Saturday, June 10, 2023  |



Boxers can still move fans

Fighters Network

There are some things prizefighters, with scant exceptions, cannot do anymore in America.

They can’t get fights on network television. They can’t get giant endorsement deals for deodorants or soft drinks or roach spray. They can’t fill baseball stadiums, or get cameos in sitcoms or mainstream films, or stop traffic in New York or Los Angeles merely by stepping out of a cab in the middle of the day.

They can’t get substantive coverage in newspapers or general sports magazines.

With a straight face, one can no longer call the heavyweight championship of the world the most coveted prize in sport, nor its owner the most famous and envied among all athletes.

They can’t win gold medals at the Olympics.

By and large, their efforts merit not even a passing mention during the sports segments of local television news programs, or even on sports-themed cable shows.

Taken together, these unfortunate realities conspire to create the impression among some that ours is a pastime of irrelevance, its practitioners hopeful remnants of a different era, the typewriter repairmen of the sporting world.

But prizefighters in America can still do one thing: move people.

On Saturday night, Miguel Cotto (and to a lesser degree, John Duddy), drew 12,000 riotous and crazed revelers to Madison Square Garden in the dead of winter and in a gasping economy for a bout that wasn’t competitive on paper and was even less so in reality, the fight game’s Harlem Globetrotters against the Washington Generals.

Even the Brits didn’t give Michael Jennings a chance.

This after Cotto, in his last bout, was beaten down and submitted by Antonio Margarito in an important meeting whose result, one could reasonably conclude, was a serious blow to the egos of all Puerto Ricans invested in the long rivalry that exists between Puerto Rican and Mexican fighters.

Yet The Garden rocked.

Roughly 400 miles away, Kelly Pavlik, also coming back from his first career defeat, thrilled a sell-out crowd of about 7,000 at the Chevrolet Centre in Youngstown with an easy, if uninspired drubbing of a seemingly frozen Marco Antonio Rubio.

In a region even colder and less economically hospitable than New York, the fight sold out in 15 minutes, which tells you all you need to know about how the proud people of Youngstown feel about their local boy who has made good.

They could have sold another 7,000 without trying too hard.

And on Friday night in South Florida, a smaller, but no less passionate crowd erupted with glee at the conclusion of each well-orchestrated mismatch at University Arena in Fort Lauderdale.

For all the crowd cared, Erislandy Lara, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Ramon Garbey could have been knocking out Tommy Hearns, Sandy Saddler and Rocky Marciano instead of Keith Gross, Walter Estrada and Mike Sheppard, respectively.

To the crowd, it was all the same. That’s what fighters can do to people. Or maybe it’s what people do to themselves. But the fighters help.

We all want heroes and, with little help from mainstream media, boxing in America still cranks them out. Their fans squeeze themselves into arenas and scream themselves breathless and for a while their hearts race, they are very much alive and life is very, very good.

It’s hard to ask for anything more than that.

Some miscellaneous observations from last week:

Cost of pay-per-view show: $44.95
Six-pack of Sam Adams to share with friend: $9.00
Watching Charlie Steiner’s brain absolutely lock up in the opening moments of the broadcast: Priceless. ÔǪ

Ray Mancini was so bad during the Pavlik-Rubio portion of the show he almost made Nick Charles tolerable. 

They know how to dress the round card girls in Youngstown. 

Watching a John Duddy fight in which he doesn’t swallow punches by the dozen and bleed all over the place is like sitting through a G-rated episode of “The L Word.” ÔǪ

Garbey, even now, is a poor man’s James Toney. That’s a compliment. ÔǪ

Rubio offered possibly the most interesting postfight excuse ever, especially considering the pitiable nature of his performance: “Maybe I came in too strong.” ÔǪ

The college basketball game that bled into ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights telecast reminded me of reason 3,112 that boxing is better than the other “mainstream” American sports: I’ve never seen a fan at ringside with a painted face and torso screaming like a lunatic. ÔǪ

I like Lara’s long-term prospects better than Gamboa’s. He’s not as flashy or athletic, but he’s much sounder technically. He’s the guy to watch. ÔǪ

There’s no way that after having spent 35 years in boxing, Teddy Atlas hasn’t accrued a boatload of funny or insightful anecdotes. How come we never hear any? ÔǪ

Cotto’s voice is way too deep for a guy who weighs 147 pounds, don’t you think? ÔǪ

From a fan’s perspective, Chad Dawson’s hand injury was the best news of the week. It’s like hearing that your root canal surgery has been postponed. ÔǪ

New rule: When a guy has lost every round, he’s allowed to bite his opponent on the shoulder, hit on the break and knee him in the groin in the final round. It’s only fair. But no trash-talking; this is a gentleman’s sport.