Lots of good, bad and ugly in 2004

Originally Published: January 3, 2005
By Tim Graham | Special to ESPN.com

Boxing sure gave us a wonderful ride in 2004.

It started with an FBI investigation at Top Rank headquarters and continued with a rash of incredible upsets. Reputations were razed. Proposed big-money fights evaporated.

Klitschko Brothers
Wladimir, left, and Vitali Klitschko made the headlines in different ways in 2004.
But the Rasputin sport rallied gallantly with a slew of fascinating storylines. Glen Johnson came out of nowhere to become a hero. A series of fights in the closing months brought fans to their feet. Inactive stars Felix Trinidad and Kostya Tszyu returned with authority. Young prospects started to lay the groundwork to help perpetuate an aging hierarchy.

Of course, we also had plenty of bizarre moments -- the stuff that happens only in boxing. It's all part of the stew we love so much.

Yeah, there were bits and pieces of the game that were bleak and maddening, but after compiling this list of highlights, lowlights and sidelights from 2004, there's no doubt it was another damn entertaining year for boxing.

Headlines

Boxing Experiences Star Power Outage: First, Lennox Lewis retired. Then Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley and Erik Morales lost, and Roy Jones Jr. got starched in back-to-back fights. Other significant names such as David Tua, Fernando Vargas and Vernon Forrest are MIA. Desperate fans clamored for a Liza Minielli-David Gest pay-per-view.

Big Losses Lead to Big Breaks: All those major defeats cleared the way for new faces. Winky Wright, Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson all finally attained the glory they sought for years. Danny Williams, meanwhile, enjoyed a few months in the sun -- and at the buffet table -- after whacking Tyson.

Butterbean Angling for Title Shot: The heavyweight division turned dull in 2004 faster than Lindsay Lohan turned skanky. When Lewis stepped aside, everyone else aside from Vitali Klitschko stumbled, and some of the most boring champs in history remained. Tyson lost. Juan Carlos Gomez lost. Wladimir Klitschko lost. Dominick Guinn lost. Andrew Golota lost twice in title bids. Joe Mesi was beaten to within a millimeter of his career.

WBC Back In Business: The WBC appeared DOA once it filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy because it couldn't pay former light heavyweight champ Graciano Rocchigiani a $31 million settlement for improperly stripping him of the title in 1998. Roccigiani would have been this columnist's fighter of the year, but then he backed off and reached a settlement to keep the corrupt WBC in business. At the WBC convention in Phuket, Thailand, president Jose Sulaiman re-signed then got re-elected anyway. He proposed championships based on race and accepted a "donation" to allow the Vitali Klitschko-Danny Williams bout to proceed. Some jokes write themselves.

Some McCain, Some McCain't: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) once again was as successful in creating a federal boxing commission as Kirstie Alley was in losing three pounds.

FBI Targets Top Rank: For what? We aren't sure. What did the gumshoes find? We don't really know. What will be the fallout? We haven't a clue. Michael Jackson calls Bob Arum and advises him to dress up like a toy soldier for his first court appearance.

Happy Father's Day: Winky Wright upsets Mosley for the undisputed junior middleweight title. Mosley fires his trainer, who happens to be his father, Jack Mosley.

Somewhere, Sam Langford Is Nauseous: There were four heavyweight title fights in April, and of the eight combatants, only two were black: Vitali Klitschko fought Corrie Sanders for the WBC belt in a rare all-white championship; Puerto Ricans John Ruiz and Fres Oquendo grappled for the WBA title in the worst fight of the year; Chris Byrd retained his IBF title in a draw with Andrew Golota; Lamon Brewster beat Wladimir Klitschko, who claimed he was drugged.

Stupid Is As Stupid Does: Judge Burt Clements said he didn't know he could score the first round 10-6 when Manny Pacquiao dropped Juan Manuel Marquez three times. The sensational bout ended in a draw, with Clements' even ballot the difference.

Boxing Back On Network Primetime: But not the way we wanted it. NBC's "The Contender" was delayed until 2005 because Fox's god-awful "The Next Great Champ" was rushed onto the airwaves. "Champ" gets bumped to Fox Sports Net, but probably belonged on Cable Access Channel 98. "Amish in the City" lasted longer & and was more entertaining.

We Like Ike (Where He Is): Undefeated former heavyweight contender Ike Ibeabuchi was denied parole in Nevada. He's serving five to 30 years for battery and sexual assault of a prostitute, but had he been released he certainly would've become an immediate force in the division. Then again, Marvis Frazier would be a force if he ever fought again, too.

Oklahoma OKs Bowe: Riddick Bowe, released from prison, started his comeback trail of tears in Oklahoma, where the Starr Jones look-alike beat Marcus Rhode. Or perhaps it was a Jethro Tull roadie. Fellow ex-con Oliver McCall also won on the undercard.

Willie Horton Unavailable: Two-time murderer and self-professed "republocrat" Don King was invited to stump for George Bush at the Republican National Convention. Bill O'Reilly said to be disgusted.

Jack Johnson Latest Cause Celebre: Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns did "Unforgivable Blackness" about the heavyweight pioneer, and U.S. Senators passed a resolution seeking a presidential pardon for Johnson's Mann Act conviction in 1913. Bush instead pardons John Jackson.

Heavyweight Champ, Or Bad Joke? Sam Simon, co-creator of "The Simpsons," is WBO heavyweight champ Lamon Brewster's manager. No truth to the rumors Simon is trying to arrange Brewster's next title defense against Drederick Tatum.

Boxing Injected By Steroid Scandal: Vitali Klitschko revealed in his autobiography he used steroids unwittingly, and Shane Mosley was connected to the BALCO scandal that ensnared baseball sluggers Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi.

