MIAMI -- More than 30 fights have been fixed or fraudulent over the past 12 years, according to men who have fought and lost to George Foreman, Frans Botha, Eric "Butterbean" Esch and other top-ranked fighters.
Tony Fulilangi, once a world-ranked heavyweight, says he faked a second-round knockout by George Foreman on Oct. 27, 1988, in Marshall, Texas. "I really hate to say this because it's not good for the sport," Fulilangi said. "I took a dive."
Former heavyweight Andre Smiley says he made thousands of dollars faking 14 knockouts from 1990 to 1997. "I made a lot of money throwing fights," he said.
Some fighters negotiated payments to throw matches. Others, unbribed, fell down merely to avoid injury and get a quick paycheck.
Widely suspected but rarely documented, fake fights threaten to remove the last shred of credibility that separates boxing from professional wrestling.
"The fix goes to the issue of integrity and trust in the game," said U.S. Rep. Mike Oxley, R-Ohio, who has sponsored a boxing reform bill aimed at protecting young fighters from unscrupulous promoters. "Nothing could be more American than believing in a fair fight. And if that is not happening, the public has every right to lose faith in the sport."
Fall guys helped heavyweight Butterbean Esch boost his earnings from $600 a bout as a little-known club fighter to $60,000 as a star attraction. Two opponents and two boxing commissioners say at least four Butterbean matches were thrown or tainted with fraud.
Boxers told the Herald that many fraudulent matches were arranged by promoters or matchmakers intent on improving a fighter's record and ranking to earn big-money title fights.
The sport, some fighters say, is steeped in corruption far worse than alleged criminal misconduct now under FBI scrutiny.
Club fighters or journeymen are often asked to take dives, according to Herald research.
Sometimes, well-known fighters are approached.
Iran Barkley, a former world light heavyweight champion, has been asked to throw a match. "They said, 'I'll give you $30,000 to do this, to do that,' " he said, declining to identify who approached him. "They wanted to build up some kid and felt my name would look good on his record. I would never do it."
Fulilangi says nobody asked him to throw his fight to Foreman. No one had to. Then 28, Fulilangi says he took the match after telling a promoter that he had a bad back and a bum leg and was semi-retired. The promoter insisted, and the money was good: $30,000.
A Foreman uppercut dropped Fulilangi in the second round. An overhand right floored him a second time. "He never hit me the third time," Fulilangi said. "He jabbed me and threw a swinging right hand. I went under it and sat down."
Videotape of the fight confirms Fulilangi's account: Foreman missing with a right hand, Fulilangi reeling into the ropes, then falling to the canvas. Announcer Al Albert: "I don't think he even connected, but it is being counted as a knockdown."
Said Fulilangi: "I went down just to get the money. I went to the airport with a smile on my face."
Foreman laughed when told of Fulilangi's account. "That happened to me all the time," said Foreman, 50, who won the heavyweight title for the first time in 1973. "If they're getting a whuppin', it's up to them to decide if they want to continue."
Interviews with boxers and matchmakers who refused to be identified suggest that The Herald's investigation identified only a fraction of the fraud. Over the past 13 years, there may have been hundreds of fights thrown.
"People say it doesn't go on but it does," says one former world champion who requested anonymity. "I've been there when they fixed fights. I'm talking about people paying people to take dives. I've seen the rehearsals. It still happens. A lot."
Pub Date: 10/31/99