Monday, July 24, 2017

BOXING: THE DECLINE AND FALL a Guest Editorial by A.C. DOYLE

Between 1999 and 2006, it was my frequent honor to be able to exclusively share with you, dear friend and reader, the writings of one A.C. Doyle; one of the brightest minds, sharpest wits, and finest wordsmiths that I have ever had the pleasure of getting to know. Today, more than a decade after a severely diminished Daily Dirt pulled itself, bloody and broken, to whatever disgusting cold water hovel it is where old websites go to die and be forgotten, I'm relieved to say that I can still call Ace a friend. Which is great news for you... because I recently asked Ace if there was anything he felt like writing about for my little hobby blog, here, and he replied by sending me this beautiful, George Plympton-esque ode to, and elegy for, the sweet science of organized pugilistic arts... and so much more. As you are about to discover. Enjoy! - YOPJ


My salsa partner in Queretaro, Mexico -- a very elegant middle-aged woman -- described last year’s Mayweather/Pacquiao bout as a “slapfight outside a gaybar at 2AM”. I replied that this was an insult to both gaybars and slapfights. Two men making 40 million apiece performed Kabuki for 36 minutes, and went home richer than they’d ever imagined. 

Good for them.

Bad for boxing.

At least in the United States.

In Mexico she and I watched it in a bar. Free. In the Philippines it was free of course, and probably in much of the rest of the Pacific Rim. Boxing -- particularly if it includes a regional star, such as Canelo or Chavez in Mexico, Pacquiao in the Philippines, a belt-holder in Panama or Thailand or Korea -- is a source of national pride, and you would no more charge to see a prizefight than you would charge to see your heroes in the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup.

That peculiar vanity, charging an enormous sum to watch a sporting event on TV, is nearly unique to the U.S.

And nearly unique to boxing.

We don’t charge PPV fees to watch the Super Bowl or World Series or NBA Finals or March Madness or Olympics. Why is it only with professional boxing, and only in the U.S., that we decide to severely restrict viewership and fan base, by way of making one pay $119 to watch a slapfight outside a gaybar? (Again, with apologies to both slapfights and gaybars).

If your first guess is some combination of corruption, Mafia influence, Vegas, bookies, poor ghetto black boys whose agents are robbing them blind, well, yes. All of that.

And the advent of closed circuit TV in the 1970s. I am now of an age where I am within a year or two of needing to scroll THREE screens down to enter my birth year for airlines tickets, e.g. But I still have some brown hair, and can remember the “Friday Night Fights” of the 1960s, and my pleasure in eating some cheese pizza (we Catholics couldn’t eat meat on Fridays back then, which was just pizza fine by me) with me Da and me sisters’ beaus and watching the fights. Unless Boston College was playing Holy Cross. It was what men and boys did on a Friday night.

Even after closed circuit and Don King arrived in the 1970s, the most prestigious fights aired the ensuing Saturday, on ABC’s Wide World Of Sports. Yes, we knew already who had won The Rumble In The Jungle or The Thrilla in Manila or Hagler-Hearns or Hagler-Duran or Hagler-Leonard or Leonard-Hearns or Leonard-Duran or Hearns-Duran. Or Holmes-Cooney or Norton-Foreman or Frazier-Foreman or Ali-Norton or Spinks-Holmes or Ali-Spinks. If you’re over 40, you recognize every one of those names. Household terms. I’ll circle back to this.

Actually, no, I’ll address it right now. Until the mid-1980s there were eight champions. Fly, Feather, Bantam, Light, Welter, Middle, Light Heavy, and Heavy. And there was only one sanctioning body, the WBA, since 1921, the (reasonably corrupt) organization that determined who had to fight whom, and by which date. Everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, knew the Heavyweight Champion Of The World. From Armstrong to Dempsey to Louis to Marciano to Patterson to Ali to Frazier to Foreman to Ali to Spinks to Ali to Holmes to Tyson to Holyfield (with or without his lower earlobe), these were among the most famous celebrities on Earth.

Name the current four. I bet the best you can do is “probably those two gigantic blond Russian brothers have a couple of belts between them”.

Middles were often considered the best “pound for pound”, and a great many were household names as well: Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Graziano, Jake LaMotta, Carmen Basilio, Ezzard Charles, Tony Zale, Emile Griffith, Carlos Monzon, Roberto Duran, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roy Jones Jr. Name the current middleweight champion. Can you? Did Mayweather move up from Super Light Middle Duplex Welter? Is Canelo a Light Middle, Super Welter, or Secret Double Probation Middle?

