HBO has faith in Pretty Boy

Jan 18, 2005 7:01 AM

Greatness looked down from the walls of the Top Rank gym in Vegas where Floyd Mayweather Jr. trained as if he were facing the U.S. Marines instead of just Henry Bruseles, a fighter of modest ability, Jan. 22 in HBO’s first mismatch of the year.

Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, George Foreman, even Donald Curry, were up on the obligatory fight posters for any self-respecting gym. None ever trained harder than the kid sparring a dozen or so 4½ minute rounds with barely time in between to mop his brow.

His father was a fighter and is now a successful trainer. Uncle Roger, who trains Floyd Jr., was a world champion and Uncle Jeff was a contender. But Pretty Boy Floyd’s inheritance is not limited to his family. He belongs on walls, with Ali and Leonard. They should be his extended family.

But lately, his fights seem to occur more in barrooms and courts. He managed to get in the ring only once all last year, chopping up DeMarcus (Chop Chop) Corley, in his first venture into the rich junior welterweight division.

Now here is against Bruseles (who wouldn’t make the top 20 of any serious listing of 140-pounders) instead of against Kostya Tszyu, Vivian Harris, Ricky Hatton or Miguel Cotto. The plan is for Mayweather to win and wait a week to watch Arturo Gatti beat Jesse James Leija and set up a June 4 pay-per-view date.

That’s, of course, if Leija and the various court rooms cooperate. Even so, that means another five-month layoff for Mayweather if Gatti’s often-reluctant promoters, Main Events, can’t figure out another stall to prevent the exciting cash cow from being milked dry by perhaps the finest boxer in the world today.

Main Events somehow got past the WBC rules about mandatory defenses, at one point arguing that Gatti couldn’t be held to a contract with Mayweather when it wasn’t known if Pretty Boy Floyd (his natural "gangsta" nickname) would be free. Of course, there was no concern when Main Events instead offered Mayweather a fight with Vivian Harris, who it promotes so well that the WBA 140-pound title-holder just filed for bankruptcy.

In a sense, Mayweather is like Harris — too talented for anyone to want to fight unless for huge bucks, but not enough of a marquee attraction to warrant big paydays. He should be, but has been under-promoted. Top Rank naturally was more in love with Oscar de la Hoya and has since switched its affections to another pay-per-view Mayweather opponent, Miguel Cotto. HBO, to which he has been bound, has also not done right by the fastest hands in boxing.

But most of all, Mayweather has himself to blame. He fired his father as trainer, an Oedipal move when repeated by Sugar Shane Mosley was done sweetly and not rancor. I remember him once kicking the New York Times out of the Top Rank gym, politely, but nonetheless winding up with no ink.

The other day he "closed down" interviews, though he apparently is in great condition. He thinks just because he is a good boxer he should sell tickets. Outside of hometown Grand Rapids, though, he has been an embarrassment at the box office.

Bruseles is a tough, willing fighter with some pop. His two losses were to southpaws, one on cuts, one on a split decision. He is aggressive, which is what the counterpunching Mayweather loves in an opponent. It shouldn’t take more than eight rounds. What this matchup is doing on HBO boggles the mind.

The co-feature is at least interesting, though I’m not sure where you could get a bet down. Samuel Peter, whose one-punch knockout of Jeremy Williams made the undefeated Nigerian novice the No. 1 young heavyweight in the world, meets Cuban exile Yanqui Diaz. This guy owns a one-round KO over Juan Carlos Gomez, the previously undefeated former cruiserweight champion. Peter has a long, long way to go, but he should get by here. Diaz was brought in mainly for Top Rank to sell tickets at the American Airlines Arena in Miami.

The night before, Main Events has a similar card on ESPN2. The featured bout is an apparent mismatch, the promoter’s young TV star, Juan Diaz, defending his WBA lightweight belt against an old Canadian clubfighter, Billy Irwin.

The heavyweight semifinal in Houston, like the one in Miami, seems much more competitive.Undefeated, but untested Calvin Brock of Main Events, will face Clifford (The Black Rhino) Etienne, who was de-horned by Mike Tyson in 49 seconds. Root for Brock; at least he’s a new face.

In fact, the best fight of the weekend is the Jan. 21 ShoBox feature in Connecticut between young welterweight prospects Chris (The Mechanic) Smith and David Estrada. I like Smith in this one, but can’t root too hard against any fighter brought into the ring by Angelo Dundee.