Boxing Fades as UFC Gains Prominence

Evan GreenbergContributor IJuly 13, 2009

ATLANTIC CITY, NJ - JUNE 7:  Micky Ward lands a jab to Arturo Gatti during their Junior Welterweight bout at Boardwalk Hall on June 7, 2003 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Gatti won a unanimous decision. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Arturo Gatti's untimely and unfortunate death coincided with Brock Lesnar's triumphant UFC Championship and post-fight bravado.

One of boxing's greatest gladiators now serves as a metaphor for the entire sport, which has faded into the background of the ultimate fighting overkill.

Boxing used to be a staple on network television, and also provided an interesting look at our culture for at least the past century.  

Boxing was the first sport to crown an African-American champion (Jack Johnson), have Americans root for a black man to beat a German (Joe Louis), and root for a draft-dodging Muslim who disagreed with the Vietnam War (Muhammad Ali).

Under the dominance and prominence of Don King and Bob Arum, boxing thrived while many fighters were taken advantage of by their handlers.  

Mike Tyson's entire career trajectory became a farce, fighters like Luis Resto and Aaron Pryor broke the rules by tampering with their gloves, and deaths in the ring like that of Duk Koo Kim at the hands of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini cast a permanent black eye on the sport.

Nevertheless, the artistry of Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, the iron chin of Marvin Hagler, and the thunderous punching power of Tyson created some of the great sports story lines of the 20th century.  

Unbeknown to many sports fans other than boxing aficionados, the most exciting fighter of this generation was, by far, Arturo Gatti.  

Gatti was far from the greatest fighter, but defined courage and grit.  

His face always looked like a ketchup party after a fight, his eyes always swelled to the point of closing, and he constantly broke his hand during fights.  

However, nothing ever deterred him.

Gatti will be remembered for his trilogy with Micky Ward, which is as worthy of a documentary as the Ali-Foreman masterpiece chronicled in "When We Were Kings".

While those fights never had the social significance of the Ali era, or the great fights between Leonard, Duran, Hagler, and Hearns, Gatti-Ward were true slugfests that put the idea of defensive boxing to rest.  

As Gatti lost steam and later retired, one could feel the air come out of the ring, and enter the cage.

It is unfortunate that skill and grit have given way to brute force.

When Gatti fought, it was a show, while UFC is nothing more than a spectacle.  I mourn the death of boxing and acknowledge, begrudgingly, the new prominence of ultimate fighting.