You’d hardly know it, but boxing’s heavyweight title was up for grabs last Saturday in Madison Square Garden. Well, one of the heavyweight titles anyway.
Live in New York, and on pay-per-view, Wladimir Klitschko defended his International Boxing Federation (IBF) title scoring a technical knockout in the seventh round against Calvin Brock.
The Kazakh-born Klitschko, who grew up in the Ukraine, made relatively easy work of Brock, as many expected. Fight judges scored all but two rounds for Klitschko, who kept Brock at bay with left jabs and finished him off with a powerful right cross.
Klitschko is currently ranked the No. 1 heavyweight. The ranking is important, perhaps more so than his stewardship of the IBF title, because there are four title belts in today’s heavyweight stratum. Despite the confusion and lack of a true top dog, Klitschko has a good chance of unifying the title.
Though he possesses awesome size (6-foot-6) and power, Klitschko is not an inspiring figure outside of the ring, and rarely is inside it.
Klitschko is Russian, which to every American who’s seen Rocky IV, makes him public enemy No. 1 before the bell even rings. More seriously though, Klitschko is a powerful, exacting puncher, but far from a prodigious talent. His wins come in a stalking, calculating fashion lacking excitement and charisma. His cornerman, who used to work with Lennox Lewis, shouts to him in English, which is then translated to Russian. Klitschko holds a doctorate degree and enjoys chess as well as pummeling the lights out of opponents.
The challenger, Calvin Brock, is no box-office hit either. His nickname, “The Boxing Banker,” was not given because Brock hits like he’s got a roll of quarters wrapped in his first, or because he takes punishment like a vault door – it’s because he’s got a degree in finance and manages his own portfolio. On top of that he is a tap dancer in the King David Royal Conservatory.
I’m not making this up.
Despite all that, Brock is a likeable character, albeit more like a fun uncle than a pugilist. Combined with his lack of offense, it’s hard to believe he was the American given the best chance to bring the title home.
The fight was slow paced, as the announcers (teamed with the soft-spoken, dapper former heavyweight champ, Lennox Lewis) spoke often of the frustrated and underwhelmed crowd.
”The crowd continues to get more restless, what they wanted was excitement,” one said, awkwardly explaining that the two fighters were like. “Two pieces of an apple, that when you put them together, they don’t form a whole apple.”
The real question that comes to mind is, what has happened to one of America’s favorite sports? Former greats like George Forman and Mike Tyson have gone from being red-ring gods to salesmen for second-grade grilling machines and prison-hopping, ear-hungry psychos. Boxing has lost the stars that have dominated the ring as well the public’s interest. Muhammad Ali, Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, Evander Holyfield were all stars in the time they held world championship belts. Nowadays there aren’t any compelling stars to root for.
This isn’t the only problem with boxing in the 2000s. It also has to do with the promoters who put it together.
Giving pay-per-view $50 to watch two brutish-bookworms go toe-to-toe on my TV? It’s not happening. And, try as I might, I haven’t found a single bar in town that carries them (bars are often charged a phenomenal increase to legally carry pay-per-view events, as their participation would decrease home orders). So what’s a boxing fan to do?
Watch the fight on YouTube? There’s nothing like a brain-rattling knockout in a picture the size of your wallet. Look at those pixels fly. Wait. Loading-
But that’s what it’s come to, and as the thousands who view the various copies of the fight online can attest, fans are interested, paying $50 for a fight turning out to be worth about $5 won’t draw them in.
So what we have are two problems that need answers for boxing to survive. One, we need more interesting and talented heavyweight fighters. Two, pay-per-view has got to go.
And the referee counts down-