Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Jake LaMotta
Once this great canvas teemed with young men trading in
the prime of their lives to participate in a tale of triumph and
tragedy in a time now vanished.
Now it is full of desperate young men and empty of the
great names that inhabited its past, and a silence not without
dread emanates from between its ropes. Once the domain of
heroes, stars and icons, the field of forces surrounding this
sport has given tilt to the step-child of a lesser caliber. Some
now feel this sacred ring, soon to be rendered barren of its
original significance, is the only tangible relic of a sport
gone by the wayside.
But true boxing fans hold sacred, like loyalties to the
dead, a romantic sense of its past, and they know this so called
dying sport has been witness to a thousand other funerals in its
lifespan and can simply add its latest to more than a
century-long collection of threats.
It wasn't too long ago that the American media was once
again writing yet another obituary for our beloved sport and
would have you believe The Golden Age of Boxing had become some
kind of nostalgic recess in the minds of an ever-diminishing fan
base. Furthermore, the encroachment of mixed martial arts, lack
of network television coverage, and too many alphabet soup
titles, had some thinking boxing was in a coffin and awaiting
its funeral: Don't bet on it! If the last few months have shown
us anything, it is that boxing is not just alive and well, but
Quoted by ESPN in regard to the recent popularity in
boxing, Oscar De La Hoya stated, "We've had a really tremendous
spike in ticket sales, Pay Per View sales and network ratings.
It's actually incredible, in our last fight, we broke records
with respect to HBO and ticket sales.'' In addition, some feel
the celebration of the sport's demise a bit premature, with
respect to some long awaited changes finally on their way.
With respect to the alphabet soup dilemma: Every time a
champion enters the ring, either wearing one belt, or perhaps
too many, some say the belts themselves are as ugly in meaning
as in appearance. Each of the titles represents a political
entity that has only hurt the sport by segmenting it into a
diluted and confusing mix of semi-champions and, in the process,
devalues the real champs of the sport.
Sanctioning bodies have their own money to
make and reputations to build and, as a result, the most
important distinction in the sport has now become the coveted
Ring Magazine title. Fortunately this well respected governing
body has taken steps toward solving this problem in the form of
anointing the true world champions in any given class. Most
boxing insiders endorse this scheme of lineal world champions.
In terms of the Pacquiaos and Mayweathers, the "not as
good as the good old days" argument isn't a solid one. Our
elders said the same thing about the Dempseys and Langfords of
the twenties. It is essentially a cyclical and generational
phenomena, with the old guard recounting how things were better
in the golden age.
As far as any "golden era'' is concerned,
take a look at today's super middleweights, on down to the
bantam divisions. Are not the Wards, Kesslers,
Chavezes, Margaritos, Cottos, Pacquiaos, Mayweathers, Marquezes,
Hattons, Lopezes, Gamboas, and Donaires the "golden era" for
some future generation? Moreover, isn't the
idea in any sport to build on the legacies of the past in order
to improve its future athletes?
Finally, boxing has lost much of its
cultural importance to the octagon of ultimate fighting, with
its clean organization and consistent televised presence, along
with its fresh martial arts spin. By using the mistakes of
boxing as a roadmap of what not to do, the UFC has been
successful to the point of being more popular than boxing here
in the United States. However, Joe Rogan once said, "Boxing is
being eaten up by MMA. In five years your sport won't even
exist.'' Let it be known that Joe Rogan's choice of metaphors
could stand some revision.
Most now feel the rise of MMA will coincide
with the revitalization of boxing because it will have no
choice. By doing so, it will force boxing to reorganize itself
out of necessity and boxing will learn from the better managed
and more televised sport. Les Moonves, President and CEO of CBS
Corporation, was recently quoted as saying to Bob Arum and Todd
DeBouf, "I want you guys to figure out a way of bringing boxing
back to network television.'' If Moove's plan
succeeds, it could be the biggest shot in the arm to this sport
in over two decades.
Just like those crazy birthday candles that
keep coming back to life when seemingly blown out, boxing always
seems to come back to life when legally pronounced dead.
to contact Irish Joe O'Rourke