What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
In the first installment in this series, I made the assertion the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight marked the official death of boxing. But I also said it was a slow and painful demise. In the second installment, I will explore the rise and fall of Mike Tyson, the proliferation of boxing’s sanctioning bodies, and why boxing has no future in America.
Hence, we enter the “Tyson” era of boxing history. Mike Tyson is the last “rock star” heavyweight champion, and short of Don King, nobody plays a larger role in the demise of boxing.
Mike Tyson was almost a perfect real-life representation of “Clubber Lang” from Rocky III. He was downright scary, and his fights on the way to the title were less about boxing and more about sheer brutality. Throughout the late 80’s on his way to the heavyweight title, Tyson had built a myth of invincibility by knocking out anybody in his path, and it seemed that Buster Douglas was going to be the next victim in what was going to be a decade-long run of Tyson defending his title.
However, Douglas clearly had a different idea.
This was not a case of a “lucky punch;” Douglas clearly entered this fight with a plan and a belief he could win. You have to remember, that at this point in his career, nobody had ever taken Tyson to the later rounds of a fight. The idea was that if you could manage not to get killed by one of those savage Tyson blows early, you could run him out of gas late. The main way to do that was to not let Tyson get inside where he could unleash his devastating upper-cut.
From the beginning of the fight it was apparent that Douglas was not afraid. He out-moved Tyson and let his punches fly whenever he saw the opportunity to attack Tyson. Most importantly, he made a quick and accurate jab to form a wall Tyson couldn’t penetrate. When Tyson tried to get inside, Douglas tied him up, moved away, or would immediately hit Tyson with multiple punches as Tyson came within Douglas’ range. Douglas consistently outlanded Tyson in exchanges.
In the middle rounds, Tyson managed to land a few of his signature upper-cuts, but Douglas was unfazed and continued to dominate the fight. Eventually, the blows Tyson had been taking began to take their toll. Tyson’s left eye began to swell, and because they didn’t expect this fight to last, his corner was not equipped to handle it. They were reduced to filling a rubber glove with ice water and holding it on Tyson’s eye between rounds.
However, in the last 10 seconds of the 8th round, Tyson finally landed an upper-cut that sent Douglas to the canvas. Douglas got up after a 9-second count, but everybody in the arena thought the end would come in the next round.
As expected, Tyson came out aggressively looking to end the fight and save his title in the 9th Round. Hoping that Douglas was still hurt from the 8th-round knockdown, Tyson attacked viciously, but Douglas was able to fight off this flurry. Several seconds of trading punches went on before Douglas connected on a four-punch combination that clearly had Tyson hurt. He staggered back to the ropes, where he tried in vain to protect himself from Douglas’ final assault. He survived the round, but it was clear he was in grave trouble.
The end came in the tenth round. Tyson tried to push the fight back to Douglas, but the beating he had taken had left him dazed and spent. As Tyson walked forward, Douglas measured him with a few jabs before landing a devastating upper-cut that snapped Tyson’s backward. As Tyson began to reel back from the uppercut, Douglas immediately followed with four heavy-duty head shots which sent Tyson to the mat for the first time in his career. Buster Douglas thus became the new undisputed heavyweight champion and the fight became one of the biggest upsets in boxing history.
Oh, except for one thing…
In the immediate aftermath of the fight, Tyson’s camp (led by Don King) protested the result, claiming that after he had been knocked down in the 8th round, Douglas had been given a long count by referee Octavio Meyran. The WBA and WBC initially agreed and suspended recognition of Douglas as champion, although the IBF immediately accepted that the result was valid. However, there was such a public outcry and demands from boxing commissions around the world that they acknowledge Douglas as the champion, the protest was withdrawn and Douglas’ win was recognized four days later.
Obviously, a rematch was in order, but it never happened. Buster Douglas prepared for his first title defense by getting fat, and #1 contender Evander Holyfield easily took the belt from him.
Since the 1960’s, there were two main bodies which governed boxing. The first was the National Boxing Association, which while found in the 1920’s became known as the World Boxing Association (WBA) in 1962. Also from the 1920’s came the New York State Athletic Commission, which eventually became the World Boxing Council (WBC) in 1962.
In the 1980’s, two more groups joined the fray. The first was the International Boxing Federation (IBF) in 1983. Six years later as a result of a splintering of the WBC, the World Boxing Organization (WBO) was formed.
This meant by the time Mike Tyson was recognized as the last “undisputed” heavyweight champion, there were four major organizations sanctioning titles. If that weren’t confusing enough, there were a host of minor organizations which claimed to sanction champions as well.
If you keep the conversation to just the “Big Four,” the diaspora for heavyweight belts began in 1989 when the WBO split from the WBC and named Francesco Damiani as its heavyweight champion. The WBA, WBC, and IBF belts remained unified until 1992 when the WBC stripped Riddick Bowe of the title and awarded it to Lennox Lewis.
Since then, the term “heavyweight champion” usually applies to at least three people at any given moment, and you usually haven’t heard of any of them.
