An Interview with Kevin Iole

An Interview with Kevin Iole

An Interview with Kevin Iole

“There’s a certain gene in a person who is willing to get in there and get punched in the nose and risk many things to get a paycheck. That’s what makes them interesting – they have a different personality than the average person.”

“On a given night you might make a choice, but you don’t have to say only MMA or only boxing. During De La Hoya-Mayweather they said it was a fight to save boxing. I wrote a column saying that was ludicrous. Writers take an easy way out thinking there’s a conflict – fans don’t buy into it.”

“You have to do quality journalism to be a good boxing writer. I don’t think it’s widespread, unfortunately. A lot of Internet sites that cover boxing have very loose standards of journalism. It’s disappointing. To give readers quality work you need the same standards you use covering government or major league baseball or the local municipal elections.”

Kevin Iole: Interviewed on June 22, 2007

Position: Boxing and mixed martial arts writer, Yahoo! Sports.

Born: 1959, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Education: Point Park College, 1981, journalism and communications

Career: Valley-News (Pa.) Dispatch 1979-82; Burlington Free Press 82-90; Las Vegas Review-Journal 90-2007; Yahoo.com 2007-

Personal: married (Betsy)

Favorite restaurant (home): Craftsteak Steak House, MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, “Kobe beef platinum – you can’t beat it”

Favorite restaurant (road): Corky’s Ribs and BBQ, Memphis, “dry ribs”

Favorite hotel (home): Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas “great selection of restaurants”

Favorite hotel (road): Omni, LA “lots of good places in walking distance”

Kevin Iole, excerpted from Yahoo! Sports, June 23, 2007:

LAS VEGAS – B.J. Penn spent the last 5 ½ years facing some of the world’s finest fighters, in weight classes ranging from lightweight to light heavyweight.

It was all, though, for one reason, he said.

“It was to get me back to Jens Pulver,” said Penn, who unexpectedly lost a bid for the lightweight title to Pulver in a 2002 fight and has chased a rematch ever since.

He got it on Saturday at the Palms Hotel in the finale of the UFC’s reality series, The Ultimate Fighter. Penn and Pulver served as coaches on the show and agreed to fight on Spike TV in the live finale.

Penn dominated the fight from the beginning, punishing Pulver mercilessly, before submitting him on a rear naked choke at 3:12 of the second round.

It was a one-sided beatdown as Penn showed the varied skills that have led UFC president Dana White to call him the most talented mixed martial artist in history.

He excelled in the standup, took Pulver down repeatedly and had a series of submission attempts before finally sinking in the choke.

Q. What are your beat responsibilities?

A. I am the mixed martial arts and boxing columnist. My job is to deliver personal and personality insights into my sports, which are the most individual sports compared to others out there. They are made up of very unique individuals. I don’t get caught up in who has the best look hook or who is the better body puncher. I’d rather tell how they got there and who and what they are. That’s what I do – I find out things and write about people who are putting their lives on the line to making a living.

Q. Is danger one of your themes?

A. It’s like talking to a high-wire artist. You would ask them “Why walk across a rope 200 feet in the air?” That’s why people watch it. There’s a certain gene in a person who is willing to get in there and get punched in the nose and risk many things to get a paycheck. That’s what makes them interesting – they have a different personality than the average person. Diego Corrales was a great example – he was the lightweight champion who died a month ago (in a motorcyle crash, while driving intoxicated). He was extreme about motorcycles. He loved all extreme sports. He jumped out of airplanes. Those are the traits that make fighters interesting personalities.

Q. Is your beat competitive?

A. It is. The problem now is as boxing/MMA writer I have boxing matches and UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) fights – two big and different demographics. There are a lot of solely MMA writers and solely boxing writers, but I’m doing both. Both are very competitive. At Yahoo we compete with Fox and espn.com. I like to think we provide the best content for the combat sports.

Sometimes I have to make a tough decision. I’m going to a MMA fight tomorrow instead of the Hatton-Castillo fight, even though I’ve written a couple of columns on Hatton-Castillo. Every fight I do I have a standing feature – I rate the fighters in different categories and I still do that. But the night of the fight I’m going to the MMA fight, just because the numbers support it. AP is my partner – Tim Dahlberg will cover the boxing match. There’s no such option at the MMA fight. I can better serve my readers doing the MMA fight.

Q. AP doesn’t have an MMA writer?

A. No. Only recently is it putting out the results of the fights – short briefs as opposed to stories. MMA is an education process. Lots of people perceive it as a no-holds-barred sport – they don’t understand it. That’s certainly been the case with AP. It doesn’t realize how popular it’s become. Nor do most people realize what it truly is. One reason it’s growing in popularity is that as people get more educated they are able to educate their friends and neighbors.