And while the lower weight classes were often ignored by the mainstream media, largely due to being dominated by Latinos and Asians, fans of the Sweet Science will remember Alexis Arguello, Wilfredo Benitez, Jimmy Wilde, Pancho Villa, Azumah Nelson, Willie Pep, Henry Armstrong -- um, shit, I can’t think of a single bantamweight except the Dutch Dynamo Kid Williams -- Julio Cesar Chavez, Pernell Whitaker, Kid Gavilan. If some of these names are obscure to readers under the age of 40, that just proves the central theme of this disquisition.

Name the most recent American Olympic boxing champs. Can’t, can you?

Whereas we all knew Cassius Clay and Joe Frazier and the Spinks brothers. I remember the 1984 Olympics, in which black athletes started having less conventional first names. Pernell Whitaker, Tyrell Biggs, Meldrick Taylor all won golds, as did five other Americans, including Mark Breland, the best of the lot, and Evander Holyfield took a bronze. Pernell, Tyrell, Meldrick, and Evander -- everybody was talking about those crazy boxing names!

The Olympics are the only sporting event that women watch more than men, and as Marketing MBAs have come to run our television networks, boxing has been exiled to the ass-end of the cable dial during the Olympics, relegating the main feeds to Gymnastics, Gymnastics, and Gymnastics, with a sprinkle of Synchronized Swimming and Aquatic Ballet and Diving. I’m not sure we’d even be aware of a Flo-Jo or Jackie Joiner-Kersey these days. Heaven forfend, some Nielsen viewer might turn the channel to General Hospital or a re-run of Friends if they had to suffer through high hurdles or boxing.

And I understand the aversion to bloodsports. In Mexico, you see many women, but hardly any kids, at bullfights, and only perhaps five women out of 150 people betting at cockfights. It’s worth noting that the bulls and gamecocks have no choice in the matter, while Pacquiao could have retired with enough scratch to support his great grandchildren in luxury after the Mayweather slapfight, but instead fought Horn last week. I boxed as a kid, and enjoyed it, until the black boys hit puberty. Before then, you could outpoint bigger boys, because they were typically slower. But all of a sudden, on the cusp of 7th grade, some black boys got bigger, stronger, AND faster! That was it for me. Seeya later alligator.

But don’t ever believe that the vast majority of serious boxers don’t enjoy what they’re doing. Nor would they give it up if not for the paycheck. If that were true, why would Boxing Clubs even exist? And why would it be called The Sweet Science. It’s a sport, a discipline, a very tricky thing to master. It requires thousands of hours of training under the auspices of exquisitely talented teachers to be any good at all.

Two weeks ago walking down from the funicular ride atop Bergen Harbor, I spied a young man practicing.


I walked up to him and said, in English, “you’ve got fine form and footwork, are you thinking of going pro?”

He replied, in a thick Russian accent, “no, I’m not good enough….but the other men at the boxing club groan when they draw me as their next opponent.”

“I bet they do, son, I bet they do.”

“Did you ever box?”

“Yes, for a few years, until the black boys hit puberty.”

“Ah”, he laughed, “we don’t have blacks in Russia or Norway. Lucky for me.”

I was with two other middle-aged men. I pointed to one and said “he grew up with me in Brockton.”

“Brockton, oh my God, that is so coooool! Did you box also?”

My friend chuckled “no, are you kidding, that shit is SCARY!”

“You said Broctkon, yes? Not Boston. Brockton?”

“Yes Brockton.”

“That is so cool, I’ve never met anyone from Brockton!” My friend and eye rolled our eyes at each other. It was the first time we’d ever heard our shit-hole city described as “cool”.

“Did you know Rocky?”

“Hey”, my friend cried, “do we look THAT old?”

“My aunt dated him”, I replied.

“Wait, your aunt was Rocky’s girlfriend??? Oh my Gawd, that’s amazing!”

“She said he was a great cook and a perfect gentleman. She dated him when his name was still Rocco Marchegiano, and was with him in New York when he changed it to Rocky Marciano before the Louis fight. He told her Rocco Marchegiano was too Italian, he needed a name like Joe DiMaggio, Italian but American.”

“Wow. Did you know Marvelous Marvin?”

