context. I was shocked to learn Harlib passed on November 8. He was only 48. What I learned from Harlib is that when nobody else in boxing will tell you a thing because they have complicated interests to protect, it’s often the cutman, a free agent of sorts, who will share his knowledge with an eager reporter.

Kimbo Slice: Revered more for his backyard brawls and UFC cage fights than for any displays of pugilistic technique, Slice (real name Kevin Ferguson) was undefeated as a heavyweight boxer, going 7-0 from 2011 to 2013. After dropping the gloves, Ferguson found his calling as Kimbo. Slice was just 42 when his overtaxed heart failed on June 6 in Margate, Florida. During his troubled times, Ferguson somehow managed to grab a slice of the good life through his participation in combat sports. Ferguson is survived by his six children.

RIP Brown KIA in Chiraq, USA
Ed Brown: Amateur standout, 25, shot to death in a Chicago drive-by on December 4. According to reports, Brown had been shot on three other occasions before his murder. Manager Cameron Dunkin said afterwards that his prospect was a future world champion.

Jose Becerra: Mexican world bantamweight champion was 80 when he passed on August 6 in his hometown of Guadalajara. Becerra defeated Alphonse Halimi in 1959 to grab the title After being knocked out by the unheralded Eloy Sanchez in a non-title bout, Becerra retired as world champion.

Sean Curtin: Best remembered as the longtime overseer of amateur boxing in Chicago, Curtin was an Irish Jack of many trades in both amateur and professional boxing, a ring historian, and an author. Curtin died on August 11. The Army Veteran was 74.

Written by Jeffrey Freeman, KO Digest 

Originally Published on The Sweet Science

December 1, 2016

Dancing With The Stars In Boston — Laila Ali Floats Into The Tradition

Legends Laila Ali and Shaquille O'Neal
By Jeffrey Freeman

BOSTON — Laila Ali doesn't box anymore.

Her final professional fight was won nearly a decade ago, in 2007.

The youngest of eight children born to the late great Muhammad Ali, Laila did something in the fight game that her famous father could not do. She retired undefeated with all of her faculties intact, on top of an unforgiving sport that she dominated as its flamboyant super middleweight and light heavyweight champion of the world for the majority of her nine year professional career. And of course, even today at 38, she's still very pretty. Like father like daughter.

Father Daughter Love
The second generation Ali's greatest triumphs in the prize ring included wins over female fighting pioneer Christy Martin as well as a "grudge match" victory over Jacqui Frazier-Lyde, the daughter of her father's toughest rival, the late Smokin' Joe Frazier. Long retired with a permanent unbeaten record of 24-0 and 21 knockouts, Laila now makes hers a life of family first. With her athlete husband, former NFL wide receiver Curtis Conway, they have two children; a five year-old daughter and an eight year-old son.

I asked Laila if an Ali comeback was possible.

Don't count on it folks. Muhammad's baby girl seems content.

But is there a future boxing champ or NFL wide receiver in her house?

"My son hasn't shown an interest in boxing or in football yet so I'm glad for that. My daughter is very athletic but she's still a Mamma's girl," Ali told me. "But they are both definitely going to participate in sports," she said proudly of her kids. But not boxing right Mom?

"Hopefully not. I'm not encouraging that."

As the years have passed and her involvement in the sweet science has reduced to spectator and TV commentator, Laila now watches from the sidelines as a new female boxing revolution attempts to get itself off the ground led by two-time American gold medalist Claressa Shields and Irish Olympic sensation Katie Taylor. Ali is "very impressed!" with both girls but understands that opportunities for females are depressingly limited. If women's boxing is to return to its former glory such that it was when promoted by Don King on big time pay-per-view undercards in the 90s, it is young pros like Shields and Taylor who must pick up where Ali and Frazier left off.

"I love Claressa," said Ali of her American countrywoman. "I think she's amazing. Knowing her personally, I hope she takes her career wherever her heart desires." I asked Ali how far she thinks Shields and Taylor can go in professional boxing. "Opportunities have to be created," stressed Ali. "If a promoter gets behind them the same way they did in the UFC with Ronda Rousey, anything is possible," she said. "There's a lot of talent out there in women's boxing but there is nobody behind them to promote them and that's what it takes."

The Greatest Dad
Last year, Laila lost her father Muhammad. 

While she and her family mourned the loss privately, the world was mourning in a very public way on television and on the internet. Much was written and said about the passing of Muhammad Ali on June 3, 2016 in Scottsdale, AZ. His was a network televised funeral fit for a departing King. Having lost my own mother last year to cancer, I can relate to mourning with close family, but surely not with the whole world on such a public stage. In a very real way, I felt like I too lost a father figure when Ali died. I'm sure others felt this way also. What an unfathomable experience that must've been for Ali's daughter to have shared her father with the world in life -- and in death.

"I don't really know any other way," she sighed as my personal inquiry trailed off. "The world mourns my father probably close to the same amount that I do because he was so loved by that many people. And I really mean that when I say that," Ali assured me.

I believe her.

And so on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving, six months removed from the death of her father, Laila was in Boston, Massachusetts for the very first time in her life at the new Garden with elder sister Maryum Ali by her side. The close-knit pair was in town for the 15th Annual Tradition, a sort of regional sports Hall of Fame museum for beloved New England athletes and media members like Bob Lobel.

Planned and presented by Boston Sports Museum Director Rusty Sullivan, the annual Tradition raises money and awareness for good causes like the One Fund. Attendance this year set a new record and it was noted by host Tom Caron that the Tradition is now a Boston staple with "staying power." Five years ago in 2011 at the 10th annual Tradition, Lowell, Mass boxer "Irish" Micky Ward was honored along with Celtics legend Larry Bird. The only other boxer to have been honored in the Tradition's fifteen years of existence is Boston's own Tony DeMarco. Rusty told me that his efforts to lure Marvelous Marvin Hagler back home from Italy for the Tradition have, as of yet, been unsuccessful. Sullivan is also author of the book Rocky Marciano: The Rock Of His Times, a definitive telling of Rocky's story. 

