Commentary: Boxing has no socially redeeming qualities. I can’t believe how much I miss it

Bob Arum is interviewed before a fight between Jamel Herring and Jonathan Oquendo on Sept. 5 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Promoter Bob Arum thrives on controversy within the perpetually controversial sport of boxing.
(Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images)

Let’s start with the obvious. The sport of boxing has no socially redeeming qualities. There is no cancer curing going on.

The same might be said of the NFL or NBA or Major League Baseball. But they at least pretend to care about creating role models for children and foundations for the less fortunate. With a little nudging, one might admit that boxing has gotten a few youngsters out of the grips of poverty. But the adult years of those same youngsters often dissolve into scarred faces and scrambled brains.

Indeed, what boxing does in a roped-off ring is called assault. Do it outside those ropes, you go to jail.


All this being said, I cannot believe how much I miss it. Amateur psychologists, go ahead and weigh in.

As a reporter and columnist for this paper for many years, I attended often and wrote lots about the fights. It was intoxicating, fascinating, mind-boggling — not the stuff in the ring, but everything around and outside it. It was almost always about the show, not the fight. The boxer in the white corner and his entourage always hated the boxer in the red corner and his entourage. Hate and projected violence were as essential as learning how to talk like a stereotypical pugilist.

Mike Tyson, 54, rediscovered his passion for boxing during quarantine. He’s returning to the ring Saturday for an exhibition against Roy Jones Jr.

In retirement, I had forgotten how to say “dees guys and dem guys.” I had slipped back into cultural acceptability.

Then, on a recent Saturday night on ESPN, there it was again. A big fight in Las Vegas, with all the anger and controversy and inept officiating and another overhyped mismatch and people shouting at each other and a fireworks show that was more overdone than a Super Bowl halftime and the poor broadcasters doing their best to legitimize the illegitimate.

Also, there was Bob Arum in full bloom. He is boxing’s grandaddy of them all, and he was screaming and hollering at the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which is a collection of semi-competent adults paid to make sense out of the senseless.

Arum, the 88-year-old promoter (89 on Dec. 8), was so upset, his face was almost as blue as the sweater he was wearing. There is nothing like controversy in a fight Arum is promoting. He thrives on it, lives for it, turns molehills into mountains. Writers get goose-bumpy just watching him head their way. He is about as restrained as the rodeo bull when they open the gate. He is boxing’s Bobfather. When he dies, the sport might too.

Arum was furious. The scene was chaotic. I so missed being there.

The controversy was actually over an undercard fight. Two little fighters, Andrew Moloney and Joshua Franco, were in a rematch in which Moloney was attempting to get back his title. Quickly, Franco’s right eye swelled. Referee Russell Mora ruled that had been caused by an inadvertent head butt. Soon, the ringside doctor ruled Franco could not see well enough to continue, meaning a no-decision and Franco would keep the title.

Joshua Franco, left, reacts during his fight against Andrew Moloney on June 23 in Las Vegas.
Joshua Franco, left, reacts during his fight against Andrew Moloney on June 23 in Las Vegas. Their rematch Nov. 14 ended in controversy.
(Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

It was a lighted match on a pile of hay. Arum was Moloney’s promoter.

Arum accused the Nevada commission of making a ruling to protect Mora. He ranted and raved, especially when TV cameras were nearby. The broadcast crew of Joe Tessitore and former world champions Andre Ward and Tim Bradley started raising doubts immediately. They hadn’t seen a head butt, nor had anybody other than Mora. A 26-minute delay ensued while the Nevada officiating geniuses reviewed the film, allowable under a recent rule change. ESPN viewers got to review right along with them, two or three times. No head butts, just some crisply landed jabs to that eye by Moloney.

Bradley, who had fought many times in Las Vegas and lost only two fights in his career — both in Vegas to Manny Pacquiao — saw it coming.

“They’ll get it wrong,” he said.

He was right.

This is boxing. The beat goes on. The fun (fraud) never stops. There are more goodies in the weeks ahead, starting Saturday night at Staples Center, with the match the sports world has long awaited: Mike Tyson versus Roy Jones Jr. (I can’t even believe I typed that).

Tyson is 54, Jones 51. In their prime, they were great fighters. They are no longer in their prime. They each won a bunch of titles and established a bunch of boxing records. But the only number anybody needs to pay attention to here is $49.99. That’s the pay-per-view price.

The reaction has been fairly universal — rolled eyes and chuckles — but then, didn’t P.T. Barnum once say something about a sucker being born every minute? There is no evidence he wasn’t talking about fight fans.

Tyson was last seen exhausted and sitting on his stool, refusing to come out for the seventh round of his last fight. That was June 11, 2005. Jones, who didn’t start as a heavyweight but ate himself there, last fought, and won, Feb. 8, 2018.

Former heavyweight boing champion Mike Tyson spars during a 2006 training exhibition in Las Vegas.
Former heavyweight boing champion Mike Tyson spars during a 2006 training exhibition in Las Vegas.
(Marlene Karas / Associated Press)

George Foreman, who won a heavyweight title at age 45, called this matchup “temporary insanity.” Tyson is hyping it on TV promotions by saying, “I am the greatest fighter since the conception of God.” So, what does that make Buster Douglas?

This fiasco is set for eight rounds, and the promotion says it won’t be an all-out match but merely “hard sparring.” What arrogance. Fifty bucks for “hard sparring.”

On Dec. 5, Errol Spence Jr. will meet Danny Garcia in Arlington, Texas. That actually could be worth watching. The next weekend, blubberweights Anthony Joshua and Kubrat Pulev will lean on each other for a couple of rounds in London. Then, on Dec. 19, Canelo Alvarez is scheduled to come out of his 2020 hibernation for a fight in San Antonio, fighting Brit Callum Smith, who has the name identification in the U.S. of a Detroit Tigers utility infielder.

Something is bound to happen in each. Tyson might bite the referee’s earlobe. Officials might get it wrong in a close fight between Spence and Garcia. The heavyweights might demand to use oxygen between rounds, and Alvarez might refuse to fight unless he is made king of Mexico, with a percentage of the country’s gross national product.

The only disappointment is that Tyson Fury — who is named after Mike Tyson and who, perhaps in honor of his namesake, once licked the blood off the neck of an opponent during a fight — has postponed his next outing to next year. That’s a real blow to my fight watching because Arum is his promoter.

In any case, driven by my apparently incurable disorder, I’ll be watching, except for the Tyson-Jones fiasco. Even I’m not that sick.