“Oh sure, he cut my best friend’s lawn! He was on our block every week or two. We were both classmates of his half-brother, Robbie Sims. Toughest kid at Brockton High School. Which was a tough motherfucking school. That’s why our fathers sent us both off to wimpy prep schools, so we’d survive adolescence!”

“I don’t think I know this Robbie Sims.”

“Yeah, he never made it higher than 4th or 5th in the WBA rankings, not sure he ever had a title fight. Fists of thunder, but not much of a chin.”

“Ah, the chin. That’s what made Ali and Robinson – and your Brockton men, Marciano and Hagler -- the greatest ever. Impossible to knock them out, the hardest chins ever made.”

“Yep. But I’ve watched the Leonard fight ten times, easily, and Leonard won. Nobody from Brockton would admit it at the time, but Leonard won.”

The Russian teenager atop the Norwegian fjord talking to the middle-aged men from Boston and Queretaro let out a great guffaw. “Yes he did….if the fight had been to the death, Hagler would have killed him, but Hagler fought the first three rounds southpaw, trying to confuse him, and Sugar Ray just went for points. The ten-point-must system had just been initiated, and boom, after three rounds he was up 30-27. He just needed to win three of the next nine for a draw.”

“Yup. And the Hagler-fan mythology that Sugar Ray climbed on his bicycle from Round 4 onwards simply isn’t so. He went toe-to-toe in several rounds, the 7th and 8th being epic. The kid hit Hagler hard and got hit by Hagler hard, he didn’t hide until the 11th and 12th.”

“What a classic”, the Russian teen crowed, “one of my favorites, and so much to learn from both of them. Hagler never fought again. Moved to Italy and made bad movies.”

“Yeah, I passed him once in Marco Polo airport in Venice, saluted him, mentioned him mowing lawns on Boylston St., and he gave me a hug. He looked great, and clearly retired before any brain damage, he was sharp. Whereas Sugar Ray is an idiot these days.”

“Yes, sad”, the Russian shook his head. “You need to know when to quit.”

Indeed.

It is incorrect to buy into the latterday handwringing about “intentionally causing brain damage”. That’s no more true than saying it about linebackers and defensive backs, whose jobs consist of running into other humans at high velocity and knocking them to the ground. And it conflates intent with result. If you get to the top echelons of professional boxing and continue against top-flight opponents for too long, especially in the heavier weight classes, you run the Troy Aikman risk of concussive brain damage, to be sure. And you know it.

Smoking ain’t good for you either.

And every single under-employed racist asshole who voted for Trump in the belief that his life would improve is a bigger retard than Louis, Ali, Frazier, and Leonard combined. So let’s dispense with the self-righteousness of Ivy League squash players wrinkling their weak chins at blacks and Latinos and Asians who know how to fight. If you’re a Navy Seal or a Green Beret or a Special Forces or MI-6, you learn how to fight. Get. The. Fuck. Over. It.

The modern $150K per year MBA mommies who’ve banned drawstrings on sweatshirts and anyone under the age of 21 riding in the front seat of a car are blameworthy on many fronts, but they did not kill boxing in America.

So, where did professional boxing go wrong, and why are the silly Mixed Martial Arts more popular now in the U.S.? Well, first off, the proliferation of sanctioning bodies. By the mid-1980s it became clear to promoters that a “championship” bout was more profitable. Thus was begotten the WBF and the WBC and the IBF and the Boxing-R-Us organizations, who conspired to strip legitimate champions of their particular belts if they didn’t fight the IBF #2 by February, while the WBC was demanding a champ fight a different #2 by March. Meaning some champ or another was always being stripped of one belt or another, allowing for a “championship bout” between shittier fighters next month.

For the exact same reason -- videlicet, “championship bout” -- weight classes proliferated. If you take eight champions in eight weight classes, multiply by four sanctioning bodies, then add six or eight new weights, for every four or five pounds, BINGO!, now you have 60 champions and 60 times every six months to advertise a championship bout.

About which nobody cares. Downside Number 1. If I hear that Hector Gonzalez is fighting Manuel Hernandez for the Super Light Welter 143-146 pound North American Boxing Federationy Thingamabob Belt next week, for only $79.99 on Comcast Pay-Per-View? Fuck, I’ll choose that re-run of Friends six days a week, and twice on Sunday.

