The late Irving Rudd was one of the legendary public relations men in sports history, though he sneered at that title and preferred to be called a press agent. His work was so respected in boxing that he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Rudd used to do publicity for a time for Yonkers Raceway in New York. In 1958, as the track was opening for the racing season, he told workers to intentionally misspell Raceway. At Rudd's direction, it turned up "Racewya."
Of course, that prompted a slew of calls and got pictures in many of the New York newspapers, precisely what Rudd wanted to make sure the public knew the track was opening.
I thought of Rudd when I heard the other day that Freddie Roach was working as one of Andrei Arlovski's trainers for Arlovski's fight on Saturday at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., on the Affliction pay-per-view against Ben Rothwell.
Roach is one of the finest boxing trainers in the business, but also one of the game's best people. He's as honest as he is talented.
Roach freely admits he knows nothing about mixed martial arts.
"I wrestled in high school," Roach said. "That's about all I know."
But Roach said he taught Arlovski striking as he would any other boxer. He said he thinks the former UFC heavyweight champion has the boxing skills to become a top-10 heavyweight boxer one day.
That day, though, isn't here yet. And strikers in mixed martial arts need to take a much different stance than boxers.
Learning to fight as a boxer isn't very useful as an MMA fighter.
That's why it seems like a stunt Rudd may have thought up to draw attention to the card. The show is Affliction's first foray into mixed martial arts.
It quickly drew the ire of UFC president Dana White, who derisively refers to Affliction vice president Tom Atencio as "t-shirt guy." And in an obvious effort to play hardball and hurt the Affliction pay-per-view, White scheduled a free show that will air at the same time on Saturday on Spike TV.
Affliction has many big-name fighters under contract. Heavyweights Fedor Emelianenko and Tim Sylvia will fight in the main event. Emelianenko is a former PRIDE champion and has reached near-legend status among the sport's hardcore fans. Sylvia has had two reigns as UFC heavyweight champion.
Arlovski, Rothwell and Josh Barnett, another ex-UFC champion, are all among the elite heavyweights on the card. Matt Lindland, one of the world's finest middleweights, is also fighting for Affliction.
But with Anderson Silva, the top pound-for-pound fighter in the Yahoo! Sports rankings, moving up to light heavyweight to meet James Irvin as the headline fight on the UFC card, Affliction has heavy competition.
And so anything that would gather attention for the card can't be a bad thing. So, enter Roach?
Well, not to hear Roach tell it.
"No, no, I'm definitely serious about this," Roach said of helping Arlovski.
Roach concedes that there are subtle, though significant, differences between the way a boxer strikes and the way a mixed martial artist does.
Roach said he believes more MMA fighters will hire boxing coaches to help them improve their striking.
"To be effective in the mixed martial arts sport, you need to be really, really good at everything," Roach said. "You can't just be good at one thing. It's a process. The thing is, I have to make adjustments sometimes because, obviously, the stance is different and the distance is different. That's the most difficult thing, because sometimes a boxer will get a little bit closer than an MMA fighter would, because of the striking with the legs.
"There are small adjustments and I'm learning how to make those adjustments. Sometimes, me and Andre, when we go through a situation, he has to explain to me what a person might do with his feet and so forth. It changes things a little bit, but primarily, I work him like I would most fighters."
Ron Frazier, a striking coach at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas who has coached both boxers and mixed martial artists, said that ultimately there isn't a great deal of difference between the two forms of punching.
And, he said, because Rothwell is a striker himself, Roach's teachings may be of use to Arlovski come fight night.
"Andrei has real good footwork," Frazier said. "He was working with Randy (Couture) here in Las Vegas for a while and he used to stop over at Top Rank (boxing gym) and spar and he did very well.
"Since he's fighting a guy who probably wants to stand and bang with him, I don't think it's going to be that much of a detriment."
But in this war for Saturday night's fight viewers, it doesn't hurt Affliction to nab one of the biggest names in the boxing business. Anything that might tip the scale shouldn't be ruled out.
Roach's stature has brought just that much more attention to Affliction's show than it would have gotten without him.
It's a move that Irving Rudd would have fully endorsed.
- Freddie Roach
- mixed martial arts
- Andrei Arlovski
- UFC heavyweight champion