Who will be Boxing's Next Big Superstar?

29.09.04 - By Rev. Marc Axelrod: In 1963, a boastful, proud young man named Cassius Clay declared, "I'm the Savior of the Boxing world, if it wasn't for me, the game would be dead." This may have been the most accurate prophecy the young Clay ever made. He truly was the savior of the boxing world.

Right now, boxing needs another savior. In the past two weeks, we have seen two of today's most celebrated fighters get unceremoniously knocked out. Furthermore, recent surveys indicate that professional boxing is right up there with dogfighting, bull fighting, and wrestling on America's most hated sports list. In the 20th century, we had Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson, George Foreman, and Oscar DelaHoya as marquee figures which kept people interested in the fight game. Who will carry the mantle for boxing from here?

It can be argued, "Who cares about the public face of boxing? The public has never appreciated the special practitioners of our sport." It may be fairly asked, "What about talented fighters like Erik Morales, Manny Pacquaio, Cory Spinks, Antonio Tarver, Jermain Taylor, and Kosta Tszyu? Why aren't these guys getting shoe or video game endorsements?"

The truth is that boxing will always be viewed as a part of the black light district of the sporting world. Even if the next Ali were to show up on the world's doorstep in the next year, it wouldn't change anything. It would just be more evidence of our society's fascination with hero worship. Boxing will always be looked at as a haven for shady people, crooked promoters, and misguided young people who think that punching someone's brain's out is their best chance of making it in the world.

Having said that, who will be boxing's next posterboy? Who will be the man that will bring boxing back into the public eye, if only for a little while?

I honestly can't see one person carrying such a heavy mantle at the present time. However, there are a few fighters who will put boxing back into the sports pages at least twice a year. In the heavyweight division, Vitali Klitschko is probably the man of the hour. Up until June 2003, he was
not well appreciated in the boxing world. People thought of him as a quitter, a man who ran the other way in the face of adversity, a man who actually quit against the light hitting, feather fisted Chris Byrd because his shoulder hurt.

But Vitali turned it all around with his courageous six round slugfest with Lennox Lewis, a fight where he gave as good as he got, and even led 4-2 and all three judges' scorecards when the fight was stopped due to Klitschko's severe facial cuts. Vitali won the hearts of boxing fans over with his gutsy performance and his desire to fight on in spite of the referee's decision.

He went on to pummel the blubbery Kirk Johnson in two rounds and posted an impressive eighth round stoppage of Corrie Sanders. He is slated to fight Mike Tyson conqueror Danny Williams this December, where we will see if Vitali can show some pay per view muscle.

Beyond Vitali Klitschko, things get a little blurry. I like Jermain Taylor, and I see him as a force to be reckoned with in the 160 and 168 pound divisions. I like his powerful, persistent jab, his dedication to the craft, and his defensive skills. But I don't picture him as the guy who will
carry the mantle of boxing. Floyd Mayweather has the talent to reign as a pound for pound favorite for quite some time. Yet he is not always amiable with the press, and his out of the ring troubles sometimes overshadow what he does in the ring.

Antonio Tarver has given us a treasure trove of good copy in the past year, and he will always be remembered as the fighter who took away Roy Jones' aura of invincibility as well as his self- confidence. If he stays active and fights often, he may be able to bring boxing a desperately needed dose of good press coverage. With fights against Bernard Hopkins, Glen Johnson, and possibly a trip up to heavyweight in the works, Tarver could provide some very interesting moments for the sport of boxing.

Then there is the matter of this weekend's Felix Trinidad-Ricardo Mayorga middleweight showdown. Mayorga is certainly a colorful character and a powerful hitter with both hands, but his future is uncertain. He is not favored to beat Felix Trinidad, and even if he beats Tito, his legal problems may impair his chances at being a headliner in the near future.

It remains to be seen how sharp Trinidad will be when he returns to action Saturday night. Assuming he is anywhere near where he was four years ago, he may have marquee fights in his future with DeLahoya, Forrest, Winky Wright, Cory Spinks, Shane Mosley, or even return matches with Hopkins or Vargas.

So even though I do not envision a single figure to carry the banner of boxing, I see boxers like Vitali Klitschko, Antonio Tarver, and Felix Trinidad keeping things interesting. Long live Boxing!

Article posted on 28.09.2004

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