As this last month of 2013 winds down, professional boxing wraps up an incredible year filled with noteworthy fights. As an avid boxing fan, I love hearing from the real authorities on the sport. Al Bernstein always tops my list, mainly due to the fact that he's been a staple in the sport for going on 40 years.
Recently, Iain Kidd and I had the opportunity to snag some time with Al for an MMA Sentinel / Bloody Elbow interview. Bernstein gives his take on the state of boxing today, Mike Tyson's resurgence, Manny Pacquiao's legal woes and more. Here's what he had to say:
MMA Sentinel: When I reached out to you on Wednesday and got your thanksgiving quotes, one thing you mentioned that you were thankful for professionally, was this being, in your opinion, the best year for boxing in the last quarter century. Can you expand on that and touch upon your high points and low points in this past year in boxing.
Al Bernstein: It's been a totally extraordinary year. Some people were surprised when I said that it was the best year in 25 years, but I really believe it has been. We've seen just tremendous matches; Provodnikov vs. Bradley, Alvarado vs. Rios, Froch vs. Kessler and we just saw Froch vs. Groves, which was unfortunately tainted by some issues with the officiating. The high point is that we've had just scores of tremendous, great fights.
The low point is that, at this moment, boxing's officiating, both in the ring and outside it--and MMA fans share in this concern because there has been a lot of controversy over it in both sports--but in boxing the officials have had a very bad year, in my opinion. Not just in terms of who wins or loses, but sometimes someone will win and the scorecards are way out of whack, even though the right person won. Sometimes someone gets knocked out and when you see the scorecards you say, "Give me a break, how is that possible?" It's been very difficult in that sense.
MMA Sentinel: Talking about the judging in boxing, some of the decisions have been absolutely terrible. The Pacquiao vs. Bradley decision comes to mind, so does C.J Ross giving Canelo a draw versus Mayweather. Do you think there is a serious problem with the judging, or do you think it's just a few bad judges? Do you think judging needs an overhaul to fix these issues?
Al Bernstein: I hate to say it, because I'm not usually an alarmist or somebody who overstates thing, but I think it is a problem. I think it's a serious problem. I don't know if it's borne more out of incompetence or bias, or sometimes it's a third thing; I call it the commerce of boxing. Judges get in their head, whether consciously or subconsciously, that if a certain fighter wins it will be better for the sport.
That's a terrible charge to have to make against somebody, and that's why I say maybe it's subconscious, but that seems to be at play sometimes.
MMA Sentinel: In the past boxing has had some issues with corruption, especially among judges, do you think that's still going ok?
Al Bernstein: I don't believe it's the old fashioned money changing hands kind of a thing. If anything it's them thinking a certain outcome feels better for the sport, or bias towards regions of the world or countries, which we see a lot of, or it's just incompetence. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what the problem is; like most things in this life, it's probably a combination of all of them. We have a big problem, but there isn't a simple answer to it.
MMA Sentinel: Paulie Malignaggi has told us before that he feels like the house fighter always wins. What's your take on that?
Al Bernstein: Well I don't know if that's really true. I don't know if it's the house fighter. Often it's the fighter with more stature or influence that the judges are more enamored with. I don't think that always happens, but clearly it's an issue and it's part of the problem that we're facing, and it's been that way forever. Recently in your neck of the woods, in the UK, where George Groves and Carl Froch fought, on two of the scorecards Groves was only ahead by one point when the fight was stopped. People might perceive Froch as the house fighter, as the champion and so he gets the nod. That's a fight where you look at it and say, "Hmm, on the surface it seems like the house fighter got the advantage."
MMA Sentinel: Speaking of the Groves vs. Froch fight, I felt that was an early stoppage. Instead of sizing Groves up he seemed to just jump in to stop the fight. What was your take on it?
Al Bernstein: I thought it was an absurd stopping. Ludicrous. Groves was in trouble, but he was trying to escape at that moment and he had just thrown a couple of punches. To stop it at the moment, in my mind, was absolutely absurd. Believe me, the safety of fighters and stopping fights so fighters don't get hurt, I'm on board with that, but to stop a fight... a fighter should be against the ropes or he's not punching back and he's not responding. That wasn't the case in this situation. I mean clearly Groves was in trouble, but you have to give him some opportunity to work his way through it; it was a brilliant fight up until that point, in which he was doing extremely well.
MMA Sentinel: Let's switch gears a little bit and talk about Mike Tyson. He's had a bit of a career resurgence this year, his book has come out, he's had a TV show and he's been everywhere. Give me your thoughts on it.
Al Bernstein: I think Mike Tyson would say himself that getting past the age of 40 would be a miracle for him, and he's done that. He's also had this resurgence as you point out, and now there's a whole generation of people who don't even know the Mike Tyson whose behavior was worse than bad, the Mike Tyson that bit the leg of Lennox Lewis, the Mike Tyson that bit Holyfield's ear off... There's a whole generation of people now that just know him as the guy from ‘The Hangover' and the guy who's kind of looking back on his life and seems pretty mellow. They've done a complete re-invention of him, and to his credit he's made it work.
MMA Sentinel: Do you think that's good for boxing as a whole? For a guy like Mike Tyson to have his image refurbished and be appealing to audiences that might not normally watch boxing through movies like ‘The Hangover'?
Al Bernstein: Eh... Maybe. See, I never thought Tyson should ever be the poster kid for boxing. I interview hundreds of boxers over the course of a year, and Mike Tyson is the aberration. He's not the norm. I'm not comfortable with people thinking that all boxers are like Mike Tyson, because they're not. They're just not.
