Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Heavyweight Insignificance

Heavyweight Champion Wladimir Klitschko (left), lands a jab against Sultan Ibragimov Saturday night in New York City.

Last Saturday night at the most famous arena in sports, an event took place that once would have captivated a nation. Nearly 37 years ago, Muhammad Ali met Joe Frazier to compete for the most cherished prize in sports – The Heavyweight Championship of the World.

The scene was much different last weekend. At Madison Square Garden, two European heavyweights fought a contest that had fans booing from the outset. Wladimir Klitschko, considered by most the top heavyweight in the world, dispatched Sultan Ibragimov via a pedestrian twelve-round decision victory. Ibragimov, who resembled Barney Rubble more than Gene Tunney, never was able to get past the dominating jab of Klitschko. Hardly throwing a straight right hand, and never placing himself in any sort of danger, Klitschko cruised to a unanimous victory by scores of 119-110, 118-110, and 117-111. My scorecard was similar, generously awarding Ibragimov the 1st and 10th Round.

While I could endlessly discuss the tactical happenings of this weekend’s fight, that would not be necessary. I can sum it up rather simply; two Heavyweights that most Americans could not recognize fought twelve rounds of boxing that brought little excitement or clarity to the sport. Klitschko is now the IBF and WBC Heavyweight Champion of the World, if that means anything to you. And lest I forget, Klitschko also holds the fringe IBO Heavyweight belt.

Boxing has died a slow death for over a decade now. In part because of pay-per-view, the number of young and casual fans has dropped precipitously. Imagine wanting to watch the Super Bowl, but finding out that you’d have to pay $50? I guess if it were real important, you could gather five friends and split it $10 apiece. But that takes a lot of work. The system of pay-per-view and premium stations like HBO and Showtime have enriched big time promoters Don King and Bob Arum, but their greed will contribute to the moribund state of boxing. Boxing will eventually fall into the category of horse racing, and out of the top-tier of professional sports. The sport will always be around, in part because of interest from hard-core Mexican fans. But it’s hard to find a purist boxing fan in this country outside of the early-bird buffet at Holiday House. Who will replace these fans in 25 years?

The rise of mixed-martial arts, or MMA, is another nail in the coffin of boxing. I recently watched a MMA bout between local Miami street fighter Kimbo Slice and Tank Abbott from the Bank United Center in Coral Gables. Slice, a novice who got his start in backyard brawls, filled the arena and enthralled fans with his one-minute KO of the legendary Abbott. While I was not there, I could hear the excitement from watching the Showtime telecast. I can’t remember watching a boxing fight with that type of intensity. I’ll still argue that boxing is a more technical, and quite frankly civilized sport. But it’s hard to deny that MMA is the future and boxing is the past. MMA would be John F. Kennedy in 1960, opposed to the rancorous, haggard looking Richard Nixon. Hopefully boxing can make a comeback the way Nixon did, but not suffer a corrupt fall from grace.

In closing, I am personally saddened by the fall of boxing in this country. I have been a fan for nearly a decade, and am one of those people who will pay the $50 to watch a PPV attraction. However, most people in my generation will not. It’s sad, because there is so much to be excited about in the sport today. Manny Pacquiao, a Filipino fighter in the lower weight classes, is a joy to watch. He’ll be battling Juan Manuel Marquez on Mar.8, in a rematch of what was one of the most scintillating contests of 2004. Just within the past six months, fans have been treated to the ascent of a rising star – Kelly Pavlik of Youngstown, Ohio. Last year, there was the De La Hoya-Mayweather fight, which was fought at the highest skill level that I’ve seen in years.

I maintain hope that a new regime will take over the sport, one that has the forethought to plan for tomorrow and not today. But as long as the elites in the sport are raking in profits, they will not care about the sport’s future. The likes of King and Arum are charlatans and hucksters. Unlike most professional sports that have a commissioner, nobody truly runs boxing. It is controlled by rogue promoters, boxing commissions, and sanctioning organizations. I’ll finish by asking a simple question – Who is the Heavyweight Champion of the World? Stumped? Well, you would have good reason to be. Even boxing experts cannot agree on this fact. If you asked who the Super Bowl champion was, 99 percent of people would say the Giants. But in boxing, no such clarity exists.


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