Boxing: Moorer the southpaw stance master with clout

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The Independent Online
Michael Moorer is one of those southpaw fighters the boxing purists love to hate. On Saturday, he steps into the ring for a heavyweight world title unification fight that, as Ken Jones explains from Las Vegas, could mean trouble for Evander Holyfield.

One thing about boxing upon which its professors are generally in agreement is that southpaws deserve the prejudice that has grown up against them.

The breed made nobody more indignant than Henry Cooper's manager, the late Jim Wicks, whose malapropisms are fondly recounted by veteran sports writers. In 1967, shortly before Cooper met Jack Bodell in defence of the British heavyweight championship Wicks, known commonly as "The Bishop", said: "Bodell and all them other southpaws are detergent to the fight game."

Although Cooper won in two rounds, the difficulties Wicks imagined were apparent in a second contest when Bodell, a limited fighter of legendary awkwardness, held an ageing Cooper to a decision.

When boxing trainers contemplate the southpaw problem they have often the air of people who have worked long on a single project that has not come out entirely to their satisfaction. This cropped up in a conversation I had with Freddie Roach who is preparing Michael Moorer, the International Boxing Federation heavyweight champion, to fight Evander Holyfield, the World Boxing Association title holder, on Saturday at the Thomas and Mack Center here.

Until Moorer outpointed Holyfield for both belts three years ago, later losing them by knock-out to George Foreman, there had never been a southpaw heavyweight champion. Simply on the basis that they could not be guaranteed regular employment, promising novices who shaped up naturally as "right handers" were quickly turned around in the gymnasium. Cooper's famous left hook, "Enery's Ammer" as it became to be known, was a development of this process.

The former undisputed middleweight champion Marvin Hagler and Vicente Saldivar, the formidable Mexican who defeated Howard Winstone of Wales three time for the featherweight title, are just two southpaws who have distinguished themselves, but Wick's ancient prejudice is still expressed in the heavyweight division.

There is a psychological aspect to this but, as Roach points out, the problem with southpaws is mostly physical. "It's not so much that they lead with the right hand as the foot position," Roach said. "If the orthodox fighter steps inside the southpaw's right foot he finds himself off balance and in difficulty delivering punches."

Watching Holyfield at work with one of his sparring partners, Jeff Wooden, you could see why Roach thinks that the WBA champion may be taking Moorer too lightly. It pleased Roach to hear that they stepped frequently on each other's feet and that Holyfield almost tripped over.

"That's what I am going on about," Roach said. "It's all right for Evander to say that Michael's stance won't be a factor but it was unquestionably a problem for him in the first contest."

Roach, who worked alongside the famed trainer Eddie Futch for five years, has a lighter touch than the volatile Teddy Atlas, who grew so weary of Moorer's moodiness that he walked away from the $800,000 (pounds 488,000) that would have been his percentage of the purse money.

As A J Liebling put it: "It is often possible to gauge a winning fighter's temperament by his trainer's which will be just the opposite - a process like mirror-reading. A moody fighter, or a worrier does best under an easygoing type, who can make him laugh at himself; the good-tempered fighter needs a martinet to remind him that life is serious."

It is uncertain whether Moorer feels a lot more comfortable with Roach than he was with Atlas because he continues to put obstacles in the way of communication. Interrogators have to lean in close to catch what he is saying. After training on Tuesday he mumbled satisfaction with the way things are going and glared at a reporter who asked about a the fleshiness in an upper body that compares poorly with Holyfield's sculpted torso. "I'm happy with the way I am and I'm not into bodybuilding," he said.

Happy, too, it seems to have a trainer who is not confrontational. Before Moorer agreed to work with Roach he put some questions to him. Did he mind music in the gym and would he object if associates were present at training sessions, things which led to arguments with Atlas. "It wasn't a problem for me," Roach said. "We all have our ways of doing things, but I'm afraid that Teddy Atlas turned it into his show. Another thing Michael asked was how I would react if he knocked out sparring partners. I told him to just go ahead and do it."

In Roach's mind that proved Moorer's determination to gain confidence in his punching power. "The trouble is that people keep referring to the Foreman fight," Roach said. "If any heavyweight connects, never mind one as heavy-handed as George, you're in trouble. Anybody who saw the fight couldn't fail to have Michael ahead when George landed the right that finished it. Michael lost because of one lapse in concentration. It's one of the things we have been working on.

"In any case I much prefer Michael to look back on the Holyfield fight because that night he was clearly the better man."

Holyfield appears disdainful of the southpaw problem. "I don't even think about," he said. Holyfield, a deeply religious man, smiled at the suggestion that to discover God is a southpaw would turn him into an atheist. "God is as right-handed as I am," he said.