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"Crying Wolfe"
By Bernie McCoy
June 28, 2003
  The out-of-the-blue announcement of the August 23,  Laila Ali and Christy Martin matchup brought the expected reaction from the "usual suspects" in Texas. RPM Boxing issued a broadside stating that Ali, by taking the Martin bout, was once again, "dodging the bullet", a matchup with RPM's estimable fighter, Ann Wolfe. Wolfe's name, indeed, has usually been a noticeably absent element any time opponents for Laila Ali are the subject. However, like almost everything to do with Ali and her career, it comes back to Johnny "Yahya" McClain, who is Laila's husband and, not surprisingly, the promoter of the August 23 card on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

McClain has done a masterful job of positioning Laila Ali as the new "face" of Women's Boxing, replacing the other woman in the ring on August 23, Christy Martin. In fact, as a promoter, a comparison of McClain to Don King is not inappropriate. While McClain, mercifully, often lacks King's overbearing and feigned flamboyance, he's sometimes seems like a cross between a tiger and a parrot: when he talks, its probably a good idea to listen. It also doesn't hurt his promotional efforts that his wife has evolved into a very good fighter. The combination of his shrewd promotion and her burgeoning talent in the ring have resulted in the most powerful combination in the sport.

As any shrewd promoter would, McClain constantly seeks as much an edge for his fighter as legally possible. Thus, the choice of Martin as the next opponent seems an inspired choice. Last November, I wrote a piece, "Women's Boxing Act Two" stating that the Ali/Martin matchup would serve as a tremendous boost for the sport, in addition to being a classic matchup between an experienced Martin and a youthful Ali; between the "bore-in  puncher", Martin and "slick, sleek, boxer", Ali.  Since then, Martin went ten, almost unwatchable, rounds with Mia St John on December 6. Christy arrived in the ring in dreadful shape and after failing to gain an early KO, barely made it through the ten rounds, although a Martin decision was never in doubt. In the Spring, Martin put in another appearance, of sorts, a six-round exhibition in Iowa. During the same period, Laila Ali has had three bouts which were notable for several factors, the primary one being Ann Wolfe was never seriously considered as a viable opponent. Instead, Ali climbed into the ring twice with an undersized Valerie Mahfood and another time against Mary Ann Almager, who had to be coaxed out of retirement in order to get punched around for four rounds. Three bouts, three wins, three TKOs. Johnny McClain, at his best, is a master of matchups.

So why Martin in Mississippi in August? It can be logically reasoned that, in addition to being very good at matchups, McClain also knows how to read boxing records. In her first 37 wins, Christy Martin had 30 KOs. In the last three and one half years and seven bouts, Martin has had one KO, a one-minute destruction of an overmatched and woefully out-of-shape Sabrina Hall in Las Vegas. By comparison, Ann Wolfe has won her last six bouts by knockout. There are no sure things in sports and especially so in boxing, but it's a promoter's aim to get a matchup that is as close to a "sure thing" for his fighter as possible. One way to do that is to eliminate any "unknown factors". In boxing, one of the biggest "unknown factors" is punching power. A look at the records indicates that when it comes to a "puncher's chance" against Laila Ali, Ann Wolfe probably has one, Christy Martin probably doesn't. Absent a "punchers chance",  Martin, realistically has only one way to win in August and that is to outbox Ali. At 5'4", against the  5'10" Ali, Martin, unless she comes to the ring in much better shape than she did last December, may not be a "sure thing" opponent,  but I think Johnny McClain likes his fighter's chances.

The fight will be telecast on PPV and one hopes that the card will also feature some of the quality fighters in the sport of Women's boxing. One "natural" preliminary bout would be Jacqui Frazier/Ann Wolfe. Of course, the aforementioned "ducking the bullet" broadside from Texas may have eliminated that matchup from consideration. However, Lucia Rijker, who fought on the same card with Ali, on June 21 in Los Angeles, would also be an appealing addition to the card both for boxing fans and the sport. Fight fans, everywhere, would certainly concur that quality distaff bouts would be far preferable to unknown male fighters underneath the Ali/Martin main event.

At one point in the past, Laila Ali in the ring with Christy Martin would have been the most compelling matchup in Women's boxing. It may, indeed, still be an intriguing bout. However, for that to happen, Christy Martin has to be in considerably better condition than she has been in recent ring appearances. In any case, for maybe the first time in her career, the "Coal Miners Daughter" is a decided underdog. Not only is she facing a very good fighter, who will have a size, youth and reach advantage, Martin will also be up against a promoter who knows how to pick his fighter's spots as well as anyone in the business. 

And what of Ann Wolfe? I think she'll get her shot at Laila Ali, but it sure won't be on the terms of the guys in Texas crying "Wolfe".

Bernie McCoy


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