The Tradition has staying power
This year's Tradition inductees included Ali (presented on stage by sister Maryum), former Celtics center Shaquille O'Neal, former Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe, former Red Sox pitcher "Spaceman" Bill Lee, and former Big Bad Boston Bruin, left winger Wayne Cashman. 

I asked Shaq about his fellow Tradition inductee.

"A beautiful lady. The best female boxer to ever grace it," is how the 2016 NBA Hall of Famer gracefully described Laila to me. O'Neal also told me it was boxing and MMA training that helped him win his basketball championships and play ball "at a crazy high level." So what connection does Laila have to Beantown you ask?

Ali's daughter never fought in New England and she does not live here.

In fact, Laila calls Los Angeles, California home. 

Her father's only professional fight in the New England area was his infamous 1965 sequel with Sonny Liston in Lewiston, Maine. The controversial heavyweight title bout produced arguably the most iconic sports photo of all time; Ali standing defiantly over Liston, shouting at him to get up and fight. Interestingly, Ali had his appendectomy performed at the old Boston City Hospital. This ill-timed medical delay actually led to the Liston rematch being contested in Maine and not in Boston at the old Garden as originally scheduled.

Then in 1977 during the twilight of his illustrious career, Ali fought six exhibition bouts in one day at the Hynes Auditorium in Boston. The once-in-a-lifetime event was appropriately billed "Muhammad Ali Day in Boston" and it caused quite a stir when Ali was reportedly late for the inaugural press conference. Tipping the scales far in excess of his ideal boxing weight, Ali confessed to the Boston Globe, "I wouldn't fight a real fight at this weight." Luckily, Ali's six-pack exhibition opposition included a bartender and a used car salesman.

Ali in Boston

The Greatest ultimately went 6-0 in Boston against those wannabe Balboas.

"My daughter could whup these suckers," Ali shouted in-between rounds.

 Safe at home with mother Veronica Porché, Laila was but a baby.

The rest is boxing history. The Ali family tradition lives on.

 Originally Published on The Prizefighters  

November 23, 2016

KO's Kovalev-Ward Round-By-Round Scoring & Analysis: Who Really Won?

Another boxing robbery
(KO DIGEST) On November 19 in Las Vegas, Boxing 2016 offered paying fans its biggest and best fight of the year, Andre Ward challenging Sergey Kovalev for the Russian's unified world light heavyweight championships. Experts and pundits agreed only that Ward versus Kovalev was a 50/50 fight between two of the very pound for pound fighters on the planet. After twelve rounds of sometimes thrilling action, three American judges returned a very controversial unanimous decision in favor of new champion Ward, 114-113 on all three scorecards. Immediately there were cries of "robbery" from fans stupefied with the verdict. It looked like Kovalev had done more than enough to retain his titles based on having scored an early knockdown en route to controlling the fight with his jab and superior firepower. KO Digest takes a close look at the fight round by round to offer you, the boxing fan, an unbiased look into what really happened when Ward collided with Kovalev.

Round One: Feeling out process early as both paw with probing punches. Ward taps left jabs to Kovalev's body. A left jab buckles Ward's knees and he reels away to the ropes, hurt from the power early and holding on. When Krusher's hands are moving towards Ward, SOG is moving back away from them and he complains to the African American referee who warns Kovalev for pushing down. A stiff left jab from the defending light heavyweight champion punctuates the opening round and wins it for him, 10-9.

Early knockdown predicted by KO Digest on RingTV
Round Two: Ward starts the round looking to box from an outside range. Kovalev presses the action and when it gets rough, Ward grabs. Meaningful left hooks fail to materialize for SOG and he is jabbed back again and put into a state of retreat. With 42 seconds left in the frame, a smashing right to the face from Kovalev puts Ward on all fours, victim of a clean knockdown. He is up immediately and smiling through the mandatory 8 count. Kovalev's killer instinct is nullified by Ward's survivalist holding tactics. Kovalev wins the round 10-8.

Things look grim for Ward.

Round Three: Ward leads with a left jab, clinch combo to open the third. An SOG lead right misses and Ward follows through with an attempted tackle. The referee warms them both for some reason. Kovalev offered a sportsmanlike glove and SOG let it hang. Ward struggles to avoid the left jab of Kovalev. Ward is clearly uncomfortable under such attack. When Ward stops moving, he ends up in a clinch of his own creation. Another stiff left jab from Kovalev has Ward holding on again with no warning. In a round of jabs, Kovalev's clearly had more of an effect on Ward than vice-versa.

Round to Kovalev, 10-9. He's now up 30-26 after three.

Ward struggled with Kovalev
Round Four: Ward clinches and punches with the left hand. It's becoming clear that Robert Byrd will do nothing to control Ward's repeated fouls. They wrestle in the corner and maul each other equally. Another big left hook from Ward misses. This is usually SOG's best punch. Kovalev is walking Ward back all over the ring. Were Krusher to stop moving forward, there'd be no fight whatsoever. As the round times out, Kovalev lands a left jab and causes Ward to flinch from a right hand feint. It's a tell-tale moment about who is controlling the round when actual contact is limited. Kovalev wins another round 10-9.

Round Five: Typical pattern of the fight continues with Ward either backing up or dirty clinching in some form or fashion. Kovalev's left jab lands and Ward is disrupted again by it. Ward somehow ends up behind Kovalev and as Krusher spins out to right himself from the awkward position initiated by Ward, SOG punches at Krusher from behind, another foul. At the mid-way point of the round, Ward spears Kovalev with a left jab. They trade hard left jabs with 30 seconds left in the round. Kovalev lands another hard jab just before the bell. If you're an Andre Ward fanclub member, you give him this round.

