One sport is going down for count

August 23, 1994|By Ron Rapoport | Ron Rapoport,Los Angeles Daily News

I woke up one morning, realized I had no idea who the light-heavyweight champion of the world was and all of a sudden it hit me: Boxing is dead.

It is an amazing thing when you stop to think about it. For decades now, the doctors and the do-gooders have been saying that boxing is a brutal sport with no redeeming social value and ought to be abolished. But nobody has ever followed through and the inalienable right of one man to have his brain rattled at the end of another man's fist has remained inviolate.

But now, with no warning whatsoever, boxing has done the job all by itself. Nobody could kill it so it went out and committed suicide.

Do I exaggerate? Go up to a boxing fan sometime and ask him if there is a single professional competing today he cares about. Ask him if there is anyone out there who truly captures his fancy.

One or two may mumble something about Oscar De La Hoya, I suppose, although if they are honest they probably will admit the bloom is fast coming off that particular rose, too. But other than that, I think you will get a lot of blank stares.

Pound for pound and fighter for fighter, this is the bleakest period for boxing I can ever remember. Wherever you turn, the champions are nonentities of suspect skill, the challengers are ciphers indistinguishable from each other, the officials are of suspect integrity and the promoters are under indictment.

This is true of big men and little men, of the WBA, the WBC, the IBF and all the rest of it. There is not a single fighter active today who arouses any passion or even a mild passing interest. Boxing is a corpse.

The heavyweight division, which is the sport's lighthouse beacon, has fallen on particularly ugly times of late. George Foreman, with nothing to recommend him other than his past and his personality, has actually sued his way into the latest of his unending string of comebacks.

Foreman will thus become the first man in history to fight for the heavyweight title after filing an age-discrimination suit. The sport's lawyers, it appears, are unable to save him from himself and nobody seems to have thought of asking the doctors. If only Foreman's television show had succeeded, he would have been spared this latest offense against common sense.

Riddick Bowe, who only a year or so ago was the most engaging and promising heavyweight around, has eaten himself out of championship shape and that activity seems to have affected his brain as well.

In his most recent attempt to earn another shot at the title, Bowe hit an opponent who had a knee on the floor at the time. When former heavyweight champion Jack Sharkey died the other day, it might have been of shame.

There are several reasons why boxing has reached this comatose condition. One is the ugly state of the world amateur ranks, which are as full of deceit and mismanagement as any professional sport you can name. Not long ago, the Olympics said boxing would be thrown out if it didn't clean up its act. Few took this threat seriously, but the fact it was even issued indicated how low the sport had fallen.

Professional boxing has always been a helter-skelter arrangement, of course, full of chicanery, sanctimony and larceny. But as the number of marquee names has diminished to the vanishing point, it has gotten worse. Since there are no fighters anybody really cares about, no single promoter commands the attention of the rest. They all run around playing their game without rules. More than ever, it is everybody against everybody else.

Boxing writers are occasionally asked why they do it. Cover the sport, that is. It is so brutal and has left such a trail of snapped nerve endings and prematurely ended lives that merely paying attention to it is sometimes seen as endorsing it.

"Why cover wars?" the writer will sometimes respond. "Or earthquakes or famines or floods?" You cannot always choose your subject on the basis of social improvement. It takes all kinds.

Lately, though, I have begun to wonder. Wars, earthquakes, famines and floods are horrifying, to be sure, but they also are fascinating. They teach you about the human condition and most of all they dare you not to watch.

These days, the only thing boxing asks is that you send flowers.

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