The ‘decline’ of American boxing

Boxing in America has been in apparent decline at many points in its long, storied, and chequered past, yet the sport keeps on showing up at its’ own funeral, era after era. But what about now? A recent netflix documentary Counterpunch lamented the decline of boxing in the USA, where their amateur Olympic results have fallen off a cliff, and their presence in most weight divisions has also diminished. They pointed to basketball and football as drains on the talent pool, as well as hopeless amateur rules (the amateur system does appear to be broken). I agree that the rise of those sports is part of the issue, but think that the issue there is greatest regarding heavyweights, not so much the other weight classes. This is because of one factor: size. A lightweight boxer who weighs in at 135 pounds and is five foot seven is never going to play professional basketball or professional football, he just isn’t big enough, never will be. Not tall enough for hoops, no way to put enough size on the frame for football. The same is true as one moves up the weights, even a light heavyweight like Andre Ward is going to be short for basketball, and pretty light on the football field. So the option of these sports doesn’t really exist for most of the athletes who are currently, or ever would have been boxers, and I don’t think it is a strong reason for the decline of the sport, except perhaps at heavyweight, where there are currently only marginal American stars.

In George Kimball’s ‘Four Kings: Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Duran and the Last Great Era of Boxing’, the reason for the decline of boxing after the flourishing of the Four Kings was listed as the scourge of crack on American inner cities. Again, I find this reason somewhat incomplete, as while the toll of crack has been huge, it hasn’t really affected the talent pool for basketball (traditionally a fairly inner city sport) or football. I think if any sport is cutting into boxing’s talent pool it is the ascendant MMA, which attracts similar physical types.

The real reason for the decline in the USA is the contrast with the rest of the world, which is providing excellent champions, such as Ukraine’s Lomachenko, Cuba’s Rigondeaux, Mexico’s Canelo, Kazakhstan’s GGG, the list goes on. Many of these fighters would have been trapped behind the Iron Curtain fighting as amateurs in the Four Kings era, as such their impact would be limited to amateur competitions, which used to be a stepping stone to the pros, and are now often avoided. These fighters are coming from places where life is hard, and they possess a toughness that is engendered increasingly rarely in the USA as living standards rise, yes, despite crack and rising inequality… which is a good thing ultimately, though maybe not for American boxing.

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