If you're trying to be as fair as possible, it's another close round for Kovalev, 10-9.

Round Six: Things get ugly quick after Ward places a few soft body punches. Clinching and mauling persist. Ward cannot fight on even terms with Kovalev in a stand up fight or in heavy punching exchanges. Everyone including Kovalev and the referee seems frustrated with Ward's tendencies. A long right hand bounces off the head of Ward at the half way point in the round. Kovalev seems to have the answer for Ward while SOG looks lost in there at times. A sweeping left hook and right hand to the face from Kovalev keeps Ward moving away from the action. Ward digs a left to the gut at the ten second warning. They fight in a clinch at the bell. Kovalev round 10-9.

Round Seven: Hardly a single punch of consequence lands in the first 60 seconds. Ward lands a left jab and the crowd reacts like he just dropped Kovalev, a feat Blake Caparello (but not SOG) was once able to pull off. They again fight in the clinches and Ward lands a right to the body on the way out of one of them. Ward's jab is more accurate in this round. A straight left hand from Kovalev forces Ward to hold on and deny the power of the punch with exaggerated head movements. Ward steals his first round, 10-9.

Ward eats a left on the ropes
Round Eight: When the "action" consists of so much backing up and holding, it gets hard to stay focused on who is really winning. The first two minutes of this round were squandered by more sloppy boxing than most people can stand to look at. Ward lands a right hand to the body that scores points but certainly doesn't hurt or otherwise deter Kovalev. The champion's reaction is not to clinch or avoid follow-up but to punch and miss for his efforts. Ward makes him pay with another pair of slapping rights to the body. Lefts from Ward stray borderline low and his elbow is in Kovalev's face as the round ends. Ward wins his second stanza, 10-9.

Round Nine: When Ward sets and attacks Kovalev, I am reminded of a prime Buddy McGirt but in this case, a less effective version. Buddy never had to deal with a Russian as good as Kovalev. Suddenly a snappy little boxing match breaks out and both are jabbing and moving. Ward lashes out with another good right to the body. Kovalev seems to be giving him the punch though. A hard right Krusher cross has Ward holding on with a minute to go.

Ward eats a left along the ropes and a right at the bell. Kovalev wins the round 10-9.

Round Ten: Another round for Kovalev. His jab is landing well. Ward responds with a pair of lefts, the hook and the jab. Krusher's jab breaks through Ward's timing, stymies his bolo punch attempt, something I wish Hagler could have done better and more marvelously against that dastardly Ray Leonard. With a minute to go, Kovalev lands a strong right like the one that decked Ward earlier. Ward takes the blow well but finds the jab hard to avoid. It would be impossible to score this round for anyone but Kovalev unless you were a Vegas boxing judge on the take. Kovalev 10-9. All three judges steal this round from Kovalev, proof they were in the tank for Ward.

Round Eleven: They wrestle to commence the championship rounds. Ward lands a pair of jabs, up and down. His left hook misses, something few fighters other than Kovalev have been able to consistently make happen in a boxing ring. Kovalev appears tight and disciplined as they trade jabs into jarring right hands that jolt Ward upon impact. By this point, Ward appears unusually battered and bloody. Kovalev looks slightly fatigued with a touch of blood from the left nostril. Ward lands a wide left hook but Kovalev makes him pay by chasing him around the ring with straight punches. A nice jab from Ward snaps Kovalev's head back as the round ends.

Krusher round 10-9. It looks to me like Ward needs a knockout to win.

Round Twelve: Ward lands a few left hooks early in the last round. Kovalev answers with a left hook of his own before clean punching devolves again into sloppy infighting and clinching. Both go well to the body during this period. Kovalev appears to go low on purpose and gets a warning for it as the fighters exchange more baleful stares than hard legal punches.

Round goes to Ward 10-9 for that early success and dedicated body attack late.

KO Digest scores the fight 117-110 for Kovalev.

Ward looks very surprised that he won
All three American ringside judges manufactured identical scores of 114-113 for Ward. Was it a robbery? Yes. One of the worst I have ever seen in my 30 plus years of observing this sport from various vantage points. What is the strongest evidence and the biggest red flag? Only one (1) judge gave one (1) round to Kovalev in the second half of the fight, from rounds 7 through 12. That is a crime hiding in plain site. Reddest flag? Ward was battered around badly in the tenth yet won the round on all three judge's score cards, revealing obvious bias in an effort to salvage the fight for the American. An easy way to see the obvious fix is as follows:

Crooked American Judges
Break the fight into two halves. It's generally understood by those living in reality that Kovalev dominated the first half. Ward was hurt in the first, decked in the second, and struggling to the half way point. How did the judges rack all that up? Three judges. Six rounds. No one judge gave Krusher the clean sweep he earned.

McKaie gave the 5th to Ward
Clements gave the 5th and 6th to Ward
Trowbridge gave the 3rd to Ward

So we see the judges are like Ward and his body punches. Placing them early so they will pay off later. On to the second half of the fight. Ward battled back. Sometimes surviving, rarely thriving, and by no means dominating. 

In fact, if Ward was doing anything well, it was dirty boxing and fouling.

The judges, able to track their own individual running tallies like a card counter in Vegas, realize what must be done. 

Or perhaps somebody in a panic tells them. Whatever. Regardless, it is done. Only one judge gives Kovalev one round in the second half of the fight he's the world champ in. That's a tragedy. It's Clements. He gave Kovalev the 12th because he has room on his card for that. Obvious fix is obvious. Kovalev was failed and robbed by four biased American officials, including the referee.

Written by Jeffrey Freeman, exclusively for KO Digest

September 19, 2016

KO's Open Letter To TYSON FURY

Furious Travellers
Dear Champ,

We need to talk.

