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Wilbon says 'Boxing is dead' and 'Soccer is rising'

April 03, 2012 3:00 AM by Mark Mayer

"I am sad that my son will never know what me and my dad cheered. I sat with my father listening to Ali-Liston. I miss boxing, but it’s dead," –Michael Wilbon.

Talk about dropping a bombshell in the middle of Shangri-la – Shadow Creek, pristine site for last weekend’s Michael Jordan Invitational charity golf tournament.

And with his golf game in fine form, an 82 as a 13-handicap on one of the nation’s premier courses, the influential ESPN commentator was relaxed in treading on some touchy waters to Las Vegas bettors.

"I came to Las Vegas for 30 years as a Washington Post boxing writer," said Wilbon, who along with fellow ex-Post columnist Tony Kornheiser, have hosted ESPN’s signature show PTI (Pardon The Interruption) since 2001.

"I covered a lot of Tyson fights, Holyfield fights, Bowe fights," Wilbon said. "I never looked at (gambling) lines. I know they are set to inspire action and predict outcomes, but I am not a bettor. I miss boxing, but the culture has moved on. It’s dead."

Dead? Certainly on life support as superior management and marketing of the MMA and UFC have left boxing on the canvas. Still, a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight immediately revives the patient.

But dead?

"Kids are growing up wanting to be tight ends and not boxers any more," Wilbon said. "The heavyweight division died off because guys wanted to do something else. I don’t care about MMA and will never watch it. But I am in the minority there."

So what’s alive, Michael?

"Soccer is rising here, but pro football has a hold on everything," he said. "Basketball went into a lull when Jordan left, but it’s coming back with exciting people like LeBron, Kevin Durant, D-Wade and Rose in their prime. Both soccer and basketball have international appeal. Nobody cares about football outside of America, but that’s what we care about."

Wilbon also has some sobering words about his own industry.

"Back when I was at the Post, we had journalism," he said. "Now it’s Twitter where everybody is a publisher. "I have to adhere to my own standards that were in place before Twitter showed up. I am not going to change what I do. I have another forum so Twitter isn’t my primary thing."

With social media outlets dominating the Internet, newspapers, sadly, are facing the same fate as boxing – the graveyard.

"You’re right about that," Wilbon said. "There’s not just one place to shop anymore. But if I were out of college today, I would still be involved in journalism. Story telling is still storytelling. I just don’t know what format it will be."


• Covered 10 Summer and Winter Olympic Games for the Washington Post, every Super Bowl since 1987, nearly every Final Four since 1982 and each year’s NBA Finals since 1987.

• Contributing to ESPN’s The Sports Reporters and other shows on the cable network, he began co-hosting ESPN’s daily Pardon the Interruption (PTI) with Tony Kornheiser on October 22, 2001. On December 7, 2010, he wrote his last column for the Washington Post and officially dedicated full time to work for ESPN and ABC.

• Born in Chicago, Illinois; 1980 graduate of Northwestern; Lives in Bethesda, Md., but has a home in Scottsdale, Ariz.


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