Sound & Fury: Pacquiao Lax, Alvarez vs. The AARP, Chisora, & John Lardner

(Welcome to another edition of Sound & Fury, the boxing column that blackens eyes and skips clichés. This week TCS takes a look at the strange career of Shannon Briggs, the lukewarm talk surrounding Manny Pacquiao in training, Saul Alvarez and his obsession with geriatrics, the upcoming Victor Ortiz-Lamont Peterson bout, the importance of John Lardner, and the next victim in line for Wladmir Klitschko: Derek Chisora. )

The Cruelest Sport took some time off over the last week due to the amount of insignificant subjects puffed up into near-Biblical proportions by the press. The number of misspelled words spent on Antonio Tarver, for example, was ridiculous, even by boxing media non-standards. So were the absurd “previews” and “predictions” surrounding the Vitali Klitschko-Shannon Briggs mismatch, a fight that went off with Briggs settling in as a comfy 11-1 underdog. In fact, there are still articles being written about the “upswing” in pay-per-view undercards! Reading a Chinese take out menu is more interesting than trying to keep up with the various boxing Pulitzer reporters and columnists out there. So, in the end, I merely gave up and put TCS on hold.

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Certainly giving up is something Shannon Briggs, who took an unholy beating at the hands of Vitali Klitschko, ought to do. But the Brooklyn native promises to return to the ring after recuperating from a variety of injuries suffered during his torture session with “Dr. Ironfist.” Briggs, who could be seen hustling chess matches in Washington Square Park in the early 1990s, has been little more than a huckster for almost 20 years. With nearly 60 fights and only one standout win—an outrageous decision over 48 year-old George Foreman in 1997-Briggs parlayed a colorful personality, a hulking physique, and orange dreadlocks into millions of dollars. Still, for a man who lost his stepfather to prison and his mother to crack, spent some time homeless as a teenager, and performed one odd job after another in the late 1980s wasteland of New York City to scrape by as a young man, Briggs—and his smoke and mirror career—can only be considered a success story. And by showing unbelievable courage and resilience during his fight with Klitschko, he showed something else as well, something harder to define, a word or two beyond mere sporting terms. Considering his past, maybe Briggs said it best himself in 1995 when he told the New York Daily News, “It was like boxing found me.”

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Tavoris Cloud, in an effort to be more active, is looking to return for a bout in December against an opponent to be dug up. The Cruelest Sport, for one, does not want Cloud to be busier, since that means having to suffer through a torrent of idiotic headlines like “Storm Cloud Approaching” and “Cloudy Days Ahead” whenever he fights.

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News out of the Manny Pacquiao training camp seems to be more negative than usual. Although many of these reports can be considered attempts at hyping a fight at the expense of one of its participants, not all of them should be dismissed. Freddie Roach, for example, usually does his PR bit by ragging on the opposing trainer or promising destructive results. But Roach has been decidedly muted lately, and if even half of the stories involving Pacquiao are true, then perhaps there is cause to speculate about his focus. On “24/7” Margarito appears to be nearing tip-top condition, while Pacquiao took some clean shots in the brief glimpses of sparring aired on the show. Whether or not these selections were picked to “sell” the competitive nature of the fight is a question only HBO producers can answer, although there are those in cyberspace who, no doubt, already know the truth.

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By the way, if you are against Margarito fighting and earning an enormous paycheck, then you ought to ignore all commercial enterprises that feature him. That includes “24/7.” If you are really so high-minded, you would boycott HBO as well. After all, the cable network is banking on this fight being a big moneymaker for them via pay-per-view sales. Making half a stand is pretty much making no stand at all and shows a lack of moral imagination. No?

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Golden Boy Promotions finally takes the training wheels away from Victor Ortiz—well over a year after he quit in the ring against Marcos Maidana—when they allow Ortiz to face someone who can breathe without the aid of an artificial respirator. Lamont Peterson will be in the opposite corner against Ortiz on the Amir Khan-Marcos Maidana undercard. Peterson took an extended beating from Timothy Bradley last year, but remains a stepstool above the competition Ortiz has been in with lately, including the shell-shocked likes of Vivian Harris.