As Angelo Dundee would say, “you’re blowing it, son.”

Even though the bout was boring as hell, your historically important victory over Wladimir Klitschko for the championship brought new life to the heavyweight division. You shook up the world and boxing owes you a collective nod of appreciation, if not necessarily all the scorn that comes your way for blithely speaking your mind as heavyweight champion of the world.

Please keep walking the walk. And talking the talk.

You said you’d lick that Klitschko and you did. But have you been keeping up with recent events in your kingdom since seizing the throne last November in Germany? Your British countryman Anthony Joshua has blown right by you in terms of popularity, scoring two big knockouts in London this year to grab and defend the IBF title they stripped from you after you won universal recognition from King Wladimir. Speaking of that alphabet soup move, were you expecting the IBF to recognize you in perpetuity regardless of how fat, happy, and inactive you got? Good thing they saw the writing on the wall and prevented you from taking hostage of their title belt. The only question is would it have been big enough to keep your pants up these days? Your American counterpart Deontay Wilder has been making new fans as the active WBC champ but every time he hits somebody a little too hard, he damages his brittle hands.

The "Bronze Bomber" will probably not fight again this year. Will you?

While it’s true that you only just won the championship nine months ago, you’ve failed to defend it since, gaining weight, injuring your ankle, and withdrawing from a scheduled July 9 rematch against Klitschko. You’ve been awfully quiet since that return bout got scrapped and I miss hearing from you big guy. We all do. You’re a riot on the mic. You’re our furious heavyweight champion who talks shit and gets hit—by his own self and sometimes by others. You’re our walking, talking reminder that the heavyweight champion of a world at war should be a larger than life figure, unpredictable in his acts of sanctioned violence, beholden to no regular man’s rules or public sensibilities. Can you be yourself inside and outside of the ring or have the job pressures already overwhelmed you?

Bored of Control
It’s now September 2016 and you have no plan to do anything. Talk about the Klitschko rematch has faded away, and as heavyweight champion of the world, it appears you have no plans whatsoever to defend that linear title; instead you’re now sidelined watching the parade go by. It’s high time for you to get in shape, get back in the ring, and handle your rematch business with Klitschko. Now I hear he’s suing you to get in the ring? How pathetic. Plenty of other well deserving big men are out there (Luis Ortiz and Joseph Parker to name two) waiting for a shot at the same title you got your shot at because the gentleman you beat was, if nothing else, an active, fighting champion who took on all deserving comers.

If none of this interests you, do us all a favor and stop jerking us around.

Vacate the heavyweight title immediately and announce your retirement. Endorse Wladimir Klitschko as "the man who sued the man" and head for the pubs. Your place in British boxing history is secure as is your place in Irish Traveler lore. I’ve heard you say that nothing could ever be as rewarding as having been the one to finally dethrone Klitschko, and I can understand and respect that. I really can. Yet you can clearly see that the business of ABC heavyweight championship fights is moving into a lucrative future with or without you as its "real champion" so why not take your rightful place as undefeated Gypsy King of the world and be the great heavyweight champion you could be if you really wanted to be? You ended the recent era of "boring" heavyweight title events and replaced it with what?

A world without a heavyweight champion?

Yours in fistiana,

Jeffrey Alan Freeman,
American Boxing Writer

EDITOR'S NOTE: On October 12, 2016, Fury vacated the World Heavyweight Championship.

"An Open Letter" Originally Published On The Sweet Science on August 31, 2016

September 7, 2016

The Case For Marlon Starling: Why “Moochie” Belongs in Canastota

Starling celebrates with trainers Roach and Futch
By Jeffrey Freeman — It’s hard for the typical fight fan to understand exactly what the current criteria are for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Boxing, unlike baseball or professional football, does not rely on a cold and calculated interpretation of statistics to determine eligibility and induction. It’s much more complicated than that. Or far more simple, depending on how you look at it. In our sport, the observer has real power. Greatness is in the eye of the individual beholder. What he or she sees, thinks, and does -- matters.

Don’t believe me? Consider any split or majority decision.

According to their website, the mission of the IBHOF (located in upstate Canastota, New York since 1989) is, among other things, to "chronicle the achievements of those who excelled" in boxing. A closer look at the site reveals more about their procedures: "Members of the Boxing Writers Association of America and an international panel of boxing historians cast votes. Voters from Japan, England, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Germany, Puerto Rico and the United States are among those who participate in the election process."

Bowe dumped his green belt in the trash can
I’ve been to the IBHOF many times and the Brophys, Director Ed and historian nephew Jeff, do a great job along with their loyal President Don Ackerman.

In recent years, however, the Hall, and some of its young new voters in particular, have come under fire for their selection of some less than unanimous choices such as Arturo "Thunder" Gatti, Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, and Riddick "Big Daddy" Bowe. Critics and dissenters point to their losses and other perceived shortcomings while those who voted for them must surely have had their focus on the achievements and fame of those they ultimately helped to enshrine.

Personally, I’d have voted for two of three but that’s just me.

Enter Marlon "Magic Man" Starling, the former undisputed welterweight champion of the world from Hartford, Connecticut. Starling retired from boxing in 1990, a year after the establishment of boxing’s first true hall of fame. In those twenty five plus years, Starling’s name has yet to appear on the ballot for IBHOF voters to either vote for or not. Before discussing Starling’s qualifications, let me make one thing clear about the balloting process. It’s a closed one. What that means is that a small group of IBHOF insiders figuratively pick names from a hat and then put those choices on the official ballot for the public consideration of their various international voters. Arturo Gatti, for example, could not have been voted for and voted in had his name not been selected by this panel in the first place.

The identity and decision making process of this internal group remains a mystery to most outsiders.

They hold the 24K gold key to induction.

