Boxing Is Alive & Well
Boxing is here to stay. Much like any other sport, it has its stumbles, but the sport itself is too strong to wither away and die…
Boxing is alive and well. The doubters have been out in full force in 2016 with cries that boxing is dead. We keep hearing that there are no big names or marquee fights or that UFC has taken away the sport’s fans.
This is such a familiar refrain. Almost like clockwork, each and every year, we hear that boxing is struggling and is on its last legs. There are too many bad decisions, it cannot compete with other sports, let alone its own sport, which was better in years past. These descriptions are completely inaccurate and do not reflect the will of the boxing public.
One has to look no further than the biggest men in the sport to find numerous examples of its resilience.
Prior to full integration in sports, heavyweight champion Jim Jeffries refused to defend his title against deserving challenger Jack Johnson based on his skin color. In fact, Johnson had been fighting on the black boxing circuit, unable to even spar with unwilling white pugilists. Many cried that having a black heavyweight champion would spell doom for boxing. “The Galveston Giant” encountered racial epithets, was spat upon and called the most vile of names. People were bothered by his choice of dating partners and lavish lifestyle. Johnson was actually arrested for transporting a white woman across state lines.
Johnson, whose parents were ex-slaves, eventually was granted a title bout against champion Tommy Burns. Johnson wrested away his belt and was titleholder for five more years. He became a trailblazer whose grit and determination in the face of unimaginable hatred set the stage for other black fighters to follow.
When Rocky Marciano retired, many in the fight game thought that the division was headed backward. After all, Marciano was often able to win coming from behind, in spectacular fashion.
Marciano defeated Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles twice, Archie Moore, and a well-past his prime Joe Louis. “The Brockton Blockbuster” defended his belt six times, winning five by knockout. He is still the only heavyweight champion to retire unbeaten.
Sonny Liston came on the scene after Marciano and was a very good champion with two wins each over Cleveland Williams and Floyd Patterson, as well as triumphs over Zora Folley and Eddie Machen, eventually giving way to an Olympic champion named Cassius Clay, who defeated him twice. Clay, of course became Muhammad Ali, and went on to become one of the greatest fighters of all time.
Ali’s remarkable run saw him fight in arguably the division’s best decade in history. The 1970’s featured Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton, and others. Ali fought three memorable contests with both Frazier and Norton whose historical significance has been well documented. His upset over Foreman remains one of the biggest in boxing history.
Not only was “The Louisville Lip” a remarkable fighter, but he stood for what he believed in including opposition to the Vietnam War. Ali transcended sports television and set a different bar for pre-fight hype leading up to each ring battle. Today, much of what we see at press conferences are a result of boxers attempting to generate enthusiasm by putting on a show to gain interest in their upcoming matches. However, Ali was not contrived or forced, as his charisma created genuine excitement about what was to come.
How could the sport survive the end of this era?
Cue Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran.
The Four Kings all fought each other taking part in superfights throughout the 1980’s. In between 147 and 175 pounds, all of these Hall of Famers engaged in memorable bouts.
Leonard fought Duran three times, Hearns twice, and Hagler once. Duran fought Leonard three times, Hearns, and Hagler once. Hearns fought Leonard twice, Duran, and Hagler once. Hagler fought Leonard, Hearns, and Duran once. Fight fans still talk about who really won between Leonard and Hagler. They discuss Hearns’ right hand delivered to Duran as one of the best one-punch stoppages in history. They talk about “The War” that was Hagler-Hearns and that amazing first round. They marvel at how unbelievable the first Leonard-Hearns bout was and Sugar Ray’s remarkable comeback.
There was no posturing, or fighting at catchweights, or not agreeing to fight over money. None of these great champions allowed anything, but their desire to be the best, to win out.
Why don’t we fast forward to 2016? It has been an ever-popular year to proclaim that boxing is dead.
We hear that UFC is now king, and that boxing cannot survived its popularity.
Boxing fans have proven that they will continue to support the sport through thick and thin. They will shout from the rooftops at boxing’s best moments, quality matches, and top fighters and complain about the bad decisions and poor matchmaking. The sport is not a fad and has existed since “The Queensberry Rules” were published in 1867. There is nothing to suggest that the sport is deteriorating in any way, shape, or form.
This year has been a special one for “The Sweet Science.” To say that there are no big names or marquee fights right now is disingenuous. We have had several outstanding Fight of the Year candidates. Orlando Salido-Francisco Vargas, Carl Frampton-Leo Santa Cruz, and Keith Thurman-Shawn Porter each stand on their own. We just had two of the five best pound-for-pound battlers in the world go head to head. The close, controversial nature of Andre Ward-Sergey Kovalev has only brought additional discussion to “The Sweet Science.” Everyone involved in the sport cannot wait to see what happens in a likely rematch.
The future is looking bright, as well. 2017 is set up to have a strong first quarter of activity. Super middleweight champions Badou Jack and James Degale will go head to head in January. The anticipated rematch of Fight of the Year candidate between featherweights Frampton and Santa Cruz will also take place in January. In March, a welterweight unification match between Thurman and Danny Garcia will also be on tap.
Boxing is here to stay. Much like any other sport, it has its stumbles, but the sport itself is too strong to wither away and die. The boxing fan will always be here to support it and complain about it. The true beauty of ‘The Sweet Science” is what happens inside the squared circle when two combatants go toe to toe to decide the outcome of each fight. The opportunity that the sport offers at its core is a boxing gym with equipment, training, and the opportunity to learn the nuances that yes, “The Queensberry Rules” set down 149 years ago.
The allure of boxing is perhaps best summarized by noted historian Joyce Carol Oates. “More than any other human activity it (boxing) consumes the very excellence it displays. Each boxing match is a story, a unique and highly condensed drama without words.”