by Paul Magno
“There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.” — Bill Clinton
I never thought I’d be quoting Bill Clinton in a boxing column, but I think this quote, given by Clinton at his inauguration, is the epitome of throwing optimism right in the face of a jaded and cynical population. I like this quote so much that I’ll be adopting it as my credo when it comes to the sport I love.
“There is nothing wrong with Boxing that cannot be cured by what is right with Boxing.”
Last Saturday afternoon, jaded fight fans tuned in to grainy, jittery online streams to watch a fight that would soon turn into something special. As the action and intrigue grew, they hopped on their phones and social media outlets to tell one another about the unfolding drama. Soon, thousands were watching as an unknown, overachieving Scottish fighter put forth the effort of his life to upset a better known, but still far-from-mainstream Puerto Rican world champion in the 130 lb. class.
With the hometown Scottish fans roaring and the UK Sky TV announce crew going wild, the numbers of worldwide viewers grew. Chat rooms buzzed and Twitter, for a few brief moments, stopped being the repository of delusional Andre Berto tweets and pathetically self-aggrandizing, self-posted Floyd Maweather pics.
Ricky Burns and Rocky Martinez went back and forth throughout the contest, pushing one another to the point of exhaustion, producing the type of intrigue that no other sport could come close to duplicating.
It was just boxing. As it should be and as it was when we first fell in love with it.
While Ricky Burns vs. Rocky Martinez was not quite Haggler-Hearns or Corrales-Castillo, it was the epitome of what boxing should be: an honest contest between two supremely motivated professionals, fighting for something more than just money and titles. It was pride and glory that kept Burns pushing forward despite being stunned several times and it was that same drive that kept Martinez swinging ferociously in a contest that he was clearly and shockingly losing.
Someone should show a tape of this fight to some of the new breed of American fighters who have become spoiled with the mega-paydays dished out by premium cable outlets. Despite not being able to produce the type of attention or in-ring action to justify their asking prices, these guys are riding a bubble that will surely burst soon enough.
Boxers like Andre Berto, Chad Dawson and even legendary names like Bernard Hopkins, couldn’t draw a crowd if their lives depended on it. It’s not because they aren’t skilled… and it’s not that there isn’t a public looking to devour competitive boxing matches.
No, the fans aren’t flocking to American fighters because there just isn’t any passion or spark produced from seeing them fight. Not many even seem to like the sport very much. And the few who do seem to care, are held back by their promoters and managers in an effort to milk the public for everything they can before actually booking a real fight.
Burns and Martinez, along with Giovanni Segura and Ivan Calderon in the previous week’s FOTY-caliber war, reminded us of what boxing can and should be. It’s not the pay or the headlines produced by multi-city press tours. At the end of the day, it’s about two men literally putting their lives on the line to prove something to themselves and to the world. Forget that Floyd Mayweather’s platinum ipod probably cost more than Ricky Burn’s entire pay day; Forget that Andre Berto has 14,000+ followers on Twitter.
Nobody’s arguing against paying the fighters well, but the money should come equivalent to the passion you show and the respect you have for the fans. In a fair world, Giovanni Segura would be living in a high rise condo on the Vegas Strip while guys like Berto and Dawson would be toiling away on ESPN or Telemundo for five-figure paychecks.
That’s not going to happen anytime soon, so we’ll just have to settle for dishing out heaping helpings of respect for the guys who deserve it while flipping the proverbial bird to those darker forces who continue to plunder the sport.
I’ll no doubt get back to gnashing my teeth and bashing the true villains of the sport in the coming days, but, for a brief moment on a lazy Saturday afternoon, it was sure nice to feel good about boxing once again.