(Note: This article was originally published in 2008.)
We’ve seen ear biting, double knockouts, men falling out of the sky into the ring, anything can happen in boxing. But almost anything can also happen at a boxing press conference as well. The boxing media was exiting the Oleg Maskaev-Samuel Peter WBC Heavyweight championship press conference at Madison Square Garden last year, when, lo and behold, who is that hanging out near the front steps of the Garden? Why it’s none other than Ron Artest.
The 28-year-old NBA star forward (now 33) and 2004 Defensive Player of the Year was just chilling away on a sunny summer afternoon with his two kids. Myself, former WBA Welterweight champ Jose Antonio Rivera and his trainer John Scully went over to say hello. Turns out Ron, (now known as Metta World Peace) is a pretty friendly and nice guy. He’s also a hardcore boxing fan who once tried the sport – with mediocre success. “It’s hard. You have to have talent. When I tried to box I remember I couldn’t get through the one guy’s jab. It was hard, I was trying to throw punches but I couldn’t hit him. So I love the sport.”
Now Mr. Artest (Peace) is such an avid follower of the ring, he even recognized the little-known WBC Heavyweight champ Oleg Maskaev as he was leaving the Garden. From about 20 yards away he spotted the powerful but plain-looking 37-year-old from Uzbekistan, “That’s a strong dude right there. That’s a stroooong dude.” Maskaev looked over and the two world class athletes acknowledged each other with a mutual respect.
So how was Peace first introduced to boxing? “My father used to be a boxer. I remember one fight he had in the Golden Gloves trials when I was seven or eight. He was fighting and the dude was hitting him left and right. He was almost knocked out. Then he threw a lucky punch with his eyes closed, knocked the dude out. And he didn’t even know he knocked the dude out because he was dazed.”
Does he have any ringside memories at a major Las Vegas event? “Never ever sat at a boxing fight. But I like to watch it on TV because I like to see the different angles. I was gonna go to the De La Hoya-Mayweather fight but I wanted to be able to see all the angles. I didn’t want to be stuck and miss a punch, so, I’ve never been to a live fight.”
Who are his favorite boxers to watch? “I like to watch definitely Mayweather. I’m looking forward for somebody to challenge him [smiles]. I like Zab (Judah) – when he’s not partying. I miss Tyson, that’s my man, diehard Tyson fan. (Ever meet him?) Yeah, I met him, he’s a real nice guy. Real nice guy. I remember the first time I met him in California, he just called me Brother Ron, he was real nice and he gave me a hug. And I didn’t know him, I didn’t even know he knew me. When he lost against Buster Douglas (in 1989) my whole house was crying, everybody in my house, my father, my mother, me, my sisters, cousins, everybody was in tears. Tyson’s just my man, I love him.”
Favorite fights? “Oh man, definitely all of Diego’s fights (the recently deceased Diego “Chico” Corrales who was involved in a fatal motorcycle crash). I love him. Oh my goodness, (Kelly) Pavlik is coming along, he’s something else. He don’t look like he can fight but he is something else. I want to see Pavlik fight (Joe) Calzaghe.”
Artest, who averaged 20.5 points per game for the Kings during the 2007-08 season, explains the appeal of boxing this way: “It’s like art. It’s like, we play basketball – you know you really gotta know how to play – it seems like it’s simple until you play – it’s like, you’re awkward in the beginning. And if you fight, you think you can fight and throw punches. Until you get in there with somebody. You see it on the TV screen, everybody say, Oh just hit him. But it’s not that easy. And it’s just like drawing or painting. Boxing is really just a helluva art.”
Sounds like Ron watches a lot of boxing on the TV? “I watch all the fights. I TIVO it all day [laughs].”
Does watching boxing inspire you on the basketball court? “At times it does. Like when you see a great fight it can inspire you big time. What was the last big fight (at the time of interview last summer)…I liked Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright. Because they weren’t really runnin’ from each other. They were really getting after it a little bit. I don’t like to see fights like when Cory Spinks fought Jermain Taylor. I’m really pumped up for Hatton-Mayweather in December. I really enjoyed De La Hoya and Mayweather. The thing that people don’t realize when I tell them is De La Hoya punches real fast. Usually someone is punching you real fast you gotta go in a clinch. Mayweather was like in the matrix, he slowed down De La Hoya’s punches and actually punched right in between his punches. It was crazy, nobody does that. Mayweather was in the middle of those fast punches. He didn’t duck. He just saw it and punched. Like it was crazy. Nobody does that.”
Before departing, we had to pose Ron with one final question. If Don King promoted a $10 million boxing tournament to determine the undisputed NBA Heavyweight champ, who would win it, besides Shaq? “Shaq would have a helluva shot of being the damn champion [laughs]. But I think I would probably want to do it. If they had one, I would definitely want to be in it [smiles].”