A Collection of Links to My Best Work (updating…)

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Hello and welcome to my personal blog…

I rarely use this to publish my thoughts any more, but I’ve hung onto it just in case there’s ever something I feel the need to say for which there is no other outlet, and also in case someone ever names a movie Uppercutting and there’s a chance for me to cash out by selling it.  A guy needs a retirement plan, right?

In the meantime, here are links to some of my favorite things I’ve written about elsewhere.  I hope you enjoy.

Floyd Mayweather:

Boxing, Generally:

Sports Media:

Sexual Violence in Sports:


Donald Trump is Not Hitler, He’s a Mountebank


In recent weeks, a single idea seems to have united a shockingly diverse group of people.  From comedian and maybe-serial-sex-offender Louis CK to moderate Republican and former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman; from at-best-partially-sane talk show host Bill Maher to at-best-partially-sane talk show host, Glenn Beck; from former Mexican President Vicente Fox and current Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to Harvard Professor Niall Ferguson; from the Huffington Post to The Times of Israel, everyone seems to agree: Donald Trump is like Adolf Hitler.  In particular, they draw an equivalence between Trump’s statements about the dangers of certain immigrants, particularly those of Latin America or Islamic backgrounds, and Hitler’s early xenophobic and racist statements directed towards Jews in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.  All these people are wrong, but not for the reason that you might think.

Comparisons to Hitler – the very paragon of evil in our contemporary imagination – are, as a rule, inflammatory, offensive, de rigueur and invariably inaccurate. It was back in June 2005, when Barack Obama was a newly seated Senator from Illinois, and Donald Trump was busy hosting Season 2 of the Apprentice, that Jon Stewart pleaded for bringing an end to the many Hitler comparisons in American politics, noting that such comparisons inevitably demean the speaker, the subject, and even Hitler, who Stewart said, “worked too many years, too hard, to be that evil, to have any Tom, Dick and Harry come along and say, ‘you’re being like Hitler.’”  But, in this case, the Trump and Hitler comparisons raise an interesting issue, one that is at the center of a continuing academic debate on Hitler, and one that actually underlies a critical distinction between Trump and Hitler.  But, first, a quick aside on the meaning of evil.

While an old proverb tells us that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” both our common sense and the law generally disagree.  To commit a crime, the legal equivalent of a sin, takes both an action causing some harmful effect (the actus reus, to use the needlessly complicated legal terminology) and a correspondingly bad state of mind (the mens rea).  Now that state of mind needn’t necessarily be a specific intention to harm someone else; reckless behavior and general awareness of the potential consequences of one’s actions can be sufficient in many cases.  But the point remains that the law generally does not penalize even the worst of actions, if they are caused by a person acting with innocent intentions.

An example will illustrate this: your friend is driving his car to work one morning.  He or she is behaving exactly as a good driver should, obeying the speed limit, checking his or her mirrors, looking both ways at intersections, and listening to The Life of Pablo at a reasonable volume.  When, suddenly, out of nowhere, a young child who has broken free of his mother’s grasp darts in front of the car.  Your friend does everything humanly possible to avoid the collision, but it’s impossible to do so.  Jeff Gordon couldn’t have avoided it.  The child, sadly, dies.

Your friend is, naturally, devastated and you wish to console him or her.  “There was nothing you could do,” you say.  “This was not your fault.” Do you believe what you’re saying, or do you believe your friend to now be evil? After all, his actions have led to the death of an innocent child, and there’s hardly an act that people or the law find more damnable than infanticide.  If you’re like me, the law, or the vast majority of people, however, you understand that your friend was a victim of circumstance.  He or she is no more an evil person after that accident than he or she was before it.

Consider a second, perhaps murkier, example.  You are walking alone in a bad part of town at night.  Crossing through a dark alley, you hear footsteps behind you.  Your heart races.  Slowly, a figure emerges from the shadow, a wild-eyed large man.  “You are going to die,” he intones ominously, as he reaches towards his pants pocket… With only a split second to react, you pull out a gun you carry for self-defense and fire a single shot.  The man falls, dead.  As a passing car illuminates the alley, you finally get a clear look at what is in his hand: not a gun, but a pamphlet: “We Are All Going to Die,” it reads, “So Make Sure You Get To Heaven.  Visit Your Local Church and Repent.”

Are you a murderer?  Most people would say no, and the law agrees.  If one has an actual and reasonable belief that his life is in imminent danger, he is entitled to defend himself with deadly force.  Even if that reasonable belief – reasonable, by the way, meaning that the typical person in your situation would have believed that his or her life was in jeopardy –  was wrong, as it was in the example above, the law would still exonerate you.  In fact, the law even recognizes a lesser version of self-defense, sometimes called “imperfect self-defense” where a person has an unreasonable but honest belief that their life is in jeopardy.  Imperfect self-defense is not a complete defense, but where it exists, it will reduce the crime from murder to the lesser offense of manslaughter.

The bottom line is this: our society as a general matter will not classify as evil that which is done with innocent intentions, even if those intentions are misguided.  Now, hold onto that thought as we turn to perhaps the most despised human being to have ever walked the Earth.

