By Dean Berks – As boxing fans, we know how the conversation goes. You’re sat there as a kid or teenager, absorbed in watching the action unfold as one of your favourite fighters puts on an exhibition of the skills that drew you to them in the first place. You gush in awe as everything you look for in a fighter is displayed before your eyes. Then you feel the presence of your dad or grandad enter the room. There is a brief silence. You don’t take your eyes off of the screen but prepare yourself for the oncoming words which you can feel building. And then finally they are there. “Who’s this?”. A question that is asked to no one in particular. Even so, you prepare yourself for the inevitable punchline: “They’re not as good as the fighters in my day”.
The irony is that as I approach my half decade, I find myself in that very same position. My interest in most modern boxing has dwindled. I still have an affinity for Mexican, Puerto Rican and other North American fighters, but where the American and British contingent are concerned, I find I am more likely to skip through fights and results. However, when I put on a fight before 2012, I am engrossed as I was back from when my interest in boxing started in 1986. The last decade has seen, in my opinion, a decline in quality in so many areas. Please allow me to elaborate further:
Boxing has always been plagued by the alphabet boys. And back in 1986, my first year started with the big three, the WBC, WBA and IBF. Two years later the WBO joined the party. Then throughout the ’90’s we had the minor trinkets of the WBF, WBU and IBO making far too many appearances on this shore for my liking (although the IBO in recent years has gained a broader acceptance amongst modern fans). But what has really been an insult to followers of the sport is the unnecessary fragmentation of the supposed major bodies own titles. The stupidity started when the WBA introduced the “super” title for unified champions, completely pointless. That freed up the “regular” title for those that would once have been number one contenders. To dilute things further, they announced “interim” and “gold” titles, proving that there is more than one way to milk a championship and TV money. Not to be outdone in crazy town, the WBC created “diamond”, “silver”, “interim”, “recess” and the now ultimate in ridiculousness “the franchise” title. The WBO and IBF amazingly maintain a semblance of credibility in these “everyone’s a winner” times. Even The Ring magazine belt, the holder whom I have always recognised as the true division champion, has come under increasing scrutiny in this cynical era, with many questioning its ownership by Oscar De la Hoya of Golden Boy Promotions and its influence over the publication. It’s shameful and heartbreaking to think that so many truly great fighters were denied an opportunity to become champion and yet your next door neighbour could be sat with some watered down alphabet spaghetti type of belt. Truly sad times.
A necessity, though at times an evil one, in the modern fight game. The good side is the access it now provides for fans to follow and communicate with their favourite fighters and public figures, up to date info on results and fight schedules, and training information to name just a few. One of the downsides is that it allows everyone to have a voice and, unfortunately, not all need to be heard. Fighters have been trolled and arguments have been had because someone views things from a different perspective. That alone triggers off a tirade of abuse that trails way off from how any debate started. No one seems to know when to leave things until the last word is said in this pathetic game of oneupmanship. However, the fighters themselves can also be guilty of antagonistic behaviour. Drumming up interest with a rival has become the norm on these sites. For the most part the banter is tongue in cheek, but at times tempers flair and things take on a very crass and classless approach. Dignity appears to be becoming a lost trait.
Back in the 90’s this was reserved only for exceptional cards featuring top class opponents. These days every fight that has a title attached to it is bestowed the honour. Frankly, it is a rip off. Having to pay extra for Sky Sports packages is expensive enough (something I haven’t done since 2014, having seen the way boxing was going), but to class virtually every fighter as box office material is just plain wrong. It’s can also be detrimental to a fighter’s career development. Yes, they may be making plenty of money but appearing only twice a year isn’t right. Four to five fights a year is crucial as opposed to having these twelve week training camps. Activity means less camp, more fights, better improvements, bigger fan base. I truly miss the days of ITV, BBC, early nineties Sky and Eurosport where boxing was a constant. Once again, greed takes over.
The title alone makes me shake my head in bewilderment. Trainers were once responsible for everything in camp. Nowadays there’s a place for everybody and anybody. But watching a guy holding the pads whilst a young fighter throws 500 punches, with the pad man throwing virtually the same, is the biggest evidence of how self-obsessed and fame hungry some people are. Rehearsal of the routine is the only thing they appear to know, as the haven’t noticed the half punches not thrown correctly or even the chin in the air, let alone the constant dropping of the hands, you know, THE BASICS!! I acknowledge that so many great teachers have passed us by but this new breed needs to look to their elders and learn this lessons. There is a reason that we wax lyrically about fighters and trainers from the past: They knew the difference between teaching and cheerleading.
Up until the Olympics of 2012, there was the natural progression from the amateur points scoring style to the more hard hitting professional game. But that now seems to be changing. More and more top internationals are now continuing their pro careers boxing in the same manor that took them to unpaid glory. For me, this has lead to more fighters up on their toes more using footwork to move in and out whilst firing off flurries, more intent on scoring points than a knockout. Too many are not planting their feet and punching through the target. Slipping, blocking and rolling are becoming lost arts as twelve round fights resemble extended amateur contests. Okay, this is maybe a harsh view, but the point is there. These skills are being lost in this new generation. Certain fights are being labelled as classics and the reality is that they are just good. I accept that many newer fans prefer this type of boxing, but for me it lacks the awe-inspiring repertoires of the true ring technicians of the past.
I was fortunate to come along at the time of Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard, Don Curry, Julio Cesar Chavez, and Edwin Rosario, to name but a few, and then eagerly watched the rise of future Hall of Famers Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, Mike McCallum, Terry Norris, James Toney and Roy Jones Jr amongst others. But I’m also a history buff and regularly studied fighters from the turn of the 20th century right up to modern times. Maybe this has led to an over-inflated nostalgic approach. In all honesty, I’m not sure. But one thing I do know is that these ring immortals held my attention and fascination in a way that today’s protagonists do not. There are a few out there who certainly do stand out from the crowd. However, the buzz and excitement that made me such a fan only really appears again when I’m sat down watching or reading about those great fighters from yesteryear. I know today’s fight fans will feel the same about their own generation, and full respect to them for that. But I’m more than happy recounting and reminiscing about fighters from bygone era’s than debating on social media about which modern fighter has the best pecs. Yep, you can certainly leave me “stuck in the past”.