By Fox Doucette
There have been some great fighters who have been champions after their fortieth birthday. George Foreman, Bernard Hopkins, and Vitali Klitschko come immediately to mind. All of the fighters mentioned won a recognized belt—WBA/IBF for Foreman, WBC/Ring Magazine for Hopkins, WBC for Klitschko. Turning 40 does not necessarily disqualify a great fighter from continued greatness, especially at heavyweight.
There have been some great fighters who have fallen short of the peak of their division’s mountain near or after forty as well. Sugar Ray Robinson won his last title at age 37 in the 1958 Fight of the Year against Carmen Basilio and went 0-3-1 in title fights thereafter. Muhammad Ali’s last title victory came in 1978 when The Greatest was 36; his last fight, the loss to Trevor Berbick, came at age 39. Evander Holyfield, though he is still active at 49, has not held a major belt since capturing the WBA crown from John Ruiz at age 38. Holyfield may call himself a champion since he has held the WBF belt, which he won from Francois Botha…but nobody seriously believes that the WBF is even a real sanctioning body.
And speaking of the 43-year-old Botha (48-5-3, 29 KOs), he fights Michael Grant (47-4, 35 KOs), age 39, for that same farcical WBF “championship” Saturday night in Johannesburg, where his adoring South African countrymen will fête him as though he were Wladimir Klitschko if indeed the White Buffalo is able to defeat his American opponent. Botha’s people may even have the common gall to attempt to pass their guy off as a champ—considering they still call him the “former IBF heavyweight champion of the world” even though Botha tested positive for steroids after capturing the belt from Axel Schulz in 1995 and the “title victory” was declared a no-contest.
Francois Botha, if he is famous for anything besides that positive drug test, is probably best known as the guy who gets the crap beaten out of him whenever he fights real fighters. If you are the kind of sadist who really enjoys guys getting brutalized and you need something to tide you over until the inevitable match between Denis Lebedev and his next over-40 victim (Antonio Tarver, come on down), you could do a lot worse than watching Botha’s fights. Michael Moorer beat the stuffing out of Botha in 1994, Mike Tyson starched him in 1999, Lennox Lewis walked through Botha like he was tissue paper in 2000, Wladimir Klitschko made him think he was Batman with a left hook in 2002, and even Evander Holyfield, previously mentioned, at age 48 was able to knock out the big South African.
This is not to say that Michael Grant is any of the above fighters, but he did just convincingly flatten Tye Fields in his last fight. Mind you, knocking out Tye Fields does not qualify as a world-beating accomplishment—any halfway decent heavyweight who breathes on Fields hard enough tends to knock him out. But Francois Botha has a lot more in common at this age with Tye Fields than he does with Tomasz Adamek, who was the last man to vanquish Michael Grant and Grant went the distance with the Poland native.
All of the above is all well and good. What is more troubling is the symptoms of trouble in the sport that are all in perfect harmony when a joke of a fight like this is made for a so-called title belt. You name the problem with boxing (except pay per view; not even the Hopkins-Dawson matchmakers would have the cheek to charge people to watch this fight on television), it’s on display here. No strong unified commission out there? Check—how else would a guy like Botha still be allowed to fight? Home cooking? If this fight does go the distance there’s no way in hell Grant will win and everybody—hopefully including Grant—knows it. Ludicrous title belts and greedy sanctioning bodies? Check and check—the WBF (which, oh by the way, has as its president Howard Goldberg, who is South African) should have a plaque of Botha in its main office.
It is not usually my standard MO to cheer for someone to be brutally beaten past the point where the knockout is entertaining and to the point where one seriously fears for the health of the vanquished fighter, but if Michael Grant steps into that ring in Johannesburg and beats the ever-loving snot out of Francois Botha, if the fight is so vicious and sadistic that even the “wait, there are boxers besides Pacquiao and Mayweather?” boxing media is roused from its torpor for long enough to take notice and say something, if perhaps there are cuts opened up and Botha bleeds like a stuck pig (and the fact that Botha is white will make the blood stand out in photographs), maybe someone somewhere will have the light come on and realize that fights like Grant-Botha and Lebedev-Jones and Holyfield-Anyone are just bad for the sport’s credibility, bad for the fans, and bad for anyone who tries to argue that boxing isn’t just sanctioned barbarity.
Watch the undercard if you can find a broadcast (there are plenty of good fights at that arena Saturday night), but avert your eyes for the main event. Boxing is enjoyable; tragedy is only fun if it is Greek or Shakespearean.
Fox Doucette covers Friday Night Fights for The Boxing Tribune. His weekly column, The Southpaw, appears on Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @RealFoxD. Fan mail, hate mail, and Cape buffalo steaks can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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