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