Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Today is Muhammad Ali's 65th birthday. Watching the various retrospective on his career as a boxer, a champion, an athletic icon and social activist made me sad. Not just to see what age, a genetic disease and too many rounds in the ring have done to him, but to remember that boxing was once a great sport. Perhaps it could be great again, but I'm not holding my breath.

Now the 17 governing bodies award 35 title belts, the three or four uber-promoters that cripple the sport, the two cable conglomerates that own any fight worth watching and charge ridiculous sums for the right to watch a meaningful fight have all but crushed boxing. But people still like boxing. That's why recent movies like Rocky Balboa, Undisputed and Cinderella Man do so well at the box office.

Boxing, when it's done right, is the most compelling sport. It's so compelling that a boxing movie that is even remotely well done is all but guaranteed to become an instant classic. More great movies have been made about boxing than any other sport. Raging Bull, Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky Balboa, Somebody Up There Likes Me, The Great White Hope, The Champ, Cinderella Man, Undisputed and others are among best sports films ever. People who never saw LaMotta, Graziano, Marciano, Braddock, Louis, Baer, Ali, Frasier or Foreman fight live still watch these movies and remember the fighters they featured. Rocky is one of the great iconic characters of all time.

Undisputed might have had potential as a franchise had they not gone the straight to video kick boxing champ goes to prison controlled by Eastern European organized crime ring route. Seeing a heavyweight champ played by Ving Rhames imprisoned for sexual assault did not require much suspension of belief, since it happened to Mike Tyson. While it seems unlikely that an elderly organized crime figure in prison for life could wield enough influence to set up the climactic bout, it's still a damn sight more likely than the factors which had to be set in place for the second film to happen. But back to boxing in the real world...

Part of boxing's demise has to be attributed to the increased popularity and expansion of the professional sports leagues. If some one had two avenues to wealth and success, but one of which entailed getting punched in the face and gut for a living, who would take the punching option? To choose getting punched in the face over playing basketball or football or baseball one would have to be dumb enough to think that Adult Swim on Cartoon Network presents keen satire and not something that a middle schooler place in a flaming bag and leave on the teacher's doorstep (the lone exception is Venture Brothers, but Assy McGee and Moral Orel are two of the worst shows that have ever been on the air).

I think Ali is another part of boxing's demise. He was too big a star for the sport, if that makes any sense. He was too good, too charismatic. Maybe that's what made him hang on too long and take some vicious beatings from Larry Holmes and Ken Norton. The Rope-a-Dope was a brilliant ploy, but taking everything George Foreman had to dish out, he probably shortened his career, at least as far as his best years were concerned. But more importantly, he set a standard that no successor could live up to.

Now that boxing is terrible and, for the most part, not accessible to the average sports fan, what has taken it's place? For the most part, the casual fan has gone over to the NFL, or one of the other sports leagues. Some have gone to the WWE, which enjoyed a resurgence in the last decade, which led to the ill-fated XFL. But as soon as any wrestler builds up a following these days, he ends up making terrible action movies like the Marine. I mist say, I liked the Rundown and Scorpion King, so the Rock is forgiven.

Then there is cage fighting. Some people seem to enjoy it. I've never been all that impressed by it. Maybe because the scrawny wuss of an older brother from Napoleon Dynamite was training to be a cage fighter. Maybe because I am not all that interested in watching two men in their drawers roll around in a cage. Maybe because Joe Rogan is involved. Life without News Radio has not been easy for him and Andy Dick. Yeah, he was hosted Fear Factor, but he was also part of the team that forever killed the Man Show (not that it deserved to live).

I think the main reason I don't like UFC is that I miss boxing. There was a comforting sameness to boxing. No matter who is fighting whom, there is one set of rules by which both combatants compete. In cage fighting, almost anything goes. By that rationale, one might as well have the Cleveland Cavaliers show up to run the pick and roll against the Bears defense this Sunday. Or Burger King might run horrible commercials in which the whoppers are portrayed as a human family. I keep hoping that one day I'll wake up and those commercials will just have been a nightmare.

I know it's a strange thing to write on Muhammad Ali's birthday, but I've been wanting to go on about this stuff for a little while now, and I'm still trying to face the reality of a Pats-Colts showdown for the right to play in the Super Bowl. Would that there were a way for them to tie and the Bears and Saints play for all the marbles.And there's the Jason Kidd divorce situation. I find it amusing that he has accused his wife of intolerable cruelty when he pled out on charges of punching her in the face. But there will, I think, be a whole series of amusing revelations emerging in that divorce.

But we have a moral quandary in the tool of the week award. First because there is a tie. This nitwit on YouTube is certainly worthy of mention. As impressive as it is to sink trick shots on a pool table, the accomplishment loses a little bit of luster as soon as you videotape it. But when you sync it up to a little teen angst music and post it on YouTube, you just cry out to the world that you are a guy who never moved on emotionally from the days when you ruled the pool hall in the mean streets of the suburbs and all the overweight women thought you would be the ideal father for illegitimate child 3.

I feel a little bit bad about it, but this guy deserves it too. He might not deserve it as much, since he didn't go into all the effort that our trick shot artist did. Plus the guy's audience was tooling on him already. But the fact still remains that he was drawing freehand circles, and he just wasn't very cool.I don't know if one can look cool drawing freehand circles, but I'm willing to bet that this particular person couldn't look cool, no matter what he did.

But the moral quandary, aside from mocking total strangers who may possess strange ass-kicking powers, is that it isn't much cooler to link to these videos and make my snappy comments than it is to make them in the first place. After all, I watched these videos. I feel a little better that I found these videos through a friend rather than searching for them myself. He sent me the link to the freehand circle guy because I had an algebra teacher who used to draw perfect freehand circle. I wouldn't say he looked cool doing it, but it was a damn sight cooler than the video from YouTube. But the fact remains that these tools made their videos and I looked at them, so who is the real tool here?


Dave said...

I agree. There are far to many belt avaliable today - almost every boxer has at least one belt.
Its also annoying as boxers have to fight loads of people to become an undisputed champion of a division.

Jimmy C said...

Some of the blame has to be put onthe promoters. Most of the fights you see on TV are pretty weak. Nobody is putting two hard-hitting guys together to see who's the best, it's mostly just some guy with some random belt sparring with the bum of the week. Neither one is trying to win, they're jsut trying not to get hurt without expending too much effort. I've seen WNBA games with tougher fights.

Jimmy C