Tyson would fight four more times after the Buster Douglas fight, until July of 1991 when he was arrested for the rape of 18-year-old Desiree Washington in an Indianapolis hotel room. Tyson spent three years in an Indiana prison on that charge until his release in 1995.
All during the trial, Tyson did everything he could to make himself a very unlikeable guy. Tyson claimed that everything had taken place with Washington’s full cooperation and he claimed not to have forced himself upon her. When he was cross-examined, Tyson denied claims that he had misled Washington and insisted that she wanted to have sex with him. Because of Tyson’s hostile and defensive responses to the questions during cross-examination, some have speculated that his behavior made him unlikable to the jury who saw him as brutish and arrogant.
In any event, Tyson was the biggest star boxing had at the time, and he was on his way to prison for a reprehensible crime. Don’t forget, America was wanting a “likeable” champ, and there are few things Americans like less than a rapist.
Most people of the right age remember the bite, but most don’t recall it really marked the beginning of Tyson’s descent from barbarian to clown.
Having just been released form prison after the rape conviction, Tyson had recaptured the WBA and WBC belts within a year, which set the stage for the two Tyson/Holyfield fights.
The first took place in November 1996, but before the fight, the WBC had already stripped Tyson of its belt for his refusal to fight Lennox Lewis. Holyfield relieved Tyson of the WBA title from by means of an 11th round TKO.
The rematch occurred nine months later, but almost nobody knew this fight would end up as one the most controversial events in sports history. Held on June 28, 1997, the highly anticipated rematch was dubbed The Sound and the Fury. The fight proved to be a cash machine; it grossed over $100 million and drew nearly two million households via pay per view. But it only lasted three rounds when bit Holyfield on both ears.
The first time Tyson bit Holyfield, the match was temporarily stopped. Referee Mills Lane deducted two points from Tyson and the fight resumed. However, Tyson repeated the offense, leaving Lane no choice but to stop the fight and disqualify Tyson. In the confusion that followed the ending of the bout and announcement of the decision, a near riot erupted in the arena and several people were injured.
There was one person who was not surprised at all by this. Teddy Atlas was Mike Tyson’s former trainer, and he knew something like this would happen. Atlas has gone on record more than once saying that Tyson planned to commit an act that would get him disqualified.
“He planned this,” Atlas said. “That’s the only reason he went through with this fight. This was a charade so he could get out and live with himself as long as in his world he would be known as savage and brutal. In his world, he was the man who attacked like an animal and people would say he was trying to annihilate Holyfield, trying to kill him, when nothing could be further from the truth.”
The resulting fallout proved costly for Tyson. The Nevada State Boxing Commission withheld $3 million from Tyson’s $30 million purse, which was the maximum amount it could legally hold. On July 9, 1997, Tyson’s boxing license was rescinded by the Nevada State Athletic Commission in a unanimous voice vote. In addition, he was fined $3 million and ordered to pay the legal costs of the hearing. Because most state athletic commissions have reciprocity agreements, they usually honor sanctions imposed by other states, which effectively made Tyson unable to box in the United States. The revocation of Tyson’s boxing license was eventually lifted in October 1998.
During his time away from boxing, Tyson became a stooge during WrestleMania XIV. Tyson was paid to play on his brutal reputation by playing the role of “enforcer” for a match between Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin.
Mike Tyson’s ride was nothing short of incredible. In just over twelve years, he went from anonymity to arguably the biggest celebrity in all of sports. Then after the peak came less pleasant titles, such as convicted felon and tragic clown. Mike Tyson had a Tiger Woods-like draw; he attracted so many fans to the world of boxing, but the net difference was a big negative because at the end, more fans left boxing than Tyso0n attracted, and boxing has never recovered from the bite Tyson took out of its fan base.
There was something almost indescribably cool about boxing when I was a kid in the 1970’s. Sure, part of it was the brash greatness of Muhammad Ali, but the real draw was that when you remove the politics and the administration, boxing is almost the purest sport on earth. What better example of pure, uncut competition is there beyond two men enclosed in a ring vis-à-vis, with the last man standing begin the winner?
The trouble lies in the fact that separating the sport from the other stuff isn’t possible, and when that fact gets coupled with the fact that Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) turbo-charged that whole vis-à-vis angle, it’s becomes easy to see how MMA blew past boxing in America.
Having said that, boxing and MMA are like the sports version of country and rock music; they share the same roots, and those roots lie in the purity of sport: Gladiators and the ancient Olympics. Call it “blood lust” or whatever other label you wish, the mano-a-mano aspect which dominates these two sports Think about it. Before MMA, there was almost nothing more gladiatorial in America than boxing. But when boxing started eating it’s own young, once a few smart promoters got a good look at “Vale Tudo” tournaments in Brazil, MMA was on it’s way.
