LAS VEGAS -- This never happened at the good old Madison Square Garden.
There, by God, a fight was a fight. Well, sure, you might have a few bottles and chairs thrown around after an unpopular decision, but never did a postfight analysis include discussion of preparachute and postparachute.
But this is Las Vegas, which bills itself as the “Entertainment Capital of the World.” In Las Vegas we come to expect that little something extra, and we most definitely got it last night when a Para-Glider came crashing into the ring during the seventh round of the Riddick Bowe-Evander Holyfield heavyweight championship bout at Caesars Palace last night.
The sport of boxing has often had that mondo bizarro quality to it, but this bout now moves to the top of the list. We know this much: no one will confuse the night Evander Holyfield regained his title with any other heavyweight bout in their experience.
The boxing aspect was good enough to recommend this as a sensational night of entertainment. When, after all, is the last time championship aspirants simply ignored a bell and kept pounding away for a good 10-12 seconds after a round had ended, as these two did in the fourth, a round that did not end until Emanuel Steward came racing out of the Holyfield corner to pull his charge away?
And when did a championship fight end with the two combatants again whaling away at each other, forcing Steward into an even more amazing decision? This time Holyfield’s trainer tackled his man. Then, and only then, was the evening’s entertainment concluded.
The man in the parachute had been seen hovering over the premises for upwards of 45 minutes. No one had any idea what he was doing up there in his aerial device. No one yet knows. What is known is that midway through the seventh round the parachute man started to descend. Rapidly. He came in over the bleachers behind the Bowe corner and headed directly toward the ring.
“I saw the parachute man coming in and I didn’t know what was happening,” said Holyfield, now 30-1. “I just wanted to get out of the way.”
The man crashed into the ropes to the left of Bowe’s corner. There would be no boxing for the next 21 minutes. It was boxing’s answer to a rain delay. While the parachutist and the other injured were tended to and the parachute was extracted from its resting place on the top of the ring superstructure, the fighters were left to their thoughts on this very chilly (that’s correct, chilly) evening. Bowe donned a heavy robe and wrapped himself in two blankets. Holyfield slipped his robe around his shoulders.
Bowe looked concerned, and he had every reason to be. He had already lost control of the fight. After winning the first round, he found himself confronted with a very skilled and determined opponent. By the fourth round his face was bloody. He really was knocked around in the fifth. He clearly was sucking wind by the sixth.
But that wasn’t his only problem. In the midst of the parachute commotion, his wife, Judy, four months pregnant, fainted. He fought the rest of the bout knowing that she was in a hospital. He had good reason to be distracted.
Yet the big delay was also a blessing. It gave him 21 precious minutes to regroup physically. He was an exhausted man at the conclusion of Round 6.
That being the case, Holyfield again gets incredibly high marks for being a sportsman. If anyone was hurt by this interruption, it was Holyfield. The fight was his at that point. Now he had to crank it up all over again.
“We had two fights tonight,” Holyfield said. “We had a six-rounder, and then we had another six-rounder. It gave us both an opportunity to be fresh. I tried to use it to my advantage.”
The people most shaken up by the parachutist were the judges. This was a much closer fight in their judgment than in the eyes of unofficial ringside observers. The three judges were in agreement on nine of the 12 rounds. Rounds 2 and 11 were split, with two judges giving them to Holyfield and two giving them to Bowe.
But there was only one round in which the judges disagreed violently, and guess which round that was? Yup, the seventh.
Judge Jerry Roth gave it to Holyfield. Judge Chuck Giampa gave it to Bowe. Finally, judge Patricia Jarman called it even. Had she given it to Bowe, her final card would have been 115-115 and the fight would have been called a draw.
The truth is, how could anyone accurately judge the seventh round? No matter what type of notes you took before the intruder came crashing into the ring, a round often is decided on feel, and who could have a proper feel for a round with a 21-minute Para-Glider delay?
So there is something to be said for fighting indoors, instead of doing it on converted parking lots. But nature has intervened in boxing matches before. Boxing Illustrated publisher Bert Randolph Sugar points out that Nonpareil Jack Dempsey was once fighting on a beach and when the tide came in a bit quicker and higher than expected they moved to another beach.
All I know is that this stuff never happened in the good old Garden.