Boxing: Power play and pay days

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The Independent Online
AS A COMMENTARY on life among the giants, Saturday's contest between Riddick Bowe and Jesse Ferguson for the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation heavyweight titles could not be more explicit. It is champion versus chumpion.

All right, so something similar was pronounced before Mike Tyson defended against James 'Buster' Douglas in Tokyo three years ago and was counted out in the 10th round while groping for the gumshield that had been removed by a violent hook.

The difference is that Douglas had won all but four of 34 professional contests, 20 inside the distance. Ferguson's record of 19 victories with nine defeats is worse than it looks. Between October 1988 and February this year, when he surprisingly outpointed the hugely limited Ray Mercer at Madison Square Garden, he failed in five of his eight engagements. Ferguson is a pay day.

Strange things can happen in boxing. Bowe could trip on the steps to his corner. Crack his shin on a bucket. Stub a toe. In a painfully truthful moment he could even forget why he is in there. But now we await the blast of indignation that is likely to follow the first heavyweight championship contest to be held in Washington DC since Joe Louis defeated Buddy Bear on his bum-of-the-month tour almost exactly 50 years ago.

Bearing this in mind, let us pay some attention to manoeuvres that have taken pace in the heavyweight division since Bowe refused to accommodate Lennox Lewis after taking the undisputed title from Evander Holyfield in November last year.

After setting up an easy first defence against Michael Dokes, who was punched silly in one round, Bowe's volatile manager, Rock Newman, went on to consider alternatives to Lewis, by then the World Boxing Council champion. Ferguson sprang immediately to Newman's mind. I will not bore you with others. They are mostly boxers of such distinguished lack of distinction as never to be a threat to a real champion.

Earlier this week, doubtless encouraged by the technical flaws Lewis revealed against Tony Tucker in his first defence, Newman approached Dan Duva of Main Events, the New York-based organisation that holds promotional options on both Bowe and Lewis, to suggest that they should be brought together. The offer amounted to around dollars 8.5m ( pounds 5.7m) for Lewis and dollars 4m for Main Events. Duva rejected it. Prepared to use up one of their options on Bowe but not one on Lewis, he told Newman to speak with Lewis's manager, Frank Maloney. 'Make the offer to him,' Duva said.

This has to do with maintaining the power of the promoter, and power in the heavyweight division now rests with Main Events and its television arm, Monitor. Power is the Duvas and the former rock entrepreneur, Shelley Finkel.

Power used to be Don King, and the Las Vegas promoter, Bob Arum, who will shortly be putting on a contest between George Foreman and Tommy Morrison for the phoney World Boxing Organisation championship. It is Foreman's age, 44, that makes him marketable. The source of Morrison's potental is more sinister. He is white and there has not been a white heavyweight champion since Rocky Marciano retired undefeated in 1956.

Morrison looks more of a contender on the scales than he does in the ring. Apart from colour, he has not got much more going for him than a pumped-up torso and distant kinship with John Wayne. But in Arum's mind Morrison versus Lewis, with two titles on the line, would achieve a dollars 25m gross. 'It would get there,' he said this week.

Duva thinks it could get further. 'If Morrison can beat Foreman and we get him in with Lewis, I think we might be looking at a dollars 40m promotion,' he said.

Where does all this leave Frank Bruno? Not entirely out of the picture. Duva is keeping his options open.

As for Bowe versus Ferguson, who really cares? The authorities made that clear when they appointed three women judges.