TORONTO - Whenever I write a column about mixed martial arts, invariably I receive a number of e-mails from irritated readers expressing their exasperation over the fact that anyone would publicize something so “brutal” and “barbaric.”
Reversely, when I do something on boxing, I get many more messages from MMA types who find it hard to believe that somebody still cares about a dying, irrelevant sport.
A couple of weeks ago, for instance, I received this from Nick in St. Thomas, after penning a piece on the sweet science: “Hi Steve. Boxing?? Who the hell cares about boxing! Ornithologists don’t write about the Dodo bird anymore and sports writers should not write about boxing anymore. Get with the program Steve.”
I’m not sure what program he was suggesting I get with — Myrons Anonymous perhaps — but I assume he meant get with the MMA program, become a fan of mixed martial arts.
But see, here’s the thing.
I actually enjoy both boxing and MMA, though that seems to be a minority position these days. In this crazy, button-down world of ours, you either love boxing and hate MMA or vice versa.
But why can’t you appreciate both? Fighting is fighting.
One of the topics on the Andrew Krystal radio show (now heard at a convenient afternoon slot) on Thursday was: “Is boxing dead?” Very dramatic, even though the answer is obvious. Of course boxing isn’t dead, there are fights everywhere, all the time. Just goggle ‘boxing schedule’ and you’ll get a huge list of upcoming pro fights.
But the real question might be, is boxing dying?
And the answer to that is, boxing is definitely sick, and in danger of dying — especially in certain markets, like Ontario.
The MMA craze has taken this province, and city, by storm.
Hell, my own boss — Bill (The Blog Hound) Pierce — might dispute this, but I know for a fact that if I propose a boxing column, the enthusiasm level at our place is miniscule. But if I suggest an MMA piece — UFC in particular — they break out the bloody Champale down at 333 King E. (I was going to say Champagne, but, well, you know, we have an arena to finance).
That’s why when I write about boxing, I always try to throw in a little MMA. It’s an old trick I learned from covering amateur sports for 15 years. No matter what I wrote in those days, the story got buried. But if I wrote, for instance, about Olympic cycling medallist Curt Harnett and began the piece with “Curt Harnett, a huge Leafs fan ...”, it would get much more prominent play. (Except, one day our crusty old copy editor Bob Olver got wise to my little ploy and dressed me down in front of the department.)
Anywho ... MMA hasn’t killed boxing, though it’s robbed boxing of a young demographic, and that may turn out to be the sport’s death knell.
But at the end of the day, it’s boxing killing boxing.
The downfall of boxing began decades ago with the appearance of the numerous world sanctioning bodies. Used to be there was one world champion in each division. Now there are too many world champions for anyone to care about. Part of the mystique about being a world champion was that, you were the world champion, undisputed. Now there are so many world champions, it’s hard to keep track. And most of them are bogus.
I hate to be a party pooper, but you don’t have to look any further than at the Academy Award nominated movie, The Fighter, for an example of this fraud. While the movie was entertaining, the climax arrives when the hero, (Irish) Micky Ward, wins the “world title”.
But the reality is, Ward never won a true world title. Yes, he won a version of one — but a very weak one at that. Ward captured the World Boxing Union light welterweight belt — a lightly regarded belt. But the WBU folks claim that they’re a world title sanctioning body and some people — Hollywood producers included — buy into it.
And then you’ve got the WBA, WBO, WBC, IBF ...
Quickly, name a world heavyweight boxing champion aside from the Klitschko brothers? You can’t. But they’re there.
That’s why the sport is dying.
Boxing people really ought to figure out a way to bring back one true champion in each division. And then they should sit down with UFC president Dana White and learn a thing or two about marketing.
White grew up a boxing fan and apparently he still appreciates boxing — unlike most of the fans who follow his sport.
Get with the program.