Thursday, May 25, 2006

Punch Drunk Love

I'm going to do something that I never thought I would do. What is that you wonder?I'm going to long for the good old days. It always sounded like sour grapes when some old guy would talk about how much better sports were when they were young. I always thought that because athletes have gotten stronger and faster as time has gone on, that they were clearly superior to the ones who had come before. Therefore the quality of the games being played today were better. I still believe that the athletes of today are superior to those of the past, but that won't stop me from lamenting the demise of big time boxing.

Boxing is called the sweet science. Now, I was never sure what science had to do with beating the hell out of somebody, but there's certainly no sweetness in the sport. I'm not here to talk about Don King or Bob Arum or any other of the big time promoters and their underhanded dealings. Boxing has always had it's share of crooked deals and fixed fights. For example, Joe Louis had to give away a portion of his earnings as heavyweight champion to James J. Braddock in order to get a shot at the title. Braddock built a house and started a business based off of Louis' hard earned victories for ten years. Like I said, unsavory characters and deals have always been a part of the sport.

What I miss is the drama of the sport. I miss being able to turn on the TV on the weekends and see big fights for free. I miss the charismatic figure that can make people listen to what he says. Of course I miss Ali, but it's not just him. I miss George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns and a host of others. There was a time when even the casual sports fan knew about the kings of ring. Today, you'd be hard pressed to find people who know who the heavyweight champion of the world is (It's kind of a trick question because I believe there about 10 of them and nine of them are from the former Soviet Union).

There was a time when the Heavyweight championship was the most coveted title in sport. The unofficial "baddest man on the planet". Like the title of "world's fastest man" it meant something special. It really doesn't mean anything anymore. Mike Tyson is a punchline, Evander Holyfield is punch drunk and outside of Oscar De La Hoya, there isn't a boxer who can really capture the imagination of the public. Perhaps this is all cyclical and the next Olympic games will produce a group of great fighters that will become household names, just like the '76 games did with the Spinks brothers and Ray Leonard.

Great fights still take place, it's just that there is no anticipation leading up to them and there is no rooting interest in the outcome. Frazier - Ali divided a nation. Liberals and Conservatives, young and old, black and white. It was one of the defining moments of the Vietnam era. I'm not sure that there will ever be a sporting event that captures that attention of this nation as that one did. You would have to go back to Joe Louis defeating Max Schmelling to find a sporting event that equaled the anticipation and social impact of first Ali - Frazier fight. Louis winning to avenge his only loss and striking a blow against the rising Nazi power in Germany was a polarizing moment around the coutry. There was no middle ground in those fights and everyone took a side. While the great fights that followed couldn't live up to the social significance of those two, they were still great sporting spectacles. Leonard, Hearns, Hagler, Aaron Pryor, Alexis Arguello and Larry Holmes created magic moments in the 80's. Tyson, Holyfield, Chavez and Foreman made the 90's a great decade.

The thrill of a fight night in Vegas is still fantastic, but the only place that magic is felt is in Vegas. People used to pay money to go to movie theaters to watch big fights. Of course we have pay per view today, but can you imagine how motivated someone would have to be to actually pay to go to a theater to watch a fight? Most don't even order fights that they can watch in their own homes. The magic of a big Ali fight could draw people to a theater back in the 70's, whether it was to watch him pull of a miracle and beat George Foreman or lose a classic battle to Joe Frazier. It was thrilling, but for now the thrill is gone, the thrill has gone away.

I know boxing is a brutal sport, and at it's worst, it's absolutely unwatchable. I just long for the days of the BIG FIGHT. Perhaps they'll come back, or perhaps we've just moved on as a society. I can't say for sure and don't really have any important social commentary to make on the subject. I just miss the good old days.



Blogger Sons of Dean said...

I´m from Denmark. I saw all-time great middleweight champ Carlos Monzon beat Tom Bogs here in Copenhagen in 1972. I´ve seen and talked with Larry Holmes, Ali (1979), Victor Galindez, Emile Griffith, Nino Benvenutti.
Like you I miss those days. When the heavyweight champ was the strongest man on the planet !!

7:10 PM  

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