Down, But Not Out: Can boxing reclaim it’s place as one of the America’s most popular sports?

Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia

“Boxing is a dying sport.” This is a statement that has been thrown around for the past two decades that seems to carry more weight as years pass. It’s hard to argue with because it seems the public loses more interest in the sport as the days go by. However, many fans, including myself, continue to watch, hoping that the sport is able to gain more momentum and give us fights and fighters that can return boxing to the cultural spotlight.

Boxing, the sweet science, has been around for thousands of years, with the earliest depictions of the sport coming from third millennia BCE. The sport exploded in popularity in the early 1900s after it attained legitimacy and became a regulated and sanctioned sport. Boxing was only second to baseball’s popularity in the first half of 20th century, with fans coming by the thousands to watch fights in person and millions of Americans around the country gathering around their radios to listen in on the action.

The common criticism about the sport that I hear so often today is that it’s barbaric, dangerous, devoid of any substance, featuring two people that are just trying to hit and dance around each other. I would say those arguments have reasonable points. Boxing isn’t sunshine and rainbows, it is tough, it is brutal, and when you see former boxers today and the effects the sport has had on their health, I can see why people have a hard time wanting to watch it.

Yet, that just makes boxing all the more intriguing to me. Why do people dedicate so much to this sport? What makes it all worth it?

It was Mike Tyson that said, “The tempt for greatness is the biggest drug in the world.”

Many fighters seek greatness. They look to push themselves to their physical limit in the hopes of becoming something bigger than themselves; a star, a champion, an all-time great. Fueled by dreams of a better life, many boxers start out young and put in countless hours a week to become a better fighter. The amount of focus, speed, power and intelligence required to become a world class boxer is staggering.

George “TNT” Evans is a man who has dedicated his life to the sport of boxing. He was five years old when he first went to a boxing gym and he’s been in love with the sport ever since. Fighting in 483 total bouts throughout both his amateur and professional career, Evans is as experienced as they come. At one point, he was ranked Fifteenth in the world professionally in the Bantamweight Division.

I got a chance to sit down and talk to TNT one-on-one and get his thoughts on what boxing means to him and the impact it has on his life.

“Boxing has been my life and has taught me many valuable lessons. It can teach you how to defend yourself, It can teach you discipline, It can strengthen your self-esteem,” said Evans. “Most importantly it teaches you sportsmanship and compassion. Where else can you beat up on someone, and then they beat up on you and at the end of it all you give each other a big hug? I mean where else do you find compassion such as that?”

Evans credits the decline in the popularity of boxing to the fears over concussions and brain injuries in the late 1980s and the subsequent softening of the sport in the 1990s to make the sport more safe.

“It was a brutal sport, you don’t see it as brutal as it was in the 80’s. In the 70’s and 80’s people actually hit each other, but today it’s just dancing around the ring,” said Evans.

If boxing is dying, then 2017 has been the defibrillator. Entertaining fights like Keith Thurman’s impressive win on Danny Garcia, Anthony Joshua’s TKO on Wladimir Klitschko in Wembley Stadium, and Gennady Golovkin’s unanimous decision-victory over Danny Jacobs, have all kicked off the year in exciting fashion.

The Canelo Alvarez vs Julio César Chávez Jr. fight reportedly earned over one-million views on pay-per-view. To put that in perspective, that is roughly the same amount of views that the highly anticipated Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao fight earned back in 2015. Upcoming fights like Andre Ward vs Sergey Kovalev and Golovkin vs Alvarez later this year should only prove to add to the excitement.

But just how far can these fights take boxing?

Any fuel to the fire is welcome, and as long as these super fights avoid disappointments like Mayweather vs pretty much anyone he’s faced in the past decade, then boxing is in good shape. These fights stand out to me specifically because it’s giving the two most popular fighters in those weight classes a shot at each other in their prime. That’s ultimately what boxing fans want to see. Not seven years after it should have happened like the Mayweather vs Pacquiao fight.

Boxing is so much more than a sport — to many it is their life. It represents hard work paying off and shows that if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything. As humans, that’s something we can all relate to. That’s why boxing is called the “sweet science,” because it isn’t just the technique or the tangible measurables of a fighter that win out. The fighter’s heart and determination to overcome the obstacles in their path ultimately prove to be the deciding factor.

While boxing may be down, it sure as hell isn’t out, and like the many athletes that practice the sport religiously, it’s still got some fight left in it.

Column by Joshua Stickrod

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