The fighters in our modern era are just as good, if not better, than the fighters from past eras. There. I said it. There is probably no other statement that can be made that will start an argument amongst boxing enthusiasts as that simple statement. And it is true. Our current crop of fighters are right on par with all the rest of the fighters that have ever fought in any era.
Now let me explain. Boxing, like any other sport, has purists that will claim that the performers from their era were the real deal and that the modern guys could not cut it back then. They believe that somehow men were simply tougher and more inclined to box well “back in the day”. I appreciate the bygone eras, most of my favorite fighters have been long retired and I have respect for fighters that I have never seen box simply because I know from reading their records and newspaper write ups that they did the work. However when all things are put into context and looked at objectively then myths often become dispelled.
Myth #1 The fighters today are not as skilled as the fighters from the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s.
How many Sugar Ray Robinson fights have you seen, or Homicide Hank Armstrong fights? 5 or 6? And even then they are black and white, poorly focused, choppy, and filmed from a distance. How about Floyd Mayweather fights, or Manny Pacquiao? The main difference here is that we have seen nearly all of Floyd and Manny's careers. All of it televised, most in high definition. All of Floyd's and Manny's flaws are under a magnifying glass, like all modern fighters, where as the old timers are looked at thru a soft focus. Sugar Ray Robinson had flaws. He had off nights. We just do not see them. How many people in here have watched Robinson struggle a couple times against a smaller and slower Marty Servo? or Jackie Wilson? If Robinson fought in the modern era and barely squeezed by a guy like Jackie Wilson then there would be "SRR is sooo overated!" threads, posts, and tweets being made on the internet every 5 minutes.
Modern fighters are just as skilled as the fighters from bygone eras. We simply see our modern fighters flaws more clearly because we are witnessing them live and in living color.
Myth #2 The current era has a shallow talent pool compared to past eras.
It is normal to think our current era sucks. I remember in the 1990s we thought that boxing had a shallow talent pool as well when in fact it was in the middle of a golden age. I remember complaining about a "boring" heavyweight division with George Foreman, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, Razor Ruddock, Tommy Morrison, Ray Mercer, Michael Moorer, Oliver McCall, Larry Holmes, Tim Witherspoon and Riddick Bowe in it. The boxing media was just as bad with magazines such as The Ring and KO often disparaging the era and waxing poetic about the 1970s.
The talent pool in this era is fine. The reason it seems shallow is because we are seeing a partial story. It is similar to reading half of a chapter in a book and then guessing as to how the rest of it turns out. We do not know how our current fighters careers will go but we do know how past fighters careers went. It is easier to gauge talent when that talent is retired and no longer with us because we can evaluate a fighters career as a whole.
Myth #3 Fighters did not care about losses back in the day.
The reason that the old timers did not worry about losses was because no one really knew they happened. It is not like Homicide Hank went around advertising that he lost three of his first four fights. Back then you did not read about a fight that happened out of your region unless it was a major bout. One also had to buy a Ring Record Book every year to keep up with fighter records. No internet, no boxrec.com. Before the 1940s they did not even have boxing magazines. Fighters could lose and then just pretend that loss never happened. Do you think Jack Dempsey's management told fans in the 1920s that The Manassa Mauler lost to a fat sailor named Willie Meehan? Heck no! They just advertised Dempsey as "having won 20 in a row, 18 by knock out!"
Nowadays when a fighter loses seconds after the bout you have trolls on twitter tweeting "he can't fight” to the world, however back in the day you did not find out about a fighters losses until a month or so later, or maybe even up to a year later. I still remember in the 1980s having to wait on Ring Magazine to come in the mail to find out results of fights. I found out about title changes a couple months after the fact, and that was terrible. Everyone should kiss their internet on the lips today and thank it for being here.
Fighters back then cared about losses. They also knew that losses in one area may not be known about in another area and therefore would not effect their earning potential.
Myth #4 Fighters in the past fought more than they do now.
Ok, so this myth is technically true. Fighters from past eras did indeed stay more active. However the common misconception is that taking fights with little to no recovery time in between made them tougher fighters. It did not. It also should be noted that it was a common practice, every fighter did it. So any negative effects suffered by the lack of a recovery time were canceled out because often times a fighters opposition was also fighting on short rest.
Boxers from past eras fought often because they needed the purse money. In the modern era our fighters receive better compensation for their efforts and do not have to fight as often to support themselves.
So there we have it fight fans. The cold hard reality that boxing and boxers are pretty much the same now as they have ever been. Are our modern fighters receiving the benefits of modern nutrition and training techniques? Of course. And did the fighters of the past spend more time honing their craft by staying active? Of course but at the end of the day it all evens out at the top and the best fighters we have today would match up fine with the best fighters from any era in boxing history.