IBF Convention Diary: Day One

Ah, Chicago. One of the great fight towns. Site of the Valentine’s Day Massacre – both the Robinson-LaMotta fight and the event after which it was named - and the Long Count Fight that sent Jack Dempsey into retirement. Where Rocky Marciano knocked out Jersey Joe Walcott inside a round, Sonny Liston dethroned Floyd Patterson, and Joe Louis stopped James Braddock to begin his long heavyweight reign. (“When he hit me with that left-right combination, I could’ve stayed down on the canvas for three weeks,” sighed Braddock, relieved of his crown in his first defense.) Jack Johnson is buried here, as is - just a few steps away - Bob Fitzsimmons.

The fact that you’re reading this on a boxing website means there’s a strong likelihood you know of all these fighters and fights. You might not, however, be familiar with Lee Roy Murphy. Murphy is from Chicago, and from 1984 to 1986 he was the IBF cruiserweight champion. And if you ever want to watch an absolutely batshit crazy fight, check out his second title defense, against Chisanda Mutti, in which Murphy’s head was snapped back repeatedly until the 12th round, when he and Mutti knocked each other down simultaneously. Murphy clambered to his feet, Mutti didn’t, and Murphy was still champion.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t remember Murphy either. He might have been better known were it not for the fact that, after he qualified for the U.S. Olympic team, the United States boycotted the Moscow games. But, a quarter-century after his last fight, he had his moment in the sun on Monday night in a ballroom at the Fairmont Hotel in the city’s downtown, called to the stage to receive applause from a hundred or so people gathered for the annual convention of the International Boxing Federation.

Sanctioning bodies get a bad rap, sometimes – perhaps most times – justifiably. Being a boxing journalist at a sanctioning body convention feels a little like lunching in a leper colony. But this is where a lot of work gets done, where rankings are established, and title fights are sometimes made. It is where officials gather to discuss successes and failures in refereeing, judging, and medical responses. It is a good place to be. And maybe it’s early onset Stockholm Syndrome, but everyone seems, frankly, kind and welcoming.

Opening night, though, is about the fighters, an opportunity to recognize local boxers like Murphy and former title challenger Marty Jakubowski, the kind of fighters who, by any reasonable standards, had successful careers but who, outside of the nerdiest of boxing nerds, have been largely forgotten. Billy Dib, former featherweight titlist from Australia, is in the house, being honored after battling and beating cancer. Chicago’s own Fres Oquendo bounds onto the stage. And there are some boxers who remain very much active, recent or current holders of IBF belts, including Murodjon Akhmadaliev and Subriel Matias.

I approach multi-time heavyweight title challenger Andrew Golota, dressed neatly in a suit but seemingly keen to avoid attention. Would he grant me an interview? I picture him regaling me with tales of the riot at Madison Square Garden when he was disqualified after hitting Riddick Bowe repeatedly in the testicles, or his abbreviated bouts against Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson. But he doesn’t want to talk.

“Go on, Andrew, you should talk to the man,” urges his wife. He shakes his head. She urges again. He almost says yes but looks uncomfortable with the idea. Eventually he acquiesces with reluctance, but he famously never really liked boxing and enjoyed the media even less, and both appear to be true many years after his retirement.

“How are you these days?’

“I’m bored.”

“What are you up to?”

“I walk my dog.”

“Anything else?”

“In the mornings, I lift weights. And I do whatever my wife asks me to do.”

He hasn’t kept up with boxing much. “It isn’t the same. It’s all about money.” He is unaware that Oleksander Usyk may be making a title defense in Golota’s native Poland.

“Against who?”

“Daniel Dubois.”


He is friendly and smiles but would clearly rather have a root canal.

“Are you happy?” I ask.

He smiles and looks at the young lady who has joined me.

“I have my daughter.”

She, like her mother, is a lawyer in town. We talk about shared experiences of Ireland (she spent a college semester in Galway) and she jokes about the nervousness boyfriends have shown when she brings them home to meet her former heavyweight boxer father.

While she and I talk, Golota steps away. He is balancing his stout frame on the edge of a chair, his arm around his wife, looking relaxed and content, far more comfortable than he ever appeared in the ring and certainly happier without me thrusting a microphone in his face.