All sports are burdened and enriched in equal measure by their history. I propose few create the depth of debate boxing does when it seeks to pitch its bygone champions into mythical encounters with their modern day equivalents. Some observers prefer to avoid the debate entirely, pointing out that comparison is futile and propose judgement of individual fighters can only be done within the relative context of their own generation.
Fair point. But where is the fun in that?
Boxing is arguably the easiest of the main-stream sports, if it still rents an apartment in that particular high-rise, on which to make such comparisons as it is, by definition, a one-on-one sport and the variables encountered in comparing teams from different eras doesn’t hinder analysis. However, some opinion would try hard to suggest that despite the sport’s simplicity that there are factors that preclude comparison. Namely, that modern day fighters are trained better through superior knowledge of nutrition, diet, weight-training and in the case of heavyweight division, such is the ‘enhancement’ in size, that in truth it represents a different weight class.
I struggle to countenance the argument, sure heavyweights are bigger and in any mythical contest between say Jack Dempsey and Riddick Bowe you couldn’t discount the disparity in weight as a factor, however, I would venture that what the old school fighters lacked in technology they made up for in appetite, desire and battle hardiness. By fighting more regularly, with no mandatory 8 counts, longer fights and against comparable competition more frequently they were tougher for the experience. Honed athletically, aerobically and accustomed to the intensity of battle far more than the pampered 21st century equivalent. And I’d love to hear the argument for the 265 pounds Hasim Rahman carries, or the 27o pound version of Shannon Briggs or the 250 pound David Tua has added anything to their effectiveness.
As soon as you question the value of weight, above and beyond the 220 mark, suddenly the credibility of the present day heavyweight is seriously undermined.
Fighters who fight once or twice a year, and often against fighters clearly a league beneath their own cannot be in the same mental or physical readiness that the likes of Archie Moore, Sugar Ray Robinson or Joe Louis would have been. Of course, fighting more frequently and inmore competitive fixtures increases the likelihood of defeat – Hence the less than pristine records of fighters like Robinson, Moore and Pep. But pit Harry Greb against Jermain Taylor or Marciano versus Hasim Rahman – and I’ll put my hard-earned cash on the black and white fighter over their HD counterpart virtually without hesitation.
Many of the regulatory advances serve to protect the fighter far more than their ancestors, and I’m not proposing we denounce the reduction of championship rounds or discard the mandatory eight count but for purposes of comparison I think it pampers present day fighters in a way the old-timers were not.
A decisive difference for me.