R.I.P. "Smoking" Joe Frazier.
Here's a blog I wrote back on June 18th with my thoughts on Boxing.
On Friday, Floyd Mayweather Jr. was a no-show at court where he was ordered to appear to face defamation of character allegations. Fellow boxer Manny Pacquiao claims that Mayweather repeatedly told people the he was using performance-enhancing drugs, a charge Manny vehemently denies. None of Mayweather's people could be reached for comment. Naturally, Pacquiao's attorneys have asked the court to rule in their favor since Mayweather violated the court order and did not appear. And this is "big news" in the boxing world. What happened to "big news" being about an actual fight? Where have our Boxing heroes gone?
This may come as a surprise to you, but my three favorite sports are Football, Hockey, and Boxing. Boxing used to be a big sport in this country. It was on prime time TV, there were pay-per-view and HBO specials, there was hype for months prior to big fights building the public's anticipation of the battle to come. Mike Tyson made history on March 7, 1987 when he unified the title by defeating James "Bonecrusher" Smith. How can I possibly remember the exact date of this fight? Because it was my wedding night and yes, my husband and I watched the fight on TV in the honeymoon suite of our hotel. Boxing was THAT big of a 20+ years ago.
Even people who don't like boxing know the names: Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay), "Sugar" Ray Leonard, Joe Frazier, Mike Tyson, George Foreman, the list goes on and on. When you see Don King, you think "Boxing." These guys had personalities that transcended the ring. We had heroes and villains; guys we rooted for and guys we rooted against. We made movies about boxing like "Raging Bull" and "Rocky." In fact, on December 7th, 2010, Sylvester Stallone was selected to be inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame for his portrayal of "Rocky Balboa" and his impact on the boxing world.
Perhaps it was about the ultimate test, mano y mano, that drew people to the sport. Watching two guys stand alone, no teammates to help them, facing each other in the squared circle kept us on the edge of our seats. Watching the dance, the footwork, the blows - both the ones delivered and the ones taken - fascinated us. There were rules and a gentlemanly quality to the fight that kept it civilized and yet there was still the brutality that viewers wanted to see. But that seems to have changed. Now, people want the entertainment of the WWE and the violence of the UFC. We've changed as a society to the point where we need over-the-top scenarios to keep us entertained. Or maybe the personalities in the ring are just not what they used to be.
Sports has always been a way for kids from poor neighborhoods to get out, to make a place for themselves, a better living for their families. They use sports to learn discipline and self-defense, to belong to a group when they have no stable family life. They get college educations, Olympic medals, and if they are truly lucky (or blessed) they get jobs as professional athletes. There is a hunger and drive to succeed that you find in the best athletes. For them, it's not about the money and fame, it's about the game and the challenge.
I fear we have changed so much as a society that it's rare to find an athlete these days who still plays for the love of the game. It has, unfortunately, become all about the money and we are all seeing an inferior product on the field and on the court as a result. And in the ring. Boxers like Kelly Pavlik and Nonito Donaire and Amir Khan are rare. Amid all of the fanfare, these guys are still all about the fight. And that gives me hope that boxing will find it's way again, back into the public eye and the forefront of sports entertainment. Until then, I think I'll go dig through my boxes of video tapes and see if I can find some old Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini or Tommy Hearns fights and reminisce about the good old days....