By Jersey Jim.
Are the fighters of today better than the fighters of times past? This has always been one the most heated, debated points of the sport from one decade to the next. We now have, from John L. Sullivan’s time in the 1890’s till today, approximately 117 years of “Gloved” boxing in the record books. The past 117 years has produced more colorful, memorable characters than perhaps any other sport in history – barring none.
These are the modern warriors whose exploits are handed down from one generation to the next through the printed page, eye-witness accounts, film and video.
Over time, each generation compares its own warriors to that of previous generations… and so it goes with the sport of professional boxing. In the mind of the hardcore fan, a “boxer” is just a civilized label that identifies – a fighter. And if all sport is, at its core, a basic reflection of combat… no sport reflects that image as clearly and concisely as professional boxing does.
Many who lived in the Jim Jeffries era were of the opinion that Jack Dempsey or Gene Tunney wouldn’t have stood a chance against a 6’ 2” 220lb. Jeffries who seemed to get stronger the longer the fight went on. A prime Jeffries was not the slow, lumbering giant as seen in the films of his defeat against the great Jack Johnson. He was a large, powerful man capable of absorbing and dishing out punishment well into a 20-25 round match.
Jack Johnson cited the superiority of his own era over that of Joe Louis’ era. Johnson was said to have pointed out to the press – several glaring flaws in Joe Louis’ style including his foot work and susceptibility to counter punches. He then used Louis’ knockout defeat against Max Schmeling to validate his opinion.
During the 1930’s and 1940’s, the popularity of boxing boomed like perhaps no other time in history. Local boxing clubs were filled throughout most major metropolitan areas. My father attended fight cards at least twice a week with my grandfather in Jersey. My grandfather worked as a trainer at many of Jersey Joe Walcott’s training camps. He also worked with Charlie Fusari and many others throughout the years as a trainer, manager and promoter. My father also had the privilege of going to Madison Square Garden every Friday night!
What sticks out about the 1930’s and 1940’s is the depth of talent and the frequency with which fighters fought.
Fighting 50-100 plus fights was the norm. If you’re making your living in the ring and step through those ropes 50 to 100 times or even more… you’re going to learn every aspect of the game by personal experience. Let’s put it this way, you’ll see every imaginable fighting style under the sun!
Fight fans who lived through those generations were the real beneficiaries of what you might call the first “Golden Era” of boxing.
The 1950’s saw a remnant of great fighters from the 40’s conclude their careers during the first part of the decade. There was somewhat of a decline in the popularity of the lighter weight classes as the decade of the 50’s took hold. The Heavyweight division slowly became the focal point of the sport with the average sports fan.
In 1964, Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay), ushered boxing into what most boxing historians now be considered the “Modern Era” of Boxing with his defeat of Sonny Liston.
The 1970’s and 1980’s produced a crop of boxers whose talent is comparable to that of the great fighters of 1940’s. Perhaps a good benchmark would be the opinions of the fighters themselves. Many of the retired greats of 30’s, 40’s and 50’s were impressed with the likes of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Carlos Monzon, Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler, Ray Leonard, Aaron Pryor, Thomas Hearns, and others.
They agreed that they would have stood out in any era. The 1970’s and 1980’s produced a different type of “Golden Age” for the sport. It was the Golden Age of big money fights – Network TV, Closed Circuit TV and finally, PPV TV.
If we were to use the same “litmus test,” where does that put the sport today in 2009?
Ray Robinson considered Ray Leonard worthy of the “Sugar Ray” title and said so several times before his death in 1989. What does Ray Leonard think of “Money” Floyd Mayweather? Let’s just say he has a much higher opinion of a Shane Mosley from what I’ve read!
THE FIRST DECADE OF THE 21ST CENTURY
Ten years into the 21st century has passed. The popularity of the sport has waned dramatically when compared to previous decades in most English speaking countries.
But let’s look at things realistically. What hasn’t? The Super Bowl doesn’t command the same viewership that it did twenty years ago, either!