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Is anyone surprised that Saul Alvarez will be facing antiquated Lovemore N’dou in December? Alvarez, following the tried and true Golden Boy formula of elder abuse, will soon be knocking out dentures more often than mouth pieces. Alvarez, coming off of a shellacking of ancient Carlos Baldomir last month, gets his second fossilized opponent in a row, one who needs radio carbon dating as well as a CAT Scan prior to the fight. Somehow, N’dou, who turned pro at super featherweight in 1993, counts as “upping the ante” for Alvarez. That might be a fact, too, considering his last four opponents: Baldomir, as worn out as a sickly pack mule, Luciano Cuello, a—gasp!—Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. victim, and Jose Miguel Cotto, a fighter who once fought for the “WBC Youth Super Bantamweight Championship—” over a decade ago.

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Every time some “best of” list on boxing writers and books is compiled, the same authors and titles appear over and over. But some of the best writers on boxing remain undiscovered. Among them are Harry Grayson, Jimmy Breslin, Jack Cuddy, Barney Nagler, and the incomparable John Lardner, who finally gets his day in the sun with the publication of The John Lardner Reader: A Press Box Legend’s Classic Sportswriting (Bison Books, $19.95), edited by one of the best sports writers on earth, John Schulian. (In fact, The Cruelest Sport derives its name from a phrase found in a Schulian piece.) This article from Sports Illustrated gives an idea of his wit and talent: John Lardner: A Forgotten Giant.

Like many of the writers of his era—and unlike so many of today, whose frame of reference seems limited to rap music, Saturday morning cartoons, and professional wrestling—Lardner had interests that went well beyond the ring. “The fight game has a way of overlapping into the many lively arts of man—politics, drinking, litigation, the stage, the motion pictures, popular fiction, larceny, and propaganda,” wrote Lardner in White Hopes & Other Tigers. “This side of it, the byplay, is what appeals most to me.” Because Lardner could juxtapose boxing with society and culture, he brought an extraordinary breadth of descriptive and comparative power to his writing.

In addition, he had a sly humor that reflected his understanding of boxing as an absurdist pursuit populated by larger-than-life characters whose world views bordered on cheerful amorality. Lardner was always ready with a wink or a nudge, and his wit was highlighted by a clean prose style at odds with the mumbo-jumbo solecisms that pass for writing today. Boxing is not a sport that can be illuminated by those who do not understand nuance. Lardner had, for lack of a better term, the sensibility needed to enlarge on a sport whose themes often have little to do with actual competition. He was a reporter for The New York Herald Tribune, drama critic for The New York Star, columnist for Newsweek, and contributed to The New York Times and The Saturday Evening Post. Lardner was also a war correspondent for The New Yorker and the NANA syndicate. Can you imagine anyone from ESPN.com being a war correspondent?

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With only 14 professional bouts, Derek Chisora showed moxie in signing to face Wladimir Klitschko in December. Unfortunately, moxie—along with a certain amount of zaniness—is all Chisora brings into the ring with him. Suspended once for biting an opponent, Chisora has also kissed a boxer on the mouth during a press conference, and, according to the Daily Mail, he is scheduled to face sentencing for theft and assault charges next month in Westminster. “I’m not a nice man. Don’t portray me that way,” Chisora once told Gareth A. Davies. Indeed, without enough physical talent to match Klitschko in any department, Chisora is going to have to be as nasty as he claims to be just to make the bout resemble something akin to competition. Good luck to Derek, Dereck, or Del, as he seems to be variously known. He needs it more than the sucker regularly betting Snake Eyes and Big Reds at the craps table.

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Tags: Derek Chisora John Lardner LAMONT PETERSON Lovemore N'dou Manny Pacquiao Saul Alvarez Shannon Briggs VICTOR ORTIZ

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