Boxing, More Circus Than Sport

by journojames on March 4, 2012

Originally published Oct. 16, 2011

Down goes Hopkins, Photo courtesy of Grantland

It was Saturday night. The boxing ring in the middle of Staples Center was ready, waiting for the aging fighters to take center stage for the main event. It wasn’t a glamorous bout that was highly publicized, but the crowd of 8,400 hardcore boxing fans in the arena still passionately cheered. They weren’t expecting much, but they still believed enough in the dying sport to buy the expensive tickets to see the contest. They were just hoping for a legitimate fight between champion Bernard Hopkins and challenger Chad Dawson.

You’ll never guess what happened. Okay, maybe you will. These poor fight fans were fooled. Again. The sport of boxing took another swing Saturday night and missed badly, slipping in the process and doing another embarrassing pratfall.

Hopkins writhing in pain, Photo courtesy of Boxing Insider

A closer look at Saturday night clearly shows why boxing should no longer be considered a legitimate sport; it’s more like a silly circus. So, ladies and gentlemen, and children of all ages, are you ready for some real clowning around?

The light heavyweight title fight between the 46-year-old champion Hopkins and the challenger Dawson was billed as the night’s main event. This setup was already troubling. What does light heavyweight mean anyway? Is that even possible? Something immediately didn’t smell right. Then, you had a 46-year-old champion in a so-called sports contest as the main event? The fact that a 46-year-old is a champion in a sport is nothing to brag about, especially when the contest involves participants in nothing but trunks throwing haymakers. This is not how grown 46-year-old men should be acting.

The scenario was ridiculous but amazingly the actual match was even more absurd. The first round of the fight was predictably uneventful. But then, in the second round, the circus clowns appeared. Dawson, doing his best WWF move, lifted Hopkins, shrugged him off, and then pushed him into the ropes. Hopkins immediately went down, falling awkwardly onto the canvas. Call it a mid-life crisis. He stayed down under the ropes, grimacing in pain. Think: “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”. Hopkins appeared to have injured his left shoulder in the fall.

Hopkins injured after getting slammed, Photo courtesy of badlefthook

There was a long delay — at least 10 minutes — to figure out what had happened. Then referee Pat Russell, in his infinite wisdom or confusion (it was tough to tell), chose to call it a knockout instead of ruling Dawson’s wrestling-style takedown a foul. Dawson was declared the winner by technical knockout. The main event was over. Just like that.

The boxing fans at Staples were understandably livid. They angrily booed and shouted frustrated obscenities. Many more at home who paid for the privilege of watching this debacle via pay-per-view must have done the same. Maybe deep down inside they were really kicking and screaming at themselves for being fooled again by the circus swinging into town.

Post-debacle quotes from the fighters, according to the Los Angeles Times, seemed more hostile and entertaining than anything that happened in the ring during the actual fight.

“He was faking,” declared Dawson. “I’m sorry for the disappointment for the fans. He’s (Hopkins) soft. He’s weak.”

“They set me up,” Hopkins pleaded. “It should have been a no-contest. I said I would fight with one arm, if I had to. Then he (Russell) just called the fight.”

So, Saturday night became the most recent example of what boxing has been reduced to: a bizarre and curious sideshow instead of a proud and legitimate sport it once was. Do you need some reminders of the past foolishness in the ring?

Just last month in September, Floyd Mayweather regained a welterweight title in controversial fashion by knocking out champion Victor Ortiz. The knockout, however, came when Ortiz had his hands down and was looking away, unaware that the fight was set to resume after a stoppage. Was it a sucker punch? The boxing fans sure felt it.

Sucker punched, Photo courtesy of S-Star UK

How about the freakishly bizarre 1997 rematch between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield? Who could ever forget the fight abruptly ending because Mike Tyson got hungry in the middle of the bout and helped himself to a bit of Holyfield’s right ear? Or, what about the riot that broke out in Madison Square Garden in 1996 during the Andrew Golota and Riddick Bowe fight? What a fiasco that turned out to be when Golota was disqualified for continuously hitting Bowe below the belt. It offended Bowe’s corner so much that they took it upon themselves to fly across the ring and attack Golota and his team, above and below the belt. A large number of civilians and policemen were injured that night, but the greater damage was done to the sport’s legitimacy as a result.

What a mess. It seems like every professional boxing match these days, or in recent memory, high profile or not, has suffered from unwelcomed controversy, and it’s taking its toll in popularity with its shrinking fan base. They seem to have had enough of the absurdity. No mas!

In 2007, the lowest number of live viewers for an HBO championship boxing match was 1.59 million. Last year, HBO considered the same 1.59 million viewership statistic to be one of its highest ratings for boxing. Oh, how quickly things deteriorate. If boxing has any credibility left, it’s not much.

What makes the growing irrelevance and illegitimacy of pro boxing even sadder was the reminder on Saturday night of how great the sport could be when right.

Despite the sour and bitter taste Hopkins and Dawson left disappointed spectators and boxing fans with Saturday, one of the undercard matches earlier in the night showed sweet glimpses of the power and beauty of boxing.

Dewey Bozella won his pro boxing debut before the main event, beating Larry Hopkins by unanimous decision. Bozella is 52 years old and was finally able to realize his dream of pro boxing after being released from prison two years ago. Bozella served 26 years in Sing Sing for a murder he did not commit. After the fight, Bozella said that he never gave up on his dream; he just had to overcome.

Victorious Dewey Bozella, Photo by Richard Vogel, courtesy of the AP

A fighter like Bozella who has such a compelling story is what makes boxing so great. It’s why fans still root for it and for fighters. At its best, boxing still has the powerful potential to teach, acting as a metaphor for life.

Bozella said that Saturday’s bout would be his first and last fight. He understands that boxing demands you to be young, not just young at heart. But, at the same time, it’s too bad, because Bozella’s genuine spirit is what seems to be missing in the ring these days.

The sport of boxing is no longer popular. It’s surviving, but it’s sadly become fringe at best and farce at worst. It desperately needs more heroes like Bozella and less clowns if it’s to have a fighting chance at not just survival, but at respectability.

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