Back to the future of boxing
The Future of Boxing
by Alexandre Choko
325 pages. $75, Future of Boxing Publishing, Inc.
Link to website
Book review by Chris Cozzone
Photos courtesy of FutureofBoxing.com
Boxing historians are a crusty lot.
We praise the past, protest the present and, regarding the future? F'get 'bout it.
Therefore, when the opportunity arose to review a book entitled "The Future of Boxing," I skipped merrily to the kitchen to sharpen my knives. Future? Yeah, that's a good one. What, but a suffocating death, could possibly loom on the horizon for a sport sinking deeper and deeper into the muck of an alphabet tar soup? A sport splintered with skeletal champions, whose bones are continually picked apart by promoters?
The future of boxing? A book that focused on boxing's future had to be slim, maybe even a pamphlet, let alone a coffee table. But wWhen my two ton book arrived in the mail, I had my first surprise – the first of many, and most of 'em pleasant.
I suppose someone along the way I'd been told I'd be receiving a coffee table book. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I've seen 'em all. I have a ton of 'em, and none sit on my coffee table but are crammed into the lower shelves in my office collecting dust.
This block of a book, however, could be the coffee table, if it had four legs. Pretty piece of bling bling, too, it must be noted. Crammed full of photos spanning decades, many I hadn't seen before, well-designed and packaged, the book is impressive. I spent a chunk of an afternoon poring over image after image, dutifully ignoring the text for the time being.
On the spot
What possessed you to focus on the future of boxing?
That was my goal from the start. I wanted to find out what the fighters and big names thought would become of the sport – and, more importantly, would could be done to bring the sport back to its former glory.
Why a coffee table book that takes the reader backward, and not a smaller book focusing on just the future?
I envisioned a beautiful coffee table book from the beginning and kept to my vision. Why show the past? Because boxing's history is so strong and that's one of the things that has kept it going.
In the five years it took to do the book, I felt I owed it to everyone I'd interviewed, to keep my original vision and plan.
At the end of the day, I'm just a messenger – but I believe in the message this book delivers.
What's your solution?
You need an umbrella – central organization in regard to, both, commissions and sanctioning bodies. If you have that, everything else falls into place – fighters fighting the best, fighting more often, and fairness for those involved. The "O" has got to go, too – it's B.S., the importance placed on remaining undefeated. It didn't matter in the past and it shouldn't matter today.
Of all your interviews, who surprised you the most?
Alexis Arguello . . . Jose Torres . . . and Angelo Dundee.
Who didn't you interview that should've been included?
For one reason or another, Joe Frazier didn't participate. I would've loved that. Also, Floyd Mayweather didn't work out.
Embittered from too many years of bejeweled belts and pretty titles, I told myself that there'd better be some substance sandwiched between the book's thick covers. The fancy-pants text flowing through and around its pretty pictures better say something.
Turns out, it does.
Before addressing boxing's iffy future, the book pays homage to the past and present. In the introduction, The Ring editor, Michael Rosenthal, does a good job of zipping through the past, while including a handy-dandy timeline. Here's what came before, he says (where we'll never be again, is my cynical retort), and here's where we are now, offering up Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather and the Klitschkos as compelling characters who keep the sport hopping. You can argue if you will (and I do), but if you want to get to the meat of this slab, you'll move on.
"Alright, Choko, tell me, just what is the future of boxing?" I jabbed at my copy.
To my surprise, Choko – thorough his own and 55 others' voices – answers. Some guys you're looking for won't be there – most notably, Pacman and Floyd Mayweather – but their absence is excused when you take in several notables we'll never hear from again, like Angelo Dundee, Emanuel Steward, Alexis Arguello, Hector "Macho" Camacho, Carmen Basilio and Bert Sugar.
Fifty-five voices, captured during the five years it took editor/writer Choko to compile his tome, answer the question, as best they can. Each dedicated section, dressed up with photos, black & white, color and digital, provide a rundown of the man (there is but one woman), his qualifications, feats and history. If you're as impatient as I am, you'll hustle your way to the end of each chapter's section titled "The Future of Boxing," though I'd encourage you to enjoy the ride through boxing's better days.
After a half-hundred-plus bunch-O-quotes, despite the variety, you will see a familiar pattern.