Adolf Hitler is likely responsible for human suffering on a level unmatched by any other single individual in history.  Not only did he preside over the Holocaust, but he almost single-handedly precipitated the deadliest conflict of all time.  Everything about him is so immediately offensive to our sensibilities that the mere sight of it triggers disgust and loathing.  His name; the swastika, the symbol of his regime; hell, even his signature mustache, are viscerally upsetting to decent people everywhere.  So one can easily understand why being compared to him, as Trump so frequently is, is a bad thing.

The question of how Hitler came to commit such evil has long been debated. Was Hitler truly the source of the Holocaust and World War II, or was he merely the individual whom circumstances chose to place there.  After all, anti-Semitism, German right wing nationalism, and resentment over the Treaty of Versailles, were widespread before Hitler capitalized on those feelings to launch himself into power.  Had Hitler not come along, would there have been another who simply took his place and rode these pre-existing currents to the same destiny?  In other words, was Hitler uniquely evil in history, or was Hitler unique only in that circumstances enabled him to exploit a set of widely held sentiments in a way that permitted them to have global implications?

To some, even confronting this question is offensive.  To search for a root cause for Hitler’s evil, they argue, is tantamount to searching for an excuse for his behavior.  And if his behavior can be explained, or traced to some root cause –  an event, a scapegoat, a mental disorder – is it, on some level, something less than pure, unadulterated and inexplicable evil (surely the classification that our minds prefer when faced with such a horrific crime against humanity)?  This is the subject of Ron Rosenbaum’s epic investigation, Explaining Hitler, in which the author speaks to many of the world’s authorities on Hitler to try to come to some understanding of his pathology.

One of the most challenging and controversial questions with which Rosenbaum wrestles is whether Hitler truly believed his own rhetoric.  Alan Bullock, author of the most important biography of Hitler, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, and eminent theologian Emil Fackenheim, thought not.  Hitler was, in their view, a “mountebank,” a con artist more concerned with accumulating power than a true believer in his philosophy.  Fackenheim believed that all of Hitler’s actions were those an actor giving a grand performance.  Fackenheim’s evidence for this claim is largely drawn by analogy to certain theatrical elements of Hitler’s public persona: the dramatic gestures that became so symbolic of Hitler’s speeches were carefully rehearsed in advance, as was Hitler’s habit of beginning his speech quietly, haltingly, and slowly working himself into an emotional frenzy that seemed almost possessed.  He also accords weight to numerous theatrical actions in Hitler’s life, none of which Fackenheim seems to ridicule more than his marriage to longtime mistress Eva Braun only hours before the two committed suicide.  In this view, Hitler was a performer who embraced anti-Semitism not because he was himself necessarily anti-Semitic, or because he believed the Jews to be the cause of Germany’s suffering, but because it was a useful tool for galvanizing his followers.

Other experts disagree.  Hugh Trevor-Roper, the Oxford historian whom British intelligence dispatched to Berlin to confirm reports of Hitler’s death, and one of the most accomplished biographers of Hitler believes that Hitler was “convinced of his own rectitude.”  In this belief, Rosenbaum notes, Trevor-Roper echoes that of Socrates in Protagoras, who argued that no one engages in evil intentionally – rather, that they are deluded or ignorant of the evil of their actions but believe in the moment that they are doing right.  More colorfully, Rosenbaum quotes Efraim Zuroff, “a big, tough, outspoken Brooklyn-born Israeli,” who served as the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi hunter in Israel, and who vehemently shot down any question about Hitler’s anti-Semitic bona fides.

Hitler thought he was a doctor! Killing germs! That’s all Jews were to him! He believed he was doing good, not evil.

(emphasis in original).

While the debate continues, suffice it to say, the weight of evidence sides with Trevor-Roper and Zuroff.  Hitler’s political philosophy seems to have been more or less fixed by the time he became active in politics in the early 1920s.  He maintained the same hardline philosophy that he spouted in Munich beer halls as a political neophyte, through his failed Putsch attempt in 1923, even remaining unrepentant at his subsequent trial for treason, through his short time in Landsberg prison during which he codified his philosophy in Mein Kampf, through Germany’s economic recovery in the late 1920s that sapped the Nazis of all but a handful of their seats in the Reichstag, to his resurgence in popularity after the Great Depression plunged Germany back into a state of desperation and eventually through his ascension to Fuhrer.

Hitler’s actions as Fuhrer further cement this conclusion. Hitler’s repeated decisions to prioritize the slaughter of the Jews over the successful prosecution of the war, even diverting trains that could have carried troops to the collapsing front lines on the East to be used instead to carry Jews to death camps, make little sense if Hitler’s anti-Semitism was merely a theatrical device used to accumulate power.

Why this debate matters, and why it is so central to the comparisons to Trump, is the logical implication of Trevor-Roper and Zuroff’s position.  If Hitler thought he was doing the right thing, if Hitler’s intentions were not to do what he knew to be evil but rather to do what he believed was good, is he somehow less culpable than he would be if he knew that he was committing one of the worst crimes in human history but did so anyway to further his personal ambitions? In the course of his investigation, Rosenbaum discovered that even the most accomplished scholars on Hitler had a “pronounced reluctance” to simply label him evil.  If Hitler – demented as it may have been – believed he was a latter-day Jonas Salk, eradicating a disease that was devastating his people, would he not be classified more akin to someone who had engaged in imperfect self-defense than the unprecedentedly heartless serial killer of our popular conception?  It is a challenging thought, because of how monumentally evil Hitler’s crimes were, but it is nevertheless an idea that cannot casually be dismissed.

