Guinn gets a shot at rectifying derailed destiny

4/15/2006 - Boxing

Dominick Guinn had it all lined up. He was an athletic, undefeated American heavyweight. He had the promotional muscle of Main Events, the managerial muscle of the great Shelly Finkel and enough real muscle in his arms to have knocked out 17 of his 24 opponents.

Guinn even had the nickname. The Southern Disaster was in the right place at the right time. Lennox Lewis exited stage left, and Guinn was ready to enter stage right.

On June 7, 2003, Guinn did so with a televised humiliation of former world title challenger Michael Grant, who himself was once the hot prospect. Four left-hook knockdowns didn't just drop Grant, but plenty of jaws. After Dominick was done with him, Grant was labeled as shot by the boxing masses. That same group gave Dominick another tag: the future heavyweight champ.

What was there to criticize about Dominick Guinn? He even had Ronnie Shields and Mark Breland training him. Clearly, this group of older, mediocre, recycled heavyweights would be there for the taking if everything stayed on course.

Then came Monte Barrett, and the course was changed.

Fighting in his home state of Arkansas, on a well-hyped night of HBO boxing, Guinn went from hearing "next great" to simply "next." On March 27, 2004, the constantly underachieving Monte Barrett overachieved.

Barrett outworked Guinn and had hurt him in the seventh round. Guinn said, "I got caught up in trying to look good and once I got out there, my mind went blank. I was just going through the motions. I couldn't get anything together."

The split-decision loss was a stunner. Guinn's record was now 24-1. Mentally, he might as well have been 0-1.

In NFL terms, his career went Ryan Leaf. The sure thing with all the hype and perfect positioning was on the outs. The all-star team assembled around him tried to get him back. Kathy Duva at Main Events set Guinn up with a big payday on an ESPN special. Shelly Finkel lined up the right fight to impress the doubters by pitting Guinn against current WBO champ Sergei Liakhovich. Ronnie Shields emphasized mental focus.

Still, nothing clicked. It wasn't there anymore.

"It wasn't about money, it was about how he was taken care of," said current Guinn manager Yuval Margolit. "Dominck is comfortable in his life now and he doesn't have to take care of anything except what is in the ring."

As the broadcaster of these comeback fights, I noticed Guinn's disconnect. To me, it seemed as if the pressure cooker got to be too much. It was safer and easier to retreat than for Dominick to go forward. It was also costly.

After the loss to Liakhovich, Guinn waltzed his way through a lackluster draw with Friday Ahunanya. He then parted ways with the old gang. Main Events no more. Finkel, finished. Guinn even told his once-beloved trainers, Ronnie and Mark, he needed a change.

It wasn't their fault, but Guinn also wasn't all wrong. He did need a change. Guinn himself needed to change.

"I've been working with [trainer] Joe Goossen since last August. Sometimes, fighters need a change, and that's what it was," Guinn told me. "Everything that Joe's showing me, I'm taking well and enjoying it, and doing the things I need to do. I think I'm a little more motivated now."

Now he gets to show off the more motivated version in a meaningful heavyweight main event on "Friday Night Fights" (9 ET, ESPN2), facing Olympic gold medalist Audley Harrison.

"We took the fight because it's a very good stepping stone in his career," Margolit said. "It's not the best fight for him in the ring, but as far as his career is going, it's a very good fight for him. We are confident."

Guinn better be confident. Whoever loses this fight is done as a heavyweight contender. Harrison, the massive 6-foot-6 southpaw, is in the same spot. He is coming off his own first-loss flop, suffering a humbling defeat to fellow Brit Danny Williams.

There is a slight difference. Harrison seemed to be exposed, while Guinn still seems capable, just confused. Can the 30-year-old, God-gifted heavyweight find that spark and get himself back into the heavyweight-title mix?

His manager thinks so.

"Absolutely this can happen sooner rather than later," Margolit said. "Although he had some losses, those were because he lost his will to step into the ring. Everybody knows Dominick has the ability, he just has to know what to do with it."

Joe Tessitore is the blow-by-blow announcer on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."