The Sweat Science

Postmodern boxing's hype & politics

King has pretty much outlasted all of his promoter rivals -- Bob Arum, Murad Muhammad, Butch Lewis, etc. -- and so controls the silly current "Heavyweight Elimination Tournament" that the Ruiz/Jones fight is part of. The bouts Evander Holyfield lost to Ruiz and Chris Byrd last year and this year, and that led to Ruiz/Jones, for example, were the bounty of King having contracted rights to Holyfield after Tyson (then Don's fighter) lost to Evander in the infamous ear-biting scandal of June 1997; when King deigns to accept you as a challenger to one of his champions, one immediate price is multifight contractual options to let him promote you should you beat his client. This is probably restraint of trade, but in manfighting as well as dogfighting, the law seems to have other priorities. (Don is under federal indictment on various charges again, but has been found not guilty in three other cases so far.)

And so we'll have accommodating workmen like Chris Byrd and Johnny Ruiz cluttering up the heavyweight title picture for a while. Why? Chiefly to extend King's profitable participation in championship boxing. What should be happening is that Tyson, off his quick "Black Rhino" kayo, next gets it on with Jones, expected winner over Ruiz. Both are 5-11, with big punches, but Jones hasn't survived this long by taking chances. If that fight somehow did happen, the winner should next get Lewis, for really big $$$.

Don officially has no power over either Lewis or Tyson at the moment, but in boxing, as King has infamously said: "Everything is grit, wit and bullshit!"

illustration by Amelia M. del Castillo

Johnny Ruiz was finishing up. He'd kayoed the heavybag, knocked the fastbag loose from its mooring with his staccato punching, and chased a couple of proxy lightheavies around an improvised ring. The crowd loved it, and since this was Miami Beach, Latin pride had asserted itself: "El que le gane al Ruiz se muere!" (He who beats Ruiz dies!) chanted four boys who were deep into a pint of Bacardi Orange. Sofia had beaten her nasal aversions too, and was chatting Ruiz up (her boyfriend had collapsed back onto his towels):

"Doncha ever get scared?"

"Nah. Um bigga than him."

"But he's pound-for-pound best . . ."

"This is da answer to that!" He flexed his bronzed biceps, then popped a right at the girl, pulling it short at the last second.

She shrilled with the thrill of all that power, and the sheer authenticity of the sound she made drew three more chicas into Ruiz's orbit. He looked very happy.

Norman Stone, another of Johnny's trainers, smiled indulgently: "He's been wearing lightheavy sparring partners out. We used 12 guys! He's [Jones] gonna try to be cute, stick and move, and then explode on us with those flurries of punches. But we're gonna crowd him into a corner and kill him. We'll break him down by hitting him everywhere -- arms, elbows, gloves -- we'll break the blood vessels like [Rocky] Marciano used to . . . Jones can't take a heavyweight punch. He'll feel like he's in a pants press . . ."

But things didn't go that way. On Saturday night, Johnny followed Roy around the ring as if they were on tracks. He absorbed all of Jones's peppering without getting hurt much, endured his boorish taunting, and lost a 12-round decision.

Only once did he seem to forget the script, wobbling Roy in the third.

Johnny looked apologetic.

*For Mark Kram, who knew the game.

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