With Trump, however, we face no such dilemma, because Trump so clearly is the mountebank described by Bullock and Fackenheim.  While it’s easy enough to believe that Trump possesses the sort of xenophobia and casual indifference to the plight of others that is all too prevalent today, and which has underlain almost all of his campaign rhetoric, it’s equally easy to demonstrate that his rhetoric is not a reflection of his core beliefs, but rather a carefully calculated tactic to attract attention (of course, it’s possible that his rhetoric occasionally overlaps with what Trump actually believes but this would be, at best, a happy coincidence).  To do so, one need only review Trump’s entire life.

It’s no secret that Donald Trump has long thrown himself in front of any willing camera lens with the same sort of reckless enthusiasm with which Wile E. Coyote pursued the Road Runner.  It’s how he wound up the punchline in an Ali G bit (he later tried to salvage some dignity by claiming he caught on quicker than other celebrities), and with cameos on shows like Sabrina, The Teenage Witch and in movies like Ghosts Can’t Do It, a bizarre 1990 film with a wretched 14% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, in which the ghost of an elderly man (Anthony Quinn) possesses the body of a much better looking younger man in order to make love to his sexy, much younger, wife (played by Bo Derek, whose real life husband wrote and directed).  Even the movie can’t seem to believe Trump’s willingness to debase himself by appearing in it – the credits read “Yes, that really was Donald Trump.”

Moreover, he has slapped his name on anything and everything, whether or not it bore any connection to him, and with a reckless disregard for consistency.  He has endorsed competitors, like Pizza Hut and Dominos (although he took Sarah Palin to a third pizzeria when the two ate pizza with forks during her vice presidential campaign).  He launched Trump Vodka, even though he never drinks alcohol and advises others not to drink.  He has lent his name and imprimatur to countless real estate developments and then vanished when the project later went belly up, as he did when his casino empire folded in Atlantic City.  He is, as anyone following the election is surely aware, currently a defendant in a fraud class action lawsuit brought by the former “students” of Trump University, a group that was promised they would receive a bespoke educational course reflecting Trump’s insider knowledge, and instead were given a Wikipedia level introduction to real estate accompanied by a chance to have their photo taken with a cardboard cutout of Trump.

Trump is such an accomplished fabulist that he didn’t even realize when Vice Sports writer David Roth was mocking him by tweeting fictional quotes to non-existent books supposedly authored by Trump, and retweeted one of Roth’s most absurdly Trumpian quotes. Can you imagine Hitler failing to recognize a fake quote supposedly attributed to him from a sequel to Mein Kampf that he’d never even composed?

Perhaps the most telling example of Trump’s willingness to say anything to get attention, regardless of its obvious falsity, was Trump’s multi-year campaign as a “birther,” the fringe movement obsessed with proving that President Obama was actually born in Kenya.  From the outset, the claims were absurd and easily debunked.  Not only had Obama already released his official Hawaiian birth records, a Certificate of Live Birth, but his parents placed a birth announcement in the Honolulu Advertiser on August 13, 1961 (a week after his birth).  The claims were so ridiculous in 2008 that Factcheck.org, the widely-respected, non-partisan equivalent of Consumer Reports for political claims, suggested that anyone interested in pursuing them should “first equip themselves with a high-quality tinfoil hat.” Apparently, an obvious combover worked just as well, because it was long after that seemingly-dispositive report that Trump began his crusade.

Beginning in March 2011, and continuing for at least the next four years, Trump relentlessly flogged disproved claims about Obama’s origins.  He claimed to have done research (where, he did not say, as specifics are never a strength of Trump’s) that proved Obama was not born in the USA.  Later that year, in response to Trump’s campaign, Obama released his long form birth certificate. This was something of a non-event, the Certificate of Live Birth was after all the official document, but it was nevertheless a further and unimpeachable bit of evidence proving that Obama’s birth was unremarkable as he’d always claimed.  Trump, however, found a way to crow about it, claiming he’d “accomplished something that nobody else was able to accomplish,” even if that accomplishment had demolished his already-untenable hypothesis. Alas, Trump’s sense of satisfaction with the accomplishment was short lived.  As recently as last year, Trump made statements questioning where the President was born.

The important thing to take away from this is that Trump did not believe – could not have believed – that President Obama was born in Kenya.  By the time Trump claimed to have conducted research on Obama’s birth, every reputable news source of any political stripe had concluded, unequivocally, that Obama was born in Honolulu and that no other scenario was even remotely colorable.  Whatever else you may think about Trump, he is not a fool (just ask Merv Griffin, or if you’re under 30, ask your grandparents who Merv Griffin was).  But Trump was aware that, at a time when his Apprentice ratings were lagging, he had stumbled onto a formula that gained him consistent attention.  Perhaps more importantly, he’d been able to use that attention to manipulate the President into doing something, albeit a meaningless thing that only served to make Trump look like a buffoon.  Nevertheless, his willingness to loudly flog a false narrative had given him exactly the sort of power and influence he’d always sought.

