Fighting Out of their Comfort Time Zone

by Tim Smith

Photo Credit: Will Hart

The "Rumble in the Jungle'' took place at 4 AM local time in Kinshasa, Zaire to accommodate closed circuit broadcast in the U.S. at 10 PM. The "Thrilla in Manila'' went off at 10 AM in the Philippines for the benefit of a prime time audience half the world away. Mike Tyson fought Tony Tubbs in Tokyo, Japan on a Monday morning, and two years later, when Buster Douglas KO'ed Tyson at the Tokyo Dome, people in Japan were just finishing their breakfast.

With a 13-hour time difference for the East Coast, the Manny Pacquiao-Brandon Rios pay-per-view show airs at 9 PM ET / 6 PM PT Saturday night, but it will already be Sunday morning in Macau.

For boxers accustomed to fighting on Saturday night in America, fighting early in the morning on foreign soil can be significant. It means a change in routine and body rhythm.

"It's a matter of getting the body acclimated to the change,'' said Gene Kilroy, who ran Muhammad Ali's camps.

Kilroy was with Ali for his fight with George Foreman in Zaire and for his match against Joe Fraizer in Manila.

Ali and Foreman had plenty of time to get acclimated to the time difference in Kinshasa. When Foreman received a cut during sparring for the fight, everyone wanted to postpone the fight and leave Zaire. But the government wouldn't allow them to leave.

"They took Ali and Foreman's passports,'' Kilroy said. "No one could leave the country. We were there for two and a half months.''

It was enough time for the locals to decide who they favored in the fight. Kilroy said Ali helped push them toward his corner when he intimated that Foreman was from Belgium, Zaire's former colonial ruler. And Foreman didn't help his cause when he arrived with his beloved German shepherd, a dog the Belgians had fancied.

Even with the delay, Foreman said his body never got acclimated to the time change. "I've fought all over the world and you never get used to it,'' Foreman said recently. "They say you can get acclimated to it, but you don't. What do they say? Mind over matter. Matter always wins.''

Foreman said there is something strange about fighting in the morning, no matter where you are. It is a problem for both boxers, but one always manages to work through the sluggishness.

"You have to do Herculean things to function,'' Foreman said. "A lot of athletes are nocturnal – boxers, basketball players, basketball players. You go out and fight in the morning and something happens to you physically. It throws you off.''

Typically the puncher wins if he can score quickly. "They have to accumulate a lot of punches,'' Foreman said. "They can hurt you in five or six rounds. But after that the other guy's punches will hurt them as well.''

In Tyson's two morning fights in Japan he experienced both ends of Foreman's theory on big punchers. The first time Tyson fought in Tokyo he knocked out Tony Tubbs in the third round. The second time he was knocked out by Buster Douglas in the 10th.

Steve Lott, President of the Las Vegas Boxing Hall of Fame, was the camp coordinator for Tyson when he fought Tubbs in 1988. He said Tyson had just gotten married to Robin Givens she was already causing trouble. But Lott was able to keep the distractions at bay. Two years later when Tyson returned to Tokyo to fight Douglas, his marriage had disintegrated and his world was turning upside down.

But Lott doesn't think the early morning start to the card had any effect on Tyson.

"If you have a professional fighter, you're not going to have a problem,'' Lott said.

"If you're an amateur, then maybe it affects you mentally. But for a guy like Pacquiao it's no problem. You deal with it.''

Foreman and Lott think that Pacquiao might have an advantage over Rios, because Pacquiao has been living and training in the Philippines and is the crowd favorite. Rios didn't arrive in Macau until Monday.

Here is Lott's advice to Rios:

"You spend 20 hours on a plane and you go to sleep right when you arrive,'' he said. "The very first day you begin your routine as if it's in the U.S. You get up at 5 AM and you start to run. You go to the gym and you get acclimated as soon as possible. The only weird thing is that you're fighting at 10 o'clock in the morning.''

Oddly enough, the strangest thing might be what to do after the fight is over.

"You're so used to fighting at night where you finish, relax and then go to bed,'' Lott said. "But when you fight in the morning you have all day and all night to kill before you get on the plane the next day to leave.''

And if you're the loser of the fight, that is one long day after.