Max Kellerman

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Thursday, January 29
Kellerman: Pemberton deserves to be B.A.D.

By Max Kellerman
Special to

"I'm looking for a big payday so I can buy a house for my family."

After his rematch performance against Omar Sheika on last week's Friday Night Fights, Scott "The Sandman" Pemberton should already have that house.  With a pool. And a pension.

Pemberton and Sheika's first bout, last July, was the best fight on ESPN2 in 2003.  But that fight was ordinary until the last couple of rounds, when Sheika hurt Pemberton badly, and seemed to be on the verge of scoring a spectacular knockout.  It is one thing for a fighter to survive impossibly perilous moments in a fight, and quite another for that fighter to come back to win. Pemberton not only held on through Sheika's onslaught, but came out on the other side with a close decision victory.

Much like Larry Holmes' heavyweight belt-winning performance against Ken Norton, which was not a great fight until the final round (one of the greatest rounds in history), Pemberton-Sheika I secured a special place in boxing fans' minds because it ended with a bang.

However, Pemberton's victory was controversial. Most observers felt that while it was close, if anyone deserved to win it was Sheika. Also, though the fight was voted the best on our air in 2003, we did not have a particularly strong year in terms of dramatic action-fights. There was no Micky Ward-Emmanuel Burton, or Julio Gonzalez-Julian Letterlough.

So yes, we were all looking forward to the rematch. But no, we weren't expecting Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward.

Well, Gatti-Ward is exactly what we got.

Until the 10th round, when Sheika was finally overcome, it was a non-stop, back-and-forth war. Both men were on the deck. Both were repeatedly rocked and both repeatedly came back. Watching on monitors from the Friday Night Fights studio desk, there were at least half a dozen times when Brian Kenny or I turned to the other and said "Okay, this fight is about to end -- Pemberton/Sheika will not be able to get through this round."

But both fighters continued to do the impossible.

Omar Sheika is still only 26 years old, but he is an old 26. He has lost his last four fights. True, all four loses came against good opponents, but it is clear that his once promising career is in serious decline.

Sheika can still punch, as his knockdown of Pemberton attests. But his defensive negligence, his stationary, head-and-offense-first attitude, has meant that he has taken far more punishment in his career than a fighter of his substantial ability normally takes. If he can no longer compete successfully at a world class level, he should, with all his faculties apparently intact, consider not competing at all.

Scott Pemberton is 37. And while it is not exactly clear that he is a young 37, it must be said that he is fighting on a higher level now than at any point in his career. With two consecutive wins over Sheika, Pemberton is, for the first time in his career, within shouting distance of a payday. An exciting win, say in a rematch with Charles Brewer, who stopped Pemberton in six rounds in one of the best Friday Night Fights of 2002, and The Sandman could well land a fight on Boxing After Dark for real money.

It is possible that Brewer-Pemberton II could deliver enough action to be not merely a springboard to a B.A.D. date, but, on its own merits, a B.A.D. fight.

Pemberton is a blue collar guy from New England. A good, honest, action fighter in his late 30's who just wants to land a fight for enough money to buy a house for his family. A couple of years ago there was another blue-collar, New England action fighter in his late 30's, who found himself in a position very similar to the one Pemberton is in now. His name is Micky Ward.

In May 2002, Ward fought Gatti for the first time, and the result was so thrilling that Micky, who won a close decision, secured his first seven figure payday. There was another seven figures for the rubber-match, and Micky finally had his retirement money.

He earned every penny.

Pemberton is not complaining about what it will take to earn his retirement. He'll show up, and with the right opponent, provide the excitement he is paid to generate. If you loved the Gatti-Ward fights -- in other words, if you saw them -- you will love a Pemberton-Brewer rematch.

It's a fight boxing needs, B.A.D.

Max Kellerman is a studio analyst for ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" and the host of the show "Around The Horn."

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