The world of boxing has been forced to say goodbye to many of its grandest figureheads, some of the best and brightest of the sport who have proudly carried its flag for decades. The recent passing of legendary trainer Emanuel Steward, and Hall of Fame fighter Carmen Basilio, only further underscores the sad trend that the old guard of the Sweet Science, the representatives of boxing’s best generation, are no longer with us.
Farewell To The Greats
Boxing has been hit hard over the past year, losing legends from all realms of the fight game. This includes fighters such as Basilio, as well as all-time great Heavyweight Joe Frazier. In addition to Steward, the renowned head of the Kronk Gym in Detroit, Angelo Dundee — trainer to Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and also Basilio – passed earlier this year, and Gil Clancy passed in 2011.
Even the world of media hasn’t been untouched, with Bert Sugar, Nick Charles and George Kimball all passing within the past 18 months. There was no other person so greatly linked to boxing’s rich past than Sugar, with his ever-ubiquitous fedora and cigar, and his incomparable knowledge of every facet of the Sweet Science.
That highlights what is truly being lost as so many larger than life figures of the sport meet their end. It’s not only the void they leave behind as a result of what they directly contributed — the fights they won, the fighters they trained, the stories they told – it’s also the diminishing link to the past which grows more fragile and thin each time a member of the boxing cognoscenti passes.
Where Does Boxing Go From Here?
Boxing is inextricably linked to its own past, in a way that most other sports are not. This is partly due to the fact that boxing has lost its place on the pedestal of American sporting society and so fans are left in a permanent state of reminiscence.
However, it’s also because in order to truly understand boxing, its fighters and what it all means, you can’t just watch Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao, you have to be able to draw the line from Henry Armstrong and Sugar Ray Robinson, to Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns, to the fighters of today. It’s not just about how dominant Wladimir Klitschko is, it’s about connecting the lineage of the Heavyweight championship of the world from Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey, to Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano, to Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes, and beyond.
Without the presence of these famed contributors, which we are losing, and the scores of others who participated in and witnessed the sport when it was so much larger and grander than it currently is, how does boxing carry on? How does the past get adequately remembered, and most importantly of all, how does the sport strive to regain its old glory when there is no longer a constant presence reminding us of what it used to be?
Boxing needs its best — across all facets of the Sweet Science and all levels of involvement — to consciously take up an active stewardship of the sport.
Boxing doesn’t need more great fighters, it needs more fighters who want the sport to be great.
Boxing doesn’t need promoters who can sell 2 million pay-per-views, it needs promoters who would be willing to not sell any today, in order to grow the sport for tomorrow.
Boxing doesn’t need three well known trainers working with all the big name pros in their mega-gyms, it needs hundreds of top level trainers teaching the discipline and technique of the sport to kids across the country, and teaching other trainers how to take up that role for themselves.
Boxing doesn’t need more fans angrily fuming that Mayweather vs. Pacquiao hasn’t been made, it needs more fans eagerly tuning in to see all the rest of the great action they’re missing, just as the NFL doesn’t thrive because hundreds of millions of people across the globe watch the Super Bowl, but actually because tens of millions of people watch the games each and every weekend.
So I’m calling on you, all of you — fighters and fans, trainers and broadcasters, promoters and managers — to be a true advocate of the sport you say you love. The Emanuel Stewards and Bert Sugars of the world aren’t there to do it for you any longer.
This article was first published on Yahoo Sports on November 8, 2012