Diminishing a Legend
By Jason Petock (December 2, 2005)  
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The responsibility of bringing fighters and their stories into the world of everyday man relies solely at times on the sportswriter. On air television programming and brief vignettes frequently offer up little if any proper coverage of boxing and the courageous men who practice its art. These mediums tend to keep their support sporadic and limited, only opting for maximum acknowledgment of a boxer or fight when something has gone wrong with either element. When a segment or piece is done in a semi-positive light it usually occupies a minor window of air time and is concluded in a brief and superficial manner. Seeing as this is the media quandary that boxing must endure you would rationalize that fans and participants would turn to writers for their information and positive reinforcement. There are scribes out there who do offer this enlightenment and regard for boxing. Yet another faction exists of sportswriters whose sole purpose is to deride and lessen the accomplishments of the modern day warriors and the trials they face. These blowhards relish nothing more than the sound of their own jib and the insulting cut of their words. Reading their tirades can often leave a reader with a sense of hopelessness or even disapproval. Freedom of the press is something that must not be taken for granted and is one of the few liberties that has not been stripped from our insistent clutching grasps. With this stated however, there are various writers who abuse this freedom on a consistent basis and persist on setting boxing back as far as their biased views will let them. Instead of honoring the sport and the individuals who fight, which you would think they would be more than willing to do, they choose the latter road in ignorance. Constructive criticism is one thing that is clearly welcome and a healthy fragment of analysis, but what several writers try to do is destroy legacies and erase memories of boxers who have taken a fall due to in part by the negative writings of the media and their own actions of course. Granted some of these athletes provide ‘good copy’ for those out there looking for a headline or added notch on their belt when they make mistakes in their personal lives and give the writers fuel for their fires.

This brings us to the crux of the issue at hand. Just how far can a writer go in their picking apart of a boxer and the sport on a whole? Who is responsible if anyone to call these people on their errors and bring to light the wrongs of some of what they are doing? Do they even realize that they are destroying the sport through words? Do they care? All these questions need to be asked and to be honest may never be. It is also a realistic view that legions of these writers do not care either here or there if what they write has a damaging impact on the fighters they cover daily. The old adage that proclaims ‘Don’t believe everything you read’ seems to have been brushed aside for more cutthroat and less agreeable doctrines. People mass consume vast quantities of information on an accelerated level these days and much of what is projected out there in the advent of the Internet is nothing more than media fluff. Too many ‘yes’ men and sheep tend to exist in the realm of pugilistic writing to get truthful and accurate depictions of fighters, fights and the sport in general. While these typists feel true to themselves through their writings and that their abrasiveness is in fact honest and correct, it does more harm than good. Being able to dissect a boxer’s performance and question and embarrass said fighter does not make for good reading or proper coverage. The following is offered up as a listing of some of the boxers in the past who left behind great legacies and accomplished incredible feats, all the while being dismissed and cast aside because of either faults in their personal lives, ring losses, mistaken steps, or general avoidance by the public due to an intolerable social climate.

1) ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson

A virtually explosive dynamo inside of the ring, Michael Gerard Tyson came along in the sport of boxing when its fans were searching for something more and they found it in the young, ferocious fighter. Bringing with him the power and determination of Jack ‘The Manassa Mauler’ Dempsey every time he fought, Mike brought back boxing’s yesteryear and reminded everyone how important and relevant the art used to be to fans back in the day. When Tyson was knocking cats into queer street no one was complaining and everyone had their story for the day. Writers were all over the tale of the youngest Heavyweight Champion of the World of the early 80’s and they were lining up to get a piece of the boy in the man’s body. Mike Tyson was on top of the world, he couldn’t be beat, and was destined for true greatness. But all that would change and you could be sure that the media was there to pick up the shattered pieces.

When Tyson was starching grown men, writers called him a monster, a terror. Often they regarded him favorably, but on the flip side of the coin they also feared him. They wanted him to be a monster, a tyrant, a beast. Sheer power and speed had not been seen like that in the ring for quite some time and this not only scared people but exhilarated them as well. They loved to hate him. And with these feelings they would wait for his eventual downfall with bloodlust in their eyes. They didn’t have to wait long and the media was more than willing to help speed up the process.

First came his failed marriage to a woman who had a hidden agenda all along. The media loved this fact and made sure to publicize everything about the marriage, both true and untrue, although it was obvious the lies outweighed the truth. They bought into the hype and didn’t care about the impact the stories had on Tyson. Why should they have? He was merely a catalyst for their barrage of attacks.

Then his rape fiasco ensued. This situation was what the press was looking for all along, something substantially evil to tie to the monster that they created. He was never a man in their eyes, never a young boy with a man’s fists who came from the very nothing that they were trying so desperately to send him back to. The case and conviction gave them all they needed and it was a done deal.

Mike Tyson lost some of his best years in prison (even though the early 80’s was his time to shine). With his departure from the sport, Lennox Lewis and other prominent past heavyweights were able to jockey for their positions in boxing while Mike served time.

