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Paul Beston
The Ghost Sport « Back to Story

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Wow, this has probably been more anyone has written about boxing in ten years. I hate boxing. It's so bad to watch. Maybe when I'm 80 and kneed to nap, I'll put it on right after golf.

Nicely written blog though!
One of the greatest articles on the history of boxing,that I have read in a long time. Thank you.
More than any other person, Don King is responsible for the demise of boxing.
I am a 65 yo neurologist and have enjoyed boxing since the 50s when my father and brothers, one of whom was a boxer, watched B&W TV drinking beer commenting on the fights. One reason I quit the AMA years ago was their stance on boxing; we have no right to demand a ban on a great sport. I currently act as a ringside physician for some USABoxing matches--which finds the future Olympic boxers. These are great kids, many of them immigrants, who are disciplined far beyond their peers. Boxing and MMA are two of the most difficult sports around requiring phenomenal strength, speed, tactics and strategy. It is one man pitted against another who is trying to beat you up too. If critics are worried about concussions leading to eventual cognitive problems they should start first NFL quarterbacks and leave the TUF guys alone.
Mr. Beston, could it be that the reason boxing is on the ropes is because there is a white heavyweight champion? Did you even mention Klitchko? Come on, get real, blacks and liberal white press will not support a white champion and your historical analysis mentions white prejudice against blacks but not the reverse.
A fascinating read, Mr. Beston. I find, however, that boxing has become too tame for this generation's tastes. Hence, the rise of UFC's popularity, a sport that approaches barbarity in my opinion.
Unfortunately, the author is right.
Excellent piece. However, there were errors with the Tyson section. The quote about killing people, to my recollection is wrong. He said he wanted to tear out Lewis' heart and eat his children. not kill people and rip out their stomachs. He also only bit off one piece of Holyfield's ear. He bit the other ear but nothing came off.
As a former hockey player and present-day martial artist, and fan of old-school boxing, I am hoping that reports of the death of the "sweet science" are premature.
More to the point, common folks and regulators should not fall for the idea of banning combat sports and/or those with a significant level of danger in them, such as football or hockey. The "danger" is part of the reason we engage in activities like boxing, martial arts, hockey or football. These sports are not only entertaining, they serve a valuable function by sublimating the violence of combat and war into something challenging and even inspiring. There's something primal that these sports provide, for participants and fans alike. Banning them would only assure that they move underground. Besides, "safety" is an illusion anyway. Life itself is a contact sport.

I certainly do miss those days gone by when everyone knew the top fighters and looked forward to seeing the latest match-up on TV.
Mr. Beston, thank you for a well-written and engaging article, save perhaps one caveat: why no mention of the rise of mixed martial arts such as UFC? Many fans who would formerly have gone for boxing now watch UFC instead. What does UFC offer fans that boxing does not? That's the question those of us who care about boxing (as this writer does) should be asking.
Very nice piece. I think by far the late 1970s and early 1980s were the best time for boxing. My favorite two fights were Hagler-Hearns I, and Duran-Leonard I. Part of boxing's decline can also be attributed to their decision to show the big fights on pay per view channels.
Boxing is far from dead. Mayweather and Pacquiao are among the highest paid athletes in the world, and see the NYT article dated February 27, 2011 -- in the cities, they can't build the boxing gyms fast enough. With funding cut to so many school-sponsored sports,kids are flooding the boxing gyms. Also, people have been saying boxing is dead for about 80 years. And always, another star comes along. After Pacquiao it will be someone else. Watch.
"Masseuse" is not a unisex term. Don't you mean "masseur"?
Gawd, how could you write a fine essay like this without mentioning the Rocky series that made Sylvester Stallone's career?

FYI : Manny Pacquiao has agreed to all of Mayweathers demands regarding testing including the Olympic method (drawing blood.) This fight might never happen and wil be long remember-ed as the greatest non-event in the history of recorded sport. And in my humble opinion Paul Beston was successfully writen a beautiful concise lucidhistory of pugilism for those of us who ironically were once called the 'fancy'.
John G. Rodwan, Jr. September 22, 2011 at 10:16 AM
This article uses the unlikely possibility of a fight between Mayweather and Paquiao, which boxing fans have been urging for years, as a reason to review U.S. boxing history. As Beston clearly knows, any excuse to revisit this fascinating material is welcome to those who know of its compelling quality. While boxing may have become a ghost sport, practically invisible to an indifferent general public, it soldiers on not only because of white-collar boxers but also because of owners of gyms like Gleason’s in Brooklyn and the Downtown Boxing Gym in Detroit who, like General John Pershing, recognize its benefits for young men (and, now, women) and aim to give kids alternatives to far more dangerous and destructive activities.
Very good synopsis. Enjoyed it very much
This was an outstanding survey of the history of Boxing. I would suggest however another reason for the decline of the sport. It is I think a transformation at least in the United States toward placing a greater value on not hurting others. This probably connects with Feminism also.
I would also suggest that as people, or at some people get older they are far more reluctant to take pleasure in watching others hurt and bleeding.
You should have added the influence of the UFC to the change in boxing's popularity. UFC fighting has become the new sport for the youth to aspire to. Also UFC has one more advantage, namely by mixing in wrestling and other martial arts it can be fought "horizontal" where the loser can "tap out" to end it. So it goes more quickly and fast with more skill needed.
Just to follow up on my previous comments, it's been determined without disagreement from true MMA aficionados, that wrestling is the best base to have if you want to succeed in the sport. The reason has to do with dictating where the fight goes e.g. on the feet, or on the ground. The majority of UFC champions have a collegiate wrestling background which helps them enormously with game planning opponents and competing at the highest level.

