An Interview with Michael Woods
“By the end of 2008, we boasted 1.5 million uniques, and 2.5 million visits. The average reader is a hardcore fight fan. There are a good number of those, no matter what the mainstream press might try to tell you, as they bloviate about the death of the sport. It so happens that many, OK, most of the bloviators are Americans, with a xenophobic take on the world. The fight game in the US isn’t thriving, fair to say; but worldwide, people still dig a rousing tussle.”
“My wife would tell you I am spending faaar too much time on TSS, and she would be right, I guess. But my name is at the top of the masthead, so I prefer that it not suck…She is a good lady, who understands that this is my job and my hobby, and she doesn’t moan and label herself as boxing widow. Often, we’ll have friends over to watch the bouts, and she can shoot the shit with them, while I tap away on the keyboard, and occasionally interject into their conversation arc, which is usually ranting about something the GOP did or is contemplating doing.”
Michael Woods: Interviewed on February 8, 2009
Position: Editor, TheSweetScience.com
Born: 1969, Boston
Education: Ohio Wesleyan, 1992, BA, English
Career: milieu therapist (a glorified orderly) in a Boston psych hospital, 1992-1994; telemarketer and call center manager for “a certain company which sells adjustable beds”, 1994-1999; sports and hard news at NY Newsday, 1999-2003; research and fact-checking at ESPN Magazine, 2003 to present; writer, ESPN.com, 2007 to present (boxing and MMA); TheSweetScience.com, 2004 to present
Personal: Married to Jessica, dad to Annabelle, who turns 2 in April, “We live in Brooklyn, with two cats—don’t tell the landlord who thinks we have one–and a dog”
Favorite restaurant (home): Tina’s Cuban Cuisine, midtown Manhattan-“ “Once a week, I get a plate of grilled chicken with white rice and salad and then douse the platter with their green sauce, which I have bribed the waitresses to slip me the recipe, to no avail. It has jalapenos, onions and lord knows what else in it. I guessed mayo, they maintain I am wrong. But I dream of bottling the stuff and becoming TSS editor/condiment king”
Michael Woods, excerpted from TheSweetScience.com, February 8, 2009:
It’s hard to make a case for yourself as being one of the pound for pound elite when in your last two fights, you’ve faced off with Andy Kolle and Verno Phillips. Lord knows, I intend no disrespect to either man; Phillips especially has put together a long career, and is seen in all circles as a game, durable vet who will give anyone a stern rumble.
But arguing the case for Paul Williams being among the game’s pound for pound elite would be that much easier if he had gloved up against some of the folks that his promoter Dan Goossen has tried to entice into facing off with Long Tall Paul. If Antonio (The Alleged Master of the Plaster Disaster) Margarito had decided to have another go at Williams (instead of taking $2 million less, as Goossen maintains, to fight Mosley), and Williams had beaten him conclusively, that would make Goossen’s case, that RIGHT NOW, Williams should be in the Top 3 on P4P lists, an easier sell.
Or if Oscar De La Hoya, or Shane Mosley, or Kermit Cintron (before Margarito reached down his throat and extracted his gonads in April 2008) had stepped in with Williams, and the Georgian had taken a couple of them out, then Goossen’s contention would go down more smoothly.
“You can be a Cy Young award winner on a last-place team,” is Goossen’s analogy, and he has a bit of a point. In his view, Williams should not be penalized because the sport’s elite have decided it is smarter for them, both monetarily and perhaps physically, to take less dough and fight anyone. Then again, an ace pitcher on a last-place ballclub gets the chance to stack up against other ‘A’ level teams, and pitchers over the course of 162 MLB games, so we are able to compare and contrast his skill-set.
Anyway, it can’t be denied that the lefty with the freakishly long arms has been avoided like the Madoffs at the country club. “Paul’s legacy and his status among the pound for pound best can’t be based on who won’t fight him,” Goossen maintains…
Q. Tell us what we should know about TheSweetScience.com: content, contributors, traffic, registered users, advertising, etc?
