Ex-soldier Ouma coming to career crossroads
Kassim Ouma has come a long way from being a 7-year-old solider in Uganda. But is he dedicated enough to boxing to remain focused on regaining a lost title?
On the heels of watching the Manny Pacquiao-Erik Morales slugfest, and on the brink of calling Kassim Ouma's road to redemption fight, I had the following thought: Golf broadcasters kill me.
Can they please pause for a moment and really think twice before using words like "courageous" when describing a Tiger Woods iron shot from a fairway bunker?
Can they bring it down a notch when they use "dangerous" to paint the picture of a Phil Mickelson putt on a sloping green? There are very few things that occur in life worthy of those adjectives when you are wearing slacks, a visor and collared shirt.
I'm careful in choosing those words even in announcing the manly art of self-defense. Yet at least in boxing, the colorful terms tend to be actual elements of a fighter's arsenal. Or, at the very least, those phrases make sense when spotlighting Pacquiao and Ouma.
Let's start with Ouma. In a sport so big on intangibles, "hunger" is an apt boxing descriptive that is a key intangible. It's got a lot to do with a fighter's ability to turn want for success into success. Former champ Kassim "The Dream" Ouma had the want, had the success and now he's being called "hungry" again.
Ouma surely likes that hunger. What he doesn't like is the reason he has it.
He has satisfied that hunger by eating what is served up to boxing's talented but inconsistent world champions. It's humble pie dished a la mode with a big scoop of reality.
It's a change for Ouma. The scoop is finally bland vanilla. Maybe that's what he needs now.
If vanilla means a comeback fight on the next "Friday Night Fights" (ESPN 2, 7:30 ET) against Francisco Mora, then start scooping.
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Ouma, the very talented junior middleweight, became world champion just 15 months ago. Nine months later, he was upset by the lesser-skilled, but hungrier Roman Karmazin.
Now Ouma is back. He is refocused and seemingly completely unaffected by the shocking loss he suffered. It should be simple. Win and get back to the top. Yet nothing is ever simple with Ouma.
For so long, Ouma's scoop wasn't vanilla at all. It was more like Rocky Road. His meteoric rise was filled with turbulence.
Those of us in the fight game would hear that it was only a matter of time before Ouma's carefree attitude and lack of discipline would undermine that attractive god-given talent.
Ouma's story always had stood above the rest. Even considering journalism's tendency exaggerate tales of overcoming life's obstacles, Ouma's past was incredible.
Born into the political unrest of Uganda, he was snatched out of a classroom at age 7 and forced into military service with the revolutionaries.
|As a fragile child, he was toting a gun. He was taught how to kill. He was abused mentally and physically. Severed from his family and stripped of any form of childhood, he used boxing as a way out of the madness.|
The same group that stole his innocence captured control of the country. The new Ugandan government found room on the boxing team for this young, physically talented and hardened warrior. Deep down, Ouma knew it was his only chance.
Inspired with the thought of freedom, he became the best boxer he could be. When an international tournament in the United States brought Ouma to the doorstep of liberty, he jumped right through the opening. Political asylum and a pro boxing career brought out a smile on a man-child who had spent so many years running scared from the horrors of his life.
That smile carried him almost as far as his ability. As a young pro, he basically grew up on ESPN2. Ouma was fighting consistently, winning consistently, and loving every moment of it.
I can't think of another fighter who is so sincerely happy every time our production crew sees him. Ouma loves to just be around the fights, talking with us, sharing stories, smiling, always living it up.
And ironically, it's that freedom-fulfilling feeling that might have added the Rocky Road flavor to Ouma's career.
|Early in Ouma's career, he lost a fight because, according to those who were there, he turned away from the action to joke with a friend in the crowd. When the knockout punch landed, the joke was on him.|
In his eyes, he was already a big winner before he ever turned pro here. Early in Ouma's career, he lost a fight because, according to those who were there, he turned away from the action to joke with a friend in the crowd. When the knockout punch landed, the joke was on him.
His carefree life outside of the ring has been regarded by some as the cause of his upset loss to Karmazin. But it begs the question: What is more desired by Ouma? The freedom and American life he has, or the status as a world champion who avoids upsets? The latter takes hard work and discipline.
