Thursday, February 18, 2010
Insider Notebook: Merchant on Tyson, Pacquiao on Mosley
Larry Merchant has been a commentator for HBO since 1978. But 20 years ago, on Feb. 11, 1990, Merchant worked a fight that will remain everlasting in his mind.
The setting was Tokyo, Japan. Buster Douglas, talented yet not one who had gotten the most out of his abilities, was to take on the feared Mike Tyson for Tyson's undisputed heavyweight championship at the Tokyo Dome.
"Before the fight the fight was considered mostly a warmup for a Tyson-(Evander) Holyfield fight in June and there was probably more discussion about that than the fight itself," Merchant said Wednesday morning. "A year or so before that (actually, March 1988), Tyson had fought Tony Tubbs in Tokyo and had stopped him in two rounds.
"The main question in most people's minds was, 'How long would it take this time?' "
It took 10 rounds, only it was Douglas who came up with perhaps boxing's greatest upset by knocking out Tyson. Interestingly, Merchant suggested the first sign there was something incredible in the air was the entrance by Douglas.
"What I remember most about the night of the fight, and I commented about this, was Douglas almost running toward the ring," Merchant said to BoxingScene.com. "Instead of a ring walk, it was almost a ring run, which was unusual under any circumstances. But for a fighter fighting Tyson, it was amazing.
"Little did we know that in some ways represented his feelings about the fight and what it would do for him and what the opportunity was for him."
Some of the background stories surrounding Douglas were his mother dying about three weeks earlier and his estrangement from his father, Billy, a middleweight/light heavyweight who fought from 1967-80.
Also, Merchant recalled that the mother of one of Douglas' daughters was battling cancer.
"All of this had been stirring in the background," Merchant said. "Once the fight started it was apparent that Douglas was following a blue print that was ideal for fighting a fighter of Tyson's kind. He was using his size - he was 6-4, 6-5 (Douglas is listed as being 6-3 1/2, Tyson 5-10), using his jab and not giving Tyson a real chance to get into him because when Tyson got close, he would clinch."
By the second round, Douglas was already catching Tyson with clean shots.
"I was commenting that Tyson was getting hit with the type of punches consistently that we have never seen him get hit with before," Merchant said. "Douglas was in control of his emotions, he was not intimidated. He was just executing, virtually flawlessly, a game plan."
Merchant remembered thinking that it was early in the fight and that he had seen champions being handled early before, only to see them eventually take over.
"But Douglas appeared to be in control and one of the amazing things about the event was that the Japanese fans didn't seem to understand what was going on," Merchant said. "They had come to see Godzilla and Godzilla was getting his ass kicked. The other guy turned out to be Godzilla.
"I've often wondered how an American crowd might have seen that, whether our sense of drama and rooting for the underdog would have made it a different kind of a scene."
It appeared for a minute that scene might include Tyson celebrating a victory after he decked Douglas in the eighth round.
"At the time, you're thinking, 'Well, he (Tyson) is losing the fight, but this is what a champion does, he finds it within himself to assert himself,' " Merchant said. "It turned out to be a last hurrah because he never took advantage of it. In the ninth round, Douglas had fully recovered and Tyson appeared to be more spent than Douglas. Then we saw how it all ended."
How shocking that ending was.
"I try to stay in the moment and you try to believe your eyes," Merchant said. "And sometimes it takes a while before you believe your eyes because you can't help but know what the background of the two fighters are."
Merchant said the jacket on Douglas was that he was talented, having been brought up in his father's gym, but that some wondered about his desire to be all he could be.
"He knew how to fight, but there was always a question of, did he want to fight?" Merchant said. "Or was it just something he was good at? Did he have the determination to do this hard thing called prize-fighting?"
Merchant suggested that Douglas may have harnessed all the emotion from all the drama in his life into one supreme effort.
Merchant has called many incredible fights over the years, such as Thomas Hearns-Marvin Hagler in April 1985 at Caesars Palace. He was also ringside when Fan Man dropped from the sky and smashed into the ring in which Holyfield and Riddick Bowe were tangling in the same outdoor stadium at Caesars Palace in November 1993. But Douglas-Tyson seems to have left the most indelible of marks in Merchant's mind.
Merchant described it as one of those "shots heard 'round the world," and, "the most amazing upset."
"It resonated in a way few events do," he said. "And the fact I've had many, many calls asking me to describe what it was like that night indicates how it resonated because of what Tyson represented at the time as the dominant and explosive, exciting heavyweight champion of his time and his generation.
"The belief was that he was this invincible force of nature. Over the years you hear that people who saw it couldn't believe their eyes and people who heard about it couldn't believe their ears."
Henry Ramirez, Chris Arreola's trainer, was ringside for the Feb. 6 fight between Tomasz Adamek and Jason Estrada. Adamek - a former champion in the light heavyweight and cruiserweight divisions - won a unanimous decision by two, four and eight points at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
Ramirez on Tuesday was asked what he thought about Adamek's performance in his second heavyweight fight.
