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List of Articles by Rene Bonsubre, Jr.


The Death of Pugilism?

By Rene Bonsubre, Jr.
16 Dec 2008

Joe Calzaghe, the linear light heavyweight world champion and former undisputed supermiddleweight champion, was quoted last week as saying: “I think boxing is a dying sport. Globally –in America for instance – you got UFC, which has taken a lot off boxing, business wise.” He also that he was glad that he was now ending his career and not starting it.

Calzaghe did have a successful reign as a WBO supermiddleweight world titlist for ten years. He made 17 successful defenses before engaging American Jeff Lacy in a unification bout for the IBF and WBO belts in 2006. Calzaghe won by unanimous decision. After two more defenses, he unified the titles last year by beating Denmark’s Mikkel Kessler and grabbing the WBA and WBC belts.

Rivalries attract public attention to any sport. Calzaghe never really had a formidable rival that would have made him more popular outside of his home country. He fought almost exclusively in the U.K. before getting high profile bouts in the U.S. this year – beating Bernard Hopkins for the linear light heavyweight crown and inflicting a one-sided drubbing on Roy Jones.

Pro basketball was in the decline in the U.S. during the late 1970’s until Magic Johnson and Larry Bird entered the NBA in 1980 and their rivalry reignited the league. The most bitter and popular rivalry in sports history was between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Sugar Ray Leonard was fortunate that he had great rivals like Roberto Duran, Wilfred Benitez, Thomas Hearns and Marvin Hagler. Manny Pacquiao had the Mexican trio of Morales, Barrera and Marquez. Calzaghe is not so fortunate, as skilled a fighter that he is, he never had his own personal Frazier.

Calzahe also said that “There is too much politics in boxing, too many belts and too many champions which dilutes real champions like myself.” I agree with him on this issue. Even the most seasoned of sportswriters would have difficulty naming the champions of all four major alphabet groups in any division. There are only few champions that managed to gain universal recognition either by unifying their division or getting a historically linear title belt from the prestigious Ring magazine. But I don’t think we will ever return to the time that there was only one champ in every division. The sport has its business side. Belts and organizations mean sanctioning fees.

The waning popularity of boxing in America and Europe is strange for us Filipinos to hear considering that we are in the middle of the Pacquiao hysteria. But boxing has taken a back seat to many sports in the U.S.

The U.S. is no longer a world power in amateur boxing. American Olympic gold medal winners turning pro used to attract media attention. The crooked judging in international amateur boxing matches has also turned off a lot of people.

Even if his critics say that Oscar dela Hoya is more of a celebrity and businessman than a fighter, he has been the best spokesman that boxing has had since Ray Leonard. His expected retirement will leave a huge void. Whether Pacquiao can fill that void or is even willing to remains to be seen. There are resurfacing rumours about his political plans.

The boring state of the heavyweight division has also contributed to the declining interest in boxing in the U.S. The lighter weight boxers have been giving us exciting fights but there are still numerous casual fans that miss the days of Mike Tyson. Unlike in the Philippines, boxing is mainly seen on cable and Pay-Per-View in the U.S. The reality show “The Contender” tried to bring boxing back to the mainstream of American sports consciousness in 2005 but eventually it lost steam.

Boxing is not an easy profession. Most boxers will tell you that they fight so that their children will not wind up being boxers.

During the first half of the 20th century, there were many Irish, Jewish and Italian boxers in the U.S. Now a good white boxer is a rarity. It’s just a question of economics. Now, it is mostly African-Americans and Latinos from impoverished neighbourhoods that predominate in American boxing.

Even if interest in boxing dies out in the western world, developing countries like the Philippines will continue to produce boxers. Boxing will continue exist in places like Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. I hope our elected officials will not make this as an excuse not to fix our economy.

What boxing needs now is another heated rivalry, an exciting heavyweight boxer, more unification bouts or an articulate crossover superstar. It also needs to clean up its act, on both the amateur and professional sides of the sport. Most of all it needs to continue to produce good competitive fights.

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