by Fox Doucette
It is not my usual MO to get political. But as an American, I’ve watched my country put on a pretty shameful display for the rest of the world for oh, going on ten years now. The debt ceiling debate and Congressional brouhaha was a farce that made the Paul Williams-Erislandy Lara judging debacle look like a triumph of reason and intelligent decision making. President Barack Obama turns 50 today, and the question on the minds of many Americans politically—does our country still matter to the rest of the world like it once did?—could easily be applied to boxing as well.
See, it has long been my belief that the most dangerous thing the United States could ever do for its national security is to give the rest of the world a good reason to believe that it can go on without American input—a post-superpower state. Economic decline, high unemployment, manufacturing jobs headed to China, service jobs headed to India, and executive jobs concentrating in the European Union…America runs the risk of no longer being considered a heavyweight contender in global affairs.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Sounds like a certain other sort of heavyweight situation, doesn’t it? The constant mewling by Brian Kenny on Friday Night Fights and by boxing scribes all over the Internet about how the heavyweight division doesn’t matter anymore because America doesn’t have any major contenders (unless you’ve severely overrated Chris Arreola and Eddie Chambers)…there’s that belief that as the eagle goes, so goes the rest of the world.
Well, to be as diplomatic as possible, bullshit. Klitschko fights draw tens of thousands of fans to arenas in Germany and massive worldwide television audiences even without any US TV coverage at all (unless you count ESPN3.com, which has carried several of Wlad and Vitali’s contests.) Below 200 pounds? Guys like Pongsaklek Wonjongkam pack ’em into arenas in Thailand that look like set pieces from the Mortal Kombat franchise. Manny Pacquiao, the consensus pound-for-pound #1 fighter in the world is from the Philippines, and his countryman Nonito Donaire has people noticing the bantamweight division again. The best super middleweight in the world is Romanian (I heard you the first time, Andre Ward fans, and I stand by my earlier column about Bute. Shut up.) Junior welterweight? An Englishman of Pakistani descent named Amir Khan.
Meanwhile, what does America have? Floyd Mayweather, who hasn’t fought in over a year? Zab Judah, who got his ass handed to him by Khan? Kelly Pavlik, who seems more interested in punking out of fights than actual fighting? The aforementioned Arreola and Chambers?
Take a look at the Boxing Tribune’s pound-for-pound top ten and you find three Americans. Andre Ward (#8) needs to beat Carl Froch and probably Lucian Bute as well in order to cement his position as a true worldwide elite fighter. Bernard Hopkins (#7) is 46 and can’t keep fighting forever. And Floyd Mayweather (#1) hasn’t fought since May of last year. And this is a site with American writers. Ask a group of Europeans to put together a P4P top 10 and there might not be a Yankee face in the whole crowd (not if Mayweather’s inactivity, Hopkins’ age, and the Euro bias of Froch over Ward are considered.)
Look at the Ring Magazine rankings and you find a total of three Americans (four if you count Miguel Cotto, as Puerto Rico is US territory) out of 17 weight classes as either champion or, in cases where the belt is vacant, as #1 guy in the division. Steve Cunningham at cruiserweight, Hopkins at 175, and Andre Ward at 168. Once again, that’s a primarily American publication (owned by a US promotional company and edited by Americans, with the majority of the ratings panel holding US citizenship as well).
So what is my point in all this? Fretting about boxing’s “decline” is a distinctly American pastime, especially with the rise of mixed martial arts among that coveted “male 18-34” advertising demographic so beloved of marketing people under the Stars and Stripes. But it might just be like soccer, another sport Americans have a large measure of disdain for but the rest of the world loves—because we suck at it, the sport must not matter. Look around the world, at Latin America and Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia and especially at the Philippines, and what do you have? A thriving sport that is quickly realizing it can get along just fine without having to rely on Las Vegas and Madison Square Garden and a bunch of American fighters in order to work well as a business.
In a lot of ways, it’s just one more symptom of the American decline. And in the long run, it may not matter. The country’s on the floor, the ref’s counting, and it’s hard to imagine that it wants to get up.
Fox Doucette covers Friday Night Fights for The Boxing Tribune. His column, The Southpaw, appears on Thursdays. Fan mail, hate mail, and accusations that he’s either a Commie liberal or a jingoistic Republican can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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