To see where the bifurcation happened, we need to set the “Wayback Machine” to 648 B.C. so we can examine the ancient Olympic combat sport of Pankration. The difference between then and now was the existence of rules. Biting and eye-gouging were really the only fouls. Pankration combined techniques of both boxing and wrestling. Closed fist blows were allowed to any part of the body, kicks were acceptable, as were a panoply of takedowns, choke holds, and joint locks. In other words, Pankration most likely looked very similar to today’s MMA competitions.
While knockouts were common, most Pankration competitions were decided on the ground where both strikes and submission holds came into play. Practitioners of Pankration were highly skilled combatants as it was more than merely a sporting competition, it was part of the training of soldiers ranging from the Spartan Hoplites and Alexander the Great’s Macedonian Phalanx. Given that, it’s no surprise that a Pankration competition could result in the death of one of the combatants.
This is why 19th century Boxing brought us the “Marquis of Queensbury” rules, because Americans love violence, but they aren’t very receptive to watching somebody get killed. This is exactly exemplified in the first part of this series with the Duk Koo Kim tragedy. MMA hasn’t suffered a similar situation, which is why it is still enjoying popularity.
However, the biggest reason MMA enjoys popularity is that aforementioned turbo-charging”purity of sport.” Not only did boxing lose that through it’s own doing, but it did it at time when MMA was on the rise. MMA capitalized on that by showing practitioners of multiple disciplines which allowed fans to compare the efficacy of different fighting styles.
The final blow for boxing here came from the fact boxing fans continue to this day treat MMA as a sporting version of the proverbial “red-headed step-child.” This is just stupid, not only for the fact that boxing an MMA share the same roots, but for the fact that boxing could use the MMAs’ popularity to attract new fans. Bob Arum and Bert Sugar, the two biggest figures in boxing today, share an open disdain of MMA while showing no end of respect for the marketing savvy of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Meanwhile, MMA’s movers and shakers, namely Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta, are self-professed boxing enthusiasts. As a matter of fact, White was a boxing instructor before he entered the world of MMA.
Picture this for a moment… Imagine a world in which boxing ignored those who believe boxing and MMA should forever be mutually exclusive. Imagine the powers that be in boxing and MMA sports working together by leveraging off the affinity for pay-per-view they both share. Imagine the potential which could have been had boxing and MMA partnered for a joint venture. It’s too late now, because unless there’s a Mayweather-Pacquiao rematch, boxing has nothing to bring to such a partnership.
If you doubt, give the following two sections a careful read.
Tell me how many memorable events there have been in boxing in the last ten years? Even hard-core boxing fans would be hard-pressed to name five fights that casual fans would remember. Don’t forget, boxing is more dependent on the casual fan than any other sport, because to generate huge interest means drawing in people beyond the normal hard-care boxing enthusiasts. Mike Tyson’s hey-day is far closer to thirty years ago than anybody would like to admit, and the Tyson-Holyfield saga was over fifteen years ago.
In any event, take the number of memorable fights in the past decade in boxing and remove all which involve either Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao. What does that leave you with?
Naturally, that brings us to what is likely to be the last big fight any of us will see for quite some time, if ever again. Think about it. If there’s no rematch between these two, where’s the next big draw for boxing?
There won’t be one.
Ironically, the swan song of boxing will go down as it’s biggest in terms of money. The Mayweather-Pacquiao will easily rank at the top of the heap as the most lucrative boxing match in history. The live gate pulled in nearly $75 million and the pay-per-view haul was north of $400 million. But the simply fact is the era of the mega-fight is over.
What was started by the likes of Don King and Muhammad Ali has run it’s course. There won’t be any more “Rumble in the Jungle” or “Thrilla in Manila” because there’s absolutely no one left in the boxing world that has that kind of star power. The Mayweather-Pacquiao fight took years even to get it to happen, and even if there’s a rematch, both are at the end of their careers; Mayweather is 38, Pacquiao is 36 and needed shoulder surgery after the fight which will require at least a nine-month convalescence.
And even if there’s a rematch, while it might generate another mountain of money, neither of these fighters either has a future because of their age, nor do they have the star power of their mega-fight predecessors. There’s simply a dearth of the over-the-top personalities which made boxing what it was. There’s nobody who takes us back to the days of Ali, Joe Frazier, or George Foreman.
Another thing that’s ironic is that boxing is actually seeing an increased amount of interest, which is demonstrated by NBC Sports Network showing matches nationally under the banner “Premier Boxing Champions.” The problem stems from the fact this is the classic example of “a day late and a dollar short.” First of all, it doesn’t overcome the “star power” problem, and not just because boxing is more devoid of stars than a sit-com on the CW Network.
More importantly, boxing has lost the power of commanding a venue. Championship fights used to happen in major arenas like Yankee Stadium or the Superdome. Now they are held at casinos on Indian reservations or in temporary facilities in parking lots in Las Vegas.
Add it all up, and it becomes crystal clear the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight is the end of an era. Boxing can do nothing to stop MMA from taking over the fighting world, because in in America, if you don’t have a star, you don’t have a sport.