Objects and history look bigger than they are in the rear-view mirror. Nostalgia magnifies those sweet days of yore.
It bemuses me to hear boxing people talk about the good old days of the 1980s as if it were a golden age. Back then, of course, we talked about the good old days in the ”˜50s, when they talked about the ”˜30s. It was ever thus.
There was a great scene in the 1941 film classic, "High Sierra," directed by Raoul Walsh with a screenplay by W.R. Burnett, who wrote the novel, and a future director named John Huston. Mad Dog Roy Earle (Humphrey Bogart) goes to see the gangster boss who managed to spring him out of prison so he could pull a job with some kids. They began reminiscing about the great crooks of the past: "All the wise guys are gone, either dead or in Alcatraz."
The current crop, they agreed, was nothing but screwups and "soda jerkers." Where were all the great crooks going to come from? The gyms and tough streets certainly weren’t producing them. They could have been talking about the heavyweight division, or all of boxing, but that’s the way it is. The past always looks brighter in the rear-view mirror.
But think. Let us assume 2003 is not a vintage year. Okay, but in the final third, we shall probably (you never know with fighters’ hands and wrists) see a host of future Hall of Famers. Oscar de la Hoya and Sugar Shane Mosley fighting each other Sept. 13 followed on Oct. 4 with Evander Holyfield and Erik Morales (on competing cards with a possible future famer James Toney). Then, there are two biggies in November -- Floyd Mayweather Jr. on the 1st and the best of this era and worthy of any age, Roy Jones Jr. on the 8th.
Lennox Lewis has scratched from Dec. 6, but that could turn out to be the date for the next sighting of Mike Tyson. Ricardo Mayorga returns Dec. 13, along with Bernard Hopkins (unfortunately, not against each other). We just had Marc (Too Sharp) Johnson come back and win another title and, as one of the greatest flyweights in history, certainly Marcellus will make some hall of fame.
Then there are Marco Antonio Barrera, the Marquez brothers - Juan Manuel and Rafael - who have yet to cement their places in posterity, but let’s not bet against them. And, Johnny Tapia still lurks.
In other words, without really having to think hard about it (somehow, I must be leaving out a few names), there are plenty of good fighters around.
At the same time, I wouldn’t want to start matching them with those who came before. I remember thinking, before the start of the de la Hoya-Felix Trinidad fight, that neither guy would have been able to make it against Sugar Ray Leonard or Thomas Hearns. Marvelous Marvin Hagler beat better fighters from Philadelphia than Hopkins. If Mayweather Jr. had trouble with Jose Luis Castillo, what might have a 135-pound Alexis Arguello done to him? Don’t even mention Roberto Duran.
Before Pernell Whitaker showed up Julio Cesar Chavez in San Antonio, I asked Sweet Pea’s great trainer, George Benton, how the Mexican icon might have done against Duran. We were standing by the ring set up outside the Alamodome while Whitaker was working out.
"Are you crazy? No chance," said Benton.
What about against Ike Williams?
"You trying to get Julio killed?"
What about your guy against Williams"
"Please, don’t embarrass me."
And Williams may not have beaten Henry Armstrong or Benny Leonard and does anyone really think Lennox Lewis was as good as Joe Louis?
Lennox would have been a difficult fight for Joe, or for most anyone in the past. I wouldn’t put him in my Top 10 all time, but all time has been around a long, long while. But if Ali was the Greatest, Lennox was the Latest and that’s all we can ask.
So maybe our current heroes might not get the best spots in the pantheon. But if they’re good enough to be among the best now, I’ll bet they are good enough to have been more than a handful for any of their predecessors. Muhammad Ali or Joe Frazier would not have walked over Lewis or Holyfield.
I don’t think there’s any way de la Hoya would have beaten Leonard or Sugar Ray Robinson - he still hasn’t beaten Mosley - but he would have been in those fights.
And how much would you be willing to pay to watch those matchups in
Until then, let’s take what we can get and be happy with de la Hoya-Mosley II.