01.06.04 – By Bernie McCoy: Paul Brown, the legendary football coach, out of Massillon, OH, began his career in the 1930s and finished in the ‘ 70s. He watched the game change from leather helmets and two-way football players to an era when players saw fit to perform end zone celebrations after scoring a touchdown. Needless to say, Brown found such celebrations uncalled-for and characterized his reaction by telling his players “If you get into the end zone, act like you’ve been there before.”
I thought of Paul Brown while watching the tape of the Ann Wolfe/Vonda Ward lightheavyweight championship bout, held May 8 in Biloxi, MS. and finally televised last week. The fight and its sudden ending established Wolfe as one of the hardest punchers in the sport of Women’s boxing as she knocked out Ward with one punch halfway through the first round. And, in this instance, “knocked out” is no euphemism. The 6′ 6” Ward, slowly loading up on a right hand, was beaten to the punch by Wolfe’s looping right hand that landed flush on Ward’s chin rendering her unconscious before she hit the canvas. She remained unconscious for at least a minute and stayed supine for nearly ten minutes before being removed from the ring on a stretcher. From a boxing standpoint, that was the good news.
The bad news came as Ward was being attended to by referee Elmo Adolph. Ann Wolfe, no doubt, still pumped up with adrenaline, having won the biggest bout of her career in sensational fashion, danced around the ring celebrating her KO and then, inexplicably, hovered over the concussed Ward and gyrated with moves generally found only on stages in “gentlemen’s clubs” or in music videos. It was a sophomoric way to celebrate a great win by a very good fighter.
I don’t know Ann Wolfe. I have been told by people who do know her that she is a good person. I do know that she is a wonderful fighter. Additionally, I’m aware she has overcome many difficulties in her personal life and has risen to the status of one of the top fighters in the sport, compiling a 17-1 record with 12 KOs. She is, clearly, one of the hardest punchers in the sport, and it is understandable that she would demonstrably celebrate the biggest win of her career, a win that unquestionably positions her close to her long sought matchup with Laila Ali. All that is true: good person, great fighter, devastating puncher, great win, but none of that excuses her post fight histrionics in the ring on May 8.
Boxing is the most brutal of sports. It is the only sport in which the primary purpose is to do grievous bodily harm to your opponent. Ann Wolfe did grievous bodily harm to Vonda Ward in less than one round. What Wolfe did in slightly over a minute in Biloxi is what boxing is all about; what Wolfe did, following her win, has no place in any sport, even one as primeval as boxing. Is this the first time it has happened in the ring? Of course not. Christy Martin famously parodied Bethany Payne “legless” state after stopping the completely overmatched fighter on a PPV telecast in November ‘ 96. Fredia Gibbs taunted Hannah Fox after knocking her down in a match on ESPN in January ‘ 99 (Drawing the on-air ire of Teddy Atlas). Neither Martin or Gibbs did such taunting on a regular basis and probably, in retrospect, regretted doing so in these isolated instances. Additionally, both Martin and Gibbs are among the most talented and respected fighters in the sport of Women’s boxing. Hopefully, the same will be said, in the future, about Ann Wolfe. However, she got off to a slow start in her post fight interview in Biloxi.
As unfortunate as Wolfe’s post fight actions were, there remained an opportunity, talking with Sean O’Grady in the ring on TV, to make amends, of sorts. To her credit, Ann began the interview by addressing the issue of “my dancing around the ring” and then, incredibly,stated, that “Vonda would have done the same thing [If she had won].” Not only was this a childish excuse (“all the other kids did it”) but it is patently absurd. Ann Wolfe has no idea how Vonda Ward would have celebrated a victory in the unlikely event she had won and to speculate is ludicrous. Thus, Wolfe bypassed a chance to put a reasonable “spin” on her actions. One can only question why her “people” in her corner didn’t, prior to the O’Grady interview, prompt Ann to say something along the lines of:”I meant no disrespect to Ward [with my actions], I just got caught up in the victory, in the heat of battle and got carried away.” From what I have heard about Ann Wolfe, the person, when she has time to reflect on the situation, that sentiment will probably come close to her thinking. The question still remains: Why didn’t someone with “Ann Wolfe” printed on the back of their silk shirt think to advise her before she talked to O’Grady? Isn’t that why they’re called “managers”?
According to reports, Vonda Ward suffered a concussion and is recovering and probably should be considering her options after boxing. Wolfe, on the other hand, is now the only logical opponent for Laila Ali, who is scheduled to fight Nikki Eplion on July 17 in Bowie, MD. Eplion, coming off a one-sided loss to Leatitia Robinson, should provide slight opposition for Ali. Ann Wolfe will certainly be a different story and represents Ali’s toughest opponent and the hardest puncher Ali will have faced in her career. Can Wolfe beat Ali? Of course. Will Wolfe beat Ali? I don’t know but she has, at the very least, a “puncher’s chance” and probably a good bit more. Ann Wolfe handed Vonda Ward her first loss in sensational fashion. If she does the same thing to Laila Ali, in whatever fashion, here’s hoping she remembers Paul Brown’s advice, “Act like you’ve been there, before,” because, in Ann Wolfe’s case, she has, indeed, gotten to the end zone before.