In Dad’s spirit,
we’re coming back fighting

Dec 30, 2003 7:58 AM

It was the day before Christmas and I called one of my favorite Las Vegans, Gene Kilroy, to wish him a happy holiday. The first thing he said was, "How’s your dad?" My dad was buried the day before.

He was 90 and I’m glad he got to know Gene, who took a couple of wonderful pictures of him - one with a very affable Mike Tyson. My father loved to hear Muhammad Ali’s great friend tell stories. I had hoped Gene would get in some more tales.

The old year did not end well and I don’t mean the bet on Kirk Johnson, which was made before he took his robe off (a gym mate, welterweight contender Chris Smith, walked out of the arena when he saw how fatty the Nova Scotian was). At least I didn’t bet on William Joppy, though I was tempted, but at the same time, for the same reasons, I didn’t bet on Cory Spinks, either.

I am straining to be light. It’s not easy without my father. It was the first day of winter, but the ground was soft when we buried Louis Katz, who was considerate in death for even the gravediggers. Dad was in good part the reason, and I told him, I have buried a lot of bettors. Like father, like son. I had a love of the underdog.

Dad used to have action on every fight, on every baseball, football and basketball game. Okay, it was only a dollar a bet. He was a product of the Depression to whom losing money was one of the great sins in life, especially with a family to support.

But he loved to have a rooting interest in everything. So, sight unseen, he would bet on the left corner in every fight, even if it meant one of his favorites would wind up on the right side of the TV screen (truth be known, he still rooted for his man). He fancied himself enough of an "expert" on baseball to make his own selections, but on the other games, he would take the entire right side of the odds columns printed in the tabloids - all the underdogs.

Dad loved underdogs. His system didn’t make him rich or poor, but it gave him a reason to care who won between Northwestern and Indiana. And so I grew up, rooting for underdogs, but I also inherited my father’s craving for action, which I am certain is the reason I’ve never been a successful gambler. My handicapping is decent; money management sucks, and there’s too much of the romantic in me sometimes.

Leon Spinks was one of my favorites. I actually envisioned him beating Larry Holmes, another of my favorites, yes, but Leon was quite the underdog, same with Kirk Johnson. The fact is, and I accept it, is that I will never learn.

I’ve got a feeling, though, that the stars will now align in favor of underdogs. The money isn’t as plentiful for the game as it used to be. The top guys will no longer be able to milk their contracts with HBO and Showtime by fighting so-called "No. 1" contenders. There will be more real fights and thus more real live dogs. Just look at how the early months of 2004 are forming.

Okay, maybe there will be no upset on the first weekend, when Acelino Freitas figures to have his way with the long-protected WBOgus lightweight champion, Artur Grigorian, on Showtime. But say this: Freitas certainly had problems with Jorge Barios in his last junior lightweight battle and Grigorian is undefeated. Frankly, I don’t give a darn about this silly matchup. If Freitas isn’t fighting Joel Casamayor or Floyd Mayweather Jr., I’m not interested in whatever promoter Art Pelullo serves up.

But Showtime will have a couple of outstanding events on Feb. 7 - Kostya Tszyu vs. Sharmba Mitchell II from Moscow and James Toney vs. Jameel McCline in Las Vegas. Sugar Shane Mosley was deprived by Cory Spinks of the chance to embarrass Ricardo Mayorga on March 13, but now he’ll have a tougher task against Winky Wright. There’s talk of a featherweight summit between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez, a rematch between Mayorga and Spinks and, hopefully, Lennox Lewis will grant Vitali Klitschko the rematch.

Mike Tyson is talking about fighting again and there’s hope that Felix Trinidad Jr. is coming back. Good fights make good fights - Showtime’s Jay Larkin is talking about the Tszyu-Mitchell winner facing Ricky Hatton on the same card with Joe Calzaghe defending against Jeff Lacey.

I just wish my dad could be around to see it all.