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Wagering has turned sour for Sweet Science

Mar 4, 2003 6:42 AM

The mainstream pundits are writing boxing off as a dying sport.

They are not exactly wrong, and it does not take a week or two of Mike Tyson madness to prove the point. A century ago, only baseball could rival boxing for popularity in this country. Now the game is being challenged by tough-man contests and "ultimate" fighting. Cock-fighting may be next to overtake it. Or six-day bicycle races.

There has been a circus atmosphere developing even before the unraveling of Mr. Tyson’s psyche. Take a look at Don King’s hair. But to best understand how bad the game is right now, look at the schedule.

There’s nothing to bet on.

The reason the NFL, NBA and MLB are so popular, I am certain, is because the matchups can lead to action. There can be differences of opinions. But after the Roy Jones Jr.-John Ruiz arguments, it’s going to be a while before boxing has another bout worth debating with cold cash.

This Saturday, the subscription cable offering ”” in addition to the Jones-Ruiz replay ”” is (yech) Wladimir Klitschko, who may or may not be the savior of the heavyweight division, against a 37-year-old white South African left-hander with a chin only slightly better than Clifford Etienne’s. The very fact that the younger Dr. Klitschko is fighting someone like Corrie Sanders may tell you more about his ability than all the huckstering by HBO.

The following week, Showtime gives us Acelino Freitas, who needs officials to look the other way to make 130 pounds, against a blown up 122-pounder, Juan Carlos (Ranchero) Ramirez. There should not be a betting line on this matchup, either.

On March 22, there is a good betting fight between unseen Scott Harrison and Wayne McCullough, but it’s in Scotland so who cares? On March 29, Bernard Hopkins makes a mandatory middleweight defense against something named Morrade Bakkar. The same card features a rematch between heavyweights David Tua and Hasim Rahman.

The line should be 6-5 pick ’em whether either fight occurs. The heavyweight bout is allegedly for the right to challenge Chris Byrd for the IBF title, but both contestants could be offered more attractive possibilities. Don’t be surprised if someone hurts a pinkie.

If it does happen, Tua should win easily. Rahman was outboxing him before he got nailed after the bell in that first encounter. Hasim has gone downhill since.

You could probably get good odds on the dog on April 5, but it will probably mean wandering into one of the betting shops run by Ladbroke’s or Joe Coral’s in England. Undefeated junior welter Ricky Hatton meets a real foe for the first time, Cool Vince Phillips. Perhaps long in the tooth, but Cool Vince still can bite and would probably be worth a bet. If you’re in Europe.

Then we have such colossal mismatches as Marcos Antonio Barrera against Kevin Kelley on April 12 and Oscar de la Hoya vs. Yory Boy Campas on May 3. On April 26, there could be some action if Vasilliy Jirov and James Toney decide to show up for their bout in Connecticut. Whatever the odds, Toney will probably be worth the bet.

In the meantime, no action on boxing does not mean you should be filling out keno cards.