Q. Don’t the two sports compete against one another?

A. It’s similar to college basketball and the NBA. You don’t have to be a fan of one and not the other. On a given night you might make a choice, but you don’t have to say only MMA or only boxing. During De La Hoya-Mayweather they said it was a fight to save boxing. I wrote a column saying that was ludicrous. Writers take an easy way out thinking there’s a conflict – fans don’t buy into it.

There’s a distinct market for both and then an overlap. Some hard-corse boxing fans, especially the older demographic, is not going to be apt to look at MMA. They say it’s brutal. John McCain called it ‘human cock-fighting’. They won’t take the time to understand what MMA is. The younger kids have grown up with it and are more open-minded. Those are the people who will be fans of both – give them a good boxing match and they will watch it.

Boxing’s challenge is to not have one-sided showcase fights. That’s a phenomenon of the last 10 years. HBO is guilty of that. They’ll put guys on against guys they know they can beat because they’re leaning toward a match-up down the road. The fights are non-competitive. There are so many options now fans don’t want to see one-sided fights. They want competition, where their hero might lose. It’s forcing the boxing promoters to take a look, and certainly the TV networks. Roy Jones and Rick Frazier (Jones, TKO 2, January 9, 1999) will not be tolerated anymore.

Q. You’re saying MMA fans would watch good boxing matches?

A. I think they would. Maybe some wouldn’t. They’ve been conditioned not to. Dan Raphael (espn.com) and I have been two of the loudest critics of HBO for some of the fights they have put on. Now it’s trying to address that – not totally in the right way – but it’s working on it. It needs to really provide competitive quality fights to compete with MMA. The nature of MMA is such that there are so many ways to win and lose you never know what will happen. In boxing there’s only one way. In MMA even when fighter A seems to be winning fighter B always has a chance. In boxing it’s unlikely the physically superior guy is going to lose. In UFC every single title has changed hands in the last year.

Q. How many UFC titles are there?

A. Five. Heavyweight, light heavyweight, middleweight, welterweight, lightweight.

Q. How did you get into this niche?

A. I’ve been a reporter for 27 years now. I was at the Review-Journal for almost 17 years. I worked in Vermont for seven years before Vegas. I covered the Golden Gloves. I grew up in Pittsburgh, which was a big fight town at the time. I covered Holmes-Snipes (1981) for a small paper. I always loved boxing. I got a great opportunity at the Review-Journal. For a number of years I did sidebar work with Royce Feour, and if there were two cars I did the card opposite him. In ’96 I took over the main event type of stories.

Q. Does boxing reporting require a different set of skills?

A. I don’t think so. You have to do quality journalism to be a good boxing writer. I don’t think it’s widespread, unfortunately. A lot of Internet sites that cover boxing have very loose standards of journalism. It’s disappointing. To give readers quality work you need the same standards you use covering government or major league baseball or the local municipal elections.

Q. Is there a watchdog aspect to reporting on combat sports?

A. I think so. There’s so much potential for abuse. There’s no barrier to anybody saying “I’m a boxing promoter.” You can buy a fax machine and set up shop. If you’ve got the money in boxing they welcome you with open arms and you can become a major player overnight. As a result we in the media have to scrutinze and look out for the best interests of the fighters because there’s no one else to protect them.

To a lesser degree that’s true in MMA, but a much lesser degree. UFC is the dominant promoter and acts as its own sanctioning body. Because UFC is so dominant it has a chilling effect – there isn’t a lot of competition. UFC bought out three competitors in the last year. One was a Japanese organization, for what was believed to be $70 million. Also the World Fighting Alliance and World Extreme Cage Fighting. It would be difficult to go into business and throw up another show. The UFC brand is so dominant it’s pushed out other potential problems.

Q.Who do you read and where do you go for information?

A. I try to read Bill Plaschke (LA Times) and Tim Dahlberg (AP) every day. Bill has such a fun style to read. Tim is also excellent – he really sets a standard for columnists. As a native Pittsburgher, I read Bob Smizik (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). He always has strong opinions.

Q. What about websites?

A. Yahoo.com sports. Michael Katz (BoxingScene.com) was one of the great writers – now he’s kind of winding down, but I still make it a point to read what he writes. Lance Pugmire (LA Times) has interesting angles. I know if Lance writes something it’s going to be a fun read. Sweetscience.com and Maxboxing.com. I make it a point to check around and see what guys are writing. I know if Lance writes something it’s going to be a fun read.

Q. When are Google and AOL going to challenge Yahoo! Sports?

A. I wonder. Certainly from Google’s standpoint it’s a big questionmark. They’re making so much on advertising that I wonder. But going into the future it might be something they try to do. It would be interesting if that happens.