Everyone knows the pieces of the puzzle of the complex Mike Tyson that were left out here. He deserves more recognition as a fighter and what he contributed in the ring at the height of his career will not be overlooked. He was one of the best fighters of our generation hands down. Emanuel Steward (Lewis’ former trainer by the way) was quoted on television (HBO) as saying that Tyson was “one of the greatest fighters of the past 50 years to ever come along”. And he was. Putting aside his recent ridiculous losses (which prove his heart isn’t in it anymore and that he’s lost valuable time), ‘Iron’ Mike’s legacy will out live his negative press.

2.) Ezzard Charles

You don’t read to much about this great fighter in modern times, and even in his day Charles didn’t really get the respect he deserves. He had a perfect amateur career winning all 42 of his bouts and even winning the 1939 Middleweight Golden Gloves Championship. Ezzard was Heavyweight Champion from 1949 - 1951 and his lack of recognition may be due in part that when he fought Joe Louis he outpointed the champ and took his title and the public never forgave him for it.

He had wars with ‘Jersey’ Joe Walcott 4 times. He faced Rocky ’The Brockton Blockbuster’ Marciano on June 17 1954. One of the true fighters of his time he still fails to get mentioned at all in writing or books even. How his accomplishments can be ignored is beyond reason and it’s a wonder that his memory is skipped over as frequently as it is. Often coined as one of the lesser boxers that Marciano beat in his reign (many writers feel that the fighters of that generation weren’t that good and they’re wrong), Ezzard Charles deserves far more respect than he has received in the past and its time for us to correct another oversight here.

3.) Sam Langford

Sam Langford was one of the most skilled boxers in history to never win a Championship. Not only did receive little if any acknowledgment as a fighter, there are those today who call themselves boxing ‘experts’ who have no idea who Langford is and what he gave to the sport. He missed opportunities for the title because of the color of his skin, and had he been given the chance he would have easily become Champion. Because of this unfair treatment towards him, Sam was only allowed to fight his fellow fighters who were also African Amercian. He was repeatedly denied fights with all of the top white heavyweight contenders so he fought his brethren repeatedly instead. He fought Harry Wills 23 times, Sam McVey 15, and Joe Jeanette 14 times. Because of the racially biased climate fellow fighters like Wills, McVey and Jeanette (along with Langford) were always refused bouts with white contenders and Champions over and over again. These boxers were better in the art of pugilism than their white counterparts but were never given the chance to prove their worth against the best in the division because the authorities wouldn’t let them.

Tragically Sam Langford’s eyesight failed him and shortly after his last fight and he lost his vision completely. He left behind a career that is nothing short of amazing as he fought close to 400 fights, and weighing in at 145 he still opted to fight heavyweights much larger than himself which proved his greatness and ability.

The above was just an abbreviated compilation of a few of the fighters who have gotten a bum rap over the years. Below is a list of some others who I feel have been blackballed by the media and the public and are long overdue for some respect and recognition. If they didn’t get it when they should have, then now is a good time to pay them back. Don’t forget these warriors like so many before us have chosen to do. Some of these boxers have been recognized by the public, but once you see the names you will understand the context here and why they are listed.

In no particular order:

Joe Frazier - (Always left in the shadow of Ali although he devastated him in a fight)

Riddick Bowe - (Really talented but lacked personal discipline at times with diet)

Sonny Liston - (All but forgotten after his loss to the ‘Phantom Punch’)

Joe Louis - (Betrayed by the very government he contributed to)

Archie Moore - (Wise tactician who fought adeptly when others couldn’t possibly have)

‘Jersey Joe’ Walcott - (Proved that age in nothing more than a number)

Azumah Nelson - (Full of heart African fighter who was tough as nails)

Gene Tunney - (Intelligent boxer who didn’t have a fighter’s personality for the public)

Bernard Hopkins - (One of the best who speaks his mind and people resent him for it)

James Toney - (Old school to the bone and one of the best boxer/promoters out there)

Tommy Morrison - (Was a powerful heavyweight with a crushing left hook)

Tony Zale - (The true ‘Man of Steel’ and one tough SOB)

Evander Holyfield - (Cast down since he hasn’t retired - people forget what he did)

There are several others that were not listed here but should have been. For lack of space they weren’t but they should be revered if they are among the forgotten. As I have expressed repeatedly in the past, the public pushes aside a fighter when he suffers a devastating loss, or gets wrapped up in a legal proceeding or mishap. Funny thing is that when a professional individual outside of boxing gets involved in seedy dealings it’s usually swept under the rug, but because a guy makes a living with his fists the media and contemporary society don’t regard him in the same way they do everyone else. If they apply that manner of thinking then well should involve a version of our own. While knowledge is power and it is good to be intelligent, what is the penalty for cowardice? Boxers are the last of the noble sportsmen who engage in bravery on a constant. They combine both intelligence and heart in a forum of real men who battle like the ancient Greeks and Romans used to do, centuries before there was football, baseball or basketball. Boxers deserve their day in the sun and the media and society need to stop trying to diminish every legend that they come across because if they’re not careful there may not be another one to come around in a long time. Praise your heroes, don’t condemn them. Where would you be without them? Think about it.
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