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Laila Ali, HBO and Hubris
By Bernie McCoy
November 5, 2006


(NOV 5) Hubris, a word not heard with any particular frequency inside places where speed bags are parried and heavy bags are pummeled, literally translates to an overabundance of "cojones", a word that is frequently heard inside boxing gyms, as in "[he, she or it] has major 'cojones'." In either form, the meaning is generally directed at individuals or entities possessing an over-exaggerated sense of self worth. Two quintessential examples of this trait take the spotlight this weekend in New York City, a town never in danger of running low on hubris or cojones. HBO Cable, the self proclaimed "Home of boxing," will be televising a fight card from Madison Square Garden. Included is a heavyweight title fight along with a ten round bout featuring Laila Ali. Between the two, HBO and Laila Ali, there exists sufficient hubris to catch the attention of even the most dispassionate of New Yorkers.

Let's begin with HBO: The cable network is a prime example of what amazing communication capabilities are available in today's twenty-first century universe. However, some of HBO's thinking, particularly as it relates to it's programming of the sport of boxing, seems firmly mired in the eighteenth century. Jim Lampley, the "voice" of the network's boxing shows, is given, sometimes overly so, to the use of the phrase, "That's what boxing is all about" as he describes particularly spirited action in the ring. However, that phrase rings somewhat ironic each time HBO makes it abundantly clear, "It is not our policy to televise women's boxing."

The forthcoming Laila Ali bout, a ten rounder against Shelley Burton, is not an "Oh, by the way, let's get some women" fight buried deep in the under-card. Indeed, the promoter, K2 Promotions, lists the Ali/Burton bout as a featured attraction, underneath the main event and above a featherweight elimination fight featuring local favorite, Kevin Kelly. In most promotion publicity for Saturday's card, the Ali fight has been tied to a selling point that this year is the thirty-fifth anniversary of Muhammad Ali's fight in the Garden with Joe Frazier. However, while the Ali/Burton bout is a major part of the fight card, HBO continues to steadfastly ignore any bout that features female boxers. Contrary to Lampley's overheated cry, that's not what boxing is ALL about. One almost wishes for an instant of poetic justice to occur on Saturday. HBO could be faced with an interesting dilemma if "the Champ", Muhammad Ali, is in the crowd to watch his daughter's fight. Will HBO ignore the most famous name in boxing history or will they somehow dance around the fact that Laila Ali fought earlier in the evening in a bout that the network didn't consider worthy of airtime? Lampley may end up doing a variation of his signature line: "That's what hubris is all about."

As for Laila Ali, she is fighting for the WBC super middleweight title along with the WIBF belt, against Burton, an 8-2-1 fighter, who is ranked third in the weight class. But, as with her last six fights, a lingering perception surrounding this bout is not who Ali is fighting, but why she is not fighting Ann Wolfe, or to a somewhat lesser degree, Leatitia Robinson.  And that's unfortunate since Shelley Burton represents a step up from the last six opponents Ali has been in with; a small step, but a step up nonetheless. This, alone, the fact that Ali/Burton has a chance to be, at least, semi-competitive, makes the bout worthy of airtime, everywhere, of course, except on HBO, "the Home of Male Boxing."

However, not to be outdone by HBO in the hubris arena, Laila Ali recently felt compelled to comment on the viability of Ann Wolfe and Leatitia Robinson as opponents: "Leatitia Robinson, I haven't built (her) up, that's why everyone knows who Ann Wolfe is. I'd always be building her (Wolfe) up, talking about her because we were supposed to fight (four) times. I have to build fighters up so people know who they are." That's a sense of hubris almost worthy of HBO. Ann Wolfe is known in the sport of Women's boxing primarily as a result of her one punch KO of Vonda Ward, a fight that has, undoubtedly, been seen more extensively than any other female boxing match, as a result of YouTube and other such Internet video sharing web sites. That fact, justifiably or not, is why Ann Wolfe is well known and that devastating KO of Ward, it could be speculated, represents a major factor why Laila Ali and Ann Wolfe have never gotten together in the ring.  Regarding her promotion of other fighters, Laila Ali has spent her seven year career "building up" one fighter and one fighter only. And Laila Ali sees that fighter every day in the mirror. Ali should beat Burton on Saturday at Madison Square Garden and it's an unfortunate circumstance that HBO continues their benign neglect of the sport of Women's boxing. Because Laila Ali, all talk and bluster aside, is one of the talented fighters in the sport and Burton possesses a level of skill and toughness that could bring out a lot of that talent. HBO has done much worse in their past fight selection than what an Ali/Burton bout has the potential to offer viewers

Maybe someday, Laila Ali will climb into the ring with Ann Wolfe or possibly Leatitia Robinson, or maybe not. It's, obviously, Laila Ali's "call." And in that future, better world, maybe HBO will deign to televise that bout, or maybe not, it's their "call." But from where I view it, I think until that happens, Jim Lampley may want to go a bit easier on the "That's what boxing is all about" call. Because, in point of fact, unless, and until, HBO includes the sport of Women's boxing in their repertoire of telecasts, they're not televising what boxing is ALL about. Women are going to continue to compete in the boxing ring and, if the current trend continues, the skill level of the fighters will continue to improve and that will make it a sports attraction that even HBO ought to be able to recognize. Of course, Laila Ali stepping in with Ann Wolfe or Leatitia Robinson and HBO recognizing the value of such bouts, even when those bouts feature women fighters, will require a number of people, television "suits" and athletes among them, to lose their current oversupply of hubris. And that will take some major cojones.

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