Post-fight press conferences in boxing differ from anything else in sports reporting (by the way, I covered sports regularly for nearly 20 years). The rivals, one victorious and the other defeated (usually), share the podium with their management. A fight promoter, who usually controls one of the boxers (sometimes the loser), is the emcee at the center of the podium. The seemingly objective media in the room find themselves at times being asked, and obliging, to applaud the great effort put forth in the ring.
Very strange indeed.
Journalists are often left scratching their heads when an overwhelmed fighter, while acknowledging his foe's prowess, finds fault with the referee for stopping the one-sided bout after a second knockdown within 30 seconds of the seventh round. Such was the case with Alex Bunema, the native of Zaire now living in Atlanta, who at least gamely tried to fight middleweight star Jermain Taylor of Arkansas last Saturday at Alltel Arena, but found Taylor out of his league.
Even Taylor, ever the nice guy throughout the post-fight discussion, couldn't contain himself during Bunema's whine. "Bull****," Taylor said with a laugh, turning away.
We couldn't agree more, and it was clearly Taylor's best professional effort in 20 fights. Still, Bunema's handlers continued to whine, accused the roomful of reporters of having an Arkansas bias, anything to detract from the fact that their trash-talking fighter, who promised a win and bet $100 with Stanley Knox of 103.7 The Buzz, was soundly whipped.
This contrasted with the way Hot Springs native Dominick Guinn handled with class his shocking loss in the other co-main event, the fight just before Taylor's that was also televised on HBO. Guinn ran into a determined (and equally classy) New Yorker, Monte Barrett, who as anyone other than the French judge Saturday could see was the better fighter. Oh, wait, that judge was Arkansan Sonny Ingram, who scored Guinn the winner 96-94 (the two other judges saw it 97-93 Barrett, which means he won seven of 10 rounds). We guess Ingram's judged his last major pro fight. There's always the Summer Olympics, though.
With lots of ready-made excuses offered up by others, including the possibility that his first-ever pro fight back in his home state made him too hyped up to perform well, Guinn blamed no one but himself. "Monte Barrett was the better fighter tonight. I didn't have my hands … I didn't prepare enough … That's the first time I've been hurt in a pro fight."
Guinn will fight another day, and he might avoid simply being another heavyweight palooka, but Barrett showed that, at this high level - and at 28-3 Barrett has fought several heavyweight contenders, losing two controversial decisions - the punching power that Guinn used to destroy most of his 24 other foes isn't enough. Barrett knew Guinn from having sparred with him a couple of years ago.
Jim Bailey, not only the best boxing writer in this region but the best sportswriter in the state, reminded us of an old ring saying that applied to Terry Smith's fight, moved from earlier in the card to after the HBO telecast ended. "They used to call this the walkout bout," Bailey said. Several people said later they didn't know there was another fight after Taylor's, though the public address announcer made that clear several times earlier to the crowd of 6,902 at Alltel. Smith won in a first-round knockout. The four bouts leading up to the telecast all went the distance, and rather boringly.
When Taylor fights for the middleweight championship, which we hope will be before the year is up, it won't be at Alltel - most certainly it will happen in Las Vegas or Atlantic City - but if and when he has the belt in hand, look for another Taylor fight in Arkansas.
Promoter Lou DiBella seems to like the place. The crowd was into it Saturday, chanting "Dominick, Dominick" when the hopeful was obviously in trouble late and needing to rally, and calling the Hogs while Taylor cruised. Maybe the University of Arkansas can get an injunction prohibiting Hog calls at non-UA sporting events. (DiBella had met the UA's heavy hand trying to call the event the "Razorback Rumble," settling for "March Badness.")
Barrett is in DiBella's stable, and although he had promoted the fight as featuring two Arkansas contenders, he couldn't contain his enthusiasm in the ring for Barrett after his decision over Guinn. He repeated the performance following Taylor's impressive knockout, which ran his record to 20-0.
"This was a turning point for Jermain tonight. You saw him move from being a prospect to being one of the best fighters in the world. It's time to prove himself with the best," DiBella said with a broad grin almost as wide as Taylor's. If post-fight boxing press conferences have one thing in common with other sporting events, it's the big, winning smiles on one side.