"I don't know, it's a little tough to say," said Ramirez, who will be in Arreola's corner when Arreola squares off with Adamek on April 24 at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif. "The heavyweight he fought was more of a boxer, counterpuncher, as opposed to a guy who is really going to pressure. Estrada at times did that, but that is not really his fight.
"He did all right, but I'm curious to see how he does under constant pressure from a real natural heavyweight."
Estrada (16-3, 1 No Decision) has only four knockouts in 20 fights, which means even when he does bear down on an opponent, he is not bringing a lot of firepower with him.
Adamek's other heavyweight fight was against Andrew Golota, and Adamek stopped Golota in five rounds in October. But it's difficult to judge anything from that because Golota, 41 at the time, has been washed up for years.
Arreola will be a different animal. Included in his 28-1 record is 25 knockouts and a reputation for staying in an opponent's chest. That doesn't mean Ramirez believes Adamek will be a walk in the park. Quite the contrary. When asked if a victory over Adamek would likely propel Arreola into another title fight, Ramirez said he is hopeful
of that, but suggested Adamek will not be an easy nut to crack.
"I don't think anybody is overlooking Adamek by any stretch of the imagination," Ramirez said. "He is a guy who has gotten over that hump. He has been a champion, he has that championship experience. We fought for a world title and came up short."
That said, Ramirez suggested Arreola's one-sided loss at the hands of champion Vitali Klitschko last September has inspired Arreola.
"The plan is to put on a great performance, to put on one of those performances that say, 'I'm back, maybe better than ever,' " Ramirez said. "I think he is really motivated to make amends. I think he believes he let a lot of people down, more importantly, himself down, with the Klitschko fight."
We told Ramirez we wouldn't ask him about Arreola's weight at this juncture. But Ramirez wanted to address it. The 6-foot-4 Arreola - who came back in December and stopped Brian Minto in the fourth round - has weighed 258 1/2, 254, 255, 251 and 263 pounds for his past five fights, respectively.
"I feel lighter is better for every fight," Ramirez said, "especially for this fight because you have a guy who is coming up from a lighter division. I think Chris is going to need to be 230, 240, to track him down and cut off the ring, as we anticipate he'll have to."
Pacquiao Not Fazed
Manny Pacquiao has had a lot on his mind of late. There has been the drama with Floyd Mayweather Jr., alleged infidelity and his upcoming run for congress in the Philippines. But Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, told BoxingScene.com he is not concerned about Pacquiao's head being anywhere other than where it should be - on Joshua Clottey. Pacquiao and Clottey will tangle on March 13 at Cowboys Stadium.
"He's always had distractions in his life and we thrive on that," Roach said at his Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, where Pacquiao is training. "Once he comes through those doors, he leaves all that behind him. Nothing different, nothing new, no problems.
"It's amazing, it is, because he has a lot of drama in his life. I say, 'Manny, you know what? I think we like it.' It's part of what we do, dealing with (Pacquiao adviser) Michael Koncz and all the characters around him and so forth.
"But he works as hard as he did the first day he came in this gym. I've been waiting for that day to come where maybe he's a little lazy and not so focused. I haven't seen it yet."
What Will Manny Do?
Politicians are always asked what they will change if elected. That question was posed to Pacquiao.
"The problem in the Philippines is there are no jobs," Pacquiao said. "I want livelihood, vacation and health care for everybody. In my place, there is more poverty. It is hard to find a job."
Pacquiao Picking Mosley
When Pacquiao was asked to pick a winner between Mayweather and "Sugar" Shane Mosley - they are scheduled to fight May 1 - Pacquiao gave a response that seemed to have more than one meaning. "If that fight happens, I think Mosley has a good chance to win," Pacquiao said. "He's a fighter."
Mosley, 38, was 37 when he stopped Antonio Margarito in the ninth round in January 2009. Merchant appreciates the way Mosley went about his business that day.
"I think Mosley is one of the few fighters I've ever seen who still fights in the latter stages of his career the way he did in the early stages of his career," Merchant said.
"Still offensive-minded, still aggressive, still has fast hands. Most veteran fighters, either because they don't train as hard when they did when they were younger or they are not as hungry - but particularly because they don't like to get hit when they get older - look to finesse their way through fights. Like Bernard Hopkins, for example.
"And Mosley has been one of those fighters - I can only think of Archie Moore, frankly - among guys who kept getting after it."
That said, Merchant believes Mosley will have his work cut out against Mayweather simply because Mayweather probably won't engage Mosley in serious warfare.
"We will see how much he's got left," Merchant said of Mosley, who will have been off 16 months by the time he fights Mayweather.
"And I would have been happier to see them fight six or seven years ago when he (Mosley) was still in his prime, but we're not going to get that.
"A fighter of his type and mentality has the best chance against a boxer, I suppose. I just don't know how much he has left and boxers, if they are that good, can just about frustrate anybody. If one guy doesn't want to fight and he's really good at it, it's hard to make him fight."
Author: Robert Morales