By Ivan G. Goldman
The search for the next big thing, whatever it is, has become so pervasive in our light-speed world that you can now find the phrase in the dictionary, where it’s defined as “the new rage, the latest fad or trend, esp. in a particular field.”
Terence Crawford: Next Superstar? Photo: Chris Farina/Top Rank
The identity of the next big thing is even harder to identify in prizefighting than in the tech universe. The torch must pass from superstar Floyd Mayweather, who turned 38 in February, but the new bearer isn’t apparent.
Each time our superstar exits the role some “analysts” tell us boxing will die for lack of a successor. They lack the imagination to understand that another superstar always comes along. Just because they don’t recognize him yet, that doesn’t mean he’s not out there. It may take years for him to emerge.
Oscar De La Hoya, the superstar who preceded Mayweather, used to say he was carrying boxing on his shoulders. It was partly bragging and partly a complaint. He was a true crossover star, beloved to fans and females who knew almost nothing about the sport. Sports Illustrated followed him around even though it had already dumped its last full-time boxing writer to focus more on lesser sports.
But Oscar’s unofficial title of boxing superstar intensified the pressures he felt. Sometimes you want to just lead a normal life. He wound up in rehab for cocaine and alcohol but seems to be adjusting to the new role he’s taken on — big-time boxing promoter. Floyd’s on the promoter path too.
The years have given us plenty of great boxers over the years, but superstars are few. They might overlap from time to time, but not for long. Going back to the sixties, the names that can be listed without argument are Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson, Oscar, and now Floyd.
Other fighters have been disappointed to learn that defeating a superstar doesn’t necessarily make you a superstar. Roberto Duran? Great fighter, beat Leonard in their first fight, but never a superstar. Joe Frazier? Same deal. Beat The Greatest in their first contest in a tremendous battle but never took his place. Not even for a week.
Roy Jones? A speedy wizard who for years rarely lost a round, was one of the most talented fighters ever to grace the ring. But was never the next big thing, never a superstar. It’s not all about boxing. There’s a kind of mysterious chemistry required. Manny Pacquiao came about as close as you can get, and I may be wrong on this one, but I’m leaving him off the list.
Other great fighters who never passed through the magic portal include Lennox Lewis, Marco Antonio Barrera, Shane Mosley, Felix Trinidad, Johnny Tapia, Marvin Hagler, James Toney, Bernard Hopkins, Joe Calzaghe, and both Klitschkos.
Sometimes fighters are like skyrockets. They burn bright but not for long. Fernando Vargas was such a fighter. Kelly Pavlik was another. Buster Douglas, a really good heavyweight, shined for one magic night.
One thing we do know about the next big thing in boxing: he’ll speak English. Sorry, folks, I don’t really make these rules, and if you need a translator, you won’t cross into superstardom.
If Pacquiao hadn’t applied himself and learned the lingo he never would have come close. Notice that middleweight sensation Gennady Golovkin, now living in Los Angeles, is almost there, language-wise.
Possible candidates include heavyweight Deontay Wilder. If he keeps knocking everybody out the wider media world just might notice. Ditto Keith Thurman and Sergey Kovalev. Russian-born Kovalev lives in Florida and might have had a slim shot, but he’s already 32. Probably not enough time.
Another necessary ingredient is formidable opponents. Ali recognized that if Frazier and Foreman weren’t around, he’d never have achieved such greatness.
Supremely talented Thurman and Terence Crawford can find rough-and-tough opposition. And Crawford’s starting to look more like Sugar Ray Leonard in there. Like Thurman, he’s personable and likable.
Mayweather arguably fell short on the personality end, but superstar he is. Tyson, a bully, was always exciting and grew mellow with age. Floyd might too. Like Ali, Tyson was immensely quotable: “Everybody’s got plans . . . until they get hit in the mouth.”
Canelo Alvarez? He’s got charisma, youth, and he keeps improving. Needs to work on his English, but he’s in the running. Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez? Appealing personality, a crowd-pleaser with tremendous ability, but he’s also a flyweight from Nicaragua who lacks English skills.
Our next superstar may or may not be facing world-beaters at this moment. Perhaps he’s still an amateur or a four-round pro. I expect we’d all prefer to find him sooner rather than later.
Ivan G. Goldman’s 5th novel The Debtor Class is a ‘gripping …triumphant read,’ says Publishers Weekly. A future cult classic with ‘howlingly funny dialogue,’ says Booklist. Available now from Permanent Press wherever fine books are sold. Goldman is a New York Times best-selling author.
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