Q. Do search engines get decent pressbox seating?

A. My first fight for Yahoo was De La Hoya–Mayweather. I’m there for the most trafficked sports website in the world. I had covered for the Review-Journal for how many years, and always sat in the front row, and I wrote more words on that fight than any person alive. Yet I moved from first row to fifth. Dan Wetzel, our sports columnist, said “You moved up in terms of circulation and impact and down to the back of the pressbox. And at home they did that to me. Subsequently that has changed.

(SMG thanks Kevin Iole for his cooperation)

december 30, 2006

BOXING: Tyson’s rags-to-riches-to-rags story was ESPN-born and bared

Twenty years ago, there were thousands of young American boys who dreamed of being Mike Tyson.

Today, I’m pretty sure not even Mike Tyson wants to be Mike Tyson.

Tyson was arrested early Friday in Buckeye, Ariz., the latest in an arm’s-length list of battles with the law.

It was big news, of course, on ESPN on Friday, despite the fact that the so-called “worldwide leader in sports” pays about as much attention to boxing as it does to curling.

Boxing skills, knockout power, defensive artistry and a granite chin won’t get you airtime on ESPN. Getting arrested with a couple of bags of cocaine in your back pockets will.

The first 20 years of Tyson’s life began very low — he was born into poverty, was a petty thief and was sent to reform school for incorrigible boys — before ending very high. At 20 years old in 1986, he became the youngest fighter in history to win the heavyweight title.

Tyson’s second 20 years began very high — he won the undisputed title and knocked out previously unbeaten Michael Spinks in one of the most anticipated bouts in history in just 91 seconds — but they’re destined, it appears, to go full circle and end very low.

He has little left of the $300 million he earned in the ring. It has been 10 years since he has had a title belt around his waist.

His only salable skill, it seems, is being Mike Tyson.

Being Mike Tyson — in a word, being outrageous — is his only way to make a living. It’s also a guarantee of future appearances on the “worldwide leader.” But instead of appearing with gloves around his fists, he’ll be shown with cuffs around his wrists.

Tyson never was the maniac that many thought him to be or that, in later years, he portrayed himself to be. He was surprisingly insightful and had a kind heart. He was always a sucker for an ex-fighter with a sob story.

He’s the one with the sob story now, but no one is listening. None of his so-called friends has heeded his many pleas for help.

But he became what he is because that’s what sold. Just being a knockout artist, even one of the greatest of all time, wasn’t enough. The more outrageous he was, the zanier he acted, the more attention he received and the more money he made.

There was no reason that his 2002 fight with Lennox Lewis should have been the largest pay-per-view bout in history because it was clear to anyone with even a basic understanding of the sport that Lewis was, by that stage, the superior fighter. Tyson hadn’t had a meaningful win in more than five years.

But it sold 2 million pay per views because Tyson was, well, Tyson. He threatened to rip Lewis’ heart out and swore he would eat his children. He acted like a lunatic, all in the name of pitching a fight, and we loved it.

He’s still acting like Tyson, though he no longer makes any fighters melt, and, of course, no one is buying.

Acting like Tyson now is a sure way to wind up back on ESPN. And that’s not a good thing.

In his prime as a fighter, Tyson had blindingly fast hands and the power to knock over a horse.

He put punches together in combinations that heavyweights rarely did. He was a master at hooking to the body, though everything he threw to the head got a lot more attention.

But as the hands slowed, the power faded ever so slightly and the mystique that surrounded him was lifted.

He was a decent, though hardly great, fighter, with as many flaws as strengths.

With few actual fighting skills, his bizarre behavior suddenly wasn’t seen as a ticket-selling opporunity but, rather, it became a law enforcement situation.

Tyson became this mythic figure in part because of the power of ESPN. He was a staple of the still-fledgling network in his pre-title days, running off a series of spectacular knockouts.

Tyson is proof that boxing is not dead, or even dying. ESPN helped build the legend by showing his first- or second-round knockouts on a biweekly basis.

His knockouts weren’t fly balls that scraped the back of the fence as they left the park. They were always Reggie Jackson, upper-deck shots in the final game of the World Series.

A nation grew transfixed watching, and the legend of Mike Tyson was born.

ESPN is no longer part of any basic cable service and it has the broadcast rights to televise NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball games. It has more important things to worry about than showing a boxing highlight.

Michael Gerard Tyson isn’t going to grace ESPN’s airwaves any longer for anything he does inside of a boxing ring.

Sadly, though, he’s probably going to have a recurring role on the network that made him famous.

Kevin Iole’s boxing column is published Saturday. He can be reached at 396-4428 or kiole@reviewjournal.com.

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