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Columnist Bob Smizik: Hometown gives Spadafora edge

Sunday, May 07, 2000

When they put down ice at Mellon Arena, the hometown advantage has been known to disappear. The Penguins, losers of their past two home games, could attest to that.

 

But when they put down a boxing ring at Mellon, well, that hometown advantage still works.

International Boxing Federation lightweight champion Paul Spadafora, the Pittsburgh Kid, wasn't anywhere near the top of his game last night, but it didn't stop him from retaining his title in a majority decision that left challenger Mike Griffith and his camp claiming stunned disbelief.

One judge scored the fight a draw, with both fighters receiving 95 points, but two others gave it to Spadafora, 98-92. The fight, scheduled for 12 rounds, was stopped after 10 because of a cut over Griffith's right eye that was opened by accidental head butts. In such circumstances, the scorecards of the three judges determine the winner.

"When they announced the scores, they didn't say anyone's name so I thought it was me because that's about how much I won by," said Griffith, as he sat at a table outside his dressing room while his mother administered to the gash over his eye. "I thought they were yelling out my winning scores. But I guess not. We're in Pittsburgh."

Griffith's manager, Tom Gray, said, "I know we're in Pittsburgh, but I thought we won convincingly enough to take it from him.

"We're absolutely stunned. Who was judging the fight? Sure, we were getting tagged. But he's the champion of the world. We should get tagged.

"If this were in Cleveland [Griffith's hometown], we absolutely would have won."

"My strategy was to take it to him like I did," Griffith said. "I stayed on top of him. I worked his body. We wanted the belt. I guess they didn't want to give it to me."

Gray and Griffith, ranked only 10th in the lightweight division by the IBF, seemed to have reason to be upset. Griffith was the aggressor for most of the fight, and Spadafora, although not necessarily due to Griffith, didn't perform like the same fighter who won the championship in August.

Spadafora clearly has fought too much in the past nine months. He defended his title in December, in March and again last night.

The lure of appearing on HBO, which televised the bout, had much to do with Spadafora agreeing to fight so soon after his previous defense.

"Those opportunities don't come around too often," Manager Al McCauley said.

Although Spadafora's camp had a sharply different version of who won, there was no disagreement that their fighter was off his game and badly needed time away from the ring.

Promoter Mike Acri said, "He seemed stale. He didn't seem sharp techniquewise. His punches didn't have anything on them. He was fighting like he was burned out.

"It was a good fight for Griffith. He came to fight and did what he had to do. Spadafora wasn't on his game. People were mentioning from the first or second round that he looked stale. He was out of sync."

McCauley admitted his fighter wasn't sharp and needed time off.

"Paul's a little burned out. There's no doubt about that. He wasn't as sharp as he's been in the past. He struggled a little bit.

"I'll give Griffith credit. He forced the fight."

But neither Acri nor McCauley thought Griffith came anywhere close to winning the fight.

Acri said he had the fight scored 6-3-1 by rounds in favor of Spadafora. McCauley said his fighter won eight of the 10 rounds.

The differing opinions on who won are to be expected. What wasn't expected was the overscheduling of Spadafora -- HBO or no HBO. Boxing is a brutal business, and everyone likes an active champion. But Spadafora's camp went too far.

The champion expects to be off until August, but he won't be taking on No. 1 challenger Billy Irwin then. There was talk that such a fight might come later in the year.

That's still pushing Spadafora too hard. His camp should move cautiously. August might be too soon, and certainly another fight after that before the end of the year again would be too much. That would give him three fights in six months and four fights in 10 months.

They should learn a lesson from last night. If they continue to push Spadafora at such a pace, not even Mellon Arena might be able help him.


Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com.



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