My 30th Anniversary As a Boxing Fan!
My 30th Anniversary As a Boxing Fan!
By Antonio Santiago, Doghouse Boxing (Nov 13, 2012) Doghouse Boxing (Photo © German Villasenor, DHB)
It seems like time has flown, but on November 12th, 2012, it was officially my 30th anniversary of becoming a boxing fan! It was at that night thirty years ago, that Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello filled the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida, and fought their titanic fight. For one reason or the other, I wanted to watch the fight. I did not question, neither did I really care why, but watching fights with my dad and specially my grandpa was the thing to do back then if I wanted to consider myself "big".
                  1982 was a glorious year, both for boxing and for myself. I was either nine or ten that year, (having been born in August, 1972), and so my world was filled of friends, airplanes, music and a couple of fifth grade girls I liked, not including my teacher, Sandra Soto, the finest black woman you can imagine. Except for one tiny smudge (I was diagnised with type-1 Diabetes on May of that year), it was a really great year. On January 30th, me, my dad and my cousin Tommy watched as Wilfred Benitez performed masterfully against Roberto Duran on HBO Boxing. On February 20th, after an afternoon of observing such airplane types as the Delta and Eastern Air Lines L-1011s, the Iberia and Lufthansa Boeing 747s, the Air France and American Airlines DC-10s and more land at the international airport in San Juan, I headed along ith Tommy and my grandpa too watch Wilfredo Gomez take on Jose Luis Soto in person, in what was my first ever in person-boxing fight. I was by then catching the boxing bug, and knew about the cancellation of Hagler-Hearns and the retirement of Sugar Ray Leonard. I was bummed by that. Holmes-Cooney then took place, and everything seemed back to normal in boxing. Salvador Sanchez then had his savage fight with newcomer Azumah Nelson. He then died a month and a half later, leaving us all in shock. Soon after, I sat with grandpa again watching television as Juan Laporte and Mario Miranda put on a great fight at New York's Madison Square Garden before Laporte claimed the title that had belonged to Sanchez as WBC Featherweight champion of the world. But it was on the night of November 12th, 1982, that I was welcomed into the ranks of the feverish in boxing's fandom.
Alexis Arguello was looking for his 4th world title crown that night, nobody having ever gone that far in boxing's history. The dramatism put on that night by Telemundo Puerto Rico's broadcaster Junior Abrahms, (who by the way, was not my favorite Puerto Rican sportscaster, that distinction belongs to WAPA-TV's Rafael Bracero), made us watchers feel like Arguello was looking into being inducted at the Greek mount Olympus as a Greek God instead. That Arguello had announced that should he win, he would move from Miami to Puerto Rico had me hoping that he would win even more. Aaron Pryor, meanwhile, was just an unknown in my ten year old's mind. I guess I supposed that boxers picked up bouts the way we kids did in the street. You see someone, you want to fight him, you call the other boy and set a time and place. I was only ten. I did not imagine anything else about boxing, the only things I was aware about outside of the fight itself was that obviously, fighters had to catch a plane to the fight site and stay in a hotel overnight. Boxing was as raw of an experience as a street fight between two kids, only that boxing fights were on television and lasted longer and seemed more civilized, with the stars introduced before the fight, the singing of national anthems and all the pomp before the fight itself. Plus the referee and judges, obviously. As far as this fight, once round one began, my grandpa started telling me that Pryor was giving Arguello a beating. I watched and watched praying inside myself that Alexis could turn it around while admiring one brown-skinned lady at ringside that I was later told was Arguello's wife Loreto. Every time the bell would sound I would ask grandpa who had won that round and he'd sound grimly while saying "Pryor". Watching it later on ESPN Classic and on Youtube, I realize the fight was much more competitive than grandpa thought, but they weere both absorbing abnormal amounts of punishment as it went on. After round twelve, grandpa finally muttered Arguello's last name at the end of the round. Pryor was indeed in queer land during that round. Finally, in the fourteenth, we witnessed as the fight came to a brutal end. Pryor had won. There was no more boxing that night on television. But I sure wanted more of it!!
If the first fight between Pryor and Arguello catapulted me to become a rabid boxing fan, the one between Wilfredo Gomez and Lupe Pintor three weeks later cemented me as one. That fight, Gomez-Pintor, stood as my favorite fight of all time until about 26 years later, when Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez had their third act of brutality.