Moochie beat Breland for the WBA
Why then would they want to put Starling’s name on the ballot? Well, for starters, theirs is a hall of fame, not a hall of feints. Starling was actually a master of both. When Starling plied his craft in the competitive cauldron of the 1980s, he frequently appeared on network television in primetime. It was there that mainstream fight fans got to know "Moochie" and his "Starling Stomp" signature move. In televised battles against Donald "Cobra" Curry, Jose "The Threat" Baret, and Johnny "Bump City" Bumphus among so many others, Starling made an unforgettable impression on a generation of fans who still remember him today and must wonder why he’s not in the hall if lesser skilled pugilists are. The IBHOF’s inclusion of Gatti could be seen just as controversially as the exclusion of Starling.

Compiling a career record of 45-6-1 (27), Starling made his pro debut in 1989 after an inauspicious amateur career where he lost in Lowell, Mass to Robbie Sims of all people. As a professional prizefighter inspired by the late great Muhammad Ali, Starling had a defensive peek-a-boo style that made him very difficult to hit, let alone beat. Not unlike Ali, Starling also possessed the gift of gab.

The young welterweight ran his record to 25-0 before his first loss, a twelve round split decision to Donald Curry in 1982. To this day, Starling disputes that subjective defeat just as he disputes his lack of inclusion in the hall of fame where he is regularly a guest of honor during annual induction weekends. "The Hall of Fame is special. I think Marlon Starling does belong in there," says Marlon of Starling. Even more ironically, "Cobra" Curry is also still waiting for a call from the hall that might never come. Curry’s qualifications include having been the single best pound-for-pound boxer on the planet for a short period of time, but that’s a debate for another day.

From 1983 to 1986, Starling stayed busy in search of a big money superfight against the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard or Tommy Hearns. Neither match-up was meant to be for "Moochie" who had to settle for televised bouts against contenders Kevin Howard, Floyd Mayweather Sr., and Simon Brown, all of whom Starling defeated by decision. "I have the respect of the Big Four. That’s what matters to me," says Starling of Leonard, Hearns, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, and Roberto Duran. "Whenever I see those guys, I get their respect."

A February 1984 rematch against a prime Donald Curry ended in the disappointment of another decision loss for Starling.

It was in 1987 however that Starling began to make the most of the opportunities coming his way.

A televised shot at the WBA welterweight championship against legendary amateur Mark Breland was all that stood between Starling and the welterweight title. Following a virtuoso performance from Starling that highlighted the vast difference between a seasoned pro and a professionally inexperienced amateur, Breland collapsed in the eleventh round and just like that Starling was champion of the "whole wide world" as he proudly told Alex Wallau on ABC after the win. In actuality, Starling was not yet the man who beat the man because of somebody out there named Lloyd Honeyghan.

Starling came back strong after the Molinares bout
It was Honeyghan who upset Donald Curry for the world welterweight championship in 1986 and before Starling could move to unify or win universal recognition by beating Honeyghan, he’d have to go through the politics of a rematch "draw" with Breland (one judge scored the fight for Starling as did most fans and media) and a strange (again televised) knockout loss-turned-no contest (NC) against Tomas Molinares in 1988. Starling was knocked absolutely senseless from a punch that clearly landed after the bell to end the fifth round.

Though it was later ruled a no contest and the result nullified, Starling lost his WBA championship and his momentum. Worse, he was made to look like a fool by HBO’s Larry Merchant during the unforgettably uncomfortable post-fight interview where Starling claimed that not only wasn’t he knocked out, he was never even knocked down. It looked like the end was near for Marlon Starling.

But like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, Starling’s best days were still ahead of him. Less than a year after the Molinares debacle, Starling received a shot at Lloyd Honeyghan. Because Honeyghan had so thoroughly thrashed Curry to win the WBC welterweight title, few observers expected “Moochie” to emerge victorious, particularly after his brutal "knockout" by Molinares. Boxing the fight of his life, Starling totally dominated and embarrassed Honeyghan, stopping the puffy "Ragamuffin Man" in nine rounds to lay claim to the undisputed world welterweight championship. By fighting and defeating the very best in the world, Starling had achieved his career goal of becoming the best welterweight in the world, the true welterweight champion of the "whole wide world."

Starling is THE world welterweight champion
After reaching his professional peak with the thumping of Honeyghan, Starling defended the championship once before an ill-fated, economically driven, move to middleweight where he came up short against defending 160 pound world champion Michael Nunn, losing by majority decision. One judge scored it a perfectly even draw, 114-114 while two others had Nunn winning by wide scores.

In his final bout, Starling returned to welterweight where he dropped the 147 pound world title to Maurice Blocker by a majority decision before retiring in 1990, never to return, forever young in the eyes of those who saw him box under the bright lights of commercial network exposure. Again, another judge saw it all even in what was a very close fight in the ring and on the final scorecards.

So, does Marlon Starling belong in the International Boxing Hall of Fame? I’d say he does. I asked Starling himself and he answered me with a question. "How can Riddick Bowe be in the Hall of Fame if Marlon Starling isn’t” asked Marlon in his uniquely rhetorical third-person fashion. Still, that’s not the path to Canastota, even if by all accounts Starling should at least be on the ballot by now.

You see, boxing is, like most everything else where so much money and power is involved, very political. Being outspoken, like Starling is and always has been, can hurt you in this game. Rightly or wrongly, it can prevent you from getting where you want to go. As a fight writer, I have experienced it personally and I have seen it applied to some brave souls who make their living in this, the cruelest sport.

The Magic Man in Canastota where he belongs
Marlon Starling was a master defensive fighter. He won the legitimate world championship of the welterweight division, putting himself on a straight line that can trace its lineage all the way back to Sugar Ray Robinson, the best to ever lace up a pair of gloves. Starling was a TV star during the glory days of Wide World of Sports and Saturday afternoon boxing for the masses. Starling overcame strange and controversial defeats to persevere where few expected he could or would. Starling’s outgoing and accessible personality endeared him to fans and it’s good to see that nothing has changed.