The proliferation of weight classes and sanctioning bodies was the first death blow for professional boxing. There were no longer champs, household names, Sugar Ray Robinson, Ali, Foreman, Rocky. Just 48 or 64 so-and-so's, nobody to root for, no heroes, and for all of the new Coward Class of Champs, way too easy to duck serious challengers. Pacquiao and Mayweather might have actually fought, exchanged blows, in 2009 or 2010, in their prime, man alive, what a fight! Two old men in 2016? For $129.99? Only idiots paid for it, and received what they deserved, as the boxing world whined “Oh dear oh my, we didn’t make as much profit as we’d hoped for the much-hyped ‘Fight Of The Millenium’!”

It’s sad. Mayweather, the greatest fighter of this millennium, will probably be best remembered as being a “chicken”. His promoters made up a thousand excuses never to fight Pacquiao or Cotto in their prime. So the welter and middle haven’t had a great fight in twenty years. Compare this to Leon Spinks, whom Richard Pryor lavished praise on for immediately granting a re-match to Ali. “Motherfucker’s got heart, Brother Leon”, I recall Pryor saying. In the 1950s through the 1980s, you saw a GREAT fight eight or ten times per year. Now it’s about once per decade.

Death Knell Number Two? Racism. Yeah, the exact same reason Donald Trump is President. Boxers are typically black and Latino. Whereas MMA douchebags are usually lily-white (until lately). And you know it’s not a real sport when most of the champions are 48-year-old ex-Marines. Who refuse to fight slick black teenage boxers from Philly, or any Muay Thai experts. Cuz….um….they might lose to a Negro or Asian. Gen Y and Millennial American boys have enjoyed an atavistic regression these past 16 years to 1950s-style racism. They say “nigger” at cocktail parties in Boston or New York, without social repercussions. While their conservative parents would never have done so. The last thing they want to see is a black or Latino winning a fight against a Master Race Aryan. Hence their fetish for bogus MMA fights, where one white guy dry-humps another white guy in a homo-erotic embrace for three minutes until the judge cums in his tighty-whiteys.

Death Knell Numero Tres? The Vegasificiation of Title Fights. Twenty-seven of Rocky Marciano’s fights were in Providence, RI, the closest city with a large auditorium to our home city of Brockton. He fought in Philly, he fought in Chicago, he fought in Boston, he fought in San Francisco, he fought in New York, he fought in Maine, he fought in D.C. One place he never fought was Caesar’s Palace.


That’s my father, Connie, on the left, watching Rocky fight Joe Louis at Madison Square Garden. I used to see Tyson fight, every six weeks or so, at The Felt Forum, when we all knew, by the time he was 19, that he’d be the next great heavyweight champ. Six bucks for tickets in the peanut gallery, nine bucks the good seats, twelve bucks ringside. We’d order ringside, so you could get drenched in the blood and spittle of his opponents.

Ali fought in Pittsburgh PA, Lewiston ME, DC, Houston, Kentucky, Puerto Rico, Zaire, The Philippines, L.A., New York, Toronto, Wembley in London, Miami, Tokyo, Switzerland, Dublin, Jakarta, Jamaica, Nassau, Munich, Mexico, Kuala Lumpur.

But fighters don’t fight around the country and around the world anymore. They only fight in Trumpistan resorts. You will never see a title fight in your state capital again. Never. You can probably find some boxing club where 12-year-olds wearing beach balls on their fists bop each other around for three 40-second rounds, and some ruddy-faced Irish mother is selling 60 cent beers from a cooler in the back. But you’ll never see a prizefight in The Boston Garden or Providence Civic Center or Philly Spectrum or LA Forum or Soldiers’ Field again.

Our national treasure, Michael Buffer (who coined the now National Landmark Certified phrase, “Let’s Get Ready To Rumble!”), perceived this trend nearly 35 years ago, and struck a shrewd deal with a brash young Atlantic City and Vegas heir to a real estate fortune named Trump, that if he deigned to call a few fights on Trump property, he’d be required to introduce all championship fights on all Trump properties in perpetuity.

And that’s why we all know Michael Buffer, who looks great at age 72. I saw him introduce the Canelo-Chavez fight last month, totally in Spanish, and that way he rolls his Rs really works well. We know him and his catch-phrase because nearly all championship bouts are now held in Las Vegas. Last one I saw anywhere else was Tyson v. Tubbs, to christen “The Big Egg”, or Tokyo Dome, in 1988. The evening performance was Mick Jagger with Tina Turner. They rocked pretty damn well. Quite a day at The Big Egg.

