Usually, HBO is careful about airing boxing’s dirty laundry, but with two mediocre boxers in Evander Holyfield and John Ruiz fighting for the WBA heavyweight title on December 15 at Foxwoods Casino, the cable network’s announcers couldn’t resist. However, they chose the wrong target.
From the start, HBO commentator Jim Lampley discredited Ruiz, saying, “We believe it’s clear who the real heavyweight champion is,” alluding to Lennox Lewis, holder of the two other heavyweight belts after knocking out Hasim Rahman on November 17. But don’t blame Ruiz; blame the screwed-up system of multiple sanctioning bodies. And especially blame the World Boxing Association, which stripped Lewis of his WBA title in April 2000 and then allowed Ruiz and Holyfield to fight three times for it. “John Ruiz is not a bad fighter,” says analyst Larry Merchant. “The criticism of him is that they would try to put it over on the public that this is a serious championship fight.”
But if Ruiz beats a top contender and then fights Lewis to unify the title, HBO and the rest of the world will be hyping Ruiz faster than you could say “Hasim Rahman.” Just ask Rahman, who went from being a nobody to a world champion to a nobody again, how fickle public opinion can be. —Mitch Abramson