Boxing needs to atone for sins, but not all is bad

Oct 11, 2005 2:38 AM

There are no big fights in the next week, unless you’re in Europe and consider a light-heavyweight title bout between a Pole and a German and sanctioned by one of those alphabetical disorders as important. The biggest event, for me even bigger than my beloved St. Louis Cardinals competing in the month of October, is Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the Jewish calendar, the Day of Atonement. It is something boxing should seriously think about. Except boxing needs more than a single day once a year to atone for all its sins. But I leave that to Bob Arum, Don King and all the others who might have sinned against their fellow men. Nor will I trivialize Yom Kippur by atoning for all the lousy advise I’ve given you in the last 13 lunar months. So Dominick Guinn didn’t upset James Toney; he fought the wrong fight. So Roy Jones Jr. didn’t upset Antonio Tarver; he didn’t even try. It happens every year at this time. Baseball playoffs and the World Series come along, hockey starts up (well, most years) and college and pro football take care of most of the rest of the sports sections. So boxing takes a break. It’s tough to sell a fight on pay-per-view when it’s going opposite a network telecast of the Yankees or Red Sox. Into this hiatus, then, let me interject a few random thoughts from a random mind about the state of the game:

”¡ The abandonment of the over-the-air networks (ABC, CBS, NBC), which has marked the major decline in interest, is being compounded by the cutbacks of subscription and cable TV (from HBO to ESPN), forcing more and more promoters to try and sell their wares directly via pay-per-view. The end result is going to be a marketing disaster. It’s bad enough we have to fork over $50 for such trash as Antonio Tarver-Roy Jones III, but Shannon Briggs-Ray Mercer for $25?

”¡ The heavyweight division is in complete disarray and not simply because there are too many champions. It is because there are too few heavyweights of either interest or high caliber. And, unfortunately, as the heavyweights go, so goes mainstream media. Sports editors who know little about boxing — and that is the great unwashed majority — know only heavyweights. This means that the game, which is having a kind of renaissance in the lower weight divisions, gets overshadowed by not only baseball, football and basketball, but also by golf and tennis. They may be as talented as Tiger Woods and Roger Federer, but Floyd Mayweather Jr., Marco Antonio Barrera, Winky Wright and Erik Morales are minor leaguers by comparison. The alphabetical disorder makes it appear as if the talent is watered down by diluting the contenders — half of whom are so-called "champions." When hardcore boxing writers can’t remember all the titlists, it is a sure thing the public has little idea of the pugilistic Who’s Who. It is not all bad. Almost because of the dwindling TV market, good fighters have begun to face other good fighters. This leads to good fights, which lead to other good fights, and not only rematches or trilogies. In the Eighties, we had Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Wilfred Benitez et al. Mix and match.

Now we have Barrera, Morales, Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez et al. Mix and match.

In one long weekend last month, everyone from Johnny Tapia to Julio Cesar Chavez and Christy Martin were defeated, a kind of chaffing of the wheat, as HBO’s Larry Merchant called it, a "clearing of the underbrush." There may still be too many past-their-prime players, but at least George Foreman is retired. I think.

Once the baseball season ends — and if there’s a rainout in Game 6 or 7 of the World Series, it could drag on to November — there will be a preholiday rush of big fights. Vitali Klitschko, who by not fighting has steadfastedly moved up in regard among the heavyweights, comes back Nov. 12 against Hasim Rahman. While some may regard this as a big, big fight, it looks here almost like a mismatch of styles. We’ll be glad we have it, of course.

Bernard Hopkins will get a chance to avenge his controversial loss to Jermain Taylor in December. There will be appearances — and it may be nothing more — by Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Winky Wright before year’s end.

Before we sing "Auld Lang Syne," I’m sure we’ll be entertained and, hopefully, enriched because it is the sweetest science when you can cash a ticket on an underdog.