Boxing
Back to the Future: Grant Ready for a "Big" Splash
Lyle Fitzsimmons

By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor


Ocala, FL (Sports Network) - Ahhhh...memories.

If you make a living writing Hallmark cards or adult contemporary hits, they're a staple of your business. But if you're an athlete -- particularly a baseball relief pitcher or an ice hockey goalie -- they're not quite as helpful.

If you're a boxer, it's even less.

Case in point...Michael Grant.

If you're a fan of the sport, chances are your No. 1 memory of Grant involves the stallion-like 27-year-old version looking as if he'd been put down -- literally -- courtesy of a Lennox Lewis barrage in round two of their April 2000 title fight at Madison Square Garden.

It was equally ugly 15 months later, when a lame ankle left him on the short end of a one-round TKO against Jameel McCline at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

To most, in fact, the 15 wins in 16 fights since have been forgettable.

Yet Grant presses on, downing the likes of Billy Zumbrun, Kevin Montiy, Demetrice King, Paul Marinaccio and Kevin Burnett in his last five fights and getting little closer to the respect that's escaped him since the cataclysms of a decade ago.

Now, at 38...he's got another shot.

Though considered little more than a familiar name and carcass for surging Tomasz Adamek's pre-heavyweight title resume, Grant and trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad are singing a cheerier tune as they approach Saturday's match at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

The event is being billed "The Big Challenge" and a win would earn Grant -- who stands nearly six inches taller and should weigh 40 or so pounds heavier -- both the IBF international and WBO NABO titles.

Ho hum.

More importantly, it'd go leaps and bounds toward reshaping his career template.

"I only have three losses. Those losses were learning stones for me, stepping stones," Grant said. "It's a great opportunity for me and I'm ready for it. I'm experienced. I've got a hell of a trainer. I'm having a hell of a camp. Everything is lining up.

"This fight is a very important opportunity to me and my family. The only time I've trained harder than this is when I fought Lennox Lewis. So this is how I know that things are lining up for me to be victorious."

OK...so logic may not be his strong point.

But according to Muhammad, dedication isn't a problem.

"Right now, I can put Michael in the top five of his division," he said. "Because of his work ethic and because of what he brings to me in the gym. I am not trying to change his style, all I am doing is adding on to his style. Whatever he brings me, I just take that to another level.

"(People) don't see Michael the way I see Michael. I am working with him every day in the gym. We are working on different things. Michael is the bigger man. He's a harder punching man. He's got the height and reach. He's got the good jab. You know, everybody's gonna see a different, a very different scenario. They're gonna see a more mature Michael Grant."

Now the promotional property of Nick Garone's X-Cel Worldwide Promotions, Grant will also be facing some familiar out-of-the-ring faces from Main Events -- the company that worked with him early in his career and is now promoting Adamek.


A win would earn Michael Grant both the IBF international and WBO NABO titles.
"I know Michael. I love him," said Main Events Director Kathy Duva. "He used to be our fighter and I have no hard feelings. But obviously now we are on opposite sides and I'll be rooting for my guy when the bell rings."

The X-Cel stable also features former two-time super middleweight title claimant Byron Mitchell and mid-card veterans Dorin Spivey and Meacher Major, as well as rising prospects in welterweight Adrian Mora and 140-pounder Nick Casal.

The marked mix of young and old is both intentional and vital, according to Garone.

"It's different in every case," he said. "Yes, you need young guys because there is a turnover on talent continuously, but there is a catch-22. The older, more experienced and name-recognized guys are sometimes better because you have a built product. If you sign guys that are established you have an instant draw and an opportunity to solicit television, venues, etc.

"Younger guys need to be built into contenders and more often than not it takes a huge commitment with money, time and resources. But don't get me wrong; if someone came along that was a winner you have to take that risk. Guys like Michael Grant and Byron Mitchell have name recognition, so fight fans might want to come out."

One of these days, I'm going to listen to myself.

I still carry the emotional scars from 14 years ago, when, as assistant sports editor with a newspaper in Batavia, N.Y., I wrote a column on that night's first Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield heavyweight title fight -- in which Tyson was a prohibitive favorite.

Over 750 words or so, I laid out a series of reasons why I -- never a giant "Iron Mike" fan -- believed the thought-to-be-shot "Real Deal" had a legitimate chance at springing a sizable upset and snatching Tyson's WBA title belt in the MGM Grand ring.

But when push came to shove at the end...I chickened out and picked Tyson anyway, then watched the broadcast through clenched teeth as nearly every scenario I'd forecasted unfolded en route to Holyfield's decisive 11th-round TKO win.

Worst of all was the graphic that kept popping up, identifying one media member out of 50 or so as having picked Holyfield. And funny, no matter how often I showed my dad the actual body of the column as the KO became imminent, he only smiled and pointed to the end.

I've tried to carry the shame with me ever since...and it usually works.

But for whatever reason, I let it slide a little last week.

While doing prep work for Saturday's Chad Dawson-Jean Pascal title fight in Montreal, I started getting the overwhelming feeling that the unbeaten IBO champion -- one of my favorite fighters since he emerged in 2007 -- was in for a rougher go than odds indicated.

Something about the stat I unburied -- it was the first time Dawson had fought a younger man after 30 straight older foes -- gave me a sinking suspicion the reign was fixing to end.

I didn't run out and throw down a wager with the Haitian-turned-Canadian at 3- to-1 odds (dumb!), but I did write Friday's piece pointing out exactly the things about the fight were troubling me as it approached.

Among my genius:

"There's little debate that on a platform of talent, accomplishment and familiarity, Dawson's a prime-time powerhouse. His duels with Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson were effective if not artistic, with little doubt of superiority remaining at the close of either.

"And a wide scorecard defeat of then-unbeaten WBC champ Tomasz Adamek three years ago looks better with each scalp the Pole claims at heavyweight. Still, the age thing lingers in an arena where youth is often a tipping point.

"Because he's not met a foe in his 20s since 2006 -- and never one near a world-class level -- Dawson could be slightly uneasy when dealing with challenges presented by a solidly-built 27-year-old who's been more dominant, in admittedly lesser tasks, since first emerging in 2007.

"Overcoming a workmanlike Johnson is one thing at 40. Denying a prime and hungry fireplug 13 years younger is quite another."

But, surprise, surprise...when it came time to make the pick, I went back to the chalk and went with Dawson by decision, even with the distinctly prescient comment -- "Dawson's first chance to fight a young, prime 175-pounder."

Oh well...check back in 2024. Maybe I'll have wised up by then.

This week's title-fight schedule:

SATURDAY WBO junior heavyweight title -- Erfurt, Germany Marco Huck (champion) vs. Matt Godfrey (No. 5 contender) Huck (29-1, 22 KO): Fourth title defense; Thirteenth straight fight in Germany (11-1, 8 KO) Godfrey (20-1, 10 KO): First title fight; Second fight in Germany (0-1, 0 KO) Fitzbitz says: "Streaking champion remains a major commodity on home turf." Huck by decision

Last week's picks: 3-1 Overall picks record: 217-76 (74.0 percent)

Lyle Fitzsimmons is a veteran sports columnist who's written professionally since 1988 and covered boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and posted online for clients in North America and Europe. Reach him at fitzbitz@msn.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz.

Jabs, hooks or knockouts, Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com.

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