Once upon a time not long ago, heavyweight boxing was the caviar of sports. ABC’s Wide World of Sports was promoted as a smorgasbord of sports from around the world, from cliff diving in Acapulco to ski-jumping in Switzerland. But it was the boxing career of Muhammad Ali that drew viewers and made it a mainstay on television for 37 consecutive years.
With his intellectual belligerence, antagonistic treatment of the Vietnam war, a rapier wit and a left jab that to this day has yet to be seen on a man fighting above 210 pounds, Ali became the most recognizable person in the world, something neither Michael Jordan nor Tiger Woods achieved despite coming along in the age of the Internet.
African-Americans — even southern Christians hopelessly in love with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his philosophy of non-violent passive resistance — loved Ali as much as they loved Cassius Clay. And when Ali went to jail for his refusal to submit to the draft, white liberals canonized him also.
Not long after Joe Louis’ sharecropper father died while he was a child, Louis, who overcame as best he could a terrible speech impediment, moved to Detroit. Shortly after arriving in Motown Louis gravitated to boxing, bringing with him an uncanny ability to leave anyone who stood in front of him concussed.
He became a pre-World War II hero to post-Depression-era black folks, beaten down daily by Jim Crow who nevertheless still gathered in front of radios for his big fights the way we gather around flat screens for the Super Bowl. The heavyweight champion of the world from 1937-1949, Louis became America’s first African-American cultural hero when he bludgeoned Hitler’s favorite athlete, Max Schmeling (the son of a Jewish father, ironically), in their 1938 rematch.
While racism and bigotry abounded during the Louis era, the “Brown Bomber”’s emergence was a welcome sight in mainstream America after Jack Johnson’s “Reign of Terror.” People thought Clay, with his ranting and raving prior to the bout, was crazy in the walk-up to his first fight with Sonny Liston.
However, this behavior paled in comparison to the audacity exhibited by Johnson, who on top of the ignominy he heaped on those who worshiped at the feet of Jim Crow by disposing of a multitude of Great White Hopes, this massive negro mauler saw nothing wrong with throwing on a pinstripe suit, hoping into a convertible Cadillac and cruising the Interstates with interchangeable white women laughing and giggling in the passenger seat — in the early 1900s!
While the sweet science no longer occupies the lofty perch it once held on the world platform — it can be argued that mixed martial arts is close to eclipsing it in popularity — the one thread that remains is the drama generated outside of the ring still seems to eclipse what happens in it.
The same is true today, however pathetic the sport and its practitioners have become. This is why someone such as former Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin — a Hall of Famer who has shown a predilection for cocaine and outlandish suits — can still come off as remarkably dignified when he calls out Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather and implores him to stop running from a fight with Manny Pacquiao.
“I like both fighters,” Irvin said, “but I’m telling you right now, I wish Mayweather would go ahead and fight the guy. It makes brothers look bad with all of this running. You know we’re not into the running.”
“The Playmaker” is right. It’s long since been time for Mayweather to make this fight happen.
I’m one of those people that think that if he’s on his game, Mayweather can beat Manny Pacquiao no matter what weight they fight at. Love him or hate him, he has built and undefeated record and, for the most part, nobody has been able to touch him — although it does appear that he is ducking Pacquiao.
Meanwhile, he thinks nothing of proclaiming himself better than the likes of Ali and middleweight superstar Sugar Ray Robinson, considered by many to be the greatest fighter of all time.
Whether or not Mayweather does indeed cross the threshold from being a present day minstrel act into icon status will all depend on what he does between now — he’s 34, old by boxing standards unless you are the freakish Bernard Hopkins — and the next year. After that it’s probably all downhill.
If he doesn’t fight Pacquiao, beat him and never fulfill his talents — unquestionably immense — there will still be those out there who can relate to the way he lives his life outside the ring. He has been accused of trying to run over someone with his Bentley, stays in court with his ex-girlfriend because of domestic squabbles, and most recently he was charged with threatening two security guards at his gated complex. And these are just a few of his acts of debauchery.
This stuff will be eaten up by the sub-culture that has congealed in the African-American community. You know who they are. They are cutting school and forming flash mobs, oftentimes ignoring school altogether. They are spending money that they don’t have, and if they don’t have it they will rob you — unless you are white, of course — without fear of reprisal. They are the primary reason why the achievement gap between whites and blacks is still chasm-like, yet they are quick to blame everything on racism, bigotry and The Man.
Mayweather could change this perception. He could clean his act up and, perhaps, clean Pacquiao’s clock in the process. That fight could put $30 million in his pocket. Win a few more, retire undefeated and the world would be his oyster.
It’s his choice. Let’s hope he makes the right one.