I grew up a diehard boxing fan. The earliest fighters I remember are Sugar Ray Robinson, Floyd Patterson, and Archie Moore. Having been born in Cincinnati, I also knew about local boxing legend Ezzard Charles. In the late fifties boxing was ubiquitous and immensely popular. Fights were sometimes broadcast on television several times a week (and this was at a time when there were only three commercial channels). I would watch Gillette’s Cavalcade of Sports on Friday nights even though I was just an adolescent. Along with Howdy Doody and Amos ‘n’ Andy, those Friday night fights comprise my earliest memories of television.
Cassius Clay’s bombastic arrival on the boxing scene in the early sixties only increased my enthusiasm for the sport. Like Malcolm X, John Coltrane, and Richard Pryor, Muhammad Ali instantly became a central figure in the pantheon of “black” men in the sixties of whom we were manifestly proud and who we deemed our fiercest warriors for truth and liberation. Meeting Ali when I was thirteen only solidified my hero worship of the man.
I remained a fierce fan of the sport throughout the seventies and eighties, following religiously the careers of great fighters like Salvador Sanchez, Larry Holmes, Wilfredo Gomez, Marvin Hagler, Antonio Cervantes, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Carlos Monzon, Azumah Nelson, Hector Comacho, Michael Spinks, Danny Lopez, Alexis Arguello, Joe Frazier, Esteban De Jesus, Ken Norton, Ray Leonard, George Foreman, Julio Cesar Chavez, and my homeboy, Aaron Pryor.
When the nineties rolled in boxing began to fade from my sports radar due to lackluster bouts featuring fighters who seemed more interested in indulging themselves outside the ring than competing in it. There were exceptions of course—Roy Jones, Jr., Pernell Whittaker, Felix Trinidad, Mike Tyson—were still worth seeing. But many big name fighters—Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Riddick Bowe, Oscar De La Hoya—simply did not ignite the fire in me that I once felt as a fan of the sport. In the 2000s my interest continued to wane despite stellar performances by Floyd Mayweather, Jr., Roy Jones, Jr., Shane Mosley, Manny Pacquiao, and a few other boxers mainly in the lower weight divisions.
These days—as the recent bout between Mayweather-Ortiz illustrates—boxing has become embarrassingly predictable. Bouts are likely to end without any real sense of closure as a result of controversial decisions and outcomes that leave fans demoralized and feeling betrayed and ripped off. While I continue to watch boxing occasionally, I no longer find myself excited by the announcements of upcoming matches even when so-called championship titles are on the line. No more paying up front and breathlessly counting down the hours and minutes before the fighters enter the ring and the combat commences. Instead, I wait patiently for days and weeks for the free broadcast of pay-per-view fights. And when I finally see them, more often than not, I congratulate myself for not falling for the hype and paying fiddy bucks to be bored, underwhelmed, or simply screwed.
All of the above is offered as preamble to the article linked below by Paul Beston. Beston, in a sweeping overview of boxing history, provides various explanations for the decline of boxing, and briefly touches on the severe consequences for the long-term physical and mental health of professional fighters. He does not, however, directly name the infamous promoters, Bob Arum and Don King, whose shady dealings, in my opinion, have helped to ruin a once great sport.