For that matter, there are a lot of things that were better in the 70’s and 80’s than today. Going out to eat is a prime example. Today, you get less food that doesn’t taste as good as it used to. That’s not everywhere, of course. I’m talking in generalities. If you were alive forty years ago you know exactly what I’m talking about. Today, the portions are smaller, they don’t taste as good and they cost more.
So basically, you pay more for less. Isn’t that right? But that doesn’t stop you from eating, does it?
I’ve got to be honest about this… about 7 years ago I stopped following what was happening in the sport every single day. I just thought the sport had gone to hell and things weren’t going to get any better anytime soon.
Hey, the average slice of pizza may not taste as good as it did twenty years ago, but I still eat it to this day! Don’t you?
Pro Football may be a far cry from what it was in the day when a team’s line-up was recognizable from one year to the next. But I still watch it. I complain, like you probably, do about the ridiculously overpaid “stars” and the sub-par results they produce. But I still keep track of what’s happening overall. Maybe not to the degree that I used to, but I’m still keeping up with the basics.
So what about boxing?
It’s true; the depth of talent isn’t what it used to be. But there are still some very good fighters out there you may be missing out on. So basically, you can appreciate the good things the sport has to offer and enjoy it while you’re here… or you can lament and curse your misfortune and watch replays of yesteryear’s fights on YouTube.
It’s up to you.
Here are a few pluses you can consider about boxing in 2009.
The best possible fights are starting to be made. Why? The competition demands it! Viewer dollars are being enticed by more combat sports than ever before. Promoters realize this and are responding by doing their best to put together the fights fans want to see.
There may be more titles than ever before in 2009, but you know what, most fans could care less. They recognize the politics of the sport and could care less if a WBA, WBC, WBO, IBF, IBO, IBC, WBC belt is on the line or not. They way things are going; The Ring belt is going to become the most sought after belt in the sport. With zero sanctioning fees and a history that goes back to 1922 when they became the first sporting publication in America, they are the logical choice to the “title belt fiascos” that have littered the landscape for decades.
The Boxing Magazine.com recognizes the Ring’s rankings as the official rankings of the sport as do many other boxing publications today.
Recently Ruslan Chagaev lost to Wlad Klitschko. Chagaev’s WBA wasn’t on the line. With Chagaev’s loss, does anyone really care (besides the WBA)? Big Wlad is recognized as the King – or co-King if you factor in the return of Vitali.
The WBA can do whatever the want and hardly a soul on the planet will lose a moment’s sleep over it.
We’re at the point again where the man is making the title and not the other way around.
Let’s take a look at some of the fighters who can still produce the “magic” that made us fight fans to begin with – into the ring with them in 2009. Here are a handful of reasons to not “give up” on boxing in 2009 – in no particular order. You can catch their latest action by going to YouTube.com and typing their names into the search bar. Believe me; you’ll be happy you did. Think of it as a crash-course on catching up on the sport.
1. Chris Arreola (HW)
Arreola may not turn out to be the next great Heavyweight, but he’s great to watch and knocking on the door of a title shot in the near future. Win, lose or draw, you won’t want to miss it!
2. Carl Froch (SMW)
He’s there to hit and be hit! Froch is a British Super Middleweight – complete with the chanting, singing fans in tow. Every generation needs colorful fighters like Ricky Hatton and Barry McGuigan. It’s hard to tell how far Froch can go, but it’ll be fun to watch, either way.
3. Arthur Abraham (MW)
Arthur is the Middleweight division’s premier swarming-styled fighter. Unfortunately, Kelly Pavlik (the Champion) is the division’s premier slugger. That puts Abraham at stylistic disadvantage should they meet at 160. Whoever he fights, however, you’ll never be looking for No-Doz to keep you from nodding off.
4. Kelly Pavlik (MW)
A few lackluster outings are commonplace no matter what your profession. That includes fighting. Pavlik’s last few starts haven’t been overwhelming. Rumors of personal problems have recently surfaced. All things being equal, however, this is the man to beat at 160lbs. and probably ultimately – at 168, too.
