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Sequels seldom work....
By Bernie McCoy
May 20, 2003
It was a cliché when I heard the joke the first time; an eighteen year old, know-it-all, Irish kid bartending at a quintessential Jewish resort in the Catskills.  I was "behind the stick" at Browns, just outside Monticello, NY, when some old guy, on his third Manhattan, tells me the joke. It’s the one about the guy who "puts a move" on a beautiful woman in a hotel bar and she responds by slapping him so hard she knocks him off the barstool. He looks up, chagrined, and says, "I suppose this means going up to your room is out of the question". 

I thought about Browns and the Catskills and that joke when I saw the news report that Laila Ali had announced that her opponent for the June 21 bout, underneath the Lennox Lewis/Kirk Johnson heavyweight championship bout, will be Valerie Mahfood.

While its true that nobody, knowing the caution that Ali and her management have exhibited, thus far, in picking opponents, would have expected the selection of an opponent to be an Ann Wolfe or a Veronica Simmons, but there was a lingering hope that the selection of the June 21 opponent would at least have a sense of credibility to it.

It doesn't. Mahfood, whose current record is 13-5, has not fought since November of last year when she lost to, you guessed it, Laila Ali. The fight was stopped in the eighth round after a one-sided bout in which Ali kept Mahfood at the end of her jab for the entire fight before the referee, having seen enough of the one-sided contest, simply stepped in and stopped the bout. Following the bout, Ali used such phrases as "a real beat down" to describe the bout and referred to Mahfood as "nothin' much". Both labels seemed accurate, at least, on that night, with respect to Mahfood climbing into the ring with Laila Ali. Valerie Mahfood, at 5' 6" and a game fighter, has neither the height nor the reach to get much closer than an adjoining zip code to the 5' 10", long limbed Ali. However, despite this near walkover, Ali, for her first venture into the "catbird seat" of the featured Women's bout on a heavyweight championship card, comes up with "nothin' much". One almost expected to hear Paul Newman, in character of his long ago movie role, Luke, drawl "every so often, nothin' is a real cool hand".

Amazingly, Valerie Mahfood represents the best of the last three opponents that Ali has fought. The other two include Mary Ann Almager, who unretired to fight Ali in February of this year, lasting into the fourth round and Suzy Taylor who huffed and puffed through slightly more than three minutes before succumbing to a series of body punches in August of last year. Of course, being nominated as the best of this "unholy trinity" is tantamount to be named first mate in a rowboat.

Probably the most interesting aspect of this mismatch rerun will be the way it is "sold" by the Ali camp. I think we can expect to hear something about "unfinished business" that Ali has suddenly developed with Mahfood, since Laila failed to score a knockout or knockdown during the November bout. There might, also, be intimations that Mahfood was "forced" on Ali by the promoter or some other unnamed broker. In another long gone era, this was known as the "Nuremberg defense". One thing the public can be fairly certain of is that the name Ann Wolfe will not be mentioned with any regularity, and we will also probably be spared the crucial information that Majorie Jones, who Ali KO'd in June, 2000, had been considered, but June 21 was Jones' weekend with the grandkids. Whatever the "company line" for the Mahfood selection, it will be a skillful dissertation saying absolutely nothing but, in the end, justifying everything. A bit like the missives we get on a daily basis from Washington, since the skill with which Laila Ali's husband, Johnny McClain,  has handled her career thus far, from a public relations standpoint, has been as masterful as any politician and almost as skillful as Laila has comported herself in the ring.

And that is, by far, the most disappointing element of the choice of Valerie Mahfood for the June 21 bout. Ali is clearly a much better fighter than Mahfood from both a physical and a boxing skills standpoint. Would Kendra Lenhart have been a better choice, if former opponents were the standard for choosing an opponent? Would Marsha Valley have been more credible, while, at the same time, providing a benchmark for Ali, since Valley has been twice in the ring with Ann Wolfe? Ali's substantial talent has deservedly gotten her to the point of national exposure on a heavyweight championship card and that talent deserves to be displayed to its fullest. Another bout with Valerie Mahfood will not do that. That was evident from the last time. Sequels seldom work, and it’s fairly certain that Ali/Mahfood won't be an exception.

Bernie McCoy



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