A calm afterthe Boy storm

May 8, 2007 1:01 AM

Maybe boxing IS dead and we weren’t invited to the funeral.

It is the calm after the storm. Golden Boy and Pretty Boy have been replaced by the Invisible Man. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, on tap for next weekend. Nothing, zilch, nada, rien de tout as they whisper behind the Eiffel Tower.

Even if you sincerely wanted to bet on Corrie (The One Who Knocked Out Wladimir Klitschko) Sanders and his latest comeback fight at age 41 in South Africa against someone named Daniel Bispo, it would be impossible to find any odds. If you could, don’t do it.

Save your money for the live underdog the week after. (Oh, yes, Cory Spinks does have a chance May 19 against Jermain Taylor. Not that I’m going to tell you about next week’s column this week).

Let us instead take this valuable time and space to discuss what is RIGHT with boxing. There is not enough time to numerate what is WRONG.

First, it is still one of the purest sports - as opposed to Jose Sulaiman’s misuse of the word "clean." It is mano-a-mano and macho-a-macho except when muchachas are involved. Boxing is basic to wanting competition. It keeps the gene pools on the alert.

There is still nothing quite like the anticipation of the crowd as spotlighted fighters walk through the haze of firecracker smoke and waving flags on the way to their showdowns. I’ve been to World Series.

The fight game is thriving across the ponds. In both Europe and Asia, the sport is doing well. Joe Calzaghe draws 35,000 fans in Wales to see him against a stumblebum. Mikkel Kessler gets 20,000 in Copenhagen to watch him against a journeyman. Throughout Russia and Germany, large numbers are done both live and on the tube.

In Japan, some bite-sized fellow gets $50 million to drop their sushi and watch him on television, In the Philippines, Manny Pacquiao is so popular he could skip running for Congress and go for the Presidency without having to apologize for voting for the war.

Boxing’s talent pool is nowhere near as large as in the past. There are easier and more varied ways for young athletes to purse the almighty dollar. Nonetheless, there are some wonderfully talented fighters around. Okay, maybe not in the heavyweight division, but that doesn’t stop us from enjoying good fighters agreeing to fight other good fighters with crowd-pleasing frequency.

There have been, and will continue to be, wonderful round-robins in the lower weight classes. Mix and match: Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez, Joan Guzman, Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales. How about all the welterweights and lightweights?

On television, where most fans get to see the elite vs. the elite, it doesn’t matter what size they are. They all look big to the camera.

And let’s hear it for the judges. Sure, they screw up a lot and sometimes they leave an unappetizing aroma. But boxing is fueled by controversy. Besides, what can be better than a rematch — except maybe a trilogy.

Don’t forget the fans. Oh, they may be of dwindling numbers and increasing age according to the demographics. But boxing fans are forever young, forever passionate. Growing old just means having more reference material to argue which middleweight was better, Carlos Monzon or Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Jake LaMotta or Bernard Hopkins. Being an "old" sport like boxing means having a rich history. Middleweights? You want to talk Mickey Walker or Stanley Ketchel?

It is a sport where the past is still with us, mixing in richly with the present. Boxing praises courage and fortitude, underlining those human traits that one day will have us play among the stars. Sure it’s dangerous. Ask any astronaut.

And rest assured, somewhere in Brockton or Detroit, Brownsville or East Los Angeles, a young man is growing the muscles that will eventually help him to pick up the sport. That’s the way it’s always been and I doubt if it’s going to stop now. So what if the ratings on HBO are down, the heavyweights can’t decide a real champion and the alphabets couldn’t rate the seven dwarfs! (In fact, I think they ARE the seven dwarfs).

I rest easy knowing I’ll have boxing to kick around some more. I might even make a few bucks on it.