by Fox Doucette
There comes a time in a man’s life when he has to take a look at the world around him and realize that he is no longer an up-and-coming young buck but has rather crossed the boundary between youth and middle age. With my 34th birthday coming up next month, I knew I couldn’t put this moment off forever. But one thing on this week’s boxing news agenda made it completely crystal clear that the world had passed me by, that it’s probably time to take up golf and give up the dreams of jetsetting and loose women: Kostya Tszyu is in the Hall of Fame.
See, the Canastota annual shindig has always, for me, been about athletes closer in age to my mom than myself. Sure, there is still some of that; I was a child when Mike Tyson was tearing up the heavyweight division and causing me to throw NES controllers at walls in the 1980s. The first Rocky movie came out before I was born, and the third and fourth films have a special place in my heart because I saw them when I was young enough not to mind the cheeseball writing and Dolph Lundgren’s deliciously campy performance in the latter.
Julio Cesar Chavez’s best days were behind him by the time I finished my teen years, as his loss to Oscar De La Hoya in 1996 came at a time when I was more interested in seeing how long my friends and I could loiter outside a convenience store without getting shooed away by the proprietor than in, say, making rent. All of the yet-mentioned fighters came from a time when watching sports was about watching guys a lot older than myself ply their craft, so their retirements don’t hit me on a personal level.
But then there’s Kostya Tszyu. I remember his career on a totally different level because by the time he was staking his claim to fame my life was on a totally different level. I was living in Haverhill, Massachusetts at the time with a girl who decided that, in an effort to get closer to me and solidify our relationship by having more things in common, she would watch Friday Night Fights with me. The characters who came through that show, from a young Max Kellerman (whom we called “the yappy dog” around the house) to Teddy Atlas (the greatest teacher boxing broadcasting has ever known) to the regular array of fighters, became a gateway drug for her to get into the Sweet Science, and for me the fighters of the early 2000s became an essential part of my mid-twenties.
The junior welterweight division was at its absolute zenith then. Tszyu reigned over the division to be sure, but Zab Judah, Micky Ward, Arturo Gatti, a still up-and-coming Miguel Cotto, Ricky Hatton still in his prime, Jesse James Leija and the always-entertaining Emanuel Augustus (still known as Emanuel Burton when he fought Ward in the 2001 Fight of the Year at a venue about a 15-minute drive from our apartment)…the depth of talent at 140 pounds is right up there with the 1970s heavyweight and 2011 super middleweight division as one of the deepest divisions at a moment in time in boxing history.
There I was, fully an adult, unmistakably a man and not a boy, with a girlfriend and a nice little domestic living arrangement. Night after night was spent watching guys my age or a bit older (Tszyu is 42 this year) ply their trade, watching childhood icons “fade into Bolivian” (as Mike Tyson, a wholly different sort of entertaining in 2002 as he was in 1987, so famously put it), still able to watch the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies with a level of detachment and distance from the fighters involved (since their pro debuts still so often came before I was born), thinking youth would last forever.
Well, when you stop to realize that guys you remember from undisputed adulthood have not only hung up the gloves, but did so long enough ago that they are Hall of Fame eligible? Youth doesn’t last forever. The girl and I broke up in 2003, I moved to Reno, my childhood memories are now “retro revival” when they’re in popular culture at all (burn in hell, A-Team movie reboot), and it’s only a matter of time before old age truly sets in and I’m just another over-the-hill boxing scribe whose best days are behind him and whose biggest skill on his resumé is being a curmudgeon who thinks everything was better when he was young. So enjoy your Hall induction, Kostya Tszyu. And enjoy the fact that you scored a devastating TKO over my ability to pretend I’m still a young man.
Fox Doucette covers Friday Night Fights for The Boxing Tribune. He still thinks Max Kellerman is a yappy dog. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/MysteryShipRadio.