Ouma’s illness nothing compared to my brain drain

Jul 19, 2005 1:57 AM

Said the poet, as he tore up another losing ticket, "The saddest words of mouth and pen are woulda, coulda, shoulda."

That’s why I don’t feel so bad not telling you about a winning longshot last week. I didn’t get down on it myself, as part of my constant vigil not to get rich.

As weekly habitués are beginning to realize, I’m the guy who had Dewey big over Truman in 1948. I mean, picking Italy in World War II was bad enough, but in my so-called sphere of expertise, years before they actually climbed into the ring against each other, I was touting everyone that Leon Spinks was going to be the one to topple Larry Holmes.

I was one of the few kids on the block picking Sugar Ray Leonard over Marvelous Marvin Hagler until the day of the fight. That’s when I wrote a column on why I had changed my mind. The late Dan Duva, after I had written that post-prison Mike Tyson would lose to the first real fighter he faced, begged me to put some money on Evander Holyfield at 26-1. I resisted.

Last week may have been the nadir. Although for me, you might consider it the apex. I had inside information from a trusted source on a 5-1 underdog and, in my usual manner, managed to find excuses not to bet on it. I mean, if the fish are biting, I don’t throw my line in the water.

So this is the one that got away, or at least last week’s version. I’m sure there’ll be others in the future.

It was at the ritual final press conference for Hopkins-Taylor at the MGM Grand. I spotted Eric Bottjer, a former fellow scribe who has become one of the game’s best matchmakers and is among the wisest men in the game. He now works for Don King and was in Vegas escorting Roman Karmazin, the underdog who was to challenge Kassim Ouma for the IBF junior middleweight title a couple of nights before the big middleweight showdown. Ouma, a member of my top 20 pound for pound, had just gotten a $400,000 bonus to sign with Oscar de la Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions.

This is how good we were. We thought he was a dangerous future opponent for Winky Wright. After beating Felix Trinidad Jr., Wright was again having trouble finding a suitable opponent and told me since Ouma was a lot like himself, someone no one wanted to fight, he would probably pick him as his biggest possible match this year.

Bottjer agreed on my assessment of Ouma, but added, "What if he’s sick?"

He had gone over to watch Ouma work out in Vegas a few days before the fight at the Orleans. At the end of the session, Bottjer said, the Ugandan whirling dervish threw up. Eric said apparently someone in the camp was walking around with pneumonia and gave Ouma the bug.

Suddenly, Karmazin became a very tempting bet. But then a couple of people who had seen Ouma just the day before, at his own press conference, said he looked fine. De la Hoya told me, no, there was nothing wrong with his new star. I advised Oscar not to let the champion fight if he weren’t 100 percent. That’s how upsets are made. Oscar said not to worry. I didn’t worry. I hadn’t given Ouma a $400,000 bonus.

The MGM press conference was in Studios A and B. The MGM sports book is on the other side of the hotel. I have no idea why the casino moved the book so far away from the scene of the action. In any case, you have to change planes at O’Hare in order to get to the book from where I was. So for want of some shoe leather, a possible kingdom was lost.

It was too hot to go out of my air-conditioned home last Thursday, the night of the fight. I watched it live on HBO Latino. Ouma looked his usual carefree self on the way to the ring, but in the opening moments of the first round, Karmazin landed a solid left hook to the side. The challenger continued his early body attack. It was as if he knew something.

At the end of the opening round, when Ouma went back to his corner, trainer Johnny Bumphus greeted him with, "You feeling alright?" Afterwards, Ouma would say he was fine, it was just one of those nights. But you could tell there was something wrong with him. In the third round, he was dropped twice and was lucky to make it to the fourth. He got through the night, but the official card averaged out to the same 117-108 card I had off the TV.

He was not sick? Maybe. But I was. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.