Translation? It all makes sense in the ring
As Joel Casamayor takes on Lamont Pearson in Phoenix on Friday, Joe Tessitore observes the messages between boxer and manager that seem lost in translation ... or are they?
I love TV sports. I love the highly polished teases to start off a Monday Night Football game. I love the big call when "Down the stretch they come!" sends goose bumps down the stretch of your arm. And, of course, I love when a passionate analyst goes nuts right at the seminal moment of a live event. Yes, I know who I broadcast with.
Still there is one subtle underrated element of sports TV that entertains me: Strangely, or maybe I'm just the strange one, it seems to go unnoticed by others. It's the interpreter. Odd choice, I know.
In boxing, we hear them a lot. Most global sports do. The power these interpreters wield is pretty impressive. They can shape a fighter's personality and image for us. They can choose words and tone that give us either an accurate portrayal or clouded comedy.
I have my favorites. Saul Avelar is reliably consistent and truly knows the sport inside out. HBO's Ray Torres has a very good conversational style. But my two favorites, bar none, are Luis DeCubas and Jimmy Williams.
Luis would laugh right now thinking I am categorizing him as a translator considering he is among the top managers in the game. He has been alongside Roberto Duran for decades, and dominates the market of Cuban fighters finding success in America.
Jimmy, on the other hand, knows exactly why I would put him on my short list. He is the corner man and adviser for junior lightweight contender Koba Gogoladze. Koba, the former Soviet amateur star, is from the Republic of Georgia. Instead of speaking Georgian, he speaks a rare dialect called Margle. It's so unique I'm not sure even Koba knows what he is saying. How Jimmy knows what he is saying is beyond any of us. It's a testament to how deep the bond between fighter and manager can go.
You see, Jimmy Williams doesn't speak Georgian Margle. But he speaks Koba!
They should sell tickets to an ESPN prefight interview with Koba Gogoladze. It's hysterical. Here's how it typically goes, with lights and cameras focused in.
Joe Tessitore: Jimmy, could you ask Koba what he thinks the key to this fight is?
Jimmy Williams: (slowly spoken, direct eye contact and plenty of hand movement) Koba & what is the ... key to this fight?
Koba Gogoladze: (something that sounds like this) Zjo gitiut nimkaont rechet so ine rodizt feth non feth no good zhway tsuy ine rodizt feth juin mey is good ert sert cwerx sing zjo ghoin so ine gitiut jab yon tszin tszon feth wuzh feth zhwaer zhen punch.
Williams: He says it's not good to get hit, it's good to jab.
Tessitore: (curious look) That's all he said?
Tessitore: Could you ask Koba why he didn't finish strong in his last fight?
Williams: Koba & last fight ... why didn't ...
Gogoladze: (interrupting) Ghon sin zhwit Philadelphia dens zwhat tszon zjo frin zhen ert cwerx fight ghersh.
Williams: He says he knew he had the fight won and the guy was awkward, so he played it safe.
Tessitore: Jimmy, what did he say about Philadelphia?
Williams: He didn't say anything about Philly.
It goes on from there to include 30 more minutes of nonstop laughter as Jimmy never utters one word of Margle, Koba mixes in one word of English out of every 30 words spoken, and Jimmy reduces everything he says to one sentence. Williams and Gogoladze are channeling the late Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.
Now, as for Luis DeCubas, it's even better. Luis has great energy. He is likable and outgoing and knows how to sell. When Luis DeCubas translates for his fighters, you really don't even need the fighter to be there. Just conduct the interview with Luis and it will be better than if the fighter spoke English himself.
This week on "Friday Night Fights," we get to experience the DeCubas gift of gab. But this time, Luis doesn't need to spin, hype or even speak on behalf of his fighter. Joel Casamayor has been doing that with his ring credentials just fine.
Casamayor (32-3-1, 20 KOs) will be taking on Lamont Pearson (23-3-1, 12 KOs) in a main event from Phoenix. (ESPN2, 10 p.m. ET) DeCubas will be ready to translate the message but to me, it's already understood. Casamayor is the most underrated, passed-over and dismissed fighter of this era.
That label was attached to top welterweight Antonio Margarito. At this point, however, the outrage over Margarito being ducked and disrespected has perhaps gone too far with overcorrection. Casamayor, on the other hand, has had his big fights. He's had success. Still, he gets tossed aside while others are anointed by certain TV networks and promoters.
In case you forgot, Casamayor is the 1992 Olympic gold medalist from Cuba. In 1996, while training in Mexico he ran past an armed guard who fell asleep to flee the Cuban government and find freedom in America. Once he was here, the slick southpaw took an undefeated record all the way to the WBA junior lightweight world title.
Casamayor only has three losses in his career. And you could argue bad calls on all of them.
The fist was when he lost a very controversial decision to fellow unbeaten champion Acelino "Popo" Frietas. All three judges had it 114-112. Joel had a point deduction in that fight for punching on a break, and was hurt by a knockdown that replays clearly showed was a slip. Those are two points that shouldn't have come off his score. The fight could have -- most say, should have -- been a 114-114 draw.
Joel didn't let that disrupt his career. He bounced back and TKO'd media darling Diego Corrales. As you probably know, Corrales is Ring magazine's lightweight champion.
Casamayor's second career loss would be the rematch. In it, he knocked down Corrales and finished strong. Two of the judges had Casamayor winning four of the last six rounds. To his dismay, the other judge only gave him two of those last six rounds. As a result, Casamayor lost a split decision.
Then, in December 2004, again he lost another fight that could have gone either way. This time, it was another split decision but it came against one of the pound-for-pound best, Jose Luis Castillo.
So let's lay it down. Joel Casamayor has three losses but he has never really been beaten.
Remember last year, when Kid Diamond was hyped to be the next great lightweight. Casamayor fought him to a draw that most ringside observers felt should have been a win for Casamayor.
He is Ring magazine's No. 1-ranked lightweight. Think about the others who have the No. 1 next to their name: Wladimir Klitschko, Winky Wright, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao all are Ring No. 1s.
Where's Joel Casamayor's pay-per-view? Where's Joel Casamayor's title shot? Where's Joel Casamayor's respect from the fans.
What has this guy done to be treated like a generic contender? Instead, he has proven time and time again that he is an elite-level fighter.
"He's been robbed a lot of times boxing, so we might have to start bringing the pressure," said his manager DeCubas. "Joel's pretty much changed his style, coming forward, pressing the action. That might be the game plan the rest of his career."
That's it. It's the style. I guess good boxing just isn't appreciated. So even Joel Casamayor is willing to join the crowd of predictable pressure fighters with ineffective aggressiveness. But maybe, just maybe, it will make for a back half of his career that solves the aforementioned questions.
DeCubas translated for Joel, who said, "When I had the title, I didn't run from nobody. I fought Corrales, I fought Campbell, I fought Freitas, Castillo. I fought all the big punchers and I made them all run. Why are they still running? It's time to stop running. I'm right here. Take off your running shoes and let's fight. Especially Corrales."
Luis himself added, "He's willing to fight anybody at 130 pounds or 140 pounds. For a big money fight, he'll fight anybody. It doesn't matter who. He could fight Jorge Barrios. He thinks he's a killer now, he ain't [expletive]. Pacquiao ain't [expletive] either, he's too small. Barrera, it doesn't matter. Corrales."
I told you DeCubas is my favorite translator.
Now, let's see if Casamayor can make a statement of his own in the ring on "Friday Night Fights."
Joe Tessitore is the blow-by-blow announcer on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."
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