Posted: Monday April 17, 2006 3:04PM; Updated: Monday April 17, 2006 5:25PM
Roger Mayweather was subdued by police and later fined for charging the ring during his nephew's fight with Zab Judah.
Al Bello/Getty Images
I don't know how last week's Mayweather-Judah fight failed to end in a glorious brawl. All the ingredients were there. Zab Judah, who has behaved the punk before, clocked Floyd Mayweather below the belt (way below) and then chopped him behind the head, bringing Mayweather's trainer and uncle, who as a fighter himself was known as the Black Mamba, onto the apron.
With both corners surging toward each other (and punk Judah circling behind Roger Mayweather to chop him behind the head) and drinks starting to fly into the ring, fans everywhere yahooing in delight, I thought we'd have the mother of all melees for sure.
In fact, referee Richard Steele and assorted quick-acting security managed to restore order in the ring -- the crowd somehow quelled on its own -- and the fight even resumed, Mayweather picking up from that 10th-round fracas to easily close out Judah in their welterweight bout.
There were a few consequences -- Roger got his knuckles rapped to the tune of $200,000 -- and some around me harrumphed predictably about the manners of boxing. But I couldn't help thinking the sport has actually come a long way. For the life of me, I couldn't understand why the events of that evening didn't qualify for a SWAT action.
As long as I've been covering boxing, fan participation has been a dangerous given in the sport. My first fights, going back to the late 1970s in the old Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, were actually more of an interactive exercise than they were the objects of any journalism.
Unpopular decisions, which was any decision given to an Anglo fighter in this Mexican-driven market, caused cherry bombs and cups of recycled beer to rain from the balcony. A writer foolish enough to linger at ringside while the late Jimmy Lennon (Sr., that is -- Jr. is melodiously carrying on the tradition) melodiously intoned the wrong winner was bound to have a dry-cleaning bill coming up, or worse.
As far as worse, there was one decision that got the gang upstairs so worked up they began ripping the seats out, like piecework. That would be a good time to skedaddle below; a row of stadium seating, especially when it's on fire, will leave a mark. Some of these disturbances did not encourage good thoughts about the human condition. There is a British boxing writer I know who still talks about the night at the Olympic when one of his countryman fighters was being taken from the ring on a stretcher. Fans pelted the inert body with beer bottles. He felt that was a lapse in sportsmanship.
But those Olympic fights were tough on everybody. A colleague of mine remembers, after one routine postfight fracas, walking to his car from the event and running into a small guy, his head swathed in bandages. Mistaking him for a fighter, he asked, jab or hook? "Mustard jar."
As far as I know, nobody was ever killed at the Olympic, except for boxers, of course. Fans were frisked as they went in, reducing but not eliminating the firearms at ringside. I remember a gambler who sat next to me opening up his briefcase to show me his piece. It seemed to me to be the size of a musket. He closed the briefcase back up, patted it and I never sat near him or in his line of fire ever again. So, when all is said and done, I guess we were lucky only to have burning chairs thrown down onto our heads.
In more recent times there have been a few memorable outbreaks, most notably the aftermath of Andrew Golota's low blows in his 1996 Madison Square Garden fight with Riddick Bowe. That was a doozy with fans storming the ring, threatening even the HBO announcers. If you look at the tape of that one, you'll see big George Foreman, the color analyst in those days, cradling one rioter's head like a bowling ball, gently reminding him to behave.
The worst I ever saw, though, was not actually a riot in the ring, but one that spilled from it into a casino and onto the streets. During Mike Tyson's comeback, his fan base had become increasingly urban, as they say, with a nice underlying presence of gang activity. After his '96 fight with Bruce Seldon at the MGM in Las Vegas, a rapper and his entourage put the wood to a member of the Crips, stomping him in the hotel halls, right before surveillance cameras. Tupac Shakur and Suge Knight, rap royalty, left the scene with a high sense of satisfaction, and headed for a club around the corner. Tupac was gunned down an hour later.
I don't think there are many events beyond a big bout capable of stirring so much emotion, some of it grand, some just poisonous. Sometimes the fight itself is spectacular enough to discharge all such emotions, to exhaust every bit of our everyday adrenalin and leave us in a peace of spent testosterone. Other times it is so incomplete, or outright wrong, that there is no recourse but to take things into our own hands. That's when riots happen.
After Tyson's second fight with Evander Holyfield, when he bit his ear off, the crowd was so hormonally confused, so baffled, so unsatisfied, that the reaction closed down the casino on the biggest money night of the year. Somebody thought they heard gunshots out where the Lexuses with their black tinted windows pull up, and crowds scattered, overturning blackjack tables in the casino, trampling old ladies in the hallways. It was a big enough mess that Las Vegas withdrew from hosting big fights for a year and a half. There had been no gunfire, by the way.
So when the Mayweather-Judah fight managed to proceed, with no more outbreak than a thrown beer (and not even recycled, as far as I know), I was encouraged. If boxing could get past this ugliness, get on with the actual sport, then there was hope. Still, I have to tell you, as soon as Roger stepped onto the ring apron, I was already moving from ringside, as far as I could get.