Trump’s extreme rhetoric on immigration is merely the latest iteration of his continuing performance.  Having realized early in the campaign that his outrageous statements about Mexican immigrants were galvanizing his supporters and creating additional publicity for his self-funded-but-not-really campaign, he doubled down on them, and even walked back seemingly inconsistent statements he’d initially made about welcoming refugees from Syria.  Was he being sincere?  Had his position truly evolved, as he claimed it had done on abortion, where he’d once been vocally pro-choice but was now claiming to be ardently pro-life?  The answer, once again, is no.  And to so conclude one need not rely on Trump’s history of backtracking on positions that later became disadvantageous, or even his own history of hiring Mexican immigrants when it was financially advantageous, Trump apparently admitted it himself, in an off-the-record interview with the New York Times editorial board.  Faced with a team of journalists who were both politically liberal and also highly relevant to his own financial interests in New York City, Trump once again said the most expedient thing: that his campaign positions on immigration were bluster, typically political posturing, that might at best serve as the opening for negotiations on immigration reform.  It was, in sum, a performance.  Trump was, is, and will continue to be, a mountebank.

Perhaps that conclusion is a relief to those who fear he’d actually pursue those policies as President.  It shouldn’t be.  Trump has shown time and time again that he will do whatever furthers his ambitions, regardless of its morality or intellectual consistency.  And while it certainly is always a positive that one can distinguish him or herself from Hitler, don’t forget the earlier lesson about evil.  After all, who is more morally contemptible: a person who does wrong thinking he is doing right, or a person who knows what he’s doing is wrong but who carries on anyway?



A Scorched Legend

[Note: this is reproduced from the once-great, now defunct, SportsonEarth site from June 2014]

Yesterday, former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield finally announced his retirement from boxing at the age of 51, bringing to the end a remarkable career that included three separate reigns as the consensus heavyweight champion of the world, a feat matched only by Muhammad Ali.  Holyfield will continue in the sport as an advisor to Chinese heavyweight, Zhang Zhilei.  Or so he says.  Boxing fans can be forgiven if they’re skeptical.  You see, this is not the first time Holyfield has announced he is hanging up his gloves.

Evander Holyfield first retired from boxing following a defeat to Michael Moorer when a post-fight physical revealed what appeared to be a hole in Holyfield’s heart. It was 1994.  At the time, popular morning shows were doing light-hearted segments about a funny-sounding new technology called “the Internet.” Swedish pop group Ace of Base was atop the Billboard charts with The Sign; the Oscars honored Forrest GumpPulp Fiction and The Lion King; and a 21 year-old kid from East Los Angeles named Oscar De La Hoya won his first title belt in just his twelfth professional fight. The consensus Minor League Baseball Player of the Year was a Yankee prospect named Derek Jeter. It would be seven months before Moorer would losethe belts he had won from Holyfield to George Foreman in one of the most unlikely and famous upsets in heavyweight history.  Had it all ended there for Holyfield, it would have already constituted one of the most remarkable runs in boxing history.

Holyfield was raised in crippling poverty, the youngest of nine children, in Atlanta, Georgia.  The skinny soft-spoken kid took up boxing at his local Boy’s Club.  His physical appearance intimidated few, but his iron chin and superhuman will to win quickly propelled him to stardomin America’s loaded amateur ranks.  He took home a Bronze Medal in the 1984 Olympic Games after a controversial disqualification took him out of Gold Medal contention.  He won his first professional title just two years later – well ahead of his more-heralded Olympic teammates Pernell Whitaker and Meldrick Taylor – by defeating Cruiserweight Champion Dwight Muhammad Qawi in one of the greatest fights of the 1980s

In 1988, Holyfield jumped into the heavyweight ranks with an eye towards a megafight with undefeated superstar “Iron” Mike Tyson.  While it is all but impossible to remember today, at the time, the fight appeared poised to be among the most memorable in boxing history.  Two undefeated young champions at the absolute pinnacle of their profession.  The unstoppable force of Mike Tyson charging headlong into the immovable object of Evander Holyfield.  Although Tyson would have entered the ring heavily favored, a significant percentage of insiders thought that Holyfield had the right package to finally end Iron Mike’s reign atop the division – the fearlessness, the will, the physical and emotional control that Tyson increasingly lacked.  It would have been the biggest fight of all time.

It didn’t happen, of course.  Tyson’s shocking loss to Buster Douglas – an upset so huge that even its location, Tokyo, has become a slang term in the boxing vernacular – and his subsequent conviction for rape ended any chance of the superfight taking place.  But even that could not slowHolyfield’s conquest of the heavyweight division.  Holyfield humiliated a bloated and undertrained Buster Douglas to take Tyson’s belts, and defended the title three times (including wins over faded legend Larry Holmes and seemingly-faded legend George Foreman).  It appeared to fans everywhere that Holyfield was poised to reign atop the sport for a long time; at least until Tyson was released from prison. What actually happened was far more interesting. 