A. TSS, as I call it, because it saves me half a second, is a boxing website. It was born in 2004. We feature features—yes, I know that looks goofy but it cracked me up—on the major players in the sport, present and past, as well as the non-major players. I believe that in many regards, boxing is the sport to which all others aspire. There is no stiffer test for a man or woman than gloving up and testing your mettle. There are no line-mates to bail you out, or fellow all-stars to pick up your slack if you were indulging too much on the road the night before, etc. It’s all on you. Sort of like life. You can argue that a higher power looks over you, and infuses you with energy and courage along the way of course. That’s not really my take. But I digress…
As for content, we offer the best take on the fight game of all the websites, in my hugely biased opinion. That’s because we have some of the best writers in the field. Ron Borges and Bernie Fernandez, between them, have won about a hundred writing awards. I can craft a solid sentence now and again, if I may be so bold. David Avila is a veteran fightwriter who knows the smells of the gyms in his region, the West Coast. That is the core group of contributors, and we have some other rock-solid writers, all of whom respect the game and the ballsy hitters who make the choice to walk up the steps, and get into the ring, half-naked, and test their strength, and skill and will against someone who is looking to separate their head from their shoulders.
As far as readers go, in 2007, 981,077 unique visitors logged on to TSS, and the site was visited 1.7 million times. By the end of 2008, we boasted 1.5 million uniques, and 2.5 million visits. The average reader is a hardcore fight fan. There are a good number of those, no matter what the mainstream press might try to tell you, as they bloviate about the death of the sport. It so happens that many, OK, most of the bloviators are Americans, with a xenophobic take on the world. The fight game in the US isn’t thriving, fair to say; but worldwide, people still dig a rousing tussle. The pound for pound best fighter in the world is a 140 pound Filipino named Manny Pacquiao, and he is as popular as God over there. Maybe more. So boxing ain’t dead, even if the fiftysomething sports editor at the BigCity Daily Herald says it is, because he revered Ali, and stopped following the sport because his stomach got queasy when Tyson ripped off a chunk of Holyfield’s ear in 1997.
As far as registered users, we don’t register the readers. We have a comment section, and to submit a comment, you must submit an email address, but we don’t do anything with it. If you go to the site, you’ll notice we don’t have any ads. We tried a pay model for a spell, in early 2007, but didn’t get enough traction, because readers are used to getting the milk for free, and refuse to buy the frickin’ cow. Web journalism needs to move to a micropayment system, now!! But we are fortunate to have a publisher who is a humongous fight fan, a guy who likes to stay in the background, and who laments the lack of coverage in the papers. So he decided to fill the breach, and he makes a good living in another field, so he can as long as he chooses fund the site. Thus, we don’t need to beg programmers and promoters for ads. We don’t have to risk pissing off the advertisers, and having them threaten to pull ads if they don’t care for the content. Connect the dots.
Q. Who is your publisher?
A. Dino Davinci.
Q. How competitive is online boxing publishing? Who are your main competitors? Do you consider print – newspapers and magazines – as competition?
A. Since the barriers to entry aren’t immense, there is tons of competition. Our main competition, in my eyes, is Maxboxing.com, which is California based. I say that because they also have writers who’re classically schooled journalists, or newspaper reporters, so their standards are pretty high. A lot of the sites feature content by pro-ams, I guess you could call them. I’m not knocking it, it’s next to impossible to make any kind of living doing this, so many of the people doing fightwriting these days are dilettantes.
Fightnews.com is the top site, but they concentrate on breaking news. If you want to delve a bit deeper into a boxer, or a matchup, or the state of the game, you’ll come to TSS, or Maxboxing, or read Tom Hauser on SecondsOut.com, primarily.
