Recipe for fooling the people

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THE burning question today is: just how ridiculous can heavyweight boxing get? This question is posed partly on the basis of last week's farcical encounter in Atlantic City, New Jersey, when the dedicated glutton and former champion, Riddick Bowe, apparently was fortunate not to be disqualified for illegally thumping a training device known otherwise as Buster Mathis Jnr.

Receipt of this information took me back 21 years to when George Foreman made a voluntary defence in Tokyo of the undisputed heavyweight championship he obtained from Joe Frazier, taking on a pathetically inadequate and utterly misguided challenger, Joe 'King' Roman, of Puerto Rico.

Roman was managed by the late Bill Daly. Ably assisted by Al Braverman, who got the attention of fighters between rounds by tugging at their pubic hairs, Daly's complaints in Tokyo were directed at the referee, Jay Edson, who refused to disqualify Foreman for hitting Roman when he was down and looking somewhat less than regal.

Together with the only other British reporter present, Frank McGhee, then of the Daily Mirror, I was soon in peril of becoming seriously involved in a ludicrous attempt by Daly and Braverman to overturn the verdict on the grounds that Roman would have been declared champion under European rules. Come up here and tell the people is more or less what they were saying. Stoutly resisting an opportunity to achieve instant fame, we left them to their arguments.

It strikes me that people in boxing were more ingenious then than now. Most of what we come across these days isn't even half-way funny.

The bout between Bowe and Mathis was declared 'no contest' and they are likely to renew hostilities at Wembley next month when Lennox Lewis defends the World Boxing Council heavyweight championship against Oliver McCall. As Lewis and Bowe are scheduled to meet within the next seven months, a dramatic upset is beyond imagination.

These days, boxing seems intent on taking special pains to benefit from the theory that it is possible to fool some of the people all of the time. How else can we explain the millionaire status of Chris Eubank, a moderate super-middleweight with no international record to speak of? How else can we explain why Bowe received over dollars 3m ( pounds 2m) from the American cable television network, Home Box Office, for three fights that didn't take place?

On the basis of progression from Mike Tyson's defeat by James 'Buster' Douglas four years ago, the true heavyweight champion is Michael Moorer, who gained the title from Evander Holyfield this year.

Emphasising the parlous state of heavyweight boxing, Moorer was scheduled to make a voluntary defence of his World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation titles against the 45-year-old George Foreman in Las Vegas on 5 November. Last week, the WBA withdrew their sanction and Moorer will now meet Indian Joe Hipp, a full-blooded native American with a reputation for being able to take it on the chin.

According to information of the utmost reliability, if Moorer had chosen to go through with a defence against Foreman, the WBA would have declared its title vacant. It might be thought significant that the top five in the WBA ratings are controlled by Don King, who had a strangehold on the heavyweight division until Tyson was jailed for rape.

Pending Tyson's release early next year, there are only two heavyweights out there - Bowe and Lewis. They like the money but are they naturally fighting men? I doubt it.