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Boxing Desperately Needs Its Stars Back— And Soon

Feb 23, 2004  By KS. Rangi
Home Box Office, (HBO), often dubs itself as a hybrid between film, theater, and television—something special in other words. And a look at it’s website,, pretty much confirms that to be true.

Though it’s critically acclaimed, award winning programming is generally of much greater production value than anything seen on non-premium cable, above all else it is the talent level of its stars that really separates the Turner subsidiary from the crowd.

And for more than 30 years, now, some of its brightest stars have been boxers. Names like Leonard, Hearns, and De La Hoya, have been perched alongside, if not above, Hollywood elites like Pacino, Streep, and Gandolfini.

But while the thespians, with much help from their army of brilliant writers and
producers, have continued without a hitch to maintain their standard of excellence, lately boxing appears to have tapered off perilously into the proximity of mediocrity. Worst of all, things only seem to be getting more and more murky.

Names like Antonio Margarito, Arturo Gatti, and Erik Morales, all quality fighters, but
far from being considered mainstream stars, headline upcoming HBO cards. None are heavyweights and none have any worthwhile non boxing appeal. But perhaps their biggest indictment comes when compared to the talent level HBO had grown accustomed to showcasing just a mere two years ago, when their “Heart and Soul Fighters” fighters, Lewis, Jones Jr, De la Hoya, Vargas, Trinidad, Mosely, Hamed, and Mayweather Jr., offered more than just great boxing—they offered compelling drama.

It strikes the salient question then: Where have all the stars gone?

Retired showman extrordinaire “Prince” Naseem Hamed, exuded an aura and regality like no other in his short ,but thrilling career. He said when he fought he was merely purveying to the world special powers he felt from deep within. It didn’t matter that his temerity produced just as many haters as it did supporters; what mattered is that he had many of both—when he fought people paid attention. His friendships with A list celebrities, Sean Combs, Will Smith, and Sylvester Stallone didn’t’ hurt either in making him a mainstream star that mattered.

The biggest thing about stars like Hamed and Trinidad, and others who made boxing the most dramatic show in Vegas throughout the 90’s, was how they felt about themselves. Common 9 to 5 schomos, as much as they may say otherwise, have no desire to watch someone like them—there are already too many like them. What they really want is someone novel, someone who acts different, and freaky. Someone they can point their fingers to and say, “That’s the bad guy.”

To be sure stars need talent and ability. But fighters on the big stage that don’t know how to act turn off fans to no end. Can there be anything worse than fighters sitting on a dais and smiling and singing the praises of his opponent? Can anyone really be expected to pay attention to a fight where the two are acting as though they like each other? A fight is supposed to be a fight—there should be something behind it, or at least the fighters should pretend there is. Instead fans are forced to watch fighters shaking hands at the end of rounds and acting with “class and sportsmanship’, thinking that is the right thing to do.

Many of these fighters seem strangely inure to what it is they do for a living: They are hoping to hit the other guy in the head hard enough and often enough until he is incapacitated and unable to fight back. If the non-boxing behavior is incongruous to this absolute precept, it compromises the entire industry, saying nothing of their particular reputations and bankrolls.

While there are those “purists” that say boxing is better off without the razzle dazzle and trash talk and extra curricular activites, few of them have the fighters interests at heart. Many are from an era when only supremely successful heavyweights got paid, and it kills them to see young kids from economically deprived backgrounds making something of themselves. They have no connection to the entertainment element that is critically necessary to gain and maintain most fans’ attention in an era of increasing entertainment saturation.

Boxing more than any other sport needs its stars. It relies heavily on individuals who can carry events alone, and draw audiences with star power. The actual pugilism alone can never draw the interest necessary to keep the healthy and vibrant into the future. The sick novelty of watching people inartistically beat each other up wore off at about the time John L. Sullivan was concluding his career some 115 years ago. These days people need a show, entertainment—a side dish to boxing’s main course. Failing to recognize that, and with it’s latest round of stars either retired or borderline retired, for the first time in 40 years boxing could be headed for tough times.

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