By Matthew Ross
BRING BACK THE PAGEANTRY
When I was a teen, it didn’t get any bigger for a sporting event than a marquee heavyweight boxing matchup on Pay-Per-View, live from Las Vegas. I would invariably search for the friend that had the satellite or Pay-Per-View hook-up. Then, when I was old enough, we’d seek out the bars that were showing the enticing pugilist encounter of the day. Whether it was watching Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe, Mike Tyson or Lennox Lewis, the golden heavyweight boxing era of the 90’s was exhilarating at times. Sure, it was filled with controversy and even downright despicable acts (for the younger generation, try Googling Holyfield’s ear). But the bottom line was that the heavyweight boxing division always kept us coming back for more.
Fast forward to today and you’d be hard pressed to find the average sports fan that could name a top 10 heavyweight boxer. That’s how far the sport and division have fallen off the sports map. Beyond Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao, most sports fans just don’t follow boxing’s best anymore. It’s sad. Sure, you still have the odd middleweight or light heavyweight matchup that will pique the interest of a few fans. But there was nothing like a much hyped heavyweight fight to look forward to.
So what happened? Where did all
of the intriguing heavyweights go?
It’s hard to say. Some sports reporters point to the rise in popularity of mixed martial arts, and how entities such as the UFC are now attracting more and more fighters. It used to be that if you wanted to make an honest living fighting, you had to do it in a boxing ring. Now, MMA fighting is sanctioned and just as viable an option to young fighters, not to mention, it’s well marketed by its promoters. Still other journalists will cite the risks involved in fighting, and how young athletic fighters are now realizing that they can excel at other sports, and with much less physical risk involved. Whatever the case, I miss the pageantry involved in a good heavyweight fight. At one time, there was just something special about the biggest men of the sport going toe-to-toe. Perhaps it was the impressive size of the contenders. Or, maybe it was just the sheer power and potential for a spectacular knockout that existed in a heavyweight tilt. While I didn’t grow up in Sin City, I can only imagine what the glitz and glamor surrounding a heavyweight prize fight was like in its heyday. Celebrities at ringside. Cigar smoke in the air. Ring card girls parading around in ridiculously high heels. The thrilling sound of the echoing bell.
I don’t know. Maybe I am being too harsh on today’s heavyweight fighters. Perhaps today’s promoters aren’t what they used to be. After all, half of the excitement around a heavyweight fight is the build-up and hype. Leading up to any successful heavyweight fight there has to be a soap opera-esque storyline, complete with genuine dislike between the combatants. A shoving match at the pre-fight press conference is optional, but mostly effective. It also helps if at least one of the fighters is hated by the public. Similarly, a lovable underdog is also an appealing draw at the box office. Alas, I just don’t see us returning to an era of epic Vegas heavyweight fights. It’s almost as if boxing has turned into an underground, offbeat sport, almost like an X Games event. But you never know; all it takes is one cocky personality to go 20-0 and capture the imagination of the media. Until then, I’ll be content to watch ESPN Classic, longing for the days when ring announcer Michael Buffer still had dark hair.
Matthew Ross is a longtime sports freelancer and radio host, and the founder of the recently launched sportsreported.com. Follow @tsnmatthew.