Laila and Layla: Risk and Glory

13.02.05 - By Bernie McCoy: A seventeenth century French dramatist, Pierre Corneille, no boxing fan he, once said "When there is no peril in the fight, there is no glory in the triumph." Those 300 year old words were proven conclusively once again over the weekend when two women boxers, Laila Ali and Layla McCarter both achieved triumph in the ring, one with peril, one without. Ali won an eight round TKO over Cassandra Geigger in Atlanta and on ESPN in what Teddy Atlas correctly called a "mismatch." Layla McCarter ventured to Edmonton, Canada and won a six round decision over hometown favorite and previously unbeaten lightweight Jelena Mrdjenovich.

Although the two fighters share a similar sounding first name, their career paths, as exampled by the weekend's bouts, couldn't be more dissimilar. Ali, the self proclaimed "best" in the sport, has been brought along with utmost care, by husband/manager Johnny McClain, the fighter comfortably ensconced in the promotional cocoon of Absoloot Boxing.. McCarter, in contrast, fighting out of Las Vegas, without any of the trappings of a promotional entourage and lacking a famous last name, goes about the business of the sport without undue self promotion, competing against the best possible opponents and epitomizing what is best about the sport of Women's boxing.

On Friday night Ali plodded through eight rounds in a somewhat desultory fashion before stopping a durable Cassandra Geigger in a fight in which only Ali seemed to be throwing punches. Geigger, who had lost three straight fights going into the Friday fight, was the fourth in a series of opponents, Nikki Eplion, Monica Nunez and Gwendolyn O'Nei being the others, who, to most observers, represented little more than sparring partners for the talented Ali. Such questionable opposition is put in sharper focus when better fighters in the weight division continue to be ignored by Ali and her management in a risk averse strategy. Ann Wolfe and Leaticia Robinson are two potential opponents that come to almost every matchmaker's mind, except, it seems, for the time being, Absoloot Boxing. Wolfe has been trying to get a match with Ali for two years. Robinson is relatively new on the middleweight scene and to emphasize her bona fides, scored a quick, one round knockout of Monica Nunez on the Friday night card in Atlanta. Nunez, it should be noted, took Ali into the ninth round before, like Geigger, succumbing to an accumulation of punches from Ali. Robinson or Wolfe would each present a logical next opponent for Ali, certainly a considerably more formidable foe than any of Ali's last four outings.

Formidable opposition, on the other hand, is business a usual for the other Layla. McCarter's boxing bibliography is dotted with the top ranked fighters in her weight division. She has been in with Chevelle Hallback, twice, Mary Jo Sanders, Kelsey Jeffries, Ada Velez, Laura Serrano, Melissa Del Valle and Emiko Raika, the Japanese champion who McCarter defeated in April ' 02 and who McCarter is scheduled to fight again in mid March for Raika's title. The list of McCarter's opponents reads like a Who's Who of female fighters in the featherweight/lightweight divisions. McCarter does her sparring in the gym and when she climbs into the ring, a quality fighter often comes out of the other corner. Her 18-11-4 record speaks volumes about the fact that "risk averse" is not a phrase in the vocabulary of McCarter or her management.

When, or if, Ann Wolfe or Leaticia Robinson will come out of the corner opposite Laila Ali is, at this point in time, suppositional. There has been the usual back and forth charges and counter-charges between the Wolfe and Ali camps about offers spurned and confidences violated, the usual rhetoric heard when each side is more intent on justifying a position than in signing on the line for a boxing match. The boxing community has, essentially, taken a "been there, heard that" attitude to this back and forth rhetoric, having, indeed, heard almost the same bombast several years ago when the camps were labeled Christy Martin and Lucia Rijker. There is a great urge to exhort Ali to fight either Wolfe or Robinson, but that's a decision that notably deviates from Ali's career path, thus far. For, in fact, neither Ann Wolfe or Leaticia Robinson are "sure thing" opponents and, to date, Johnny McClain has been mostly resolute in choosing "sure thing" opponents for Ali. Her 20-0 record reflects that type of "careful" matchmaking.

Layla McCarter doesn't do "sure things". Saturday night in Edmonton was a quintessential example. McCarter went to Edmonton to fight Mrdjenovich who had accumulated nine straight wins over substantial opposition including Lisa Lewis and Olivia Pereira. Going into the hometown of a 9-0 fighter is about as far from a sure thing as a fight gets. In their ringside report, the Edmonton Sun called the fight "one sided" noting that "McCarter....teed off on Mrdjenovich with combinations in every round" on the way to a unanimous decision. That is, obviously, what Monsieur Corneille had in mind when he spoke of overcoming peril to achieve glory. McCarter goes where the fights are, whether it's Canada or Japan and wherever the fight is, a good fighter is most likely to be the opposition That's what the sport of boxing should be about, two quality fighters; but too often, as in Atlanta on Friday night, it's not the case.

McCarter calls herself the "other Layla" and, in one sense, she is just that. She is certainly "the other" in the area of public renown. She's not on TV enough, she has never been on PPV and thus her considerable boxing skills have not received the exposure they deserve. Laila Ali, on the other hand, has achieved renown and exposure, quite possibly, in excess of her skills, which are, in fairness, considerable. However, renown, like glory, tends to be fleeting and if Laila Ali continues to ply her skills against mediocre opposition, she risks "coming down" in skill level to that opposition. It can be argued that was the case for several rounds on Friday night in Atlanta against Cassandra Geigger, when Teddy Atlas noted that Ali was still "prone to amateur mistakes."

McCarter does not, however, fall into any type of "other" category when it comes to heart and professionalism. She richly deserves the reputation of a fighter who goes anywhere and fights anyone and turns in an "honest" performance against quality opposition. While there are certainly are others in the sport with names like Sumya, Kelsey, Jane and Melissa, who exhibit the same kind of "let's get it on attitude" with anyone at any time, at this point, there's only one Layla.

Article posted on 13.02.2005

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