The Green, Green Fields of Home

By Michael Katz


The Green, Green Fields of Home

The father is a smoke jumper, diving out of airplanes into forest fires in the Big Sky country of Montana; the kid studied outdoor recreation in college, wanted to become a forest ranger or game warden, did some landscaping, spooned out food on a buffet line in Beaverton, Ore., and played pro basketball in Ireland and Latvia. His left hook was to the basket, now as a 6-foot-8-inch southpaw boxer, he throws right hooks to the body and head.

Heavyweights come from anywhere you can find them and Tye (short for Tyson, but no, not that Tyson, he's not sure from where his father came up with the name 31 years ago) was found practicing basketball in Des Moines, Iowa. He was playing for the Des Moines Dragons in a semipro league when a local fight promoter went up to him and suggested he was wasting time with his jump hook and told the kid he could become heavyweight champion of the world.

“I thought, 'This man's crazy,' but I was getting burned out in basketball,” said Fields.

At the age of 24, with no boxing experience he turned pro. In the first round of his first fight, he threw a punch that broke two of his opponent's ribs and he was a knockout victor in 22 seconds.

“This might be a pretty good thing,” was his first impression of boxing. He said he had “not even an inkling” of the game while playing basketball two years each at Oral Roberts University and San Diego State. He dabbled in football and baseball, but boxing was as foreign as, well, Latvia, where “the buildings are old, the people are friendly and I couldn't understand a word they were saying.”

He is tall, polite, speaks well and oh, if he could only fight. Chances are he can't, despite a pro record of 36-1 and 33 knockouts. I've never seen him, so I'm holding judgment until after I see him against the journeyman son of a journeyman, Kendrick Releford, Thursday night at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas (Versus TV, with a main event of IBF junior flyweight champion Ulises Solis defending against the man he beat for the title, Will Grigsby).

But a colleague who has seen Fields volunteered this information: “He can't fight a lick.”

He must have something, though, for he brought Billy Baxter, the poker-playing manager of Bruce Curry, Roger Mayweather, Vernon Forrest and Kid Akeem, back from a seven-year layoff to guide the fortunes of the big guy.

“He was really green, never had a fight (until the age of 24),” said Baxter. “But he's got balls and he's got a punch, too, and he ain't scared and he's about twice as good as anybody thinks.”

Baxter thought so much of the raw kid he got Jesse Reid, the trainer he used with Curry and Uncle Roger, to move to Vegas to handle him. “That was the condition for him to train Tye,” said Baxter, who had been out of the business for about seven years.

Baxter also put Fields with Top Rank, which is hardly a good sign considering Bob Arum's history with heavyweights post-Muhammad Ali. In fact, Arum's “other” heavyweight, Hasim Rahman, just came up lame and had to withdraw from a fight next month against the aged Ray Mercer. Baxter said he would have loved to have Fields in against Rahman.

“We want to fight the big Russian (7-foot Nikolai Valuev),” said Baxter, “we'd take that fight right now.”

The plan, he said, was to have one more fight before perhaps getting on Arum's hoped-for June card featuring a showdown between welterweight title-holders Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito in Puerto Rico. “Somebody in the top ten,” said Baxter.

First, though, Fields has to get past Releford, whose father, Ken, was a decent club fighter who now owns a Fort Worth gym where the kid grew up (“the gym was my babysitter”).

Emanuel Steward, who's here with his middleweight prospect Andy Lee on the card, told Baxter, “They didn't do you any favors.”

Releford is 14-8-1 with only five knockouts, but he has a couple of familiar names on his resume, his only stoppage loss in the ninth round to DaVarryl Williamson. He's beaten a couple of smaller Cubans, Ramon Garbey and Eliecer Castillo, and is on a one-bout winning streak.

“I make this an even fight,” said Steward to, but not exclusively.

Fields has some names on his c.v., also. Like Chamberlain (but George, not Wilt), Ford (Jeff, not Jerry), Hill (Gerald and Marvin, not Grant), Sargent (Brian, not Bilko) and another Fields (Sherman, not Killing). Ford, in fact, scored a first-round knockout back in 2001.

“He knocked me down, I got up and the ref stopped it,” said Tye.

He said it's the only time he has been down and he scored a first-round knockout over the same Ford (Jeff, not Mary) a few months later.

He's also knocked out such as Bruce Seldon, he of the glass follicles (remember when Mike Tyson brushed his hair to take the WBAssinine title). In his last start, he beat a 261-pound version of Maurice (Much, Much Mo) Harris, who was 201 when he was robbed of a split decision against Larry Holmes in 1997.

His nickname, of which he is not particularly fond, is Big Sky, given to him by his father for the Montana country he is from and where his father sky-dives into danger, though when his folks split, he only got to spend summers there, living most of the time with mom in Beaverton, the home of Nike.

If he's lucky, he'll never be known as “Killing” Fields. Of course, for Arum, Baxter and Reid, he is Fields of Dreams. He could always be Center Fields - his extra-wide hands cover a lot of space. There's always Home Fields, an advantage he'll have over Releford since for the last seven years Tye has made Las Vegas his home.

Maybe my colleague is incorrect. Maybe there's a fresh face among the heavyweights, a new talent to give the division some needed spark. Maybe. At the very least, unrequited and unmitigated hope are what keeps us going.

PENTHOUSE: Whoever it was that made it just a nasty rumor that Zab Judah's return to the ring was going to be against 43-year-old Vince Phillips.

OUTHOUSE: Whoever it was that started that rumor.

DIS AND THAT: Julio David Roque Ler, the Argentine superfly whose last name looks like a typographical error, passed his medical down home, but California flunked him on his eyesight and left Bob Arum scurrying to find a replacement for Jorge Arce in the main event Saturday night in Anaheim against the exciting Jorge Arce….Who might the sub be, Arum was asked. “What do I know about those guys (flyweights)?” said the honest promoter….I'm hearing a lot of sentiment for Jose Luis Castillo for his fight in June against Ricky Hatton. Sometimes I talk to myself.


Send questions and comments to: