By Ivan G. Goldman
Boxing desperately needs another super-champion who clicks with the American public. Until that happens we’ll have to endure the gravediggers telling us yet again that the sport is dead.
Some of them say UFC has already eclipsed boxing, but ask them to show you the money. It’s not there.
In my time I watched attention shift from Muhammad Ali to Sugar Ray Leonard to Mike Tyson, then Oscar De La Hoya, and finally Floyd Mayweather, now retired. What they all shared along with their championship hearts were great opponents. They had to contend with Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran, Evander Holyfield, Manny Pacquiao, and many others who on the right night could beat the best and be the best.
The super-champs were all great American fighters with outsized personalities. Although De La Hoya was kind of dull, the ladies loved him, and that made the difference. Charisma can’t always be explained. Some people send out special electricity. They get watched, they get listened to.
The super-champ doesn’t have to be a particularly good guy. Tyson, now calmer and more content, bit one guy on the leg and another on the ear, some of which he tore off. And it was all on camera. He was also a convicted rapist, though the rap always looked bogus to plenty of us. Meanwhile, man, did he pull in crowds.
As for Mayweather, he liked to toss around currency so he could watch folks scramble for it. Not the sweetest of activities and certainly not the sign of a kind heart. But he won all his fights, generated buzz, and sold tickets.
Who’s next? First, forget about Cubans who live here but can’t order rice and beans in English. Hey, I don’t make the rules. That’s how it is.
Speaking of reality, some people believe Mayweather may come back, and they may be right. But so what? The guy’s 38, for crying out loud. As I said, keep it real. More names we can safely eliminate — Tim Bradley and Andre Ward. If they haven’t caught on by now, and they haven’t, that’s unlikely to change.
Who’s out there who might possibly make the grade? Danny Garcia, Keith Thurman, Terence Crawford, Leo Santa Cruz, Deontay Wilder. My personal favorites are Crawford and Wilder.
Wilder scored a sensational knockout in a good heavyweight fight last Saturday and immediately experts jumped all over him for looking clumsy. My answer to them? A heavyweight who looks clumsy and knocks people out has a rosier future than someone who looks great and loses. Foreman was clumsy, but no one wanted to fight him.
After Wilder, 36-0-0, 35 KOs, dispatched Artur Szpilki with a dynamite right, he behaved like a champion, showing concern for his flattened opponent. Then Tyson Fury climbed into the ring and erupted like a volcanic sewage leak. Reminded me of a puppy trying to chase off the fear inside him. Wilder, refusing to get down to the jerk’s level, showed class again.
Crawford, 27-0, 19KOs, seems like a decent guy who loves to battle, and he’s already pulling in local Nebraska fans. His popularity could spread. He, like Wilder, gets guys out of there. Don’t rule out either of them.
Someone somewhere will work his way into that spotlight, make it onto the talk shows, win the battles, pull in new fans. But at this point he may be the only one who knows it.
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.