Starling, who turned 58 on Monday, August 29, is still sharp as a tack because boxing is about hitting and not getting hit. Starling still communicates with his many fans and makes himself available at boxing events for them to meet and greet him. In the end, Starling made his mark of excellence on the sport he chose to compete in and he did so in a way that made an indelible impression on all those who saw him fight. I will see you in Canastota Champ.

Written by Jeffrey Freeman 

Originally Published on The Sweet Science

June 22, 2016

KO Digest Rates The Top Five Best Weight Divisions In Boxing Today

Ward-Kovalev is happening at light-heavyweight
By Jeffrey Freeman, KO Digest 
1. Light-Heavyweight: An 'Original 8' weight class with an active, power-punching linear world champion on top in Adonis "Superman" Stevenson. That's a hell of a good place to start. Then there's the other champion in the division, Sergey "The Krusher" Kovalev, a pound-for-pound star. The "Krusher" is supposed to defend his belts against Andre Ward later this year. At 175, a real world champion reigns and a real superfight is on tap. Don't forget the young guys on the way up after their big upsets. Thomas Williams Jr. just obliterated Edwin "La Bomba" Rodriguez in a firefight. Now he gets a title shot. Joe Smith Jr. just upset Andrzej Fonfara on TV (KO 1) to become an overnight top ten contender. And to round out the best division in boxing, Artur Beterbiev is a murderous prospect-contender with future sights set on his amateur rival Kovalev. It's like those violent 1970s again.

The only thing missing is a definitive way of getting Stevenson and Kovalev into the ring for more than just cheap talk and middle fingers. 

Fans are confused about why this is not happening. The real reason is actually the opposite of what you've been led to believe. 

Porter says he's coming for Thurman's head
2. Welterweight: Another traditional boxing weight class packed with elite talent. Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao might be gone but the new generation of boxing stars will cut its teeth right here at 147. Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter are set to rumble this weekend in Brooklyn for the WBA title. 

British IBF champion Kell Brook is a truly special talent who beat Porter for his championship. Brook might actually be too good for his own good, like Rigo and Lara et al. Danny Garcia now holds the WBC title once held by Floyd. The winner of Thurman-Porter will probably target DSG on PBC. Throw Amir Khan, Tim Bradley, Jessie Vargas, Sammy Vasquez, and super-prospect Errol "The Truth" Spence Jr. into the mix and welterweight is looking damn good for years to come. 

Does Ortiz have time left to win the championship?
3. Heavyweight: Hard to believe isn't it? After too many long years in the Klitschko dominated doldrums, the heavyweight division is back in action. The price? No, not David. A splintered world championship. Tyson Fury's 2015 upset of Wladimir Klitschko for THE title pumped much needed new life into the division. The Fury-Klitschko II mandatory rematch happens soon and we're all wondering if the first "fight" was just a fluke, or a joke. American Olympian Deontay Wilder has the WBC title, three defenses of his green belt, and a televised date with Chris Arreola. Say what you want but that should be a fun fistfight. Across the pond in the UK, the IBF has their belt on Anthony Joshua. What a commotion he's been kicking up with his punching power. Oh and let's not forget 37 year-old Cuban southpaw Luis Ortiz. TKO winner over Bryant Jennings, Ortiz looks like a polished heavyweight from yesteryear. 

DeGale and Jack are on a course to unify
4. Super Middleweight: It took a while for 168 pounds to snap back into shape after the slow departure of Andre Ward from the world championship and the weight class itself. Ward is a light heavyweight now. A new crop of excellent young fighters are picking up where Ward left off. IBF champion James DeGale beat Andre Dirrell for his title and has already defended it twice against Lucian Bute and Porky Medina. DeGale, like Ward before him, has a chip on his shoulder and a desire to prove just how great he can really be. Badou Jack has the WBC title and just might be better than anybody truly understands. He beat Anthony Dirrell, George Groves, and arguably also Bute. WBO titlist Gilberto Ramirez is a good young undefeated Mexican technician. His shutout of Arthur Abraham was eye-opening. There is talk of Golovkin challenging Ramirez when "Triple G" moves up to super middleweight. It looks like unification fights will be able to be made while the UK's Callum Smith represents the future for the young guns. 

Canelo carries Oscar belt
5. Junior Middleweight: On its face, this division looks stacked. You have Erislandy Lara, Charlo twins Jermall and Jermell, Austin Trout, Julian Williams, and Demetrius "Boo Boo" Andrade. If these fighters can all somehow mix it up, 154 could be very special. The talent is right there with no rush by anybody to jump up to GGG's 160. Keep in mind that welterweights move up to junior middle. 

Keep in mind also the existence of Canelo Alvarez, 155 pound catchweight champion of economically correct match-ups like one against WBO champ Liam Smith. For all intents and purposes, Canelo's middleweight charade is over. 

Alvarez's star power tops off the division he really fights at and belongs in. 

Lomachenko is the future
Honorable Mentions: Middleweight (160) is ruled by undisputed champion Gennady Golovkin. While all roads should lead to GGG, Triple cleared out the division and is now being shamelessly ducked by Canelo. Junior Welterweight (140) will soon have an undisputed champion when Terence Crawford meets Viktor Postol. Then what though? Crawford will be a welterweight before you know it, leaving behind his second vacant championship. Crawford did that at lightweight for those keeping score at home like KO. Featherweight (126) still has star power and not for nothing but Leo Santa Cruz faces Carl Frampton soon in a top quality pairing. Lightweight (135) has a unification fight in its future when Jorge Linares squares off against Anthony Crolla for the WBA & WBC. This is a good thing but how long until Vasyl Lomachenko (WBO junior lightweight champ) is a full fledged lightweight?

