February 28, 2013

Oh How I Miss Boxing's Golden Age

By - Keith Smith

When you travel for a living, you wind up with a lot of down time in hotel rooms with nothing but a television and your thoughts. And if you're really lucky, sometimes that television spurs some of those thoughts.

You find yourself watching some really weird stuff that you would otherwise never turn on. Like a special on the History Channel about phenomenal selling products of the 1990s (no kidding), or some such gibberish.

As I watched the mindless TV, one of the products that dominated sales in the 90s was the George Foreman Grill.

The show talked about how the idea for the grill came about as a result of Foreman's boxing comeback in the early 90s, and his desire and need to eat healthier to get back in shape during his successful bid to become the oldest World Heavyweight Champion in history (a distinction he still holds).

I started flipping stations afterward, and as luck (or irony) would have it, ESPN Classic was showing the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle, between Foreman and Muhammad Ali. I kicked back and watched that fight in its entirety, for the umpteenth time, and realized how very much I miss what the sport used to be.

Photo from: sportsillustrated.cnn.com
Boxing has been replaced in the past decade by Mixed Martial Arts as the pugilism of choice for this nation. I don't care for MMA myself, but I care even less for what boxing has become.

Watching that bout from 1974, in the heat and humidity of Zaire jungle, I thought back to what a true worldwide event that fight was, and how that was arguably the best time in that sport's illustrious history. If nothing else, it was certainly the greatest time for the heavyweight division.

Names like Foreman, Ali, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, and toward the end of the decade, Larry Holmes, took the weight class to unprecedented new heights, and brought to an end an era where boxing was, perhaps, the most popular sport in the country.

In the 40s, 50s and 60s, network television ran "Friday Night Fights" every week, and if you were a manly man, you were somewhere watching, probably with a 10 or 20 dollar bet with a friend on one of the bouts. There was a certain level of romance to the smoke-filled arenas, the dimly-lit rings and the gravelly-voiced ring announcers that lent itself to that era.

Today, what's left of the sport, outside of the never-ending allegations of fight-fixing and the ever-present air of contempt for crooked promoters, is all glitz and glam, and very little substance. I doubt I could name a single heavyweight, and I only know the other characters, like Floyd Mayweather, because of their brushes with the law (and the fact that he's participated in some WWE wrestling events).

It's a shame, too, because in its original form, boxing is perhaps the purest sport ever. It doesn't depend on any outside influence, such as teammates. The outcome doesn't depend on who plays better in the rain or cold, and there is no bat, or ball, or helmet, or anything else to blame a loss on. There are no excuses, when it's done right. It's man-to-man, squaring off to see who is the best, who is the toughest. It's truly survival of the fittest.

Or, at least, it used to be. Now, it's which fighter needs to move on because he can sell more pay-per-view buys than the other guy. It's whose coattail can we ride this month to try and scam a few more dollars. Real boxing, I'm afraid, is a thing of the past.

Maybe I should just go back to mindless TV...


  1. Couldn't agree more Keith. Great article. It's nice that we get a lot of classic fights to watch, but it would be nice if today's fights were even comparable. Even the 80's and 90's were good boxing (nothing like the 70's), but the great art that is boxing is crumbling before us. I don't think there will ever be another Rumble in the Jungle, or a Thrilla in Manilla. It's a thing of the past I guess. People blame MMA's surge in popularity for the decline of boxing, but I think it's more than that. I, like you, have no time for MMA, but I don't find myself watching boxing anymore either unfortunately. I blame promoters in large part. They don't give us the fights we want to see. If they think their guy will lose, they won't put him in the ring. Give us the fights we want and the hype boxing needs. We'll give you back the ratings.

    1. I couldn't agree more. Yes, there were some great fights in the 80s and early 90s. The first Aaron Pryor/Alexis Arguello fight may have been one of the best I ever saw. I think it was in 83, maybe? Of course, the welterweights were the stars of that era, with Hearns, Hagler, and the great Sugar Ray. But I'm with you - I think the decline of boxing is more responsible for the popularity of MMA rather than vice versa.

  2. Great post. I think we're seeing the slow death of boxing and it really saddens me. I remember watching the greats you metioned with my dad. Those were some of the best times of my life.

  3. Nice post Keith, I still have most of the heavyweight foights from that era on tape or DVD. I know the era may never be duplicated but I'm stll one of the few diehard boxing fans under the age of 35, it's part of my blood.

    1. I wish there were more of you left that might be able to bring that sport back.

  4. The heavyweight division is a joke now. It's sad how far boxing has fallen.