The Sweet Science

Jack Hanson on why boxing isn't dead yet, again

Gennady Golovkin, pictured right

Gennady Golovkin, pictured right

 

BOXING ONCE HELD a central place in the American, even Western imagination; that’s no longer the case. Its interest has been relegated nearly to the margins of society, not out of aversion to its violence--which seems alive and well elsewhere--but indifference to its art.

And it isn't entirely surprising. When the average sports fan considers the sweet science, Liebling’s apt nickname seems highly ironic in light of the blood-curdling wars that are conjured up. But in reality, those are relatively few and far between. The greatest of them—Hagler v. Hearns, Ward v. Gatti I, Barrera v. Morales I, Bradley v. Provodnikov—may be considered touchstones of the sport (and follow any of those links if you’d like to see the outer limits of human endurance), but this is almost in spite of the chess matches that most elite-level fights resemble. And given that for the last ten years the most visible American fighter, Floyd Mayweather, has been perhaps the greatest defensive master the sport has ever seen, it’s no wonder that for the uninitiated, a highly-anticipated match-up is as likely to bore as to enthrall.

Many peg boxing’s “decline” to the retirement of Muhammad Ali, who from 1978 to 1981 lumbered from paycheck to paycheck, occasionally thrilling with flashes of his former greatness, mostly suffering heartbreaking punishment at the hands of younger, stronger men. But already the next generation was preparing to take the stage, albeit in the lower weight classes. The men who would go on to be called the Fab Four (or, more menacingly, the Four Horsemen)—Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns, Roberto “Manos de Piedra” Duran, and Sugar Ray Leonard—dominated the sport in the 1980’s, shifting the attention away from the heavyweight division until Mike Tyson began tearing through opponents like tissue paper (there are, by the way, 18 weight classes and a half-dozen or so sanctioning bodies, each of which confers a championship belt, sometimes several). As the tabloid spotlight became brighter than the lights over the ring for Iron Mike, Oscar De La Hoya filled the role of pay-per-view king, reaching his apex by setting the pay-per-view record with his 2007 match against Floyd Mayweather Jr., who has since broken that record twice, most recently against the only real threat to his supremacy, the Filipino superstar Manny Pacquiao.

Now that Mayweather has “retired” (we’ll see), some have said, just as when Ali hung up the gloves, that the sport is finished. This seems unlikely, if for no other reason than the number of successors waiting in the wings.

Premier Boxing Champions, the first regular, major-network production to broadcast fights in decades, has been providing high-quality bouts of contenders and champions alike, helping to expose boxing-world secrets like Errol Spence Jr., Carl Frampton, Leo Santa Cruz, and Danny Garcia (all of whom hold varied positions in the eyes of fans)to a wider public. And as for who will replace Mayweather as number one in the sport, a match this Saturday (17 October) will likely prove the first in a series of landmark match-ups to decide that question.

Gennady Golovkin, otherwise known as Triple G (his patronymic is Gennadyevich), has since his 2012 American debut been the hardcore boxing fan’s fighter of choice, for both his extraordinary knock-out power (he has stopped 30 of his 33 professional opponents before the final bell could sound, including the last twenty in a row) and his nearly-unmatched boxing technique, which he honed over the course of 350 amateur fights, only five of which he lost and none of which included his being knocked down.

For the last three years, his star has risen in a somewhat paltry middleweight division (as opposed to the talent-rich lower weight classes that Mayweather and Pacquiao reigned over), leading some to hesitate in handing him a crown, allowing the only ‘big names’ in the division to avoid fighting him. His next opponent, however, David Lemieux, is also a feared knock-out artist who holds a championship belt. And while Golovkin will likely employ his far superior technique to dispatch with Lemieux as he has with the previous twenty, gaining another belt will render him finally unavoidable. He will then face, unless the boxing gods curse us with corrupt, bureaucratic nonsense, the winner of Miguel Cotto v. Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. Cotto is a guaranteed hall-of-fame veteran, currently holding his fourth championship belt in as many weight classes, while Canelo is a twenty-five-year-old phenom who has proven himself willing to fight all comers.  Both have fought Mayweather, and while Cotto came much closer to beating him than Canelo (who, well, choked—but he was only 23, after all, and it is his only loss), they are each possessed of the pedigree and the fanbase to take up where Mayweather left off. That is, if either of them can beat Golovkin, which many reasonably argue can only be done by Andre Ward, an Olympic gold-medalist second only to Mayweather in his skills but professionally stifled by long-inactivity and an unwillingness to fight outside of California.

If boxing is dead, this is quite the animated corpse. There is as much talent and intrigue in the sport as there ever has been, with Herculean feats performed routinely by athletes both dedicated and charismatic. The mainstream culture seems to be awakening to this fact, and as the rise in attention coincides with a renewed struggle for the top spot in the sport, boxing may well be poised to regain its former pride of place in sports. And why not? The recent trends in television from Downtown Abbey to the more overtly combative House of Cards prove that people are patient and willing to endure baroque stalemates in order to reach explosive, dramatic turns. That’s boxing. 

JACK HANSON is a contributing editor to Partisan

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