Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Don’t Call it a Comeback

I love boxing. Apart from maybe track and field, boxing is the purest of all forms of athletic competition. Two men stand toe to toe using nothing but their hands in combat. There are no helmets, no pads, no bats, no balls, no baskets, no goals, no teammates, no halftime shows, no ice, and no mascots. Just two men out on an island. Boxing tests a man’s stamina, physical strength, mental fortitude, and courage, while both examining and revealing character three minutes at a time.

That being said I might be one of the last real boxing fans out there. As MMA and other forms of cage fighting have gained popularity over the past ten years or so, there seems to be increasingly less and less attention paid to the “sweet science”. This is nothing new to boxing. It seems as long as I can remember people have written it off as a dying sport, popularity waning with each corrupt promoter, each disappointing pay-per-view bout, and each Mike Tyson ear chomp. However, with that being said I come not to bury boxing but to praise it. I believe that the sport, so long on life support, might be on the cusp of a revival of sorts though not in the form most people remember.

There was a time in this country where boxing was most likely the second most popular sport. Before there was an NBA or NFL, baseball was America’s pastime and boxing its guilty pleasure. The heavyweight champion of the day was most recognizable, most revered, and highest paid figure in all of sports. These were names like Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, and Muhammad Ali. Somewhere along the way things changed. As professional football and basketball grew in popularity, the NBA and NFL turned into big time businesses with licenses to print money. This changed the landscape of the heavyweight division in America because now if you were a big athletic guy you would gravitate towards playing tight end or power forward and didn’t have to spend your whole life getting whacked in the head to make a buck. Talented heavyweight fighters became more and more scarce, fights became less and less interesting, and the heavyweight division faded into that goodnight.

While the heavyweight division still lies largely dormant, the renaissance of sorts in boxing that I had previously spoken of is occurring in the lighter weight divisions. Right now there are half a dozen or so potential hall of fame fighters in there prime in the junior welterweight (140 pound limit) and welterweight (147 pound limit) divisions. These are names like Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley, Antonio Margarito, Paul Williams, and an up and coming Andre Berto to name a few. Among these names alone you will have four or five blockbuster bouts in 2009 (in fact as I write this a bout between Pacquiao and Hatton is being finalized for May; with the winner likely getting a chance to fight Mayweather latter in the year). I don’t use the word blockbuster lightly either. Welterweight bouts tend to be much more dynamic than bouts at heavier weights with more punches, more action, and less clenching.

Don’t get me wrong even with an exciting division boxing as a whole is not without its problems. There is no reliable scoring system. Many of the bouts are decided by three ringside judges whose scores are blind throughout the entire fight and only revealed afterwards. There are too many belts. Without one true governing body boxing has a number of different associations each with its own sanctioned belts and each with different champions. Boxing is perceived to be corrupt to a certain extent at many levels, whether it be promoters, judges, referees, or the fighters themselves. At times this has seemed to warrant merit while other times not. Oh yeah and they need to reduce the price of price of pay-per-view fights. At $50 a pop they are too expensive to order for the fringe fan. Why is that if you order movie it cost three dollars while a fight of the same length costs 15 times more ?

Despite all that I’m excited about the potential match-ups that can be made in 2009, and hopeful that we get to see a few great fights. There is nothing more exciting than a big event and this year boxing will have plenty of those. If you’ve never been a big fan of boxing this is a year to get into it. I’ll bet you’ll get sucked in.

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