June 20, 2016

KO's Ringside Notes & Quotes XV — The Fifteenth & Final Round

Dark future without a star to lead the way
By Jeffrey Freeman, KO Digest 

Welcome to the post-Ali, post-MayPac era.

It's not exactly an exciting "new era" like the one violently brought about by Iron Mike Tyson thirty years ago but it is what it is. Economically correct matchmaking. Traditional weight divisions where the two top fighters refuse to face off. A sport that many long-time fans no longer recognize. This is boxing in 2016. The biggest money fight of OUR time is a bad memory and an overdue cable bill. The "Greatest" of ALL times is forever silenced. Thank God. Muhammad Ali's gradual decline, like that of our glorious sport, was a painful ordeal. For Ali at least, the pain is mercifully over. For those of us left behind, it's just the beginning. Of the end. Our shrinking meat pie of paid pugilism cannot survive the bigger and bigger chunks being carelessly devoured from its barely breathing carcass.

Without a new young superstar to lead us into the future, there isn't going to be one worth waiting (or paying) for...

A realist against an opportunist
How good is IBF heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua? Opponents don't seem to have much of a plan to defeat him in the ring. Before Joshua tangled with Charles Martin, the American sized up the undefeated British boxer. As a big underdog, I asked him what he expected. Martin told KO Digest: "I'm a realist. I'm gonna go in there and see what's in front of me. If I see Joshua unraveling, I'm gonna take the initiative." AJ KO 2. Next up for Joshua is another relatively inexperienced American in Dominic Breazeale. Does "Trouble" have a plan or is he in just as much trouble as Martin found himself in? "I am an opportunist and if I see an opportunity, if he exposes something or shows a weakness of some sort, I am going to take advantage of it," said Breazeale. Sound familiar?

One Question & Answer Time
One Time Thurman Needs More Time — "I don't like you guys' approach to these questions. Everyone is talking about the new king, the new king. Mayweather cast a huge shadow over this division. It's not like there was a successor lined up waiting. There is work to do. I'm a humble fighter. I like to humble myself on the regular. The young generation has a lot of work to do before there is a king on top of any of our names. Yes, I'd love to get through Danny Garcia and solidify more of the debate of the best at 147. To see the best at welterweight, it's going to take a little time. I feel like you writers are rushing to get the best to claim the best. And claiming the best is cool. There is nothing wrong with that but to get the best is not even gonna happen this year but I look forward to the journey and process."

In Case You Missed It — Light heavyweight Andrzej Fonfara was shockingly knocked out in the first round on June 17 in Chicago by unknown Joe Smith Jr. "Now everybody knows who I am," said the 21-1 (18) winner. "This is the best thing that could have happened. It feels great." Conversely, it was the worst thing that could have happened for the Polish Fonfara. Positioned before the defeat as the de facto #1 contender at 175 pounds after challenging champion Adonis Stevenson and knocking out Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Fonfara now sees his stock drop considerably while Smith has put himself in position for a shot at light heavyweight champion Superman Stevenson.

"I'll talk to my promoter," said the big winner. "But I'm hoping for another big fight to get myself to a world title."

Molina (R) upsets the Siberian Rocky
John Molina Jr. talks to KO Digest about his appeal — "Fans root for me because I've been the underdog every way you can imagine. I started late in this sport. I didn't start boxing until I was 17. I didn't turn pro until I was 24. I had only 22 amateur fights. I had to take the scenic route. I wasn't supposed to be here. But I did make it and I'm showing everybody in the world that if you stick to something you apply yourself to, you can make it in life. I think that's why fans are so intrigued with my style. I'm a first class example of getting past discouragement."

WBA featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz sizes up July 30 PBC opponent Carl Frampton — "Frampton is a good fighter. He has power and skills and he moves when he has to but he has a weak chin. When he gets caught with a good punch, he goes down. He doesn't like pressure and I have that."

WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder talks about challenger Chris Arreola for the fourth defense of his green belt — "Because of Povetkin's decision to use a banned substance, the fight didn't happen. I'm disappointed but it's not gonna stop me from being an active heavyweight champion. This is the longest stretch that I've been out of the ring and I'm anxious to get back in and continue my quest to become undisputed heavyweight champion. This is another fight in that process. I respect Arreola for getting in the ring with me but we all know who the real champion is and I'm going to prove it July 16."


Boxing writer Jeffrey Freeman grew up in the City of Champions, Brockton, Mass during the marvelous career of middleweight champion Marvin Hagler.

Freeman then lived in Lowell, Massachusetts during the best years of Micky Ward's illustrious career. A member of the RingTV expert writer prediction panel for 4 years, Freeman is also editor-in-chief of KO Digest, a social media outlet for the sweet science. Known affectionately as "KO" by friends and readers, Freeman covers boxing for The Sweet Science in New England.

June 6, 2016

Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Bee — Our World Without Muhammad Ali

The Greatest is Gone But Not Forgotten
By Jeffrey Freeman, KO Digest 

On the Friday that devout Muslim Muhammad Ali died in the United States of America, a ruthless Middle Eastern war was raging in Islamic State held territory in Syria and Iraq. Western backed forces, along with brave allies in the region, were fighting brutal ISIS jihadists to liberate cities and towns from the genocidal terrorist organization. The ultimate result of this global conflict continues to hang in the balance. Only one certainty now exists in the decades long struggle between the West and radical Islam. Things are going to get worse before they get better.

The world is again inching towards total war.