I do not so much consider print our competition. No slap on them, there are some excellent fightwriters still hammering away at the dailies. Tim Smith, for one, still has that beat at the NY Daily News. Magazines have such a lag time that I pay them no mind. Ring Magazine is still alive, but it was bought buy Oscar De La Hoya, which puts their staff in a difficult position, one I am glad I don’t have to contend with. If you work at NBC, do you blow the whistle on a scandal at GE? If you work at Ring, can you write a feature which calls for the man who signs your check, Oscar De La Hoya, to retire? Tough call, those guys have bills to pay, jobs to hold on to.
Q. Describe a typical day as Managing Editor.
A. As soon as I wake up, I am logging on to the computer, and putting through comments. I am psychotic about making sure reader comments go through quickly. I edit copy that comes in, with a light touch, because I respect writers as artists, and want to give them the freedom to express themselves as they see fit, and not put them through the Michael Woods filter, or have a homogenous “TSS voice.” I will also write, an average of three to four pieces a week myself. On Sunday night, I’ll scan the schedule, see what big fights are coming up in the next week or two. I’ll send out a blast to the staff on Google Groups, ask them what they are interested in covering. They pitch me, and I usually say yes, again, because I respect them. Often I’ll think of something we should be addressing, and put a query out, asking who might like to take a shot at it. I often try to reach out to a particular guy and see if he wants to take a shot at a particular topic, because it plays to his strengths. One guy likes to do the historical, one guy likes to bust chops big time, ruffle feathers, etc.
My wife would tell you I am spending faaar too much time on TSS, and she would be right, I guess. But my name is at the top of the masthead, so I prefer that it not suck. On many a Friday nights, I will write up the ESPN Friday Nigh Fights show, and maybe a Showtime card as well. Then, on Saturday, I will cover an HBO card off TV. Again, back to my wife. She is a good lady, who understands that this is my job and my hobby, and she doesn’t moan and label herself as boxing widow. Often, we’ll have friends over to watch the bouts, and she can shoot the shit with them, while I tap away on the keyboard, and occasionally interject into their conversation arc, which is usually ranting about something the GOP did or is contemplating doing.
Q. How will you cover a major fight?
A. Our man David Avila has anything in Las Vegas and most of California locked down. He works for a California newspaper, so he’ll be dispatched to cards for them. It’s a two birds with a single stone thing. I will attend a fight if it’s at Madison Square Garden, as will Borges and Fernandez. It isn’t in the budget for me to fly to Vegas for the big bouts, and besides I like to cover the events in my underwear if I so choose. I can DVR it, pause, write, rewind, write, rewind again, determine exactly what punch of the combo made the guy’s eyes roll back in his head. Just know, if you are reading a deadline piece I wrote on a Saturday late night, I may well have been in my underwear, and an undershirt. Yummy visual, right?
Q. How did you get into boxing journalism? Who were your influences?
A. Funny you ask that. I grew up in Boston. I played hockey, and followed the Bruins, and Red Sox and Celtics and Patriots voraciously. Those teams ruled New England, but a guy named Marvin Hagler lived in Brockton, Mass., and was a certifiable badass at middleweight. “Destruct and destroy” was his motto. But you know that, Steve, because you were the boxing beat writer for The Boston Globe in the early 80s! So to a large extent, you helped set me on this path, to follow the sweet science, this red-light district of sports. I was attracted to the sport as much for the ludicrous hijinks of the con men, iconoclasts, gangsters and goofballs that serve as the promoters, and cornermen and managers as the majestic ebb and flow of an epic tussle. If you have a fascination with the darker elements of humanity and are a sports fan, here is where you land. So, influences were you, and then Ron Borges, who took on the beat after you left, and his compatriot, George Kimball at The Boston Herald. It so happened that my region had the best one-two punch of fightwriters in the world as I was moving into my teens. Then, I was in Ohio when Ohioan Buster Douglas shocked the world by taking the lunch money of the baddest bully out there, Mike Tyson. Feb. 11, 1990, I was doing my Michael Phelps imitation on that night, but I recognized through the haze that the drama in this sport, combined with the bounty of backstories featuring characters and situations out of a novelists imagination, made it a sport like no other. Boxing is a peerless metaphor for life, and I’ve always got a buzz from watching two guys duke it out. That is probably genetic, chemical. So my participation in this realm is partly nature, and part nurture and chance.
