I recently received an email from a long-time reader of mine, by the name of Bill Pittman. Throughout the years Mr. Pittman and I have corresponded as I have had my byline at Maxboxing, UCNlive, ESPN and now SNAC.com.
He is a loyal and astute boxing fan, and years ago he enjoyed my on one Glen Johnson, who I dubbed 'the Battleship' for his travels throughout the world to take on all comers throughout his storied career.
This was of particular interest to him as a reader given that he was in the Navy. Not only did he admire Johnson, but he could truly relate and appreciate the moniker. Eventually, I dubbed him 'Battleship Bill', as he kept in touch.
Now, like many other aficionados of the sport, he is a bit dismayed at what is taking place. Here's what he expressed to me:
Hi Steve, I have been reading your articles each week and enjoying them, as always. Thanks for including me in your weekly distribution and keep up the good work.
For a long time now, I’ve been thinking about the current state of the Sweet Science and trying to understand why, after loving the sport for over 50 years, I am so deeply troubled and disheartened. At first I was thinking that maybe, being old, I was over reacting and putting too much thought and focus on “the good old days” when I was watching Ali, Duran, Monzon and others. I vividly remember when I was young and old folks would tell me how bad the world was and how much better things were in their day. I would always nod in agreement with them and smile, but I always felt they were just lost in the past.
But after considering things for a long time, I’ve come to the conclusion that there really is a problem with boxing as a whole and that it’s not just all in my head, or the bias of my years.
Our wonderful sport seems to have devolved into something that I have a hard time recognizing. The headline getters are not even fighters, but people who seem to be popular, because they’re popular. They share the main event stage with once great fighters who have no business in a boxing ring with gloves on. It gets a lot of attention and brings in younger viewers, but is it really good for the long term, for boxing? I guess only time will tell.
Like everything else in the world, boxing ground to a halt when pandemic hit. That of course was a terrible global situation that all of us just had to deal with. But now, almost two years down the road, we don’t seem to have recovered any of the momentum we had before COVID. Boxing has fragmented into “leagues” with Top Rank, PBC and the rest, not often willing to match their fighters with anyone other than another one of their fighters.
I know there have been a couple of exceptions to this, but overall, they stay in their leagues and keep the most appealing fights from happening. On top of that, MANY of the major fighters in boxing do not seem to have the same level of professionalism and accountability, as did the Haglers and Glen Johnson’s of the past. Most of them fight very rarely and it’s hard for them to build any real momentum with the fans. As a fan, it’s hard to get excited about them or get behind them.
Anyway, as I said towards the beginning of this, it’s disheartening for me, on a personal level. Not a lot gets me excited in boxing right now. Fights like Pryor/Arguello I, live on HBO, not PPV, are a thing of the past, seemingly never to return. But then, I guess I’m pretty much a thing of the past too at this stage! :-) I’m sorry this has turned out to be so long. Unfortunately for you, you’re my only boxing friend so you get stuck with me running on and on, from time to time. Thanks for wading through this.
First off, always great to hear from you. Hope everything is well with you and yours.
As for you what you wrote, I can't lie, in recent months I've found what is taking place in the sport more than a tad disconcerting. I think you're a bit older than me, but I grew up in the 80's in what I called the 'glory days' of boxing with 'the Four Kings' (Sugar Ray Leonard, 'Marvelous' Marvin Hagler, Thomas 'Hit Man' Hearn and 'the Hands of Stone', Robert Duran) who were not only great fighters, but consistently in big events and created legendary nights.
They meant something.
That simply does not happen any longer. Yes, we'll get some big bouts here and there, and every once in awhile the politics of the sport will be put aside to allow certain fights to happen. But in terms of events that will transcend the sport and be remember for years to come?
Sadly, those are few and far between now.
I truly believe that Manny Pacquiao's recent loss closed an era for boxing, where marquee stars fought more often and engaged in multiple rivalries that riveted the fan base. Perhaps, Canelo Alvarez will now pick up the torch that has been left behind. He has crafted a notable career and he will have engaged in four bouts in an 11 months stretch as he faces Caleb Plant for the undisputed super middleweight title in November. Alvarez is certainly doing his part as the face of boxing.
Photo Credit: Matchroom Sports/Ed Mulholland
But who else?
I'll delve into this more in another column, but the lack of recent activity from the games best boxers is actually quite alarming.
And it's one thing for established stars and pay-per-view franchises to fight once or twice-a-year, as I pointed out last week we now have young developing fighters who are somehow stuck -- or is it, choosing? -- to become part-time performers in their early-to-mid 20's.( The Future, has no Present)
And with the inability of boxing to put together key fights (such as Terence Crawford-Errol Spence) the door has been left open for the circus acts that now regularly dot the boxing schedule. And my issue isn't with the Jake Paul's of the world, because the bottom line is that nobody is forced to watch these sideshows. The reality is that if boxing was better at producing the match-ups that are yearned for by it's base, then perhaps these novelty acts would be largely ignored.
Lets go back in history, Muhammad Ali had an ill-fated clash with Antonio Inoki in 1976 but that's more or less a footnote because there was a lot of other significant stuff taking place at that time with Ali and boxing, overall. Nowadays, something of this nature is actually considered a tent pole event.
But again, you can choose to ignore such tomfoolery, but there's something disturbing about seeing a 58 year old Evander Holyfield trudging around the ring, or pairings like Riddick Bowe (now 54 years old and was last a world-class fighter in 1996) and Lamar Odom (the former NBA standout who had well-documented substance abuse issues).
Where is the threshold for all this?
Alright, I don't want to go all Dylan Hernandez, here (the L.A. Times scribe who regularly raises the ire of boxing fans for not waving pom-poms for the sport). There is some good stuff on the horizon, starting with the clash between unified heavyweight champion, Anthony Joshua, and former undisputed cruiserweight champion, Oleksandr Usyk.
And from that point on, the rest of the fall ledger is pretty strong.
But I can't lie, I'm no longer tuning into every single televised show. My interest is waning a bit. Simply put, it's all just a bit too much, with not enough of it being meaningful. But the good stuff, I'll still watch and cover. The rest I'll just ignore.
My suggestion is that you do the same.
But hey, we're lucky to have been around when this sport was better. When it was more of a real sport.
Speaking of Pacquiao, he has announced that he will be running for president of the Philippines....Mike Coppinger is reporting that the Alvarez-Plant pay-per-view will be handled by Showtime on November 6....OK, it's time for Miami to relieve Manny Diaz of his head coaching duties. Beg Mario Cristobal to come back....I'm enjoying this current season of 'Billions' on Showtime, now just waiting for 'Succession' to return to HBO.... I highly recommend the latest '30 for 30' ('Once Upon a Time in Queens) on the 1986 Mets.... My email is firstname.lastname@example.org...