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Sports

Boxing has passed me by; the Sweet Science is lacking

By From page B1 | April 25, 2014

What do David Haye, Francesco Damiani, Herbie Hide, Oliver McCall and Bruce Seldon have in common?

Nope. Not on the Cooking Channel. They don’t sell Davis real estate. None are running for our City Council.

Give up?

Each has owned a recent piece of boxing’s alphabet-soup heavyweight title. Seriously.

Looking back over those names made the Jersey Boy in me shudder.

Having been born in Jersey City, I’m a little goofy to begin with. Pinball, pool, horse racing, boxing. They’re in our East Coast DNA.

I even have some Old School mob in my family. In 1970 when I borrowed my Uncle Bob’s car to drive to Asbury Park, he had these words of advice for me: “Bruce, take the Volkswagen. They know the Cadillac.”

I always meant to ask my uncle who “They” were.

But I digress. It’s been 30 years since I followed what some misinformed corner man dubbed the Sweet Science.

I remember — even as a 10-year-old — the regal placement of the sport in America’s psyche.

Heavyweight champions were American heroes. Role models. Joe Louis, Jersey Joe Walcott, Rocky Marciano …

Marciano’s 56-0 record, his retirement in 1956 and unfortunate death in a plane crash are vivid memories, almost 60 years later.

As an eighth-grader, I took the No. 5 bus from Hawthorne to the Olympic Auditorium in L.A. to watch Saturday night fights. (Anyone remember Windmill Ray White?)

I was at the Los Angeles Coliseum for a Dodger game in June of 1960 when Floyd Patterson lost the title to Ingemar Johansson. The mix of Vin Scully on the Dodger broadcast and Don Dunphy’s call of the title fight blew out my crystal radio that memorable evening.

A big Patterson fan, I was a happy teenager when Floyd beat Johansson in the rematch. Saddened when Sonny Liston next beat down Patterson, I then rejoiced when Cassius Clay came on the scene, stopping “the big, ugly bear” twice.

For me, boxing maintained its intrigue throughout the ’60s and ’70s.

The Muhammed Ali-Joe Frazier series stands among the great rivalries in sports history.

Buoyed by Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, Schoolboy Bobby Chacon, George Foreman and Irish Frankie Crawford and the Quarry Brothers, I stuck with the sport until the WBC, NYSAC, WBA, IBF, WBO and all the warring boxing acronyms made a mockery of the titles.

When Leon Spinks beat an aging Ali in 1978 — and the World Boxing Council vacated its version of the crown because Spinks didn’t fight “mandatory challenger” Ken Norton — the sport lost me.

But boxing’s rich history — something I began studying as a fourth-grader — has never left me.

So  the other day, when I heard that Wladimir Klitschko will defend his versions (IBF, WBO and WBA) of the crown against Alex Leapai this Saturday, I shrugged.

First off, I didn’t know this Klitschko wasn’t the other Klitschko (Vitali, the leader of the Ukrainian Alliance for Democratic Reform and former something-or-other boxing champ).

Then, I discovered only Joe Louis held a heavyweight title (an undisputed championship) longer than Klitschko has (the Ukrainian won two versions of the crown in 2008).

Another shrug.

I’ve never seen the Ukrainian throw a punch. I don’t know who his challenger is. I don’t know who he’s fought and no longer care anyway.

Even with the current saga of his Ukrainian homeland in the background, how can any storyline top something like the lifelong relationship of ring rivals Louis and Max Schmeling? Few tales play out the way Schmeling fought Louis in dramatic 1930s politically tinged bouts with the Third Reich’s image on display, then resisted Hitler and later in life aided the stricken and struggling Louis.

I used to pride myself on boxing knowledge. My dad tells me I went toe-to-toe in the late 1950s with Dr. Joyce Brothers on the $64,000 Challenge. Brothers had dazzled the TV game show with her boxing knowledge, winning the top prize in both 1957 and again in 1959. Pops says: “You weren’t far behind. A champion in our living room.”

I still occasionally puff out when Jeopardy! has a boxing category.

“Who was Ezzard Charles, Alex?”

But boxing in 2014 leaves me cold.

The one thing our family takes away from this Klitschko guy is his relationship with actress Hayden Panettiere. Apparently the two are getting married, and since my wife likes the “Nashville” television show that features Panettiere, I guess we’re rooting for Wladimir this weekend.

— Bruce Gallaudet is a staff writer for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.

Bruce Gallaudet

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