By Scoop Malinowski
Golota's Redemption: This Was Much More Than Just a Fight
It almost was (maybe it is?) one of the greatest stories of perseverance, reformation and redemption in heavyweight history. A drama so original that it can't be compared, won't ever be repeated.
Can you think of any boxer who came back so far from so low as Andrew Golota?
Golota did enough to win the IBF title from Chris Byrd on Saturday night. The spirited Madison Square Garden crowd of over 15,000 certainly thought so.
About a minute after the final bell, after fighting his absolute heart out, Golota raised his arms in triumph. The people rewarded Golota with a thunderous ovation. It was a very touching gesture, and oh such a drastic difference to Golota's previous performance here at the mecca of boxing. But then came the unpopular decision.
Lennox Lewis, Tito Trinidad, Shannon Briggs and Kassim Ouma all had funny looks on their faces. Golota was stunned and heartbroken. He quickly left the ring and arena, only to change his mind and returned moments later. After the TV interviews were finished, I was invited to the Team Golota's dressing room. Golota was sitting there in a corner, bent over, almost disconsolate. He really left it all in the ring (he lost over 10 lbs. in the fight from sweating).
There was no doubt he did more than enough to be called the new champion. He controlled how the fight was fought and where the fight was fought. He was the more dominant, more authoritative man in the ring. It was the finest, all-around best performance of his career. What a turnaround.
"I can't even cry!" agonized the exhausted warrior, half-crying, half-joking (you'll be surprised to learn that Golota is actually a very funny, fun-loving character when you get to know him. He likes to make fun of himself especially. I wish I could share some of his best one-liners but this story is long enough as it is.).
New York State Athletic Commissioner Ron Scott Stevens entered the room and congratulated Andrew for a "great fight," also adding his (off-the-record) opinion on who won the fight. The way he came in and handled the situation was first class all the way. He actually helped transform the mood of the room from frustration towards happiness.
The magnitude of Golota's performance against Byrd was incredible, a boxing highpoint. Here is a man who was the symbol for boxing unsportsmanship. He was called everything in the book. And now he managed to shock the world with a phenomenal, high-quality, high class effort.
"I feel like a fan again," said one media insider. "It was awesome. I was so into it. Golota was the total underdog. He got ripped apart by all the experts. He was hanging in there. He has so much history that you have an emotional attachment to a guy like Golota. I wish the fight was longer. I was dying for two more rounds."
That notion of emotional attachment reminded me of the night before the fight when we all had dinner at a restaurant. And after the meal, when the waitress handled the transaction (dinner was on the big guy), she very professionally and discreetly said to him, "I hope you win tomorrow night." She was one of so many people who were pulling for a happy ending.
Now hopefully the boxing media can appreciate what they just witnessed. Before the fight, many writers unloaded a ton of negative ink on Golota. Now let's hope they will show some integrity and credibilty by giving Golota (and King) some much deserved praise.
It was well after 2 a.m. when Golota finally joined the post-fight press conference. Byrd stepped down from the podium when he saw the star of the night arrive. Here's what Golota said after being applauded: "Thank you. I enjoyed the show at least. It certainly wasn't great for me. The show was all right. What can I say, I don't have the belt. (Somebody shouted, Let's do it again!) We've got to do it again, you know. But the thing is, when it goes to the judges, it's always some question, you know? The thing is, we do it again. Thank you."
Short and to the point. Byrd stayed around as Golota did a few brief one-on-ones with the swarming army of reporters (mostly Polish) on his way out. He was only there for about three minutes. Good move, leave 'em all clamoring for more.
Team Golota left the Garden at roughly 2:30. Fans of all color and creed were waiting outside on 33rd Street. They congratulated and encouraged the man that they felt had won. I never saw Golota treated so kindly and he obliged by taking pictures for all of them. I'll remember the thrill in the eyes and voices of two young black kids, who I took a photo for with Andrew.
Two blocks and dozens of well-wishers later, we walked in the Southgate hotel. There was a small group sitting in the lobby corner and as soon as they saw Andrew they broke into applause (no words just applause). It was a beautiful, touching moment.
Now, it would seem, the rest of the world will finally get to know the real Andrew Golota. Former heavyweight champ Tim Witherspoon knows Golota well and really likes him. They fought in Wroclaw, Poland in 1998. I asked Tim about their fight and time together. "When I fought Andrew Golota, that was after he fought Riddick Bowe. He was hittin' low, everybody thought he was a villain. When I got over there and talked to him, I knew that that wasn't the case. I knew there was a nice guy inside of that big guy. (How did you know?) I talked to him at the press conference before the fight. I looked in his eyes. He had a troubled life. Then, he's big. Then everybody reads that he was in an orphanage. Then, you know, they got the wrong picture. When I got with him, I talked to him. I say, Hey man, I told the people that was down on him, I say Hey, ya'll don't know you should be behind Andrew Golota. He's really a nice guy. He's a good fighter. Then a lot of people clapped at the press conference. And a lot of opinions changed. I didn't mind the opinions changing. I think that Poland - a country that's been in a whole lot of distress, a lot of stress all the years. They need to support their fighter Andrew Golota."
Up in his hotel suite, everybody (about a dozen) relaxed and reviewed the outstanding memories of the night. Andrew drank about five bottled waters. He didn't eat until after 3, when he sliced up a mango. Manager Ziggy brought in a pizza and pasta with chicken from Sbarro. Everyone had a beer except Andrew. Andrew checked his cell phone messages (which totalled 48) but none from the President of Poland.
Everyone left the room just before 4. Trainer Sam Colonna and Andrew huddled together to discuss some aspects about the fight and some of the mistakes made. Colonna was Andrew's original trainer, until the big shots muscled him out. Now they are back together. The two definitely mesh together better than Duva or Certo did. Colonna deserves a lot of credit for the success of Andrew Golota. He has that inherent quality to bring out Andrew's best. And you never do that by yelling at him or telling him what to do.
One other vivid memory of the night was during one of the "GO LA TA!" chants. A TV camera showed ringsider Lennox Lewis' facial expression while the Garden was vociferously urging on its hero. One of my friends, who was watching at home, described it: "Lennox Lewis had this look, raised his eyebrows, this look on his face like he was thinking to himself, Why didn't they ever cheer me like that?!"
Andrew Golota. Surprising as it sounds, he may become one of the greatest stories of redemption and inspiration in heavyweight boxing history. Right up there with Jim Braddock, George Foreman, Buster Douglas.
Golota could come to symbolize for the world that even if you make more than a few unbelievably terrible mistakes in your life, it is still possible to persevere and finish on top.