Let’s get two things straight. One, last September I was fired from The Ring, the venerable boxing magazine, along with editor in chief Nigel Collins and most of the editorial staff. Two, I had it coming.
So I’m not as bitter about my dismissal as you might expect, even though no one from the company told me I’d been canned or even informed me that my next column and a scheduled feature were no longer welcome. As a non-employed contractor in our brave new world of semi-employed twenty-first century servitude, I had to perceive I was fired. We all know how these arrangements work. Non-employees float in an opaque legal gelatin that can wash out from under us at any time. But remember, I had it coming.
Who killed Davey Moore …
“Not me,” says the boxing writer …
No, you can’t blame me at all.
—from “Who Killed Davey Moore?” by Bob Dylan
The brain damage detected in so many ex-fighters makes the sport basically indefensible. I didn’t wait until I was fired to say that. My Ring column pointed out for years that basic safety rules were routinely ignored without consequence to presiding officials. I issued anti-awards, called Magoos, to dangerous twits like Arthur Mercante Jr., the New York referee who stood in the ring and watched George Khalid Jones methodically beat twenty-six-year-old Beethavean Scottland to death in 2001. Mercante and others like him earned Magoos over and over. Nothing changed. Most fans get angry when a corner or a referee stops a fight. They want to see losers punched unconscious. If a guy’s eyeball is hanging from a string, heck, it’s still attached, isn’t it?
In June 2009, after five and a half savage rounds, Victor Ortiz had been knocked down twice and Marcos Maidana three times. Maidana, a junior welterweight out of Argentina, employed his usual kamikaze strategy, charging through hails of fire with his devastating punch and iron will. Ortiz, twenty-two, a craftier tactician, was wobbly, his face a mask of cuts and bruises, including a huge Technicolor bulge under his left eye and a gash over his right eye. Were he out on the street, someone would have called an ambulance. After getting up from his second knockdown he turned away, shaking his head to signal he’d had enough. After the fight, HBO analyst Max Kellerman stuck a microphone in his face. “I’m young, but I don’t think I deserve to be, you know, getting beat up like this,” said Ortiz, who as a child had been deserted in a Kansas trailer, first by his mother and later by his father. Kellerman, decent and polite off camera, a history major out of Columbia University, characterized Ortiz’s statement as “shocking” and questioned whether he should continue his boxing career with a crummy attitude like that. As I wrote at the time in The Ring, like so many fans, Kellerman had confused a spectacle created for our entertainment with real life, with something worth dying for.
Terry Norris was the first fighter I ever interviewed for The Ring—a handsome young man of twenty-six who had a slick, Sugar Ray Robinson style. That was back in 1993. When I saw him six or seven years later, retired, he already had the telltale slurred speech of an ex-fighter. I had witnessed the circle.
I’d always told myself that if I ever sat ringside at a fight in which a boxer was actually killed, I’d quit. Then one night in Carson, California, I watched Victor Burgos, a mediocre but game junior flyweight out of Mexico, get hammered into a coma by the freakishly hard-hitting Vic Darchinyan. Burgos lasted into the twelfth round before collapsing. He survived a coma and brain surgery. Weeks later he left the hospital and melted into a barrio across the border. His promoter was Don King, and King’s spokesman at the time told me that King had paid Burgos’s hospital bills. Perhaps he provided for him in other ways as well. Perhaps not. The fight was in 2007. About a year ago I spoke with a bantamweight who had run into Burgos down in Tijuana. I asked how he was doing, hoping for a fairy-tale answer. The bantam just shook his head. Well, I still hadn’t seen a fighter die in the flesh. Not exactly.