In his fourth title defense, Holyfield met lowly regarded Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe, a fighter then as well known for his oversized belly as his oversized talent.  In boxing, there are certain special moments in history when the two men in the ring mesh in a way that obviates their entire history and future.  The odds cease to matter, the picks of the experts cease to exist, the normal rules cease to apply, and all that is left is the glory of two men locked in a state of unadulterated combat that leaves them forever linked in history.  Hagler and Hearns.  Castillo and Corrales.  Gatti and Ward.  In Bowe, Holyfield found just such an antagonist. 

The first nine rounds of the fight were among the best in Holyfield and Bowe’s careers.  Each man had his moments, though Bowe had more than Holyfield, and the action never ceased.  But, no one remembers them, what people remember is Round 10.  Seconds into it, Bowe lands a crushing jab that leaves Evander shivering like a leaf swept up in an autumn breeze. Moments later, Bowe connects with one of the strangest and most devastating punches you will ever see – with the two men in a clinch and Holyfield turned almost 90 degrees away from Bowe – Bowe somehow lands a massive uppercut that instantly transformed the iron-chinned champion into one of those drinking bird toys, involuntarily bobbing and wobbling from the head down.  For the next minute, Bowe hit Holyfield with a series of brutal, bone-crushing punches that sent Holyfield stumbling around the ring like a marionette being handled by Frank Drebin after a four-day bender.  And then, in a flash, everything changed.  Bowe paused a second to catch his breath and Holyfield seemingly smelled the blood in the water.  He threw a few wild punches that missed, but quickly regained his composure.  First, he peppered Bowe with some jabs and straight rights – testing the bigger man to gauge his response. When Bowe was unwilling or unable to retaliate, Holyfield suddenly turned the clock back to the first round, bouncing on his toes and unleashing a vicious beating that left Bowe teetering on the edge of consciousness as the bell rang.  The two tired warriors patted each other on the stomach as they returned to their corners, forever etched in boxing lore together. To this day, the second result in a Google search for Bowe is Evander Holyfield’s Wikipedia page. 

Bowe was awarded the fight in a narrow decision, and immediately embraced his newfound celebrity.  At the encouragement of his flamboyant manager, Rock Newman, Bowe began a worldwide goodwill tour that saw him appearing everywhere from the David Letterman show (where he thrilled the crowd with a pitch perfect Ronald Reagan impression) to South Africa.  While this earned Bowe a huge following amongst casual boxing fans, he infuriated boxing insiders by antagonizing his old rival, Lennox Lewis, and then shamelessly refusing to fight him.  In the crescendo, Bowe and Newman called a press conference in which Bowe literally threw a championship belt into a garbage can rather than defend it against Lewis.  It was offensive as it was cowardly.  Holyfield, meanwhile, avoided the spotlight in favor of a preferred activity: He trained.

Like its predecessor, the rematch between Holyfield-Bowe is remembered because of the events of a single round, butthis time it would be for all the wrong reasons.  Bowe entered the ring looking soft, an indication of the lavish lifestyle he was enjoying outside the ring.  Holyfield, by contrast, was notably more muscled than in the first fight – his rippling muscles, like his fists, seemed ready to leap out and attack of his foe.  Despite both men’s changed appearance, the first six rounds were eerily reminiscent of the first fight – an evenly matched, tit-for-tat, war.  But no one remembers any of them, or the final five rounds.  No, what everyone remembers is Round Seven, and they remember it not for any punch that landed or missed, but for a buffoon best known as “Fan Man” who flew a homemade fan-driven parachute glider into the outdoor arena, before getting himself tangled in the lights above the ring, and eventually being pummeled mercilessly (albeit deservedly) by the assembled Nation of Islam security detail at ringside. Bowe’s wife fainted in the chaos and was taken to the hospital on a stretcher but the fight continued.  At the end of the night, Holyfield had bested Bowe in a close decision, and again was atop the heavyweight division.  

This run, however, was even briefer than the one that preceded it.  Holyfield’s next fight was against Michael Moorer, a talented young southpaw who was the most recent superstar to burst forth from legendary trainer Emmanuel Steward’s Kronk Gym. The mercurial Moorer split from Steward (who had also trained Holyfield for the Bowe rematch) before the Holyfield fight, and signed on with Teddy Atlas.  Atlas had a personality that could rival Moorer’s: he once had been dismissed from Cus d’Amato’s gym after sticking a gun in the face of a 15 year old traineewho made advances toward his pre-teen niece (the traineein question, Mike Tyson, did not seem to absorb that particular lesson). 

Just as Holyfield brought out the best in Bowe, Atlas seemed to bring out the best in Moorer.  After Holyfield dropped Moorer early in the fight, Atlas got into his man’s face.  At one point, Atlas even sat on Moorer’s stool between rounds and asked his charge if they should switch jobs.  It worked.  Moorer rallied, and Holyfield uncharacteristically seemed to fade down the stretch.  The close decision was scored for Moorer, and Holyfield’s second reign was over after a single fight. 

