I'll See You in My Dreams
By Richard E. Baker on May 17, 2022
They wanted film on the opponent. There was none. He is too new. (Photo: Courtesy)
I was on my way to Redmond, Washington to photograph a mural of former boxing heavyweight Boone Kirkman when I suddenly became annoyed at the pathetic state boxing is in today. Boxers today just won’t fight competitive fights. Every time I attend a local fight I sit ringside before the bouts and circle all the winners. In the last year I have made only made one mistake. This does not make me special in any way. Anyone who knows boxing can do the same thing.
The pathetic state of boxing really came home to me when an old trainer wanted me to get his new fighter a fight. His fighter was 10-2. He had fought no one. His last opponent was 7-25-2 and previous opponents ranged from 0-5 and 6-26-3. With some amount of work I found him an opponent with no amateur experience and a record of 4-0. The trainer and fighter were hesitant. They wanted film on the opponent. There was none. He is too new. He had knocked out three homeless guys and barely earned a majority decision against a 2-4-1 opponent. The fight was too risky, they said. Perhaps I could do better.
You want better, I give you better. I found a guy with three amateur fights and a pro record of 1-0-0. One can’t do better than that unless you prowl the graveyards with a shovel and Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant. Again they were hesitant. They did not know anything about the opponent. As the boxer said, “I have to be concerned about my career.” I wanted to tell him he didn’t have a career and never would without fighting competitive opponents. He declined the fight opting instead to travel to Mexico and pay for a 2-37-2 opponent poured from a Tequila bottle.
Such is the ruination of boxing, a sport once filled with excitement where fans had to be in the know of a fixed fight to know the outcome of a bout. At a fight today I order a beer and a box or No-Doze. The past usually looks better than the present for many people and we are often caught in the reverie of pleasurable experiences, not often true. I am subject to such dreams. I even remember my time in Vietnam as the best experience of my life although, at the time, I am sure I did not feel that way and probably changed my underwear after any loud noise.
This pertains mostly to minor fights. There have been some very decent big fights and the matchmaking has improved. Showtime, especially, has upped their game and many of their cards feature competitive fights from top to bottom.
There is some proof of exciting earlier boxing times when boxers were not afraid of who they fought. I remember Bobby Chacon and his opponents: Rafael Solis 30-4-2 (all records at the times of the fights), Auturo Frias 28-4-0, Freddie Roach 36-7-0, Ray Mancini 28-0-1, Cornelius Boza Edwards 38-3-0, Rafael Limon 50-11-2, Alexis Arguello 59-5-0, and Ruben Olivares 82-8-1. He often fought these men several times. When he started his career five of his first nine opponents had winning records.
Willie Pep’s first 14 fights were against boxers with winning records. He fought 40-27-7 Al Pennino in his debut. The worst opponent he fought in his first 14 fights was 14-11-2 Asuncion Llanos. Not until his 15th fight did he fight an opponent with a losing record, 17-19-3 Tommy Baker.
Alexis Arguello’s 77 wins consisted of no less than 60 winning opponents. And how about Carmen Basilo who fought the toughest of the tough like Paul Pender, Gene Fullmer, Art Aragon, Ray Robinson, Johnny Saxton, Tony DeMarco, Gil Turner, Kid Gavilan, Billy Graham, and Ike Williams. He often fought them more than once. He fought Billy Graham (100-10-8) in June 1953 and rematched him a month later. Jake LaMotta fought Sugar Ray Robinson five times.
The champ of all times, Sugar Ray Robinson, made his pro debut against 36-30-3 Charley Dodson then had his second fight two months later against 51-20-9 Don Lee. Both fights were 10-rounders. Robinson fought so many great boxers there are too many to be recorded here, and he fought them often including four times with Gene Fullmer, two with Carmen Basilio, three against Bobo Olson, and two against Randy Turpin.
Gene Fullmer was just as tough although he did not fight his first opponent with a winning record until his 7th fight, a TKO against 4-2-4 Carlos Martinez.
Look at any of the old records and you will see the same patterns, boxers not afraid to fight; boxers willing to fight anyone; boxers taking pride in their skills. Many boxers today have far better skills than the old boys. The best of today’s boxers are technical wizards. What many of them lack is guts. They are too careful with their opponents and too cautious in the fight. They would rather put on a careful and boring fight to preserve their records rather than risk domination and catching an accidental hard one. Boxers who are losing a bout seldom say, “What the hell, I’m losing so I just as well go all out and take a chance rather than look like some kind of pansy just trying to survive.” If a boxer does not go all out, why bother fighting?
On the occasional times several belts are on the line the truth often comes out. The champions of some organizations just can’t fight while others fight very well. That is another reason there are so many poor fights. The organizations want to protect their fighters. Money and big business ruins everything. Protecting the investment from exposure is all important to keep the money rolling in. When champions fight one another the product is put on the line and one widget is going to be better than another widget. There is no other way to tell which widget is best. We have no “Consumer’s Report” for boxing except a title fight. The only way to know a true champion is to have one organization and one title in each weight division.
That will never happen. We must be content with pseudo boxers and managers attempting to build their fighters with pathetic fights against feeble opponents. I dream of the days when the winner of fights cannot be predicted. I also dream of holding Ms. Universe in my arms. Dream on.