Boxing no doubt has its problems. It ranges from infighting between bickering rival promoters who have no problem putting on high-level shows on the same night (see this Saturday) and thinking there is nothing wrong with it, to sanctioning bodies that are parasites tearing at the very sport that keeps them in business.
Sit around general sports fans in a bar or a social gathering. Broach boxing and they’re bound to go back in time, back to the 1970s, to the 1980s; to when Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Kenny Norton fought for the heavyweight title; or when the sport had the Robert Duran-Tommy Hearns-Sugar Ray Leonard-Marvin Hagler quartet. Back to when sports fans cared about boxing.
The sport was out there, on Saturday afternoon on network TV, with its stars hawking pizza or deodorant or shaving cream.
Now there’s nothing. At least nothing when it comes to boxing in terms of crossover exposure and crossover appeal, with the exception of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
The shame of it is that no one cares anymore. Not the general sports fan who once wandered over to watch a fight because of the compelling fighters involved. Save for you, the loyal, constantly kicked-in-the-teeth fight fan who deserves far more than the product than you’re receiving today.
Here are five leading figures that may have ruined boxing through the years.
1. Jose Sulaiman
The czar of the WBC for life takes, and takes, and takes; like sanctioning fees from fighters for decades, and with blind loyalty from the major promoters, keeps sucking the life out of boxing.
The WBC, and the rest of them, which aren’t worthy to be mentioned, rip apart boxing, all battling to become legitimate while they’re constantly changing their own rules. They convolute boxing with multiple “champions.” The WBC could be the worst, with its “Diamond” champions, and regular titlists.
Want a glaring example of the WBC?
When Roy Jones declared he was surrendering his WBC version of the light heavyweight belt he won in 1998, German Graciano Rocchigiani beat Michael Nunn for the WBC’s vacant title. Rocchigiani was awarded the belt and given the title: “Light Heavyweight World Champion” by the WBC.
When Jones decided to return, the WBC eschewed everything Rocchigiani did and reinstated Jones as its champion. The WBC sent Rocchigiani a letter saying his published name as a world champion was “a typographical error.” The organization said he was never really an official titleholder.
In a matter well documented, Rocchigiani filed and won a lawsuit against the WBC in U.S. Federal Court, questioning the WBC’s move as both contrary to its own rules and damaging his earning potential.
In July 2004, Rocchigiani settled the dispute with the WBC out of court.
But the whole sorted situation added more evidence about the WBC. Enough said about Sulaiman and the shifting standards of his organization.
2. Don King
There is simply too much to document here. What is commonly known is King played well with others, especially Sulaiman in positioning his fighters. In 1978, for example, Leon Spinks was stripped of the WBC belt he won from Muhammad Ali because he would not fight Kenny Norton, a King fighter. Norton was awarded the WBC belt, and lost it to Larry Holmes, another King fighter. You don’t have to put two-and-two together there.
Through the years, King has also been sued by many of his fighters. In 1996, Terry Norris went after him for allegedly being underpaid. King settled out of court in 2003 for $7.5 million. Part of the deal included the settlement be made public.
In 1977, King’s “United States Boxing Championships” was cancelled when it was found that Ring Magazine rigged ratings. ABC producer Alex Wallau revealed the whole tournament was a farce. The stench clung to boxing.
3. Bob Lee
In 1983, Bob Lee split from the WBA and started the IBF. Larry Holmes, the recognized world heavyweight champion at the time, threw his WBC belt away, and automatically became IBF heavyweight champ. It gave instant credibility to the IBF and to Lee.
That was legit.
In another matter well documented occurred when Lee was found guilty in 1999 on six counts of money laundering and tax evasion. A probe by the FBI uncovered Lee’s IBF had a history of extortion and bribes for rankings and title shots. Promoters Bob Arum, Cedric Kushner and Dino Duva all testified on behalf of the prosecution that they paid bribes.
How can anyone trust a sport with that going on? Though it was a legitimate fight, why do you think the cry “fix” came bounding down after the Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley result?
4. Mike Tyson
He’s a lovable figure appearing in raunchy movies today. But there was a time when Tyson was king of the sports world, and could have pulled boxing, a sport he truly loves, out of the shady stereotype morass of boorish buffoons and unctuous business deals with him.
Instead, Tyson perpetuated the stereotype. He was vulgar, biting—pun intended—and could have been a far better, and longer running champion than he was; if he didn’t sabotage himself. He should have been the best ever. He only has himself to blame why he isn't. Put it this way, how would it look, hypothetically, if the face of the NFL, say someone like Tom Brady, began ripping off opposing linebackers helmets each week and chomping off a piece of their ears?
You can almost hear the screeching announcer in disbelief say: “Did Brady just bite Ray Lewis’ ear and is running around with a piece of lobe in his mouth?”
Funny, yes, though it would make the NFL a running joke. Much like Tyson made boxing.
5. Antonio Margarito
Just when you thought boxing stopped dragging its knuckles like Cro-Magnon Man, we get Margarito trying to conceal a “plaster-like” substance in his gloves prior to his fight in January 2009 against Shane Mosley.
Mosley’s trainer, Naazim Richardson, also Bernard Hopkins’ trainer who misses nothing, found it strange the way Margarito’s hands were being wrapped. Richardson spoke to a state commission inspector and, lo and behold, a stiff pad covered in a “plaster-like” substance was discovered.
Margarito was forced to rewrap his hands without the added “padding” and the subject became more grist for sports columnist to trot out the tired line “Boxing Receives Another Black Eye.” Who could argue it, though? It deservedly earned two black eyes.