The worse news came after the fight, however, when doctors claimed to have found a hole in Holyfield’s heart and recommended that he immediately retire. Holyfield took their advice, but then sought a second opinion, this time from faith healer Benny Hinn.  After Holyfield wrote Hinn a substantial check, Hinn pronounced Holyfield healed, and Holyfield successfully passed a physical.  Holyfield blamed the heart problem on post-fight morphine injections he’d received.  At the time, the popular and devout fighter’s miraculous recovery was boxing’s ultimate feel good story. Years later, however, a more sinister culprit emerged:  Dr. Margaret Goodman, a prominent ringside physician, revealed that the Nevada State Athletic Commission suspected that Holyfield’s heart problems were caused by the misuse of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). Whatever caused the problem, and its equally quick disappearance, Holyfield was back.  

Holyfield may have been back in boxing, but his comebackdid not get off to an auspicious start. Holyfield barely managed to squeak by borderline contenders Ray Mercer and Bobby Czyz, while being knocked out for the first time in his career in his rubber match with Bowe.  He seemed slow.  Particularly against Bowe and Czyz, his reflexes seemed dull and his once prolific energy levels bordered on lethargic.  To anyone who watched those three fights, Holyfield appeared to be just one more shot former champion who was hanging around for one paycheck too many.  And, as luck would have it, that was exactly what Mike Tyson’s promoters were looking for in an opponent. 

Tyson was fresh out of jail and, once again, was the biggest star in the sport. He immediately compiled a string of highlight reel knockouts against inept competition that stirred memories of his glory days a decade earlier.  If anything, he seemed less balanced, more dangerous, and more intimidating than before his trip to prison (when, many forget, the ferocious Tyson doubled as a smiling TV pitchman for products like Diet Pepsi). Pundits thought he was unbeatable:  in the pre-fight hype, Showtime announcer, former Muhammad Ali cornerman, and generally irascible racist scumbag, Dr. Ferdie Pacheco compared Tyson’s post-prison reign to Ali’s post-suspension heyday.  Oddmakers made Tyson the 25:1 favorite.  Of the 50 writers polled before the fight, only Ron Borges picked Holyfield.  Everyone was sure that it was going to be a massacre. 

It was, however, not the massacre that people expected.Unlike other Tyson foes, Holyfield entered the ring confident, bouncing, singing along with his gospel entrance music.  From the opening bell, Holyfield dominated Tyson. Borrowing a page from the Buster Douglas playbook, Holyfield used his size and leverage to bully Tyson: pushing the shorter man around, working Tyson’s ribs during clinches, never backing down from Tyson’s intimidating stare, which quickly turned to a look of sheer bewilderment.  In the fifth round, Tyson unleashed a vicious triple uppercut combination – the sort of beating that had floored many opponents in the past – and Holyfield didn’t blink.  In the sixth, Holyfield caught an off-balance Tyson with a quick shot to the chest and floored him for only the second time in his career (the first being the knockout against Douglas).  Tyson wasn’t hurt, but his face was now a mask of utter confusion and despair.  From there, Holyfield slowly busted Tyson apart.  In the 10th round, just as Pacheco claimed to have observed the first signs of weariness in Holyfield, Evander caught an exhausted Tyson with a brutal right hand that sent the battered champion stumbling backwards into the ropes, his legs flailing about as if no longer cooperating with whatever signals his brain was desperately trying to send to them.  Only the bell saved Tyson from being knocked out right there.

As the 11th round began, it was still inconceivable to many viewers that Holyfield was actually on the verge of permanently defanging Iron Mike.  Even as Tyson wobbled out from his corner looking unsure where he was, the announcers felt the need to reiterate that Tyson still possessed knockout power (an almost absurd suggestion in retrospect, but surely something that everyone watching believed at the time).  As Holyfield began his final surge, Steve Albert delivered the most memorable call of his career, “No matter what happens from here on in, you are looking at a sports legend in the purple trunks, Evander Holyfield.”  Although I knew what Albert had said, sitting at home that night, and every time I have thought about it since, I have always preferred to imagine that Albert said “a scorched legend” because that’s what Evander was about to become.  He was, to borrow from a particular apt source, like burnished brass, scorched in the fires of hell for three days, preparing to rise from the depths to dispense with his legion of doubters and reward the faith of his handful of true believers.  One last brutal combination, and Tyson was gone.  In many ways, he never returned.

The next phase of Holyfield’s career is the one that people will most remember, and just as in his first act, it will be for a moment that had nothing to do with boxing.  In Holyfield’s first fights with Tyson and Bowe, his greatest moments came in the 10th round.  In his second fight with each man, it was an utterly absurd fiasco that would emblazon it into history.  

When people talk about Tyson-Holyfield II, they will think only of the two bites that Tyson delivered to Holyfield’s ears in the third round, the moments that forever transformed Tyson from a fighter to some sort of demented novelty act.  And this is a shame, because the first two-plus rounds were some of the finest of Holyfield’s career.  During the pre-fight staredown, Holyfield projected such concentrated ferocity and focus that Tyson nervously broke the stare and looked away, a virtually unprecedented display of submission.  After the bell rang, Holyfield nearly flattened Tyson with a right hook in the first round that left Tyson on rubbery legs.  As in the first fight, Tyson was able to land his best punches and Holyfield appeared entirely unmoved.  Holyfield was on his way to topping his previous effort until Tyson took the shortest and easiest way out. 

