Sunday, October 06, 2019
This should have been a triumphant weekend for boxing. Gennadiy Golovkin was returning to action against Sergiy Derevyanchenko at Madison Square Garden in a fight shown on DAZN in the U.S. and Sky Sports in the U.K. Most informed observers knew that this would be an action-packed fight. Claressa Shields was also going for a title in her third weight class in only her tenth pro fight in front of a hometown crowd in Flint, Michigan, and headlining a Showtime card.
So what could go wrong?
With boxing, it usually is better to ask what didn't go wrong. After an exciting and very close fight, the Garden crowd loudly booed the Golovkin-Derevyanchenko decision. Shields's fight was cancelled after an assault at the weigh-ins on her opponent's trainer, James Ali Bashir, landed him in the hospital. And Tyson Fury appeared in a staged confrontation on a WWE show. Here is the No Holds Barred recap.
Oh, there were boos aplenty at Madison Square Garden when Gennadiy Golovkin was interviewed in the ring just after his controversial unanimous decision victory over Sergiy Derevyanchenko this past Saturday night October 5. No, these boos were really not directed at Golovkin, who did the best his 37-year-old body would allow him in a grueling twelve-round and quite close fight. No one could dismiss his efforts in going the distance in what was indeed the toughest fight of his stellar career. The boos were more for the unanimous decision rendered by the judges appointed by that clueless bunch at the New York State Clown Commission.
The scores were 114-113 and 115-112 twice, all for Golovkin. Yes, this was a very close fight and giving the victory to Golovkin was not an epic robbery. But for two judges to have it seven rounds to five for Golovkin and none to have it for Derevyanchenko should have been appalling, except of course for the fact that this is boxing.
The scores of ringside observers and the media were all fairly close but also all over the place, with some having it for Golovkin and some having it for Derevyanchenko.
Golovkin is a popular fighter and was cheered at the start of the fight by his many fans at the Garden. When Golovkin knocked down Derevyanchenko in the first round and then cut him right over the right eye with what looked like a left hook in round two, it seemed that he was on his way to another victory.
But the momentum changed starting in round three, when Derevyanchenko achieved success by pressuring Golovkin, working his body, and outpunching him. For several rounds, even though many were close, Golovkin became lethargic and less active than he had been earlier, and in some moments looked like he was about to go down or gas out.
While the replay of the cut shown by DAZN clearly proved that it was caused by a legal left hook from Golovkin, the New York Clown Commission ruled it was from a head butt which no one saw except supposedly the referee Harvey Dock. This commission does not use video replay, putting it behind every major sport and even minor sports. Maybe they need to get their VCR fixed.
Round 10 was a classic back-and-forth, and no doubt a round of the year candidate. Derevyanchenko wobbled Golovkin in the first half of the round. But as the round progressed, Golovkin regained the advantage. After the ten-second warning sounded, Golovkin was rallying as Derevyanchenko covered up. But with a few seconds still left in the round, and for no discernible reason, the referee stepped between the two fighters. They both stopped fighting, as what might have been an important short stretch for the fight was missed.
When it was all over, the judges all had it for Golovkin. But even they agreed on only four of the 12 rounds -- rounds 1, 5, 7, and 12, with all but round 5 going to Golovkin.
Thus, it was an exciting, edge-of-your-seat fight, and thus the boos for the decision.
With another night ending in controversy, and with a thrilling fight concluding in a sea of boos, how can this be good for the already niche sport of boxing? How will it encourage people to spend more money to see the fights live or to subscribe to streaming services like DAZN? There is just too much competition for this to happen every week to boxing, too many other sports, TV shows, streaming services, and activities not to hasten its decline even further.
There was some widespread TV exposure for at least one top boxer this weekend, although it involved a different kind of ring than the one in which he is usually seen. That was the appearance of Tyson Fury on Friday's WWE Smackdown show. Fury was seated ringside right behind a guard rail during some match between people whose names I am not bothering to look up. The lead heel, some fat guy with a bushy beard, threw one of his foils into the guard rail, when Fury was standing next to it, knocking him back into his chair. Fury then hopped the rail and was cut off by a phalanx of supposed security guards, who were probably WWE jobbers, i.e., the folks who are there to lose to the stars. Things settled down, but WWE then gleefully announced that Fury was invited to address the crowd on their upcoming show on Monday. One report also said that Fury would again perform on a WWE show in Saudi Arabia on October 31.
BREAKING: After he jumped the guardrail on Friday Night #SmackDown, WWE will offer @Tyson_Fury an open mic THIS MONDAY on #Raw. https://t.co/uQNRqtQj8i— WWE (@WWE) October 5, 2019
How, by the way, did I know all this since I don't watch this crap? Because WWE and others who were watching this posted endless video clips about it on Twitter. In the TV ratings, this WWE show got almost four million live viewers, giving Fox a second place finish only behind CBS and ahead of NBC and ABC in the broadcast ratings for 8 to 10 PM ET. Perhaps more importantly, it dominated the night's ratings in the group the advertisers love the most, the 18-49 age group, at 1.4, the highest for the two hours when this show was on live. Boxing on Fox almost never lifts Fox out of the cellar in the ratings of the big four broadcast TV networks. This skit looks like it was arranged to give Fury more visibility if or when he ever has his rematch with Deontay Wilder, which the promoters insist will be a joint pay-per-view between Fox and ESPN.
