Convicted Artist Magazine

Feb 28th
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Home Boxing BLAME IT ON 1982
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boxing_art_0012Boxing has been living on the outskirts of sporting fame for a few decades now.  This is a sad truth that while one star usually makes it to the mainstream (one at a time anyway), most members of the general public cannot name more than 3 active boxers, if that.  The abandonment of network television is the biggest culprit, alongside the disappearing act of the U.S. heavyweight.  While many theories are given as to the reason for this, I can trace it all back to four very important events.  Oddly enough, all of them took place 29 years ago.

Muhammad Ali Showing Wear and Tear
Not only did we have to lose him in the ring, but 1982 was the first year where we really got to see that we were slowly losing him on the microphone as well.  He’d always been slowing, and people close to Ali knew for years, but the permanence of his damage was becoming obvious.  The absence of the voice of boxing was perhaps more damaging than his retirement, as we can assume many people would tune into fights just to hear him speak.  He is still the most recognizable personality in the world, without the benefit of sound bites. We needed this in 1982, because faces and voices were disappearing fast, like…

Sugar Ray Leonard’s Retirement
He was supposed to take the “star” reins from Ali, and run with them.  He did, for a brief period.  Of course, he did come back to electrify the boxing world a few years later, but the last golden face of the era closed his doors for business in 1982… the victim of a now perfectly curable eye injury.  This left several advertisers without a boxing face.  And the few that remained would soon exit as well, after…

The Death of Duk Koo Kim
Ray Mancini was another live-TV darling.  So much so, that millions of people watched a man beaten to death in the ring.  Mancini, once a ratings winner, had TV execs shying away from airing fights, and advertisers pulling the plug on potential deals.  This certainyl was not his fault, but the risk was a reality of boixng that team sports did not seem to have.  TV fights remained for several years, but the big names were rarely showcased anymore.  A bigger question is why auto racing (which carries a far higher risk of death) has not had the same problem… but that can be answered with 2 differences: 1) Death in auto racing happens quickly, and we are spared the gore.  In boxing it is slow, brutal, and we are left wondering if it could have been prevented by an earlier stoppage.  2) White people love auto racing, and excel at it.  Brown and black people do well at boxing.  It may be an unconscious racism… but things tend to get to the chopping block faster when there are not many voices in positions of power to speak up for it.  Boxing certainly did not need any more tragedy, as it was still reeling from…

The Death of Salvador Sanchez
Another fighter made for TV, and the emerging Latino market.  Not to mention, at age 23, he was only getting better, and bigger.  Rivalries with great fighters like Camacho and Chavez were probably on the way.  Chavez could not grab this market share until many years later, and had the annoying habit in the mid 1980’s of stinking it out on TV, while shining on closed circuit or off-TV fights.  His blowout of Roger Mayweather being the one noteworthy exception.

Sanchez, Mancini, and Leonard all exiting the mainstream left boxing to carry on the shoulders of less–charismatic champions like Hearns, Hagler, and Holmes.  By the time Tyson, Chavez, and De La Hoya came along, it was too late.  They would be stars of cable TV, and PPV, not network.  And even in the day when virtually everyone has cable… there is still a divide.  Imagine the NBA finals, Superbowl, or World Series being a PPV event.  Sure, some people would buy it, but bitterness and anger towards one’s pocket being picked would eventually drive fans away.  Advertisers and networks foot the bill for these sports.  They used to do so for boxing as well, but we can all point to one lousy year that changed all of that.

Chris Strait

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