With Tyson firmly behind him, Holyfield became boxing’s most marketable star.  He busted up a now grossly overweight version of Michael Moorer, dropping him five times en route to an eighth round stoppage.  He pulled out a one-sided albeit unimpressive decision over fringe contender Vaughn Bean.  And, then, he prepared for what was supposed to be the crowning achievement of his career: a showdown with Lennox Lewis in which Holyfield guaranteed a third round knockout.  Instead, the taller Lewis used his jab to keep Holyfield at bay and dominate the fight, only to be awarded a horribly corrupt draw.  The rematch was, ironically, a far closer fight, one that quite defensively could have been scored a draw, but the judges were determined to avoid the controversy of the first fight and awarded Lewis a wide decision.  It’s hard to find much fault in that result. 

After the fight, Holyfield again contemplated walking away from the sport.  It was 1999.  Cher was atop the charts asking whether the country believed in life after love, a coquettish 17 year old named Britney Spears was making waves with her first music video, Tim Couch topped the NFL draft, and a virtually unknown 20-year old Filipino fighter suffered a brutal knockout in just three rounds, jeopardizing what had been a promising career.  It would be more than two years before Manny Pacquiao would fully recover and move to the United States, where his fortune would take a turn for the better.  Holyfield was 37, and once again, he appeared to be finished.  

Again, however, Holyfield’s time away from the ring was brief.  He returned a year later to fight a wretched trilogy with a naturally occurring Ambien reservoir named John Ruiz.  Although Holyfield split the three fights, and Ruiz was a legitimate opponent (albeit a dreadfully dull one), he looked terrible doing it.  He was given little chance in his next fight, a showdown against top contender Hasim Rahman.  Today, most boxing fans regard Rahman in much the same fashion that most snake owners regard mice, but at the time, Rahman was just a single fight removed from his greatest triumph: his shocking upset knockout of Lennox Lewis in South Africa, and still very much a legitimate star.  Holyfield, on the verge of his 40th birthday, was in grave danger, or so it seemed.  

Like his rematches with Tyson and Bowe, Holyfield’smatch with Rahman ended up more of a freakshow than a prize fight.  An early clash of heads caused a massive hematoma on Rahman’s forehead that swelled grotesquelyas the fight went on until the referee was forced to halt the fight in the 8th round.  Holyfield, however, had clearly done more damage in the fight (headbutts aside) and was awarded a clear technical decision.  In his post-fight commentary, Larry Merchant gushed that Holyfield had his doubters “right where he wanted us” and predicted that he had regained his standing at the top of the heavyweight division.  Holyfield had, it seemed, miraculously turned back the hands of time yet again.  Instead, we soon learned, the clock had simply stopped ticking.

Following the win over Rahman, Holyfield lost three consecutive fights, each more painful to watch than the one before it.  Against the awkward Chris Byrd, Holyfield looked frustrated and unable to let his punches go.  He refused to sit on his stool between rounds and could not use his size to bully the smaller Byrd.  He looked spent.  It got worse in his next fight against middleweight-champion-turned-oceanic-cruise-liner, James Toney.  Holyfield was on the defensive against the smaller man all night, and his longtime cornerman, Don Turner, was forced to throw in the towel after Toney dropped Holyfield in the 9th round.  Turner had seen enough and walked away.  On an interview with HBO’s Real Sports, he compared Holyfield’s diminished ring skills to a 40 year-old Ted Williams flailing against a curveball.  Holyfield, however, insisted on fighting on.  While his losses to Byrd and Toney were one-sided and uninspiring, at least Byrd and Toney were legitimate opponents.  His next opponent, Larry Donald, was an unvarnished journeyman. The result, though, was the same.  Holyfield’s third consecutive uncompetitive performance finally prompted action: the New York State Athletic Commission suspended Holyfield’s license due to his “diminished skills.”   

It was now 2005.  Gwen Stefani’s first solo album was driving music lovers and people with ears B.A.N.A.N.A.S.Crash was topping movie critics “Best of” lists, and a mouthy kid from Grand Rapids, Michigan named Floyd Mayweather Jr. had just become a household name with his blowout win over Arturo “Thunder” Gatti.  Evander Holyfield’s first retirement was already more than a decade in the rearview mirror and the former world champion spent the year finishing in fifth place in the inaugural season of Dancing with the Stars. 

Holyfield was able to get a license to return the ring in 2006, but he could not attract real competition.  His first fight was against an insurance salesman and Butterbean lookalike named Jeremy Bates who had to be lured out of retirement when offered the chance to meet Holyfield.  Holyfield stopped the just-happy-to-be-there Bates in two rounds.  Holyfield’s next opponent was fringe contender “Fast” Fres Oquendo.  For those of you who are lucky enough to have no idea who he is, Oquendo is essentially a gigantic mosquito.  He can’t actually hurt you, but he can irritate you to the point of madness if you don’t swat him into a bloody pulp as soon as you have the chance.  Holyfield flattened Oquendo early, but then seemed to wilt, barely hanging on for a decision victory.  Finally, he earned a shot with a legitimate title contender, Sultan Ibragimov.  Fighting on Ibragimov’s home turf, Moscow, Holyfield looked flat and lost a wide decision. 