Q. Are boxing journalists fulfilling their watchdog function?
A. Yes. It is a necessary function of the post. Because boxing has no centralized league, or commissioner whose job it is to attend to the best interests of the sport, or athlete’s union whose job it is to look out for the short and long-term well being of the fighters, the fightwriters have to fill the vacuum. I mean, they don’t have to, but if you fancy your function as being more than a mere chronicler of what you see on the surface, then you have to speak your conscience. There is so much exploitation in the sport, so we have to point out egregious examples of it. Of course, I recognize that boxing is actually the entertainment business, so of course profiteering is front and center of that. In the next few years, I may toss my hat in the ring to a higher position of power with the Boxing Writers Association, and if that happens I’d like to put in place an ambitious platform that helped fighters share more in the bounty. I have been a vocal voice for the fans, who have paid through the nose if they want to see the marquee events in the last 15 plus years, because greedy programmers and promoters have installed a pay per view model. All the big bouts cost $45 or more to see, and you have to subscribe to HBO and Showtime to see premium action. Boxing has a bad rep and hasn’t been present on free TV for a decade, so cable and PPV has emerged as the go to place for viewing. That means that the sport is seen by fewer sports fans, and interest wanes. Greed and short term gains speak loudest, while younger folks who might’ve been fans get siphoned off into MMA.
No fightwriter speaks truth to power more than Hauser. He rips into HBO, the lead programmer, every year and when his piece hits the web, HBO suits go ballistic. The fightwrite media that cover the sport have to be on the lookout for evil doing, and exploitation, and cheating and the like. Boxing is a life and death sport. This ain’t no dodgeball; the stakes are the highest stakes in existence. A life is on the line, each and every time someone has the balls to glove up. They all deserve a degree of vigilance from we that earn a living doing this.
Michael Woods, excerpted from TheSweetScience.com, January 30, 2009:
Fight fans who tuned in to the main event of ESPN’s Friday Night Fights which unfolded at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada were feeling nervous that they’d see an out of towner, Juan Urango, get jobbed by the judges after he boxed more than adequately over 12 rounds in vying for the vacant IBF 140 pound title. His foe, Herman Ngoudjo, is a Montreal resident, and it so happened that the ref of this match was the same official who bungled the handling of a knockdown in favor of a Canadian three months ago. But that anxiety was misplaced, happily, as the judges did the right thing, and award the semi-crude banger Urango a unanimous decision (120-106, 118-108, 116-110) over Ngoudo on Saturday evening.
Urango, who won this vacated belt in 2006, with a UD12 win over Naoufel Ben Rabah and then dropped it immediately to Ricky Hatton, almost closed out the show with a strong assault and two knockdowns in the third round; so it seemed like judges would have to veer into the realm of the nakedly obvious felony if they chose Ngoudjo, but this is boxing, where we come to expect the unexpected, and with PlasterGate fresh in all our minds, the right call was welcomed with glee. The right call allowed us to forgive the timekeeper who allowed round 10 to go 5:10!
Urango, the lefty, looked to bomb from the start, and the Quebec resident Ngoudjo moved smartly to steer clear of punishment. Urango banged to the body, sharply, and the crowd gasped in round one. In the second, Herman’s straighter shots hit the mark a bit better. But he’d need to be sharp defensively for the duration of the bout to be successful—could he pull it off? Urango scored a knockdown in the third, off a left uppercut. To me, it looked like it could’ve been a slip, from tangled feet. It was ruled a knockdown, and Herman didn’t protest. He held on, as Urango went into blitzkrieg mode. Herman went down again, off a straight left, with 24 seconds to go. He got up, on weakened legs, and held on for dear life as the bell sounded. Could he clear the fog in the fourth?…
(SMG thanks Michael Woods for his cooperation)