They also must be careful not to do anything to re-open the deep cuts Fury sustained around his right eye only a few weeks ago on September 14 in his fight with Otto Wallin, which required a reported 47 stitches. Yes, this nonsense is scripted, but accidents happen all the time in it, and once in a while some of the WWE actors become a bit too ambitious in their cosplay fighting.
That the boxing powers-that-be had to arrange for Fury to appear on such a silly spectacle to promote himself to an entirely different audience and age group than watches boxing, especially on pay-per-view, only demonstrates their lack of creativity in re-building boxing's fan base. How many people will now fork over the 75 bucks or more to buy a Fury-Wilder pay-per-view because he was part of an angle on some WWE shows in October?
This, believe it or not, was boxing's high point for the weekend in the U.S. Just a few hours before Fury's theatrics on Fox, yet another disaster struck the sport. There was a women's 154-pound title fight scheduled for Saturday night between Claressa Shields and Ivana Habazin. This was to headline a Showtime card in Flint, Michigan, Shields's hometown, where she went to school and became a star there, first by winning successive Olympic gold medals in 2012 and 2016.
Outside Flint, Shields has not proven to be much of a draw, and has a record of 9-0 with only two knockouts, and has yet to score a knockdown as a pro. But she calls herself the GWOAT - Greatest Woman Of All Time, daring to position herself as a female counterpart to Muhammad Ali, something even his daughter, the now-retired undefeated boxer Laila Ali, never did. Her boasting comes off mean-spirited and nasty, unlike the sometimes but not always playful banter of Ali. But she is nowhere even near the caliber of fighter Ali was, and not even the best female pro boxer today, with Katie Taylor and Cecilia Braekhus among others having performed better than Shields has.
Despite that, Shields has been showcased in main events on the dwindling number of boxing cards still on Showtime. This was supposed to be another of these showcase fights, this time against Habazin, a smaller fighter than Shields who has never fought professionally outside Europe, and has a 20-3 record.
There had already been a lot of trash talk leading up to this fight, At the weigh-in, a confrontation broke out between Habazin's trainer, James Ali Bashir, who is a veteran of the famed Kronk Gym program of the late Emanuel Steward, and Shields's sister, who apparently was there as a member of Shields's camp. In the video of the confrontation at the weigh-in, there appeared to be lots of people hanging around the stage and scale area, with little or no security presence by the Michigan commission, which is vying for the clown commission of the weekend award with their New York cohorts. But that dustup quickly ended, or so people thought.
Before Habazin had a chance to weigh-in, someone snuck up from behind the 68-year-old Bashir and sucker-punched him. He was knocked out and lay bleeding on the floor, and had to be rushed to a hospital for emergency surgery. He seems now to be on the mend, issuing social media posts, but now Habazin, already an underdog fighting on Shields's home turf, would be without her head trainer. The fight between Shields and Habazin, thus, was cancelled. Instead of weighing in, Habazin joined Bashir at the hospital, as Shields's promoter Dimitriy Salita and manager Mark Taffet also did. There was no way under these circumstances that this fight could have taken place, and whatever little value Shields had for Showtime to get viewers the same night as the Golovkin-Derevyanchenko card was on DAZN had vanished.
Showtime did still have a telecast, showing two other, lesser showcase fights featuring prospects Jaron Ennis and Jermaine Franklin, which had already been scheduled. But Showtime as well as ABC 12 in Flint also reported who the police had arrested for allegedly attacking Bashir. It was Artis Mack, Claressa Shields's older brother, and a member of her team, and someone already having served time in prison. More details no doubt will come out, but this looks like a burgeoning scandal for Shields and for boxing.
Shields only made things worse by first unsympathetically saying that Habazin could have flown in another trainer on one day's notice, and saying if Habazin really believed in "no excuses" the fight should have been held. Shields condemned the attack on Bashir but said it couldn't have been someone from her team. Later she tried to position herself entirely as a victim, writing on Twitter Saturday night: "I just wanna cry, what did I do to deserve this." Later she issued some damage control statements and was interviewed by a few mainstream media outlets, but to the boxing world, she was not only viewed as an overhyped fighter, but also as at least contributing to the thugish atmosphere that resulted in the assault on Bashir.
Both Shields and Habazin lost a payday Saturday night. Perhaps the promoters and network suits will see an opportunity for a grudge match in the future between these two. But it is doubtful there will be many outside Flint, Michigan, who will care very much.
And while we saw another lost weekend for boxing, the baseball playoffs were scoring huge ratings on TV and grabbing many of the sports headlines. Before the playoffs I made my predictions, getting both of the Wild Card games wrong, showing that it may be best for me to stick to combat sports like boxing. But I am sticking with my prediction that the New York Yankees will win their 28th world championship this year. If you can rise above the stench still in the air from this weekend's boxing madness, who you got for the World Series?
(Photo of Golovkin and Derevyanchenko by Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA. Photo of Shields and Habazin from WBC.)