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April 06, 2007

HEY, GROUCHO, HAVE YOU HEARD THE ONE ABOUT PRAWET SINGWANCHA?
By George Kimball

NEW YORK – Julius Henry Marx, who once said he wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have him as a member, was a member. So is Jerry Seinfeld, although in a classic episode of his television series he and George were once ejected from the Friars Club.

Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, and Carl and Rob Reiner, all of whom are genuinely funny, are Friars in good standing. Jerry Lewis, who is considered funny in certain parts of the world, is presently the Club’s Head Abbot.

Midway through Wednesday’s Manhattan press conference, a boxing scribe discovered that he was sitting in Jimmy Durante’s chair.

In a venue pervaded by the aura of all these great funnymen you kept hoping for something more amusing than the comedic duo of Don King and Artie  Pelullo, but the truth of the matter was that the biggest joke of the day wasn’t even there.  He was 7,500 miles away in Bangkok.

Depending on whom you’re talking to, Prawet Singwangcha is either “some bullshit guy from Thailand who ain’t fought in two years” (King) or the Number One lightweight contender in the world (the World Boxing Association).

It isn’t often that we find ourselves on the same side of a pugilistic issue as the World’s Greatest Promoter, but in this instance King would appear to have truth on his side. It’s actually only been 13 months since Singwancha last boxed, but otherwise King’s assessment was pretty much right on the money.

Shortly after it was announced that WBA lightweight champion Juan Diaz would square off against WBO champ Acelino Freitas in a highly-anticipated unification bout at Foxwoods April 28, the faxes started flying.

Under some pressure from Golden Boy Promotions, which acquired the Thai boxer’s promotional rights last summer, the WBA ruled that Diaz couldn’t meet Freitas in a fight everybody wanted to see until he first defended against Singwancha in a fight nobody wants to see.

Even though Diaz-Freitas was already on HBO’s schedule, Los Banditos proceeded to conduct a purse bid in Panama last Monday. Golden Boy, which appears to have been bidding against itself (the second-high bid was reportedly submitted by Sampson Lewkowicz, the matchmaker who delivered Singwancha to Golden Boy in the first place), won the right to stage the mandatory for $160,000. 

Diaz said that he had been given 20 days to respond. The present expectation is that he will be stripped of the WBA title before the Freitas fight takes place.

All of this could have been avoided had Diaz and Singwancha met, as they were supposed to have, back in February. King had scheduled that match to take place in a rodeo ring in Kissimmee, Florida, on the undercard of the Chad Dawson-Tomas Adamek fight, but the Thai encountered “visa problems” and failed to materialize.

Diaz says that at after the scheduled mandatory fell apart, he petitioned the WBA for an exception, which was granted, and King maintains that he then offered to compensate Singwancha with a $75,000 step-aside fee, which was accepted.

But once the Freitas bout was announced, according to King, the price of poker suddenly doubled. King charged that Singwancha and Golden Boy had reneged on the initial agreement and in what the promoter termed “extortion” were now demanding another $150,000 to allow the title unification to proceed unimpeded.

All of which leads to this morning’s question: Who is Prawet Singwangcha, and how, exactly, did he get to be the No. 1 lightweight in the world in anyone’s estimation?

Singwancha isn’t the top-rated challenger because he’s with Golden Boy. He’s with Golden Boy because he was the top-rated challenger. In this respect, Oscar De La Hoya’s company borrowed a page from King’s playbook, recognizing that Singwancha, whether he could fight or not, might prove a useful bargaining chip down the line.

When Golden Boy signed him last summer the company press release described Singwancha as “one of the most underrated fighters in the world,” and as “a diamond in the rough, a fighter so good he has trouble finding opponents willing to step into the ring with him.”

“He has truly,” added De La Hoya, “earned his shot at the title.”

Really?

In his only fight of 2006, Singwancha was extended the distance in outpointing Teofilo Tunacao, a 37 year-old Filipino who had lost in 11 of his previous 13 outings and was 6-27 since 1994.

In 2005 Singwancha’s march to the top consisted of five wins against five fighters who had won just four bouts between them. All four wins belonged to Dodie Boy Agrabio, who was 4-2 when he met Singwancha. The other four victims had never won a single fight.

Singwancha’s 30-2-1 record is quite deceptive. According to BoxRec, fifteen – exactly half – of his victims had never won a single professional fight at the time he faced them. He is 28-0 in Thailand, 2-2-1 in bouts outside it. He has never fought outside Asia, but the first two times he left his homeland he was knocked out – in four rounds in a fight in Korea, in the first round of another in Japan.

Even allowing for shoddy record-keeping and the likelihood that some of Singwancha’s opponents may have been fighting under bogus names, you have to wonder whether anyone at Golden Boy, let alone the WBA, had ever actually seen him fight – or examined his history.

Diaz, for his part, seems fatalistic about the potentially impending loss of his title.  “If they strip me and I beat Freitas, I’ll still be a world champion,” he cheerfully pointed out.

But even that did not seem altogether certain at the Friars Club gathering. Although Pelullo, who is Freitas’ promoter, insisted that Freitas’ WBO title would “absolutely” be on the line even if Diaz’ were not, the Brazilian champion appeared to waffle on the issue, suggesting that if Diaz’ title weren’t up for grabs, his might not be either.

With trainer Oscar Suarez interpreting, Popo was asked whether there was a chance that the April 28 fight might be for no title at all.

“That is correct,” said Suarez, who, it might be noted, replied without even waiting for Popo to respond.

The cynical suspicion here is that this may all be gamesmanship on the part of the promoters. Foxwoods is looking to this fight as a major occasion, the 100th boxing card the casino has presented in the 15 years since its inception, and wouldn’t want to be embarrassed by having to explain to its high-rolling customers that what it had billed as an historic title unification fight isn’t a championship fight at all.

And if all it’s going to take is money to bring Golden Boy and the WBA into line, our theory goes, then Don King may still be hoping that the tribute will come from the coffers of the Mashantucket Pequod Tribe and not from his own pockets.

Our guess, then, is that despite Popo’s purported misgivings, Diaz-Freitas will indeed be a title fight, and probably a unification fight, but the fact that it ever came to this remains an absolute disgrace to the sport.

The Friars Club has been the setting for many funny lines over the years, but even the august membership of the 100-year old organization would have trouble coming up with a joke more laughable than Prawet Singwangcha.

Send questions and comments to: gkimball@boxingtalk.com



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