Sometimes, a fighter comes along who seems to have it all, only for things to fall apart. Such was the case with heavyweight Michael Grant, who attempts to regain his spot in the rankings when he meets Tomasz Adamek in Saturday's pay-per-view main event in Newark.
It is strange to think of Grant as a 38-year-old trial horse, but in effect that is what he has become.
Things once looked so promising for the 6-foot-7 boxer from Norristown, Penn., whose muscled physique is among the most impressive among boxing's big men.
The late Bill Cayton, famous as Mike Tyson's co-manager, was one who saw enormous potential in the former high school sports star who excelled at football, baseball and basketball. Cayton told the New York Times he had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in Grant, but there was an estrangement. According to Grant, the two grew apart.
By 1998 Grant was in the Main Events fold, ironically the same promotional company (though now scaled-down) that promotes Adamek. Grant's trainer at the time, Don Turner, saw Grant as possibly an all-time great.
It was easy to see how people could be high on the towering heavyweight. On Nov. 7, 1998, Grant was electrifying as he crushed the huge Cuban, Jorge Luis Gonzalez, in the opening round at Bally's casino hotel in Las Vegas. It was Grant's 26th win in a row, 18 of which were knockouts. "Gonzalez told me he'd never been hit like that before," the Cuban boxer's manager, Luis DeCubas, told the media afterward.
"I've always said from day one that Michael will develop into the best heavyweight who ever lived," Turner said afterward. I was on site for the fight in Las Vegas, and I didn't think the comment was as outlandish as it might have seemed. No one had blown away Gonzalez that easily. I described Grant as "a possible emerging superstar" in Boxing Monthly. "My ambition is to be a great fighter, for people to know I'm a great fighter," he told me in an interview for the publication.
The flaws showed, though, when Grant fought Andrew Golota in November 1999. The erratic Polish heavyweight knocked Grant down twice in the opening round and beat him up for several rounds in a row. Grant persevered, though, eventually winning on sheer guts as much as anything. Grant wouldn't go away and Golota melted down, turning away in surrender in the 10th round.
Grant was not as big an underdog as you might have thought when he met Lennox Lewis for the title at Madison Square Garden in April 2000. He had, it was reasoned, demonstrated that he could come back from adversity: The desperate early rounds against Golota were seen in a positive light. Lewis, though, showed in the harsh glare of the big-fight spotlight that Grant simply did not take a punch too well. Grant lasted just two rounds and suffered a damaged knee on one of his four visits to the canvas.
Things were never going to be the same. ESPN's Teddy Atlas was brought on board as trainer, but Grant suffered almost unbelievably bad luck when he was caught unawares by a stiff left jab from Jameel McCline in July 2001 and broke his ankle in the resulting off-balance knockdown. The fight was over in 43 seconds -- Grant never had a chance to get started.
Atlas steered Grant to a string of wins in low-profile bouts, but a crushing, four-knockdown defeat against the underachieving Dominick Guinn in June 2003 seemed to signal the end of the big man's career, at least as far as the big fights were concerned.
Here Grant is again, though. He has won eight bouts in a row and on Saturday he makes a last grab at glory. Grant's most notable win was achieved against a world-class Polish heavyweight and now he meets another, more than a decade later.
Times do change. Versus Golota, Grant was a big favorite in the betting, but on Saturday he is a decided underdog. The years have been long, the setbacks severe.
No matter how bleak things have seemed, though, or how many discouragements he has suffered, Grant has clung onto the dream that one day he could be heavyweight champion. Grant can gain comfort in the knowledge that -- no matter what happens on Saturday -- he has persevered long after others would surely have given up, and no one can take that away from him.