One day after Pryor-Arguello I, of course, tragedy in the name of Duk-Koo Kim struck boxing. Reading how a South Korean boxer was in a hospital dying and praying for him to recover, gave me the face of the brave warrior who really leaves it all out there. This, coped with the controversy surrounding the famous "bottle" of the first Pryor-Arguello fight and the one surrounding the stoppage of Dokes-Weaver I, made boxing, in my eyes, a very important society event. I mean, if no one cared about boxing, then why would all these things be on the newspaper? Boxing was not only exciting now in my mind, but also an important public entertainment spectacle, much like musical concerts and award ceremonies. Not surprisingly, in February 1983, with my Ring en Espanol issue of that month in hand, in front of a small supermarket in a corner near my college by the bridge that lead to our family house, I told my grandpa for the first time, that I wanted to be a boxer when I grew up. Soon enough, I began to see boxers as benign figures of goodwill and of overcoming odds in order to finish as triumphant battlers (unless you were knocked out too early in the fight). Win or lose, fighting itself became a joy for me, like an addiction. I was never really someone to pick up fights but when I got into them, I enjoyed each and every one of them. I was addicted to boxing too. When I think back to the fact that every time I went out, say, to the Walgreen's pharmacy at the corner shopping center, I saw it as a potential opportunity to see Bobby Chacon or Marvelous Marvin Hagler (or whoever was visiting Puerto Rico for that matter) in person, I realize now that I was just a giddy child learning about his new toy. The fact I actually ran into Sammy Serrano, the former 2 time WBA world Junior Lightweight Champion, at a Chinese restaurant and spoke to him did not help in that way, in fact it reaffirmed my view that someday I could perhaps run into Argentina's Carlos Monzon or Japan's Katsuo Tokashiki at a Puerto Rican supermarket or gas station. I have been blessed that way to have a dad who also is a fan of meeting famous people in person and he and I have met Sugar Ray Leonard, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., Oscar De La Hoya, Muhammad Ali, Wilfred Benitez, Hector Camacho Sr., Duran, Gomez, etc, etc in person, although certainly not at Walmarts or gas stations!
Now, when I look back at boxing and the changes that have taken place since I became a fan, I can honestly say that I was wishful, specially since then again, we are talking about a 10-11 year old here, when they reduced the amount of rounds from 15 to 12 by the WBC after the Kim tragedy. I believed Jose Sulaiman's words when he said he was all about boxing safety, and I really believed him, Gilberto Mendoza and Bob Lee when they spoke about giving deserving challengers their due chance to be world champions. The system of the champion having to face the top ten challengers, as voted by organization members, worked in my mind because I thought that since they were involved in boxing, they were all fans. Now I understand when people told me, and when they spoke about in magazines, about things not being as clear as water in boxing. And I see that boxing has a thing for hurting itself, and it is like that child of the family who dresses in Black and who wears vampire teeth. Like Ozzy Osbourne. Or me..sometimes anyways. I mean I have dated "vampire women" and dressed in black myself sometimes and all, but....
Ok, back to the topic. The thing is, aside from the 12 rounds, there have been many other safety improvements in boxing over these last 30 years, but the main improvement, to have one day in which no boxers die at all and all are safe inside the ring, has yet to be done. There are ways (I am planning an article on a solution for that pretty soon) but they have not been implemented. As far as for the game behind the game, it has gotten worse. I think the four major organizations, the IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO, are enough and really necessary so everyone gets a fair chance at the big pie, but once it went beyond that, and even worse, when those 4 organizations themselves began having more than one boxer called champion per division, it went far, far from as far as I imagined it could go. They should all return to the way it was in 1988, four groups with only one champion per division create opportunity for the fighters and enough competition to make a large portion of fights meaningful, while keeping the public interest alive without over-doing it. When WBO champion Ray Mercer fought former WBC and IBF champion Larry Holmes in their heavyweight fight in 1991, we watched because we were interested. We were interested because we knew the champions. But when someone fights claming he is the WBF "world champion standing in for the real champion in recess" against a "challenger" who is 14-26, if we watch, it's only because we are really desperate to see a fight. No one really cares with so many titles and champions anymore.
Another change, a positive one this one, is the emergence of Women's boxing. I love women boxers and not just because of their look. It's about time we tried to bring more women fans to the fights. Women fighters can fight, have as much heart as men fighters and many are as adept. Talk about a Christy Martin, a Deirdre Gogarty, a Marcela Acuna, Regina Halmich, Jessica Bopp or Anne Wolfe here. These are all held in highest esteem by yours truly for their fighting spirit, obvious hotness and classy behavior. We have seldom seen the boorish attitudes of some male fighters leading up or after, women fights. But like the men's game also, the womern's side has been hurt by greed, multiplying champions by division and overall disorganization.
And yet despite all of it, I, along with us all boxing fans, keep coming back for more. Because we love boxing.
What can I say? It has been a ride!

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