Salvation a punch away
Botha can put torturous year beh
hind with victory over Moorer
By Dean Juipe
LAS VEGAS SUN
From Frans Botha’s perspective, everything can be rectified Saturday night.
The assorted insults, the degradation, the misstatements of fact … line up
the criticisms he has endured in the last 18 months and each can be permanently
shelved if only he can defeat Michael Moorer.
As the least-respected 36-0 heavyweight since Peter McNeeley, Botha is in the
awkward position of having to defend not only his record but the bizarre series
of events that has led to him being an ex-champion despite not having a loss.
Respect? He hasn’t received any, perfect ledger or not.
“The last year has been torture for me,” he said Monday before working out at
the Ringside Gym. “I had a fight (in Las Vegas) that killed my credibility
with the media, I lost my title unfairly and I’ve been robbed of millions of
He may have reason for complaint, yet Botha prefers the generalization that
each of those items “is water under the bridge that I can’t do anything
about.” What he can correct is the blanket impression — fostered by a
skeptical media and adopted by unsuspecting boxing fans — that he’s a
paperweight fighter who’s apt to quickly pass from the scene.
Any and all questions will be answered when Botha steps in the ring with
Moorer with the IBF heavyweight title at stake. They’re participating
in the primary undercard bout beneath the Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield
main event at the MGM Grand Garden.
“I have to win,” Botha said. “I’ve moved up the ladder and I don’t want to
go back down.”
Botha was within a rung or two of the top of the ladder after he decisioned
Axel Schulz 11 months ago in Germany. That hard-fought victory gave him the IBF
championship and put him in position for an even bigger fight with Tyson.
Instead … Botha tested positive for steroids — from a prescription he was
taking, he still insists — and the IBF stripped him of his title. Now he gets
another shot at it, this time against Moorer, who, like Botha before him,
decisioned Schulz in Germany.
“Moorer may be a great champion but I feel I’m better,” Botha said. “I
really think I’ll beat him without any problem. I’ve been studying his fights
and I think I have his number.”
Those who have been watching Botha in the gym in recent weeks speak about their
“little secret” and believe he will produce the upset. They see a commitment
in Botha that they don’t feel Moorer can match.
“He’ll win,” Botha’s manager, Sterling McPherson, says flatly. “He’ll knock
Moorer out or beat him up so bad he’ll quit.”
The betting line is fairly close with Moorer a slight favorite.
“I’ve sparred a hundred rounds with 11 different guys,” Botha said.
“Moorer’s southpaw style fits me and he usually comes forward, which I like.
If he wants to run after he feels a little leather, I’ll chase him down. There
isn’t anything he can do that will surprise me.”
Moorer, 29, is 37-1 with 30 knockouts and has won 15 of his 16 fights as a
heavyweight. He’s also 14-1 in world-title fights, dating to 1989 and his
two-year reign as the WBO light heavyweight champ.
Botha, 28, feels more than adequate despite the fact he can’t match Moorer’s
resume. His 36 wins, including 21 by knockout, have come at the expense of an
assortment of journeymen, with Mike Hunter, Bronco Billy Wright and Ken Lakusta
the most memorable names.
It was against another punching bag, Willie Jake, that Botha hurt his own
promotional cause. In that fight, held in April 1995 at Caesars Palace,
Botha waltzed through the eight-round bout and left the ring to a smattering of
insults and/or disinterest from those who sat through it.
“That night I nearly threw everything away that I’d ever worked for,” Botha
said, admitting he contributed to the crowd’s malaise. “Because of that fight,
I know I can’t just talk and tell people and writers that I’m going to be a
good world champion. I have to prove it.”
He has fought only once since then, handling Schulz in his home country. Then
the steroid flap followed, and that’s a controversy that continues to this day.
Just last week, Las Vegas attorney Marty Keach presented Botha’s side of the
argument in a federal appeals court in Philadelphia, maintaining the IBF acted
improperly when it stripped Botha of his title.
“We don’t know yet how the judge will rule and maybe we won’t know before the
Moorer fight,” McPherson said. “But at least we feel we exposed the IBF for
what they were. What they did to Frans was character assassination and it has
cost us millions of dollars.”
Botha remains indignant that he was accused — let alone penalized — in the
“I’ve always thought of myself as a clean fighter,” he said. “That belt
Moorer is wearing is mine. I sure didn’t lose it in the ring.”
But he can win it back in the ring and, simultaneously, step to the front of
the line in the Tyson sweepstakes. Should Botha defeat Moorer, a Tyson vs.
Botha fight could be held in March and might even be held in Botha’s native
South Africa, which would increase his purse tenfold. (A representative of the
Showtime cable network said Monday that Tyson-Botha is apt to go to South
Africa, while a Tyson-Moorer fight would be held in Las Vegas.)
“All my homework is done,” Botha said, his weight down to 225 pounds and his
waistline trimmed by 3 1/2 inches since he last fought here. “This is it.
Ready, too, to be on the receiving end of some apologies, ones he’ll graciously
and gladly accept should that IBF championship come back his way.