When you go through the childhood Ouma went through, you look at things differently. I remember one well-accomplished fight manager telling me the same thing happens with many of the Cuban boxers who find freedom in American. He said once they get here, they don't train as hard or want it is bad. At that time, they already have what they want.
Boxing was Ouma's way out of a living hell. Now, with freedom secured and some amount of wealth tasted, it's time to see just how badly he wants professional success. It's time to see how much pride he takes in his work. Come Friday night, it's time to see whether the dream is still alive in Kassim Ouma.
He cried. He gave thanks. He slept, and then he wanted to sleep some more.
That is how Manny Pacquiao spent the 24 hours following his impressive knockout victory over the previously unstoppable Erik Morales.
I spoke with two of PacMan's managers early Sunday morning, and beyond the KO celebration, they each expressed how thankful Manny was.
That's correct: The most exciting pound-for-pound elite brawler in the world today is a sweetheart of a guy. Pacquiao realizes that his trainer Freddie Roach, as well as managers Shelly Finkel, Nick Khan and Keith Davidson fought hard, too. They fought hard outside of the ring so he could fight hard inside of it.
Just a year ago, Pacquiao was holed up in a West Hollywood motel with four fellow countrymen. This, while his highly-criticized promoter at the time was worried about which complementary suite he would be staying in for PacMan's Vegas pay-per-view.
That's just a small sampling of the injustices Pacquiao was suffering through professionally. But with Freddie Roach taking the stand in front of a jury, and Finkel, Khan and Davidson putting together the master plan, a federal court ruled in favor of Pacquiao's promotional freedom.
Now, with the distractions behind him, nothing can stop PacMan. Even his English is on the upswing.
. Finkel told me that after the career defining victory, Pacquiao wasn't wondering about his fight performance. From his own two-bedroom Wynn resort suite Pacquiao asked, "How's was my English?"
The Philippine farm boy who long ago left home to make money in the city slums has been working hard to become fully bilingual. After becoming the first man to knockout Erik Morales, he conquered another first. With Larry Merchant's mic in his face, it was Manny's first postfight TV interview without a translator. By the way, he aced that test, too.
A few thoughts after PacMan's in-the-ring work: His conditioning is superb and he finally appears to fit in at this 130-pound weight. Remember, he started his career as a flyweight. His frame can't handle more, but his punch sure could take out plenty of world class fighters 10 pounds north.
With this victory, Pacquiao is in position to maintain his status as a pay-per-view cash cow for the next four years. He can have a megafight with Marco Antonio Barrera. He can go back down to featherweight for a rematch with Juan Manuel Marquez. And if the price is right, Pacquiao can take on any 135-pounder not named Jose Luis Castillo.
Pacquiao has now reached the level that -- whether he wins or loses -- you just want to watch him fight. As a power-punching, risk-reward, offensive-minded knockout artist, he is just what the sport needs. There are plenty of skilled pound-for-pound elite boxers who will jab and defend their way to a unanimous decision. But who wants to pay $49 for that?
• I thought J.C. Candelo did enough to beat Teddy Reid. The draw was odd, as the scores were all over the map. Reid's big punch finally showed up in the 10th and almost pulled it out, but Candelo's overall work just seemed superior to me. Candelo told me afterward that he felt great about the way he performed and is as committed as ever to push forward in his career. In my eyes, he has earned a return trip to appear on ESPN.
• Congrats to the new IBF featherweight champion Valdemir Pereira. It's been a pleasure to get to know him over the course of the past 18 months. This belt doesn't make him the best 126-pounder in the world, but it will earn him a lot more money. That means something to a young man who just wants to give his family a decent quality of life.
• And finally, what was up with the lack of aggression from Phafrakorb Rakkiatgym? How do you train for 10 weeks, travel all the way from Bangkok to Connecticut and not engage in the fight? I know Pereira wrecked him in the second round, but Rakkiatgym fought the last 10 rounds only looking to survive. What a waste. He has had two title shots now in his long and seemingly successful career. Pacquiao blew him out in one title shot, and he handed the other to Pereira on a silver platter.
Joe Tessitore is the blow-by-blow announcer on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."