HOLLANDER: Vitali Klitschko, the last hope for an interesting heavyweight champion, suddenly retires, and now the question is posed. Let me answer directly:
Boxing is both relevant and necessary.
Boxing could be America's last authentic sport. We have no more sandlot baseball. We have steroid-inflated teenagers hitting home runs for bigger signing bonuses. Our budding basketball stars dream only of sneaker contracts, not athletic achievement. Where can we find real athletes today? Boxing.
Boxing requires sacrifice, discipline, respect, mental toughness, unflattering appearance, physical pain and solitary agony—all the things that today's athletes in so-called major sports refuse to accept. In an era that glorifies style over substance and packaging over content, boxing remains unadorned and transparent. It's real.
That's the people have taken it back.
Note well the interest in boxing reality shows. See the waiting lists to compete in white-collar boxing and the crowds who come to cheer them. The sport of boxing does not belong to any organization or commission. Nor does it belong to the bullshit fixes and tired chicanery of Don King and Bob Arum. It belongs to the ring, wherever it is.
The incredible grassroots popularity of boxing is a reflection of our society's collective disgust with corrupt politicians, manipulative demagogues, disingenuous media and Enron con men. Americans crave places of truthfulness.
For truth, boxing does not disappoint. It's the last pure sport. Adversaries pared down to their most basic physical weaponry offers the most compelling format. There's no hiding what's going on. That's why our column is so popular. People love seeing me pummel you—publicly, brutally and deservedly—each week in the pages of this paper.
Boxing is the conscience of American sports. It fills the absence we yearn for in sports and our daily lives. Today, boxing is more relevant than ever.
SULLIVAN: Well, for once we don't have a major disagreement, but I would argue about your contention that boxing is "relevant."
I love the sport and fighters but hate the organizations that have turned the sweetest of sciences into a joke. Boxing is a tough game, the truest of sports. You get into a ring, and you are naked. There is no team to hide behind. It is just you and the man across from you, who is trying to beat the living daylights out of you. In this society, where we are softened at every turn, boxing is a comfort to men. We like seeing two men have a fair fight. And boxing is the fairest of sports. It pairs men of similar weight—no 350-pound linemen squashing 200-pound quarterbacks here.
But when your top heavyweights are named Lamon Brewster and Chris Byrd, you know that division is just about done. When Lennox Lewis and Klitschko went at it a year or two back, that may have been the last great heavyweight fight for quite some time.
To get to good fighters you have to go down to the middleweight division and pick up on Jermain Taylor and Bernard Hopkins. Boxing has been marginalized because it is so rough. Kids today have no idea what a good boxing match can look like. That Hollander et al. get together for sissy slap contests will not save a sport. It's like saying stickball can save baseball.
HOLLANDER: Just like you're wrong about men your age not needing deodorant, you're wrong about this.
You don't think boxing is relevant to the people teeming from the rafters last fall at Madison Square Garden chanting "Tito" at the Mayorga-Trinidad fight? You don't think it's relevant, particularly to New York fight fans, that Brooklyn's undefeated (22-0) junior welterweight Dmitry Salita—whom his trainer Jimmy O'Pharrow described by saying he "looks Russian, prays Jewish, fights black"—fights again at Manhattan Center in two weeks? And really, you don't think fight fans everywhere will be watching when welterweights Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Zab Judah finally and inevitably climb into the same ring?
Why do you think a boxing film won last year's Oscar for best picture? Because boxing resonates with everyone, across all barriers of race, gender and class.
Boxing lives. Despite your weak assimilation into the herd mentality, it lives. It sure lived in the epic Corralles-Castillo fight this past May. A bootlegged tape of that ten-round lightweight fist fest was passed all around the city to the many who still seek athletic honesty. Like a secret language of defiance and hope in a sports culture under siege, boxing is the Yiddish of modern-day sports. It tells us we're not alone, and that our special way of life will continue even in the darkest days.
Boxing is the story of us. [That's a Michelle Pfeiffer flick, actually.—The Eds.] The combatants come to the ring like we come to this world: naked and vulnerable. Then we fight ourselves and each other to go the distance, win or lose, finishing with dignity. Is boxing relevant? It can never be irrelevant.
What Joyce Carol Oates wrote in her brilliant treatise On Boxing holds true: "Life is like boxing in many unsettling respects. But boxing is only like boxing." What I find equally unsettling and strangely true is that, with your glasses on, you look uncannily like a swollen and battered, punch-drunk Joyce Carol Oates.
SULLIVAN: Like the writers who have come before you, you love boxing yet have never been punched in the face.
The best Jewish fighter of all time—Zab Judah—is a bore in the ring. He and Chris Byrd are exactly what is wrong with boxing. They like to hit but are afraid to get hit back—much like you—and their fights turn into retreat-fests with a few flurries thrown in.
Like the vaunted Roy Jones Jr., we may never know how good some of these guys are because no one stands and fights anymore. They copy you, Hollander—they cut and run after they flame someone. Boxing used to matter because guys would fight.
I know what you're talking about with the Mayorga-Trinidad fight, but the average sports fan missed it because boxing is so poorly presented. Your love of the shaggy-dog sport only goes so far. Arena football may be the coolest thing ever [Or it may not be.—The Eds.], but does anyone watch it? There are great fights in this day and age, but few see them due to pay-per-view rip-offs or just not knowing where to find the fights.
They used to say tv killed boxing. I now say lack of network tv is killing boxing. Bring back "Friday Night at the Fights" and there would be an audience. But no one wants to shake that tree. Boxing is looked at as an artifact from a lost age. We have moved on from boxing, and dilettantes like yourself, Hollander, do no justice to the cause when you pick up gloves. Leave the fighting to the men. The only gloves you should be wearing are the rubber ones you slip on to do the dishes.