Few writers met the news of Oscar DeLaHoya intention to continue fighting with the type of disappointment expressed by Bill Dwyre at the LA Times. Is every other writer too entrenched in the hushed, unspoken agreement to keep boxing relevant, to comment objectively? Is Bill the sole voice of reason? Recycling the last remaining superstars of the 1990’s is a tired but reliable format after all.
Perhaps we’re all guilty of overlooking the risk DeLaHoya is taking – hypnotised by his eloquence and undiminished good looks? More likely, Dwyre is exaggerating the symmetry between DeLaHoya and the likes of Mike Quarry, Ali and Evander Holyfield, to whom he refers. Thought provoking either way.
Nobody of sane mind, could propose boxing is a sport without risk, nor could anyone suggest that the ageing process and the associated loss of reflex doesn’t make older fighters more vulnerable to heavy shots. Using the exemplar of Mike Quarry, a courageous fighter reduced to a child like state for two decades by the punishment he received in the ring, is bound to emote but is it truly representative of the effects of fighting on too long?
Surely, it is in that comparison that the greatest flaw in Dwyre’s logic emerges, a comparison of the two beyond their longevity and profession generates few similarities. Oscar may have combative Mexican blood running through his veins, and he’s been a fearless fighter in the ring too, but his renown offered him latitude in the selection of opponents that has protected him from the full wrath of several heavy punching contemporaries. Plus the fact, he’s a damn fine fighter too.
Dementia of any type is a cruel and relentless condition for anybody, stripping the dignity and personality of everyone it encounters. But somehow the effect on a professional fighter, fearless and physically capable, seems even more acute. Dwyre is right to highlight the increased risk fighters who continue to punch for pay into their middle age take. Boxing is arguably supporting more fighters as elite contenders than ever before, the Light-Heavyweight division alone is led by Clinton Woods, Roy Jones Jnr, Bernard Hopkins, Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson. In no preceding generation would so many veterans still be heading the pack. Is boxing failure to unearth new, exciting, dynamic fighters to oust these relics placing them and boxing’s future at risk? A catalogue of profile fighters with demonstrable pugilistic dementia would surely be close to a death knell for the sport.
The networks are too eager to sustain these veterans, apparently reluctant to wholeheartedly support their potential successors, building their profile and following. Due in part by an over-reliance on pay-per-view revenue to generate the purses fighters seem able to demand. How do you sell PPV with fighters unknown to the public? Instead, they prefer to showcase the well-known fighters of the preceding era. Hence Vargas v Mayorga, Jones v Trinidad, Wright v Hopkins rather than Taylor v Calzaghe or Dawson v any of the old guard. Perhaps this reflects, and further perpetuates the ageing demographic of the average boxing fan? Certainly, something is holding the next generation of stars back; is it simply the networks giving the ageing fan base live action boxing memorabilia?
Frustrating is the ease with which new fighters can be built into marketable commodities as demonstrated by the Contender concept, a series that plucked a collection of nearly men from the shadows, turned on a camera and made millionaires of half a dozen of them. Mora, Manfredo and Gomez, not a superstar talent in sight, all earned high-profile bouts on the basis of their appearance on the show first, their ability second. Is it so hard to find and have faith in new contenders?
At the National Association of Black Journalist convention recently a forum discussed the health and future of boxing, variously contributed to by Floyd Mayweather, Bob Arum, Don King and Tim Smith. One commentary suggested this lack of investment in publicising and exposing future fighters to a television audience reached as far back as the Olympics. A traditional breeding ground and showcase for the next generation of household names, the event is no longer even covered by the major networks.
In other words, boxing keeps the oldies in the chain gang long beyond their primes because there is insufficient talent joining at the other end and yet does little to unearth, attract or support new, aspiring fighters. Where does it end? For Bill Dwyre, he suggests it ends with several leading fighters suffering in the way Ali and Quarry already do.
Boxing never was any good at learning from its mistakes.
To read Dwyre’s excellent piece click here