George Foreman, who announced his retirement on Nov. 22, moments after losing a highly questionable 12-round decision to Shannon Briggs, now says that he intends to fight again. To borrow from Claude Rains: "We're shocked, shocked!" Even that news wasn't enough to divert attention from the stink that lingered after the decision in Briggs-Foreman. So egregious was the verdict in Atlantic City that it left even the most jaded fight fans shaking their heads and gave rise to allegations of corrupt judging involving Briggs's manager, Marc Roberts; Roberts's promotional company, Worldwide Entertainment & Sports; and New Jersey boxing commissioner Larry Hazzard.
Foreman forced the pace and landed more punches than Briggs. Yet one judge, the relatively experienced Steve Weisfield, scored the bout a draw, and the other two, inexperienced Calvin Claxton and Lawrence Layton, had Briggs winning 116-112 and 117-113, respectively. Foreman's promoters, Irving Azoff and Jeff Wald, protested the decision, filing requests for an investigation with the New Jersey Athletic Control Board, the state Attorney General's office, Governor Christine Whitman and Senator John McCain of Arizona. McCain, an advocate of boxing reform, last week called for the New Jersey gaming commission to investigate the bout and "clear the air for the good of the sport." Azoff and Wald have also asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to determine who holds stock in Worldwide Entertainment and have hired private investigators to check up on Claxton, Hazzard, Layton and Roberts. "We're not going to let this go away," says Wald.
Worldwide Entertainment, a West Orange, N.J., company that represents four boxers, including Briggs, is traded on the NASDAQ exchange. As the company's prospectus puts it, "Success will be dependent in part upon the four professional boxers...achieving championship or top contender status and participating in bouts with substantially higher purses." Briggs, who made $400,000 for the Foreman fight, stands to make substantially more in his next outing—which, according to well-placed sources, could be a rematch with Foreman.
Layton had never worked a major bout, and Claxton, in his only previous high-profile assignment, had given Ray Mercer (another Roberts fighter) a margin of victory much wider than the other two judges in a win over Tim Witherspoon last year. Their presence at the Briggs-Foreman bout has led some observers to wonder whether Roberts had struck a deal with Hazzard, who as commissioner is in charge of assigning officials. According to published reports, Roberts has boasted to friends that his fighters "do not lose decisions in New Jersey."
Roberts has denied making any such statements. For his part, Hazzard also denies any wrongdoing. "I am not a crook," he says. "I do not own stock in any corporation associated with Marc Roberts." And he defends his use of Claxton and Layton. "No judge has major fight experience until he judges a major fight," says Hazzard. "I thought this would be a great opportunity for them." It was certainly an opportunity.
Selig Wasn't Available?
The New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) felt it had an excellent commissioner's candidate in Fay Vincent, the former major league commish who lives in Greenwich, Conn. But because NECBL commissioner is largely a ceremonial, public relations-oriented position, Vincent said no. Instead, he became chairman of the league's board of directors and its president, which makes him the NECBL's No. 1 hands-on guy, involved in fund-raising, corporate sponsorships and decision-making. "Fay wanted to be actively involved, not just a figurehead or spokesman," Rich Reimold, president of the NECBL's Danbury (Conn.) Westerners, told The News-Times of Danbury. Gee, isn't that what got Vincent into trouble before?
Clause of Contention
After Latrell Sprewell's attack on P.J. Carlesimo, his four-year, $32 million deal was terminated by the Golden State Warriors. Section 16 of the NBA's uniform contract states that a player may have his contract terminated if he fails to adhere to "standards of good citizenship, good moral character...and good sportsmanship." Sprewell is appealing his dismissal, as well as a yearlong suspension handed down by the league. Arbitrator John Feerick, the dean of Fordham Law School, is scheduled to hold his hearing in early January. But regardless of the arbitrator's ruling, Sprewell would still be receiving his full $32 million had his contract contained what dozens of his peers' contracts do: a personal-conduct guarantee.
NBA players are generally guaranteed that they will be paid in full even if they are cut, injured or rendered unable to play because of mental incompetence. According to the NBA Players Association, 6% to 8% of its members also receive a guarantee that covers personal conduct. They are most often players with a history of sterling behavior, ones with enormous clout—or both. "Let's say I have Michael Jordan, and his agent says to me that Michael wants the exception," says Donnie Walsh, president of the Indiana Pacers. "I just say, Screw any concerns I might have. Michael wants it, Michael gets it."