- Mike Stanton discusses new details about Rocky Marciano that he uncovered while doing research to write Unbeaten. Stanton also talks about how Jacobs Beach: The Mob, the Garden and the Golden Age of Boxing (coming from Hamilcar Publications on Aug 27, 2019) served as a key resource for him, particularly in learning about Frankie Carbo, boxing’s underworld czar in the 1950s.
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THE HIT PARADE
Just Another Hastgag
by Carlos Acevedo, Author of Sporting Blood: Tales From The Dark Side Of Boxing
Of all the concepts, phrases, and words that have devolved in boxing over the years—matchmaker, champion, promoter, writer—none has slipped so drastically as the notion of greatness. When Terence Crawford entered the ring to face a ramshackle Amir Khan on April 20 in Madison Square Garden, the klaxons of hype sounded almost unabated. And when Khan surrendered in mid-fight—thereby underscoring the inherent two-bit quality of an oversold mismatch—it hardly registered against Crawford. His media fan club did not miss a blip. To them, Crawford is not just a multi-talented boxer battering second-raters, but some sort of avatar of greatness, to be lauded, disproportionately, for a thus far solid if unspectacular career.
As talented as Crawford is, and as legitimate as some of his accomplishments are IRL (not in the fetishist/fantasy world of P-4-P rankings or Twitter historians), the fact remains that he is not even the most distinguished fighter in his division. That distinction likely—perhaps provisionally—belongs to Keith Thurman, whose slim decisions over Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia qualify as signature wins in barren times. Crawford is nevertheless viewed as an elite fighter and a generational talent.
What is oddest of all, perhaps, is that there are baselines with which to refute such hyperbole. And not just from the distant past either, or even the recent past (Manny Pacquiao, for example). Because of ultramodern corporate interests, which have swallowed up promoters like some yawing capitalist Leviathan, it is harder than ever for marquee matches to be made. And yet, some fighters have managed to stand out even now, when toxic masculinity has migrated from the ring all the way to cyberspace.
In fact, it only took less than a week for the genuine thing to upstage the Crawford-Khan sham. In a fierce firefight aired on DAZN, Juan Francisco Estrada outpointed Siskrit Sor Rungvisai over 12 rounds. Two of the best little men in the business, Estrada and Sor Rungvisai are also cavalier about danger.
Other fighters have gone against the grain as well. After a fallow if highly remunerative period walloping no-hopers, Saul Alvarez has gloved up against Gennady Golovkin and Danny Jacobs in three of his last four fights. For his part, Golovkin has faced predictable backlash for his upcoming playdate with unknown Torontonian Steve Rolls, but the last two years of his career have been spent in the “Canelo Vortex,” where the high stakes that presumably entice all fighters were in play. (Golovkin also scored a decision over Danny Jacobs during that time frame.) In a 16-fight career, Oleksandr Usyk nearly cleaned out the cruiserweight division, and Shawn Porter is willing to test his ugly, bruising rugby style against anyone.
But if you think that the existence of fighters who actually concretize abstract notions of ambition or greatness would somehow temper wayward enthusiasm, think again. Why do so many observers casually throw around the term greatness? First, there is such a noticeable star void in boxing, that it is almost a psychological impossibility to keep from trying to fill it. Second, even pre-internet media outlets were in the iffy habit of perpetuating (if not out-right fabricating) stories that could increase circulation. In 2019, circulation has morphed into clicks. But another reason so many fighters are labeled “great” these days is as obvious as it is disheartening: writers and reporters take many of their cues directly from press releases, publicists, promoters, and network puffers. This is like taking advice from a three-card monte dealer on where the queen of hearts may be. These amplified voices (which, in some cases, sound like bullhorns squawking at ringside) are on 24/7 sell mode, like something out of Glengarry Glen Ross: “Always Be Closing.”
Skepticism about boxing—and its representatives, including promoters and managers, who are, after all, figures likely to wind up in a report issued by The Global Disinformation Index—has given way to a boosterism that goes beyond mere fanboy-ism. This, of course, was not always the case, even in the context of televised events. Howard Cosell routinely downgraded fights he called on ABC, a trend that culminated in his live jeremiad of boxing as a whole during the Larry Holmes-Tex Cobb slaughter in 1982. Larry Merchant brought analytical criticism to HBO for over thirty years, and his often-cutting assessments drove Mike Tyson to Showtime in a huff and gave Oscar De La Hoya the screaming meemies. Most brazen of all, perhaps, was Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, who made a mockery of conflict of interest during the early 1980s, when he was both the boxing consultant and TV analyst for NBC—simultaneously. Pacheco rarely failed to denounce the flops he had purchased for the network. In 1983, NBC opened its Larry Holmes-Scott Frank broadcast with a slew of newshawks who lambasted the main event as a mismatch. No longer does such a media corps exist.
There is something else to factor into the current paradoxical atmosphere of avoidance and acclaim: the fighters themselves, who understand all too well how fractured an industry boxing has become and how effective self-promotion can be in an anarchic environment. Not many trades are more arduous than boxing—where past, present, and future all promise hardship of one kind or another—but if fighting is viewed primarily as a means of escaping an impoverished background (hustling via fisticuffs), it stands to reason that continued enrichment will remain the priority for a new breed of fighters who are now hyperaware of the commercial underpinnings of their vocation.
Boxing has always been at least partially illusory. It was thus during the lawless/vaudeville era of the early 1900s, the gangster era of the Roaring Twenties and The Great Depression, and the Golden Age of Television era, when Frankie Carbo and the mafia all but ran boxing. Today, it is corporate abracadabra that dominates the sport with the help of boosters with press credentials, and fighters who believe #Greatness is just another hashtag.
A BLOW TO THE HEAD, by A.L. Kennedy, Granta
In memorializing her grandfather, an ex-amateur boxer, novelist A.L. Kennedy also delivers a poignant meditation on the cruelest sport and its after-effects. “He knew what the ring was all about before he ever climbed inside: it was a place where he could win in a life where—beyond the card games—he would spend a great deal of time never even being able to compete. I know that he deserved better, because boxing rewards few and damages many—it damaged him. Boxing is not, by its nature, safe.” “A Blow to the Head” originally appeared in Granta in 2000.
Prohibition Blues – Did Jack Dempsey duck Harry Greb?, by Springs Toledo, Boxing News
For decades, the legendary sparring sessions between Jack Dempsey and Harry Greb have fueled speculation that “The Manassa Mauler” openly avoided “The Human Windmill.” Springs Toledo examines the sparring sessions and tells the tale of a feud that was never settled in the ring.
The Longest Day Of Sugar Ray: A Boxing Great Becomes A Sideshow Freak, by Dave Anderson, The StacksIn the mid-1960s Sugar Ray Robinson, then in his forties, was still fighting. But instead of illuminating Madison Square Garden, Wrigley Field, or Chicago Stadium, he barnstormed from jerkwater town to jerkwater town for loose change. On assignment for True Magazine, Dave Anderson accompanied Robinson to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, for one of his whistle stops, where the Sugar Ray of the 1940s and 50s was just a distant memory.
IN THIS CORNER
“I would say that the number-one reason that I boxed was because of the respect I would gain, yes. I had low self-esteem as a teenager, so I was really super self-conscious of myself. I felt less than everyone. I would daydream about things like being a fighter, being with people who were asking for autographs. Normal dreams anybody wanting to be a boxer would have. And I dreamed of the big battles.”―Frankie Duarte