5. Paul Williams (JMW)
Williams is a tireless punching machine that throws unbelievable amounts of punches from bell to bell. Handed Antonio Margarito and his (most likely) loaded gloves a loss when he took his version of the Welterweight Title a few years back, and overwhelmed defensive genius Winky Wright most recently. Williams is a tall, lanky, swarming pressure fighter who’d probably would have made a fortune if he’d be around in the 80’s and fighting on free TV.
6. James Kirkland (JMW)
Kirland’s story reminds me of that of a young Mike Tyson. A troubled youth who finds the old man who takes him under his wing and trains him. Kirkland’s fighting style reminds me a lot of a prime Holyfield. He’s in great shape, can take punishment, can dish it out, and is a true warrior in the ring in every sense of the word. Unfortunately, like Tyson, his out of the ring troubles may end up derailing what otherwise might be a long, exciting career. The troubled youth is now a troubled man. And the problems as prevalent as they ever were.
7. Shane Mosley (WW)
This last of the “Sugar Men” may not have the resume to compare to his predecessors, but he was undoubtedly the Sugar Man of this generation of fighters. Mosley’s faced a who’s who of name fighters over the years and his recent dismantling of Mexico’s “Iron Man” (Antonio Margarito) pumped new life into a Hall of Fame career. Arguably more “Golden” in the ring than Oscar DeLaHoya over the past 10 years.
8. Miguel Cotto (WW)
Cotto has the power and tenacity to keep anyone on the edge of their seats. There are certain fighters you can make a trip to the fridge in the middle of a round without fear of missing much. With Cotto, the opposite is true. He’s looked more vulnerable recently, but regardless of how you cut it, you won’t see this guy in a “stinker.”
9. Manny Pacquiao (JWW)
Pacquiao represents the best that boxing has to offer, today. Bringing a blend of speed, power, skill and aggressiveness into the ring, Pacquiao is recognized by most as the pound for pound best in the business. His amazing journey began at flyweight where he once held the WBC Flyweight Title. Along the way he’s collected titles at Jr. Featherweight, Jr. Lightweight, Lightweight and Jr. Welterweight – as well as TKO victory over Oscar DeLaHoya at 147lbs.
10. Marcos Maidana (JWW)
The newcomer burst onto the scene with a thrilling stoppage victory over Victor Ortiz. Maidana boasts a record of 26-1 with 25 knockouts. He lost a decision to WBA Champion, Andrea Kotelnik, but based on everything we saw against Maidana, he’s a diamond in the rough.
11. Edwin Valero (LW)
Valero get my official “Master Blaster” award for 2009! Valero is to the Lightweights what John Mugabi was to the Middleweights. Whether Valero goes the route of Mugabi or further remains to be seen. Either way, Valero is the premier slugger of this generation with every single fight coming by way of knockout. Some may point to the level of his opposition.
12. Juan Manuel Marquez (LW/JWW)
Marquez is a late bloomer who is either in his prime or just past it. The Mexican boxer/puncher does everything well except lose. If you’re familiar with Bernard Hopkins, you’ll know what I’m talking about. There are certain types of fighters who will only admit they lost if they’re knocked cold. Such seems to the case with Marquez. But hey, the guy’s never really clearly lost a fight, either. There won’t be just a few people who will be rooting for him to defeat Mayweather in the fall, either.
13. Juan Manual Lopez (JFW)
Lopez seems to be cut from the long line of great Puerto Rican fighters. At Jr. Featherweight, he appears to be a young Wildredo Gomez. Only faster with maybe just a bit more power. He’s 26-0 with 24 knockouts. At this point, his biggest threat may be himself. A young fighter with loads of potential can lighten up on the training and get sidetracked when it comes to focus. Sooner or later, everyone loses. But when there’s no one in sight who seems to have a chance, you might just have something extra special on your hands.
There are other fighters I could have mentioned, but the “lucky 13” I’ve listed above will be a good place for you to start. Times change and so do sports. Maybe it’s true that things aren’t what they used to be. Cars, food, clothes, and hotels – most things don’t have the quality they used to have. But before you stick in the fork, or for those who already have, check out some of the fighters listed above. When you do, you just may find yourself agreeing, there’s still a very good mix of talent to cheer about.
– The Boxing Magazine: July 2009