ABC is the unquestioned leader in Phonysport, those nonevents - like Superstars" - it creates and then tries to sell as memorable competition. Now the network that made the bending of credibility in sports not only fashionable but also quite profitable is, at last one of the victims.
The U.S. Boxing Championships, cluttered with charges of kickbacks and record-fixing, has bloodled ABC's nose badly. Whether it was embarrassed by a collection of minor-league hustlers or one of the best. Don King, remains unclear. But ABC left itself wide open for the blow.
Charges of favoritism and an unfair system of selecting the entrants? Where have we heard that before? In that ABC staple, "Superstars," where if was hinted loud and long that anyone not in Mark McCormack's athletic stable would not be eligible for the Rotunda Rook.
If ABC had no prior knowledge of the distasteful doings that caused the boxing show to be suspended, it has been laying the groundwork for years for such situations to flourish. Colleges alter schedules so ABC will televise their best games. Bowie Kuhn risks pneumonia for television.
Not that ABC will underwrite just anything, of course. But if promoters are bright enough to change the name of an otherwise harmless exercise to "The World Championship," Roone Arledge and the gang will whip out its checkbook. In King's case, "U.S. Championship" was enough to lure a $1.5 million commitment from ABC.
U.S. championships? Without Sugar Ray Leonard? Without the Spinks brothers and a few others? Hardly. But ABC went along, anyway, and tried to make it sound ever so grand, knowing from the beginning it was closer to "The Human Fly" than the World Series.
All along, the tournament was viewed here as special only for its locations - an aircraft carrier, the Indian prison where king did time - and the out-of-luck fighters given one last trip into the spotlight.
In certainly is not difficult to understand why whoever broke what rules did so. If Muhammad Ali can get millions for fighting a collection of nobodies suddenly given stature for reasons other than their past performances and skills, what is the harm in fudging an 8-0 record to 12-0?
That is what manager Henry Grooms of Michigan is alleged to have done with a featherweight named Richard Rozelle. Grooms also is supposed to have added three victories to lightweight Doug Coverson's 9-0 record, three to lightheavy-weight Vonzell Johnson's 13-0 record and five to welterweight Floyd Mayweather's 11-1 record.
Inactivity also is a way to the top of the rankings, it appears. Although he had not fought since October of 1975. Ike Fluellen managed to be ranked third in the U.S. in the February issue of Ring magazine.
There have been charges of impropriety almost from the beginning of this farce, and momentum, as the ABC football shills are so fond of saying, began building when a Houston fighter named Kenny Weldon detailed a payoff.
Last week, Weldon told a Houston columnist: "It [the entire affair] has been blown out of proportion. If I had known all this would result from the $2,500 I got beat out of, they could forget the $2,500 because this scandal is ruining boxing."
Weldon added that he got none of the threatening calls or letters that Fluellen, a Texas policeman, said he received after his confessional.
"It's a shame that the best thing boxing has going for it, Ring magazine, is being blamed for falsifying records," Weldon added."I met Nate Laubet, the editor of Ring, at the elimination bouts is San Antonio and he impressed me as an honest, sincere individual. He also assured me that he'd see I got my $2,500 back."
Indeed, ABC is scrambling off the canvas and flailing back with impressive clout. It has hired the man given credit for exposing police corruption in New York City, Michael Armstrong, to uncover whoever brought shame to the network and boxing.
For boxing enthusiasts, admissions of guilt already heard are troubling because the sport appeared to be making a comeback of sorts just when so many assumed it would die when Ali's legs finally betrayed him.
The Olympics provided a spark and King's show, fueled by ABC, would have give active fighters hope and young athletes incentive. Now it is boxing business as usual, the critics will insist.
Even Friday, as he was verbally counterpunching at his critics, King was touting another Ali con for the Capital Centre, the May 16 show against a Spamard named Alfredo Evangelista, also referred to in cynical circles as Jean Jimmy Wepner. Natuarally, ABC will tout it as cosmic.
All of this is not meant to imply that what happened in the King show ought to be condoned, or that ABC acted improperly by beginning a thorough investigation. While it grabs a club and fights back, however, ABC should also reach for a mirror.