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COLUMNISTS

Sat, August 28, 2004

Boxing has lost its buzz


IF YOU CLOSE your eyes and try to imagine, you can almost hear the distinct intonation of the late Howard Cosell coming loudly from a ringside microphone. How much he would have enjoyed saying it, how much we would have enjoyed hearing it.

"Ah-meer Kahn."

Cosell would have said it with the accent clearly on the given name and then he would have gone on to sing the praises in staccato of the young British fighter.

But Cosell is long gone and somewhere in time so, too, is the one-time magic of Olympic boxing. This used to be the stage for fighters, for fight announcers, for promoters, for managers, for everyone who loves the sweet science.

THE PLACE

This used to be the place for Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, for George Foreman and Leon Spinks and Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield and Ray Leonard and Michael Spinks and Roy Jones Jr. All of them Olympians.

This was the starting gate for almost anyone who became someone in the boxing world. For stars to hang out and stars to be discovered. This used to be the place.

The quiet stage belongs now to Amir Khan, a 17-year-old lightweight from Great Britain, who has been the only Olympic fighter worth talking about here in Athens. He is a bright kid with quick hands and quick feet and ring guile and steely eyes and instant charm. Once that was worth millions, now who knows the price?

Hardly anyone here in Athens outside of British reporters and a near-empty boxing venue has paid more than a minute's attention to him. He isn't in the news very much. He isn't, like his sport, in the mainstream.

Tomorrow, this teenager so reminiscent of the best we have seen at this level, at this age, will fight a 33-year-old Cuban named Mario Kindelan, the gold-medal winner four years ago in Sydney, for the ultimate Olympic prize. When Kindelan started fighting for Cuba, Khan had not yet celebrated his fourth birthday. Tomorrow, will be his last fight.

Khan may not win -- especially in the convoluted and somewhat ludicrous system of scoring fights that is now used -- but he has future. As for Olympic boxing, the future is somewhat more grim.

Once, you could look to ringside and there would be Don King sitting on one side and Bob Arum on another and Lou Duva chasing the best amateurs to make sure he signed them before the other two got their mitts on him.

Now, it's hard to find even a familiar face outside of television commentator Teddy Atlas. There is no buzz, no sound, no boxer aside from Khan to even speculate about.

"Khan can be like Ray Leonard coming out of Montreal," said Frank Maloney, a one-time manager of Lewis, who would like to see the young Brit turn professional. "He can be the type of fighter that gets everyone excited about boxing again."

He may have Leonard-type hands and Leonard-type savvy, but none of the noise that came out of Montreal in 1976. Boxing doesn't make that kind of noise anymore.

DIFFERENT KIND OF ATHLETE

"We're getting a different kind of athlete than we once did," U.S. coach Basheer Abdullah said.

"Anyone over 175 pounds is going to other sports like basketball or football. Today, to be a good amateur fighter doesn't mean you'll be a good pro and to be a good pro doesn't mean you have to be a good amateur."

Marc Ramsey, one of the Canadian coaches, doesn't like what has become of Olympic boxing.

"Our sport has lost prestige," Ramsey said. "Boxing has become like two different sports. Trying to compare amateur boxing with pro boxing is like trying to compare tennis with badminton. They're the same, but different.

"It's a shame what has happened. This used to be such a show."


Does Canada's low-medal haul in Athens bother you?
Yes, it depresses me
No, it's just sports
I'm disappointed, but not worried
We'll get 'em in Turin
Don't care

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