Another reason why wrestling is the best base to obtain is because it is so darn hard to compete and excel in the sport. I played football, wrestled and played a little baseball in high school, and even considering the two week football camp with two-a-day practices in 90 degree heat with all that equipment on, wrestling practices were harder and took more out of you physically.
Boxing isn't dead. It has evolved into MMA, where boxing has proven triumphant and boxing skills lie at the core of the sport.
Excellent article. As a young boy from Northern Ontario, Canada, I listened to the radio description of fights from Madison Square Garden. I remember the surprise when Ingemar Johansen beat Patterson. In the rematch I still remember the announcer ( Dudley?, some name like that) expressing disatisfaction with the Swedes sneer! Then there was an old fighter Archie Moore, I think who held the title for a short tme. I think he was a haevyweight. Even the term heavyweight to describe a real influetial person msut come from boxing, I suppose.

As farm boys we used to shadow box, and occasionally get in to real fights., too.
Ah. well, thanks for the article . Well written.
Mixed-martial-artists have many more skills than even the most elite boxers. Boxing has mostly to do with hand strikes and footwork which is included in MMA, plus knees, elbows, spinning backfists, judo throws, wrestling etc. many boxing techniques are actually useless in a real fight because someone who's bobbing and weaving would get kicked or kneed in the head. MMA is much more complete and the IQ of the average fighter is on a much higher level than the IQ of the average boxer. It was a lie Ali was the greatest fighter of his day, as there were a million men who could have kicked his duck in the dirt with no problem at all. The baddest man in MMA is much closer to being the baddest dude on the pwanett, as Tyson would say. That's the draw.
Sorry, name quoted below should be Nat Fleischer.
More than 35 years ago, I read a quote from a boxing sage whose name I don't recall, though it may have been Nat Fleishman. He was asked about the future of boxing. He replied, "As the Heavyweight division goes, so goes boxing, and the heavyweights today are going onto the football fields and basketball courts". That quote has resonated with me over the years.

Boxing is a very tough sport, and much more difficult to perform properly than MMA, which is essentially glorified street brawling, dominated by former college wrestlers. Boxing's pay structure has always favored only those few fighters at the top of their divisions. Why should a kid get his brains knocked out when he can become a ballplayer, and receive a college education for free?
I agree with Justin, this article is incomplete without mention of the rise of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), and particularly, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

For everyone under 35, the UFC is what boxing once was to previous generations.

The UFC's PPVs regularly net millions of viewers. Every UFC event is broadcast in dozens of countries around the world, with 10s of millions of viewers. The UFC just signed a multi-year deal to broadcast events on FOX. UFC fighters appear on ESPN. There are multiple MMA gyms in every city. Etc, etc.

It's not that a passion or desire for combat sports died with the passion or desire for boxing, it's that it has evolved and grown past boxing. The younger generation just prefers MMA over boxing.

Note: I am not passing ANY judgement on boxing, or stating that MMA is in some way "better" than boxing. They are different sports, each with their own pros and cons. Just commenting on the current of state of combat sports. As well as offering constructive criticism to the author of this article that presenting boxing's decline without mention of MMA's rise is somewhat disingenuous.
Terrific article! Well written and thought-provoking.
City Journal ought to do a story on professional wrestling. Now don't laugh! It was really big starting early in the 20th century and, of course, it was a lot more real then. The story of how pro wrestling went fron a true sport to a staged spectacle is actually very interesting..
Ali got his lip routine from the professional wrestlers of his time. Gorgeous George, in particular. It was all promotional hype.
But what about Buster Mathis?
Nah, never mind.
Great article.
Good article, but I'm surprised that there is no mention of mixed martial arts and the UFC as the true heir of these old fighters' legacies, not the ghostly shell of boxing today.
Excellent Article! Do you think that if Ali would have supported his friend Malcolm, instead of sucking up to Elisha Mohammad, Malcolm would still be alive?
Excellent article. I've never watched a boxing match in my life, but I'm a real sucker for the heroism and mythology that surround it. Your article captures that sentiment beautifully.
Ronald Miles Courtney September 13, 2011 at 4:54 AM
I grew up in the 60's and 70's watching Ali/Frazier and Leonard/Hearns et al, and boxing was HUGE. Yet I could not name one current heavyweight champion, and it's been that way since Tyson self-destructed. I do not understand why Mr. Beston avoided stating the real reason boxing is dying: greedy promoters like Don King saw a means to make more money per title fight by going to exhorbitantly priced pay-per-view distribution, leaving all but the affluent, the serious bettors and the most rabid fans of the sport to read about the result the next day. The rest of us never saw the championship fights anymore. That is why the sport died, not corruption/scandals (see college football), not "changing tastes" (see ulitmate fighting), and not brain trauma (see NFL). And it is why the NFL - a group of family businesses with a much more long-term approach than sleazy boxing promoters - has not gone more fully down the PPV road.
I wonder if the fervor for boxing has been drained by the various gladiator spectacles such as UFC and MMA. The variants that don't use gloves result in more blood and soft tissue damage but less brain trauma. My understanding is that gloves allow fighters to hit harder and longer without damaging their hands or their opponents facebut end up causing more brain trauma. Without gloves, fights don't last as long and fighters can't hit as hard over the duration of the fight. Great article! Thanks.
The glory days of Olympic boxing and rooting for Americans brings back great memories. Beating the Russians and the Cubans...George Foreman's bowing to each direction with a small American flag. Those were good days for boxing.
love the article- well written and researched, very compelling!