But no father will ever take a son into town to catch a title fight anymore. No local newspapers will hype the big showdown at the local basketball/hockey arena. Two casinos in Las Vegas will be the only place to find $2500 tickets, and the rest of the world can pay $119 on PPV to see people they’ve never heard of fight for a weight class they’ve never heard of in a title fight sanctioned by an organization they’ve never heard of. The Continental Slapfighting Conference’s Super Ultra Mini Maxi Medium Middle Welter Light Heavy Fly belt. Featuring the best 146-148 pound fighters of the past eight minutes.

You’d think, with 65 champions, they could send a few out into the hinterlands, have an occasional prizefight in Mexico City or Boston or New York or Paris or Berlin. Sadly, no. It’s an international treaty obligation that all lucrative fights take place in Vegas.

And of course, foreshadowed above, Death Knell Numero Cuatro is the real misericorde. PPV, with every cable television provider, charging five times the market price to watch a shitty fight in Vegas. In the 1970s, nobody had access to closed-circuit TV. I actually remember going to The Felt Forum at Madison Square Garden and paying twenty bucks to watch Hagler-Leonard in 1985. Back then bars and concert halls had access to closed-circuit, and you’d pay ten or twenty bucks to see a fight. I paid to get into bars for Tyson-Douglas (a bigger upset than Joe Willie’s Jets over Unitas’s Colts), Tyson-Spinks (over more quickly than the national anthem, THAT was a bad investment), the infamous parachute delay in Holyfield-Bowe II, Holyfield-Lewis I, etc.

But then they changed the PPV rules for bars paying that ridiculous $119 and making it up in cover charges of 5 or 10 bucks, and instead made them pay thousands. Last time I saw a fight in an American bar was Pacquiao-Cotto I, in November of 2009, at an immense Atlanta sports bar, that could afford the thousands of dollars, because they had 500 clients on board.

This was the death of American boxing. You can see Wonder Woman or any number of other movies still in the theaters for $9.99 or $12.99 on Comcast or Xfinity. If you could see a prize fight for ten dollars, or on ABC’s Wide World Of Sports a week later, for free, then you might be a boxing fan, as might your boy. But you can’t. Because corruption and Marketing MBAs have decided that $119.99 is the going rate for a prizefight, and fuck the next generation of fans, we need our Trump profit NOW!!!!

So, to conclude, the modern American teenage boy has never played poker, nor chess, nor backgammon, and is a helpless mess during an electrical outage during a hurricane, because cards and board games are not part of his social vocabulary.

But he probably knows who Tom Brady and Stephon Curry and LeBron James are.

But can he name a single boxer? No.

Once he leaves the nest at age 47, will he ever order up a $119.99 PPV that his Mommy isn’t paying for to see Whatshisname Chang have a slapfight with Whodafuckis Ramirez? No.

We make him pay a week’s salary in Trumpistan to see a prizefight, while he can watch 50-year-old bald ‘roid-rage Navy Seals frottage each other to lily-white orgasm for free. Or put on earbuds and shoot fake brown people with their posse of online friends in Kill 'Em All v.3.8.1 after a tour of gunning down real brown people in the Middle East.

While Berkeley bloggers whine about how we should ban “bloodsports”.

Bloodsports are alive and well, and more popular than ever. Every teenage boy in America plays them, in ever increasing verisimilitude, with his Google Virtual Reality Goggles. Shoot the commie, shoot the nigger, shoot the cop, rape the boobalicious lady, it’s all good, why go outside and toss a football around when you can assassinate dozens of people on your TV every afternoon?

But they haven’t a clue if a flush beats a straight, nor how to respond to a Ruy Lopez chess opening, nor will they ever recognize a single middleweight champ. In the latter instance, because someone decided that boxing ended in 1995, and for only $119 we can discourage three generations of Americans from ever watching it again.

5 comments:

  1. Great article. I feel like the flash and hype surrounding boxing has become unbearable. I used to like watching MMA too, but it's the same thing. For the last 8 or 9 years, it has been so much more about the hype, the commercials, and the ass-hats posing on magazine covers.

    ReplyDelete
  2. From the Great City of Brockton: Kid, you got a way of stringing words together that ain't seen much anymore...Good job!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Didja ever see that New Yorker cartoon, two men at a bar, with a caption: "They named me Brockton, after one helluva town in Massachusetts"? It hung on my bedroom door for 20 years. I've found it on eBay, but I'm not willing to pay $800 for it.

      How old are you, Gray Dragonfly? I have 17 or 18 older sisters, one of whom probably dated you.

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