By: Anthony “Zute” George
For boxing to have a great 2012, we need at least three fights that are much better candidates than that fight.
I would like to thank Sergio Martinez for attempting to make boxing resemble the sport I first started following many years ago.
Back then, being a champion meant everything. You had a belt and it was serious business. Defending your title was all that matters. The top guys would usually defend their belts 2 to 3 times a year.
Great fighters like Michael Spinks, Aaron Pryor, Larry Holmes, Salvador Sanchez and Marvelous Marvin Hagler were among the best of that era to do this.
While a lot of the times, these champions were not believed to be threatened to lose, they were still doing the job, and were often surprised by the difficulty their opponents brought to the ring. You were more likely to experience tougher nights when you were fighting regularly as opposed to once a year, no matter how great you were.
It made sense to give a shot to another fighter who ranked high in your weight class. While not ever perfect, I think the system worked pretty well back then and gave us a lot more memorable fights and moments.
One of the pluses of those days was seeing the type of talent that might not have gotten any face time if they did not get a title shot, and therefore remain broke and unknown in the boxing world.
Fighters like Mike Weaver, Azumah Nelson, and Juan Roldan all lost their initial title shots against the great crop of champions already mentioned. However, they all won something you cannot buy, and something they did not have prior to these losses, notoriety and a great career of future titles/TV fights.
Guys like Weaver and Roldan would have never come to light if champions, who were clearly believed to be worlds better than them, did not give them a chance.
In all likelihood, Nelson would have found his own way down the tunnel, because he was that good, however, when thinking back on his career, most people do not remember any of his wins, the same way they remember the night he lost. Azumah gave Salvador Sanchez the fight of his life, unfortunately it was his last.
This is a format that worked back then in boxing and even years before. Fighters like Joe Loius, Carlos Monzon and Roberto Duran all followed this pattern and defended their titles against all comers. Some of these fights were easier than others, but they were all appreciated.
Popular HOF fighters like Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Pernell Whitaker all lived by this code too. Evander did it as a cruiser, as well as a heavyweight. And yes, even the human sleeping pill, Bernard Hopkins, deserves credit for living by this code when he was middleweight king.
I firmly believe, in my humble opinion, that the absence of proudly defending your title against as many ranked fighters in his weight class, is a major reason why boxing no longer counts in the United States.
And sadly, the reality is it does not count. If boxing was banned tomorrow, over 80% of the United States would not blink. Not including those who make their coin in the sport.
Boxing, it seems, will never go back to this format. The big names and the top prospects will continue to recycle the Shane Mosley and Winky Wright’s of the world, and disguise them as some type of step up, a legitimate fight if you will.
This is exactly why the major sports scene does not care about this once proud sport anymore. Only the most dedicated and loyal of fans continue to accept this, and the crowd is just not all that big anymore.
The biggest defenders of boxing like to point to the gaudy PPV numbers Floyd and Manny dish out once or twice a year, as evidence for it being healthy. Oh yea, that’s a clear indication that boxing does not need fixing. Forgot the rest of the year when so many big events on television are fought in front of half empty crowds and the PPV numbers are so bad for the other boxing cards the numbers are never released to us.
The other strong argument I could make is Riddick Bowe. It was no accident that Bowe’s career went downhill when he decided to throw his belt in the trash can because he did not want to defend his title against Lennox Lewis, a man clearly deserving of a shot.
Had Bowe fought Lewis, win or lose, that fight would have brought something out of him that would have elevated his game, and his outlook on being a champion, that quite frankly never happened.
Bowe decided not to respect what being a champion is, and he, and the heavyweight division, suffered greatly. In many ways, Bowe was really the last chance an American fighter had at dominating the heavyweight division.
The younger fans will not get this because it has not been done this way for a long time. There is no respect any more for the world champion, or do they have any respect for weight limits that were once sacred.
So I want to thank Sergio Martinez for being the only big name in boxing attempting to live by the standards of the great champions before him. If only it was contagious.