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Published: Wednesday, 6/13/2012

COMMENTARY

The day the bell tolled for boxing

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Hello, young fellow. Climb up here on my knee. What can I do for you?

"Are you the great and glorious mystic who the very old people call Answer Man?"

Indeed, lad, I am all of those things. You traveled a far distance. What is your query?

"Huh?"

Your question, son; what is your question?

"Oh. Well, at the Prince Fielder Charter School we're studying the history of ancient sports and the textbook made a passing reference to pugilism."

Ah, yes, boxing. The sweet science.

"Yes, well, Answer Man, what was boxing? What happened to it? When did it die?"

Young man, your last question is the easiest. Boxing for all intents and purposes died on June 9, 2012, the night that Timothy Bradley was awarded a split decision over the great Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas. Even Bob Arum, the promoter, felt the outcome was an injustice and said, "It's a death knell for the sport."

He was right. They had a rematch, another fight between the same two boxers, about nine months or so later, but few bought tickets and even fewer forked over hard-earned money for the pay-per-view. All faith in the sport had been lost and it just sort of disappeared into the history books.

"I don't have any idea what you just said. I mean, what's a split decision?"

Let me tell you about the sport. Back at the turn of the century, and I'm talking about the 19th and 20th centuries, way back before black-and-white TVs and drive-thru tacos, the two most popular sports were boxing and horse racing.

They were the pure sports. Nobody blocked for you. Nobody had to pass you the ball or the puck. The fastest, strongest, even bravest horses won. Man o'War, the legendary Seabiscuit, little War Admiral, and later there were greats like Native Dancer and Secretariat. It would take hours to mention them all.

Boxing had the same simplicity if not quite the same beauty. Two men of similar weights and sizes climbed into an enclosed ring and beat each other up with their fists in boxing gloves, albeit according to certain rules and decorum. The guy who knocked the other guy silly was the winner.

"That's awful. It sounds barbaric."

Well, yes, some would agree. But there were great, skilled fighters. Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano, dozens more, up to maybe the two best of all time, Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali. They were physical specimens, the ultimate individual athletes, and this was their craft.

But there are two things to remember. The fights didn't go on forever, there were a certain number of rounds with time limits, and one guy didn't always knock the other guy cold. So there were judges who were paid to score the fights. If all three agreed, it was a unanimous decision. If not, it was a split decision.

The other thing to remember is that boxing had a dark side - gambling, rumors of fighters taking dives, of fights being fixed, of unsavory characters in and out of the ring.

So millions of people watched the fight that night in 2012 and only two of them thought Bradley, who needed a wheelchair when it was over, even came close to beating Pacquiao. But they were two of the three judges. There were conspiracy theories, investigations. Not for the first time, but for the last, educated people said enough was enough. And that's how boxing died.

"Wow, that's quite a story. Black-and-white TVs. Thanks, Answer Man."

No problem, kid. Now I've got a question. Is there really a school named after Prince Fielder?

"Yes, sir. You want to see my tattoo?"

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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