Once again, Holyfield looked completely finished, but he had one near surprise left.  In 2008, he fought massive Russian sasquatch and heavyweight-champion-in-the-sort-of-nonsenical-sense-of-the-word-champion-that-could-only-exist-for-a-Don-King-promoted-fighter, Nikolai Valuev in a surprisingly competitive bout.  Though Valuev eeked out a majority decision, Holyfield acquitted himselfsurprisingly well against a reigning titleholder, and many experts believe he deserved the nod.  It would be Holyfield’s last moment in the spotlight as a fighter. 

Since then, Holyfield has continued on with a collection ofwashed up fighters of his vintage, like South African Francois “The White Buffalo” Botha, and Danish white supremacist and enormous tub of lard, Brian Nielsen.  In between, he had to stop after being cut against a guy named Sherman Williams, who is so obscure that Google assumes you are looking for paint if you try to search for him. 

In recent years, even as he has dealt with financial and legal issues in his personal life, Holyfield seems to have mellowed.  He has appeared in two commercials that poked fun at his serious persona: a Taco Bell ad in which he dressed up as his grandmother and a hilarious Foot Locker ad in which a tearful Mike Tyson returned the missing chunk of his ear.  When Luis Suarez bit an opponent during the World Cup, he jokingly tweeted out “I guess any part of the body is up for eating.” After a decade spent relentlessly pursuing a heavyweight title he had little to no chance of recapturing, the Holy Warrior finally appeared at peace with where he was in life. 

It’s 2014.  Iggy Azaela, who was three years old when Holyfield first retired, is atop the charts.  The top movie is 22 Jump Street, the sequel to a movie that was a throwback to a TV series that had premiered after Holyfield won his first world title. Derek Jeter is getting ready to retire after one of the most storied careers in baseball history.  No player will be drafted in any major sport this year who has known a moment of life on the planet without the word “champion” preceding Evander Holyfield’s name.  And the Real Deal is finally retired, for good. 

Or so he says.

The Best Stuff I Wrote Last Year

I’ve more or less abandoned this site in favor of my contributions Deadspin and SportsOnEarth, so if you happen to have wandered by here by mistake, here are links to some of my favorite pieces from the 2013-2014.

A Scorched Legend (June 27, 2014)

Still King (May 14, 2014)

Listen to me on The Will Leitch Experience (May 6, 2014)

Too High a Price: Victor Ortiz Embodies Boxing’s Ethical Dilemma (Jan 30, 2014)

Miniature Golf: A Coward Reflects on Caleb Hannan and all of our Small-Mindedness (Jan 18, 2014)

Man’s Life Changes Forever Following Retweet (Jan 13, 2014)

Requiem For The Heavyweights (Dec 31, 2013)

Boxing is Still a Goddamned Tragedy (Nov 3, 2013)

The Beastie Boys 25 Greatest Tracks, Ranked (Oct 26, 2013)

Boxing is a Goddamned Tragedy (Oct 22, 2013)

How To Drink Champagne Without Becoming Even More Broke Than Usual (Aug 14, 2013)

Aaron Hernandez: A Complete Timeline (Jul 4, 2013)

Bill Shaikin, LA Times Columnist and Head of the BBWAA, Cannot Distinguish Wins From Losses (Jun 6, 2013)


Bill Shaikin, LA Times Columnist and Head of the BBWAA, Cannot Distinguish Wins From Losses

As a lifelong A’s fan, I recently found myself flipping through the LA Times sports section on the eve of yet another delicious Angels loss, luxuriating in schadenfreude. I found what I was looking for, but not in the expected place.

Pop Quiz: See if you can spot the logical fallacy in the following direct quotation from Bill Shaikin’s column on the Angels’ sweep at the hands of the woeful Astros.

The Astros might be on pace to lose 103 games, but the Angels are on pace to lose 92. That’s $1.6 million per loss for the Angels — and $200,000 per loss for the Astros.

Did you catch it?  If not, you may be Bill Shaikin, especially since I sort of called it out in the title of this piece.

Teams do not pay for losses.  They pay for wins.  Calculating the price paid per loss is not only illogical on its face, it can produce absurd results if we extrapolate from Shaikin’s example.  For example, if my $60 million A’s team loses 60 games this year, they will have paid $1 million per loss (and of course, they’d be happier about that than the Astros and their $200,000 per loss figure).  Conversely, if they were to lose one game all season, they will have paid $60 million per loss.  According to Shaikin’s reasoning, this would be a bad thing.   But it gets worse: the 1972 Dolphins paid infinity dollars per loss.  No wonder Miami can’t afford to keep its sports stars: it will take a long time to dig themselves out of that hole.

Ordinarily, it might be petty, if not downright bitchy, to bring something like this up, but Shaikin – in addition to his day job as an “Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite” lookalike – is the head of the Baseball Writers Association of America.  And the BBWAA is the organization responsible for not only the inscrutable and illogical results we’ve witnessed in recent Hall of Fame elections, but also approximately 8 jillion articles on how advanced statistics are meaningless hokum.  Well, they certainly are if you have no idea how to use them.

As misguided as Shaikin’s methodology is, the underlying point he’s trying to make is valid.  The Angels are paying $2.1 million per win.  The Astros?  A mere $349,000.  And that brings me back to where I began: basking in the karmically justified misery that Arte Moreno has wrought.

Cross-Posted to Sidespin