Sunday, March 28, 1999

Boxing's state of disarray discredits champions


Too few care about Austin defending title

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MIAMI — Tim Austin's title doesn't entitle him to all that much. He is the bantamweight champion of the world — so says the International Boxing Federation — but what this means is miniscule. Beyond the frequent judging fiascos and the enduring menace of Don King, the Sweet Science has been soured by too many sanctioning bodies bestowing too many titles in too many weight classes amid too much corruption.

        Austin successfully defended his title Saturday night with a ninth-round knockout of Sergio Aguila, and he had to come off the mat for the first time in his career. It was as dramatic a fight as Austin has fought, but the proliferation of championship belts practically made it a non-event. No fewer than four fighters claim world titles at 118 pounds — WBO champion Jorge Eliecer Julio retained his title with a split decision over Julio Gamboa on the Austin undercard — but no unification bouts have been scheduled to resolve the confusion. The results are anarchy and apathy, and an Olympic medalist plying his trade in relative obscurity.

        Saturday's fight was not staged at some glitzy casino as a lure for high rollers, but at a past-prime Jai-Alai fronton, in a converted poker room limited to 800 seats. The Showtime cable network thought enough of the card to show the last part of it live, but the Miami Herald was so unimpressed that it played the advance story on the 15th page of its sports section, beneath an item on dog racing. A bumblebee would have created more of a buzz.

        You would think some Cincinnati promoter could have staged a more compelling show with a local champion as his drawing card. Yet in six years of professional punching — the last 20 months as IBF champion — Tim Austin has yet to fight before his hometown fans.

        Boxing never has made much sense. But you knew that already.

        “What Timmy wants, and what he's been trying to get, is a unification fight with any of these (other) champions,” said Aaron Snowell, Austin's train er. “But no one wants to fight him. Before, when he was the No. 1 contender, it took (Mbulelo) Botile a year and a half to fight him. And that was a mandatory defense.”

        Botile broke Austin's jaw in the first round of their 1997 title fight, but the plucky left-hander persevered, and scored a technical knockout in the eighth round. Complications from jaw surgery and the peculiar politics of pugilism have limited Austin's title defenses and, consequently, his earning power. Austin fought seven times in a 12-month span prior to his title shot. Saturday's scheduled 12-rounder was only his third bout in a year and a half.

        Inactivity is the natural enemy of the athlete, and the most dangerous opponent for many boxers. Aaron Pryor, pound-for-pound the best fighter Cincinnati has produced, was virtually unbeatable inside the ring, and enormously vulnerable beyond its boundaries. Tim Austin, too, has had to contend with a self-destructive streak.

        When he returned from the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, a bronze medal draped around his neck, Austin nearly wrecked his career through excessive drinking. Becoming a champion, he says, has helped sober him.

        “When you win a world title, you change as a fighter,” he says. “You have to act like a champion in and out of the ring.”

        Snowell confirms Austin's newfound maturity and contrasts him to former champion Frankie Randall.

        “Once Frankie won the title, it was hard to tell him anything,” Snowell said. “Timmy's dedicated. He's very disciplined. He's growing and understanding what his purpose is.

        “He's been around other world champions — Aaron Pryor, Mike Tyson, Frankie Randall — he's seen a lot of them on the top who've made errors. He's had his (own) trials and tribulations, but he's a man now. A lot of things he was doing as a young man, he's no longer doing.”

        One of the advantages of competing in the lower weight classes is that one's mistakes are not magnified as much. One of the disadvantages is that a mediocre heavyweight can make more money than a champion bantanweight.

        Tickets to Tim Austin's third title defense were on sale for $40 Saturday evening. Even if every seat had been sold, the live gate would have been less than $40,000.

        If it weren't for the television cameras, it would have been tough to tell the fight mattered. Except, of course, to those in the ring.

        “All fights are big,” Aaron Snowell said, “when your title's on the line.”

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail at tsullivan@enquirer.com

Austin retains bantamweight title



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