MMA Sentinel: We see these guys, and Mike Tyson is the perfect example, making hundreds of millions dollars and they're still in debt. Manny Pacquiao apparently owes the Filipino government $50 million in back taxes and just had his bank accounts frozen. Why do you think that happens? Is it shady managers? Is it promoters taking too much off the top?
Al Bernstein: Well they know what the promoters are taken, so that part is a given. If you have management, and Manny has been with his management forever, I'm assuming those people ought to make sure he pays his taxes. Maybe he has; he contends that the government is wrong in what it's doing, which is ironic because he's part of the government, which is interesting.
Most fighters are not managed well and there aren't very many managers in boxing who are truly managers. With a lot of them, the promoters handle the managerial duties, and they're not really supposed to be managers to the fighters; they're just supposed to get them fights. So the managers just avoid things and there's nobody really helping the fighters with those kind of situations.
MMA Sentinel: Why do you think that happens? These are guys with the means to get the best management available, but for some reason they so often seem to squander that opportunity. Do you think there's some sort of reason why, especially in boxing, guys don't seem to get the best people to handle their finances?
Al Bernstein: Well, boxing is a very entrepreneurial sport. If we look at other sports, the agents for the NFL have to be registered and there's scrutiny they're placed under, but some of these athletes still end up with money problems. So in boxing, where you don't have a league overseeing things or suggesting the ways agents should behave, it's very likely you'll end up getting a manager who is really not equipped to help you in all of these areas.
MMA Sentinel: Talking of Manny Pacquiao, the question has to be asked; Pacquiao vs. Mayweather. Do you think it will happen, and more importantly, do you think it should happen at this point?
Al Bernstein: I think people are still interested, even though many believe Mayweather would be a fairly prohibitive favorite and they're not sure that Pacquiao could get the job done. It's viewed as less of an even fight than it was before, but they both have huge fan-bases, and there's a huge base of people that just want to see Mayweather lose and they may think Pacquiao can do it.
I think there is still an interest in the fight. The issues it faces haven't changed too much. I was at the Nevada boxing Hall of Fame dinner, and Mayweather and Arum were nicer to each other and reaching out a little bit, so there's a possibility they could do business on this.
Part of the problem Mayweather has is with his new deal with Showtime, he needs somebody that can help him make these fights into mega fights. He done over two million buys against Canelo, and I think Pacquiao may be one of the few other people that can do that, so I think there's about a 50 percent change that fight gets made.
MMA Sentinel: I want to talk a little bit about your broadcast partner, Paulie Malignaggi. His performances recently haven't been bad at all, but he's spoken about retirement a few times now, and he's made some comments about only fighting if there are big paydays and it's worth it. Do you think that kind of stuff being in his head is impacting on his performances?
Al Bernstein: Well he fought very well against Broner. It was a close fight that probably could have gone either way, and he ended up on the short end of it. I think Paulie is giving his all to the sport. He's pretty much at the end. If he has even one more fight after this, it will probably be a lot. I know he has a lot of pride and he wants to perform well, he wants to win; he's a competitor.
I think the Judah fight this weekend is going to be very interesting. To me, it's kind of a pick-em fight. Paulie might be a slight underdog. . Judah certainly punches harder; Paulie's not a big puncher. What they both bring to the dance now is while they're a little more stationary than they used to be, they both throw combinations and they're both active fighters now, and it should be a very entertaining fight.
MMA Sentinel: I want to talk about your series of Google Hangouts you have coming up. The first one is going to be Tuesday the third at 4pm Pacific, tell us a little bit about that. How did it come about, and what can we expect from it?
Al Bernstein: I'm not exactly of the demographic that one would expect to be doing Google hangouts, but I've been very active on social media, both on Twitter @AlBernstein and on also on my Facebook fan page. I've really been involved in social media, and a gentleman named Dan Parks has been our social media consultant. He's worked very hard to set up these Google hangouts, and the nice thing is people will be able to watch them live on YouTube as well.
To me, it gives me another forum. On our first hangout we're going to have Kevin Iole as a guest, and then we're going to do one about half an hour after the fights on Saturday. So if the folks watch the Show on Saturday and would like to have a chance to interact, we can take questions people send in and I'll be able to answer them. It's a chance to interact with people and a chance to just give people more boxing content.
MMA Sentinel: I'm pretty excited for it myself. This coming weekend you'll be commentating some outstanding fights. Tell us about those and also where they can find you to interact with you either through Twitter or through your Google hangout.
Al Bernstein: This weekend on Showtime I'll be there along with Mauro Ranallo and Amir Khan is going to join us on the broadcast to fill in for Paulie, who of course will be fighting. We have Paulie Malignaggi vs. Zab Judah, and a terrific fight underneath that in Erislandy Lara versus Austin Trout, two of the best 154lbs fighters in the world. That's an amazing fight to have as the second fight on the bill, and we also have Anthony Dirrell versus Sakio Bika for one of the super-middleweight championships, and Devon Alexander is defending his welterweight crown against Shawn Porter. So we have four fights, and it's starting an hour earlier than it normally does, at 8pm EST because we have so many fights if we didn't, we'd be having a pajama party [laughs].
People can get a hold of me on Twitter @AlBernstein, I love to tweet and I do my best to interact with people, and of course via the Google hangout at 4pm Pacific on Tuesday, and the concurrent YouTube broadcast on the same day and time.