Boxing: Love of the Game

05.12.05 - By Aaron King: I can remember Christmas of 1996 vividly. I remember getting a sled. I remember getting clothes I didn’t want. I remember getting video games for my Sega Genesis. I remember being 9-years-old and thinking for the first time that was holding the most important thing I had ever held..

After only nine years of life, I suppose that doesn’t mean too much. Hell, now, after about 19 years of life, it still doesn’t mean much. But, I remember tearing the wrapping off of a rectangle-shaped present and holding The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Boxing: The Definitive Illustrated Guide to World Boxing. It was written by the great Harry Mullan, who this past year was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. By the time I read the book, he was already dying from the cancer that would take him, much too soon, in 1999.

I have a special place for Harry Mullan, for it was he who first presented me with the vehicle that would engender my single most constant love outside of my family – boxing.

My father bought me the book after he noticed that I took a liking to watching his old tapes. It was through these tapes and primarily through Mullan’s work that I began to learn the history and the foundations of boxing. I read about James Figg and Jack Broughton. I read about John L. Sullivan and his boast that he could “lick any son of a bitch in the house.” It was where I first learned the significance of men like Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, and Muhammad Ali. From the time I watched my first fight (at least the first I can remember), I fell in love with the sport and I absorbed all that I could, from history to technique. (On a side note: The first fight that I remember watching was the infamous “Fan Man” bout between Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield. Talk about a good start.)

I remember boxing with the kids in my neighborhood, losing only on a rare occasion, and telling my dad of my terrific victories. Then, he would scold me for minutes on end, telling me that I had a brain, and not to waste it. I couldn’t understand why he could tell me how much he loved boxing, and then yell at me when I did it. I still think he is unaware of the short time I spent as an actual “prospect” (in my own mind) at a local gym in southwestern Pennsylvania.

I can also fondly remember watching fights of greats like Roberto Duran, Salvador Sanchez, Sugar Ray Robinson and Leonard, and then reading Mullan’s text to find out more about these men.

With that foundation, I began to watch every fight that I could with my dad. As I grew older, our conversations about boxing while we sat in the living room watching Tuesday Night Fights began to take a more reciprocal structure, instead of the question and answer type that it was in my earlier childhood. Now, I often am the one answering my father’s questions, about the things that were either before his time or fairly recent, anyhow.

Being a college student, I have opportunities to engross myself into all of the different aspects of life, all of the things that you begin to learn as you grow older. Not that I claim to know a whole lot, but I have begun to take a liking into politics, philosophy, cultures of other peoples around the world, and of course, almost any sport I can watch. But it is still boxing that fires me up like nothing else. Of all the things I’ve written about, and being a journalism major, I write about a lot of things, boxing still takes the cake for me. Even when I had the opportunity to cover a few college football games, I would rather have gone to cover even a relatively small boxing match.

So, why do I write all of this? If there is anything that I have noticed recently, it’s that there is a fair amount more complaining about boxing than there is celebrating it. Granted, there is often more to malign the game than there is to honor, but we all feel that same feeling when we are granted the pleasure of seeing a great fight, whether it be Corrales-Castillo or Gatti-Ward – it’s the reason we still watch. It’s the reason a lot of us “wasted” the 50 bucks to see Taylor-Hopkins.

I was home a couple of weeks ago and stumbled upon Harry Mullan’s Ultimate Encyclopedia. Both the front and back covers were missing; the first few pages were gone, and some of the pages throughout the book were loose. It had witnessed a lot more wear and tear than I recalled. I picked up the book and sat on my bed. I read it, almost the whole thing. When I finished, quite a number of hours had passed, but not nearly as many as it had been since I last read the book – almost five years. I put the Ultimate Encyclopedia in a safe place, and I realized, all over again, why I loved boxing so much. Despite all of the complaints that I had, I realized why I loved it.

This reason isn’t the same for all boxing fans. I imagine the reasons are actually quite different. But, I found that my contempt for the bad things that were happening were put into perspective because they seemed so much smaller than the whole of what it was that drew to me to the sport. Call it the bliss of ignorance, but my love for the game was pure when I forgot the corruption and the troubled ways of boxing. I suppose that sort of assertion is no surprise, but I assure you, it was powerful.

I’m not insisting that all boxing fans should go back to the time they first watched boxing, but that the reason we love it is still there, for all of us. It may be masked by a hoard of other things, but it’s there.

The thing is that I’ve heard so many stories of people that don’t watch boxing anymore. They say they’re fed up with the political scheming and the pseudo-champions. It seems to me they’re missing too much. Through the bad, there still is the very good. We may just have to take a minute and find it.

Article posted on 06.12.2005

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