If He Thought Larry Holmes Gave Him a Headache... : Gerry Cooney pulled out of his bid to be the next chairman of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board. Too bad. That outfit could use a "Gentleman."

Kerik Scandal Sullies White House: Dubya should've checked with a boxing fan or two before he appointed Bernard Kerik new Homeland Security secretary, a move that brought considerable embarrassment. Kerik oversaw one of the most disorganized boxing entities as New York Athletic Commission chairman in 2002 and 2003. According to the New York Daily News, "Kerik did not recognize the names of his own $75,000-a-year executive assistant at the commission, Scott Crockett, or the commission's $72,500-a-year director of boxing, Ron Stevens." The capable Stevens took over upon Kerik's resignation in April 2003.

Funny pages

  • A proposed Butterbean vs. Wally Kienbaum bout mercifully was not approved in Birmingham, Ala. Kienbaum would've been making his pro debut. Tiger vs. Roy would've been more competitive. Butterbean went on to fight four times in 2004, including once at more than 390 pounds.

  • R. Kelly was involved in talks to score a Broadway version of "Rocky." The talks were supposed to be kept secret, but they leaked. Probably an accident. Depends, I guess.

  • A Russian couple exchanged wedding vows in a boxing ring before sparring a few rounds to celebrate. Nikolai Kibkalo and Natalya Karpovich wore traditional wedding garb, then laced up the gloves.

  • Russell Crowe dislocated his shoulder while training for "Cinderella Man," a film about James Braddock. While filming in Toronto, Crowe bit the ear of his bodyguard during a barroom scuffle.

  • Pastor Guy Moon was made his pro boxing debut in May in Melbourne. No word on whether he beat the bejesus out his opponent.

  • Skuli Armannsson, a 6-foot-5, 245-pound heavyweight, became the first pro boxer from Iceland in 50 years because the sport had been illegal there.

  • George Foreman left HBO and announced at 55 years old he would make a comeback. A moronic promoter in Trinidad and Tobago was trying in December to set up a bout between Big George and 51-year-old Trevor Berbick.

  • A Carson City, Nev., cable-access station showed a porno instead of a scheduled boxing show and got pulled off the air for 12 hours. I'm sure the ratings were better than "The Contender."

  • Mike Tyson was rumored to be a candidate for the B.A. Baracas role in a proposed "A-Team" movie produced by George Clooney.

  • Actor Ron Sarchian broke the Guinness Book of World Records mark by hitting a 100-pound heavy bag for more than 24 hours, 16 minutes. Vitali Klitschko apparently could have broken that record against Danny Williams.

  • Russell Chasteen was disqualified for trying to bite heavyweight prospect China Smith on the neck.

  • The nickname of the year goes to Henry "Sugar Poo" Buchanan, a super middleweight with a 7-0 record.

  • NABO featherweight champ Tiger Smalls revealed in High Times magazine he smokes seven blunts a day. Todd Marinovich is considering another career change.

  • Armani sued promoter Don King for $75,000 worth of unpaid clothes. Seems odd since King wears the same cheesy, airbrushed denim jacket everywhere he goes.

    Police Blotter

  • Merry Blanking Christmas! Welterweight contender Eamonn Magee was dragged from his car and beaten in Belfast after a squabble revolved around his children damaging a neighbor's snowman. Magee, allegedly drunk, head-butted a 52-year-old neighbor after their significant others argued in the street. Magee drove off, only to be caught quickly thereafter.

  • Former two-division champ Michael Nunn sentenced to 24 years in prison for buying $24,000 worth of cocaine with the intent to distribute.

  • Former heavyweight Richie Jero sentenced to 16 months to four years for killing a Las Vegas firefighter with a single punch in a Los Angeles barroom brawl.

  • Hall of Famer Joe Frazier arrested for hitting Sherri Gibson, the mother of his 12-year-old son. Charges were dropped in April.

  • Two men vandalize the Joe Louis fist sculpture in downtown Detroit by throwing white paint on it.

  • Herbie Hide arrested for failing to appear in court for motor offenses.

  • James Butler arrested and charged with murdering roommate Sam Kellerman, a fledgling actor and journalist and the brother of sportscaster Max Kellerman.

  • Rubin "Hurricane" Carter's house in Toronto set on fire. Damages estimated at $60,000.

  • Undefeated lightweight Gavin Rees sentenced to 100 hours of community service in Wales. He was thrown out of a wake and then showed up at the funeral and knocked out another mourner.

  • Manager Bobby Mitchell and boxer Thomas Williams convicted of fight fixing to prop up glorified club pug Richie Melito.

  • Charges dropped against Mike Tyson for jumping on the hood of a car outside the Pussycat Lounge in suburban Phoenix.

  • Vinny Paz arrested for refusing breathalyzer and resisting arrest in Rhode Island.

  • Former welterweight champ Ricardo Mayorga found not guilty of raping a prostitute in Nicaragua.

  • A warrant was issued for Floyd Mayweather Jr. after he failed to appear at his trial for kicking a bouncer during a barroom brawl.

  • Eight-time Canadian amateur champ Jeremy Molitor found guilty of murdering his girlfriend.

  • Former light heavyweight champ Graciano Rocchigiani, the man who could have brought down the WBC, was arrested and released for allegedly punching a taxi driver in Berlin. He has previously done time for assaulting a police officer and drunk driving.

  • Police Blotter champ Paul Spadafora pleaded down to assault after being charged with shooting his girlfriend. Spadafora receives frequent flier miles for multiple public intoxication and urination arrests.

    Tim Graham covers boxing for The Buffalo News and is a contributor to ESPN.com.

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