BY PETER DAHL
I am hardly the first person to use a title like that to catch your attention. The end of competitive pugilism has been an undeniable event in American sports. I am not here to start a fight. I am here to warn you to keep your gloves up. Passing old news on to you is nothing compared to preparing you for boxing’s final punch.
Ironically, boxing is dying quietly. A sport that supplies literal bangs for your bucks has staggered to its corner, rather than collapsing on the canvas after a violent right hook. Football sits in the other corner. A few American fans nervously look on. The international crowd is waiting until after the undercard to show up for the main event which they still hold dear.
It is only a matter of time before the final bell rings on boxing. Sooner or later it will not show up in brief “SportsCenter”segments. Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley will not trend on Twitter. But until that day boxing still has the strength to swing its fists at the sports world, and when we are talking about punches, all you need is one.
Boxing will change the landscape of sports and entertainment one more time before it dies. There are two ways this can happen. One of them should scare you.
We may yet receive the gift of a fight between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, although the possibility grows less and less likely with every passing day. If they do ever go toe to toe, our generation will finally get our fight. The Fight. This contest, a penultimate confrontation in which the undefeated swaggerific villain and the hard-hitting Filipino politician finally step inside the ring to settle the decade-long debate, could be the sort of landmark sporting event that defines an entire year of athletics. It could change the way we watch sports. It would be a pleasant last hurrah for the sport, a kind of thoughtful last gift to our world of entertainment that could leave us with some smiles and sweeten the blissful pot of nostalgia as the years go on. We would be so lucky.
Realistically, boxing’s final punch will leave a greater impact that will shake the foundations of American sports. In a measure of poetic justice, the last act of boxing will send a crushing blow specifically to football, one of the sports that helped usher the Sweet Science out the door.
We expect to find the effects of violence in boxing. Head injuries come with the territory of competitive fighting. The public has known for years that getting punched in the head is generally an inconvenient thing for a boxer. That has always been common sense. Only recently have the terrifying realities of long-term head injuries come to light in the form of CTE, a menacing triad of Phoenician characters.
The specter of CTE looms over football as the player safety debate rages on, and fans try their best to ignore the inconvenient truth. We have the resources and the technology to delve into the depths of head injuries in football, but most of us are too afraid of what we might find lurking in our nation’s favorite game. But, no one cares about boxing. We have a fully functional sport to study and research in peace. Thorough studies can take place and go through proper verification before the media ever knows or cares. Then researchers will apply what they learn from boxing to football. The results will hit us harder than Mike Tyson. Football will lose its luster as stadiums and living rooms alike darken with the shadow of Concussius, the sports god of death.
I hope I am wrong, but I may very well be right. Boxing cannot go without a fight. It is a sport that is too intrinsically woven into the human spirit, one that we have put so much into and one that has given so much back. Maybe it walks out of the ring and into the locker room dignified and glorious after finally giving us The Fight. That would seem to be the way for such an important sport to die. That is how Rocky would go.
But, as Scrap-Iron says in “Million Dollar Baby,” “Boxing is an unnatural act. Cos everything in it is backwards.”
Keep your hands up.
I advise using this picture. Credit goes to Stefano Nichelini