If you want a spoiler, merely go to Bert Sugar's section to get everything you'll need about the soured sweet science: "We've got problems," says the late Senor Sugar, who sums up boxing's fix-all. The sport is a "malfunctioning Tower of Babel," he says. The sport is splintered, has zip for organization, boxers don't fight and there are too many champions. Furthermore, the heavyweights who'd comprised the sport's glamour division, are too busy pursuing better known sports.
Almost everyone agrees that the sport will remain – it's survived this long, what could possibly kill it, at least completely? – even if it ultimately ends up in subterranean ballrooms and YouTube. But changes do have to be made if boxing wants to recapture even a fracture of its former glory.
The potential is there, says the late Alexis Arguello. But, alas, our ship is sinking.
In addition to little organization, no post-career pension or retirement plans, and half a hundred champions, one major reason for the decline is lack of exposure and mainstream TV. PPV, say many quoted in Choko's book, has killed the boxing star.
Roberto Duran says mainstream TV could save the sport, but greedy promoters have to go. Julio Cesar Chavez is in agreement, saying that promoters think they own the boxers when it's really the nation that "owns" the athlete, well, in a sense, anyway, since fighters sort of own themselves, as well.
Legend Carmen Basilio, perhaps the most colorful in the collection, puts it all too eloquently, saying there are too many "greedy people all wanting a piece of the pie." His solution? Get rid of the damn politicians "who don't know a left jab from a kick in the ass" and all the greedy people wanting a piece of the pie. "Get rid of the shit," he says. "There's a lot of shit around."
On the other hand, does – or did, bless his cantankerous ol' soul – he think the sport could be saved? "Do I think it will ever happen? Never."
If the promoters are a problem and the Pay-Per-View has helped pickle pugilism, then the sanctioning bodies have watered down any meaning of the word "champion."
"We have so many champions, we don't know who is on first, what's on second," laments the late Angelo Dundee.
While most appear to be anti-ABC, there are a couple oddball quotes.
Former heavyweight champ George Foreman goes against the grain by attesting that the ABCs keep the sport alive while Ricky Hatton actually says the "future of boxing should include a greater emphasis on more title fights." Bloody hell! It's in sharp contrast to Jake LaMotta who sneers, "Sanctioning bodies are a big joke!" Or Marvelous Marvin Hagler, who says, "One day before I die, I'd really like to see all the organizations get together and make only one champion."
Though most rational minds in the book agree on the major evils limiting their sport, the sheer variety will provide hours of entertainment. Some voices would be better deleted, but provide comic relief, like Chad Dawson saying that the future of the sport are in – duh – younger fighters, like himself of course, possibly quoted before meeting up with Andre Ward.
Another youngster, Nonito Donaire, doesn't have much to say about ABCs and PPV, but points out that the sport needs fighters willing to fight their heart out. The late Emanuel Steward wholeheartedly agrees, pointing out the lack of quality in matches and that "fighters have do more than just enough to win." There is no urgent need to impress, he says.
Good ol' Lou Duva sums it up with all the much-needed articulation of a freight train: "Give the fans what they want," he raves. "Two bums fighting isn't going to attract anyone."
Surprisingly, very few mention the threat of UFC or MMA. David Haye points out that boxing needs to add entertainment and that the blueprint is provided by the UFC.
Even more surprising than pretending that mixed martial arts hasn't snagged an entire generation of would-be boxing fans? Only one fighter points out the role doping plays in eroding boxing – thank ye, Iron Mike.
Very few get it all right, but for Bert Sugar and writer Choko, who sums it all up in the final chapter of the book, offering up suggestions and retaining a much-needed outlook.
Here's one of the book's strengths. While we moan and groan (part of my daily routine) about where the sport is heading, the book offers up a message that we need to get out the mop and clean things up. It may not be realistic, given human greed and the allure of short-end dough, but it's still there.
And that brings me to one of the most well-spoken quotes of the book, by former champ Lennox Lewis, who sums up not only the book, but the future of the sport:
"I'm a student of the past and the past is the key to the future," says Lewis. "We've got to take boxing back to its roots as the sweet science."
. . . .
Chris Cozzone is a longtime writer, photographer and historian, and has covered boxing full time since 2000. A book co-authored with the late journalist Jim Boggio, “New Mexico Boxing: A History, 1868-1940” is scheduled for early 2013 release by McFarland Publishing.