The romance of boxing - the mano-a-mano, rags-to-riches melodramas - has always attracted writers from Homer to Hemingway, Joyce Carol Oates to Norman Mailer. The reality, of course, is there are few happy endings.
Next Saturday’s conflict in North Little Rock, Ark., could be a prime example.
Kassim (The Dream) Ouma, born in Kampala, Uganda, challenges hometown hero, Jermain Taylor, for the middleweight championship of the world on HBO. The unbeaten Taylor, coming off a three-fight skein in which he survived Bernard Hopkins twice (by close and controversial decisions) and Winky Taylor (by close and controversial draw), is a huge -850 or so favorite.
The Dream is facing a nightmare in the ring, but nothing like what he went through as a child. By the age of six, he had been conscripted into the Ugandan army. He witnessed horrors no youngster should ever see - babies being bayoneted by his comrades in arms, fetuses cut out of women, mass murder and rape.
Ouma survived and, with the help of boxing, made it out of Uganda to the United States. He lives in West Palm Beach, Fla., and has become one of the best fighters in the world. Ouma happily throws punches from every angle at all times. He is a refreshing dynamo with a constant smile, a tribute to human nature’s ability to overcome almost anything.
He was junior middleweight champion until last year. In a loss to Roman Karmazin, Ouma fought with an illness that had caused him to throw up in training a few days before.
Overall, the 5-foot-8 Ouma has a 25-2-1 record, but with only 15 knockouts against smaller men than he will be facing in Arkansas. The 6-foot-1 Taylor (25-0-1, 17 KOs), already has his sights on Joe Calzaghe at 168 pounds. If Hopkins could move up to beat Antonio Tarver at 175 and call out heavyweight titlist Oleg Maskaev, there’s no reason Taylor should be thinking small - at least after facing Ouma.
If this were a movie, maybe Taylor would be a bad guy, but he has every right to enter the ring as more than the hometown hero. He’s a good guy, although I didn’t like the way he allowed his longtime trainer Pat Burns to be replaced by Emanuel Steward. It was Stewart, who defied his own promoter Lou DiBella in insisting he give Hopkins a rematch and then taking on Wright, the toughest contender out there. He has championship character.
Ouma will be all over Taylor in this one, throwing punches nonstop, mostly from a southpaw stance. He doesn’t float like a bee - he attacks like a swarm of them. In his last start, he wore down the highly regarded and undefeated Sechew Powell, dominating the second half of the bout. If Taylor has been having any trouble making weight, one could make a case for the smaller man wearing down the champion.
However, that would almost be like a fairy tale. There have been many "Cinderella" stories in boxing, from Jim Braddock to Carlos Baldomir. The clock always strikes midnight, from Joe Louis to Floyd Mayweather Jr. In his last two starts, Ouma weighed in at 153. In other words, he’s not even a "big" junior middleweight. Early on, he suffered a first-round knockout. Since he’s been fighting at championship level, Ouma has shown a sturdy chin. Still, Taylor has heavy, heavy hands.
Last year, after Steward took over Taylor’s training, the champion was working at the late great Kronk Gym in Detroit. Thomas Hearns, one of the Kronk’s and Steward’s great products, was overheard whispering to his former trainer, "He would have been a problem for any of us."
He was referring to himself, Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler. In other words, Ouma is facing a very tall order Dec. 9. It will not be made easier by Jose Sulaiman and his ludicrous "experiment" with open scoring. Arkansas has given its homie a huge edge by abdicating its power to the WBCreeps and will announce the judges’ scores after rounds 4 and 8.
I wouldn’t want to be a judge, who happens to see Ouma’s constant pressure and swift hands accumulating points and rounds. And don’t think the judges won’t realize that. It is another reason to call for the immediate execution of the WBCreeps president-for-life, or until he-passes it on to his son.
The "open" scoring is an open invitation to pelting judges with bottles, tire irons and other nasty objects. It’s another reason why Ouma, even at +550, can not be considered a good risk.
Besides, you don’t need me to suggest an 8-1 favorite should win.