I could not possibly begin to imagine how Ali, an American Olympian from Kentucky who took the name of Islam's holiest Prophet and joined the Nation of Islam, regarded the often violent relationships between his birth country and his spiritual Meccas ten thousand miles away. What I can imagine, like John Lennon might have, is only that it could've been very different had Ali been able to live up to his true potential on Earth: peacemaking ambassador of goodwill for all mankind. As a peaceful Muslim American of global fame and international respect, Ali was in a unique position to serve as a much needed bridge between these two increasingly disparate worlds. In fact, Ali did have some some success in this regard, when in 1991 during the first Gulf War, he met with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to arrange the return of American "guests" held against their will by the dictator.

The Louisville Lips 
Unfortunately, Parkinson's Syndrome, exacerbated by the sheer brutality of boxing, robbed Ali of his once unmatched powers of diplomatic communication.

"People are bombing people because of religious beliefs. We need somebody in the world to help make peace," Ali told a captive audience in Newcastle, United Kingdom during a speaking engagement there in 1977. "When I get out of boxing, I'm gonna use my name and my popularity to help unite people," Ali told the fascinated crowd. Nobody seemed to doubt his sincerity. "God is watching me and He wants to know how we're treating each other," Ali emphasized. Two years later in Tehran, Iran, 52 of Ali's fellow American citizens were taken hostage for 444 days by Muslim extremists who attacked the U.S. embassy. I'm sorry Muhammad, nobody ever made world peace in the Middle East. Only more war and more terrifying terror. Tragically, Ali lived to see his religious faith hijacked by terrorists who then rammed it into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The horror of it all continues to rage to this day with no clear end in sight.

Imagine with me a different world then.

One in which Muhammad Ali retires from boxing after winning the heavyweight championship of the world for a third time against Leon Spinks in 1978. No more comebacks. No terrible beating from a young Larry Holmes. Instead, imagine that Ali, like Vitali Klitschko today in the troubled Ukraine, got out of boxing and went immediately to work on the political problems that plagued his people. Ali could surely have become a Mayor like Klitschko or even a People's President. All doors were open to Ali, all possibilities within reach for a man of his immense stature. Perhaps President Jimmy Carter might've asked Ali to be involved in the historic Camp David Accords. In 1974, Carter's predecessor Gerald Ford brought Ali to the White House as part of his Presidential effort to heal the nation in the wake of Watergate.

The effect of Ali was always to turn enemies into friends. To unite the divided.

Imagine Ali in a position to help negotiate peace between his Islamic world and his Western world.

Ali with his parents Odessa and Cassius Senior
Odessa Clay's magnificent son was a perfect reflection of both cultures.

Nobody but Ali in his duality could have pulled it off. That it didn't happen without him is proof enough of that. People are still bombing other people because of religious beliefs. In life, Ali spoke often of his "getting ready" to one day meet God.

Though I'm sure he was more than ready when the day finally came, nothing could've better prepared Ali than unifying the world in peace before he died. The sad truth is that Ali's boxing related health complications prevented him from becoming any of these things. Author Joyce Carol Oates put it best in her masterwork 'On Boxing' when she wrote of the sport in question:

"More than any other human activity, it consumes the very excellence it displays."

Boxing afforded Muhammad Ali a great deal before demanding its heavy price be paid in full. That's pugilism's poetic justice. 

What's So Civil About War Anyway? — Bostonian Civil War soldier Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, writing home to his mother during the war to end the institution of slavery in America: "We fight for men and women whose poetry is not yet written but which will presently be as enviable and as renowned as any." One of those men was Muhammad Ali, the great American poet of pugilism. Shaw, along with thousands of other men who made the ultimate sacrifice, fell in battle on American soil so that Ali could one day live in freedom.

Ali and Frazier are no more
Greatest Goodbye — The only person who could possibly explain, eulogize, and commemorate Muhammad Ali is gone. That person was Ali himself. Ahead of his time and far beyond his Earthly peers in nearly every way imaginable, there exists nobody out there today capable of putting into words the true meaning of the man better than the man himself already did. Still, many will try but all will fail. Don't take my word for it. I'm as inadequate as the rest of these pretenders and wordsmiths. Go back and listen to the great man. Ali said it all. He told you who he was and why it mattered. If you didn't pay attention, I'm sorry for your loss.

Where There's Smoke There's Fire — There's been a lot of talk about which of Muhammad Ali's 61 prizefights find him at his absolute best. Many fans and media point to the 1966 destruction of Cleveland Williams and say "The Greatest" never looked better. This may be so but if you could still ask Ali, he'd say what he always said about the question. He'd disagree with you. He'd tell you that Williams was really not all that good of a fighter and that he (Ali) was young and fast and pretty when he knocked him out. Ali points to the third Joe Frazier fight as the truest example of when he was at his very best in the ring. Ali said Joe was much better than Williams and that he (Ali) had to be even better than his own younger self to whoop him. So who you gonna believe? Ali or your own lying eyes?

The Week Muhammad Ali Died — In years past, it had become a familiar routine on social media. News would break of Ali's latest trip to the hospital and the online world would go crazy with worry, blowing the truth of the matter way out of proportion. Nobody was "closer to death" more often than Ali apparently was. When we first became aware early last week that "The Greatest" was hospitalized, the reaction was deliberately muted. Oh, this again? Thoughts and prayers to Muhammad but I'm sure he's probably fine. In fact, the wolf was right outside the door, hungrier than ever. As the week dragged, so did feet when it came to Ali. Nobody wanted to believe it nor did they think they could, or should. Let's just wait and see what happens we thought. By Friday, things went from here to there faster than any Ali combination. Just like that, we'd been a rope-a-doped and Muhammad Ali was gone. If you blinked, you missed it.

The little boy who cried wolf is really crying now.

Goodbye Muhammad, we love you forever

"World Heavyweight Champions may come and go,
But in Muhammad Ali's case, this will never be so.
Because, forever, he will always be,
The People's Champion,
To you and to me."

Poem from Ali's #1 fan,

Paddy Monaghan