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The Throwback vs. Modern Boxer..Do They Make ‘Em Like They Used To?

Michael Woods

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The Throwback vs The Modern Boxer...who is better, and why?

The older one gets, the more the temptation to do the compare and contrast thing between the old days, back when you had your full complement of hair and charm with the ladies, or mate-ys, and stuff like arthritis and retirement were not even within squinting distance.

Boxing fans might well be worse with this than any sports fans, with the old guard’s tendency to glamorize “their” guys from back when boxing was in a golden age. If one had that time machine to go back to different eras, one might be surprised to be hearing how the age one lives in tends to get nitpicked, with the clarity that comes with the ability to see things live and fresh and currently.

After having 90 year old Art Loveley (below, at Everlast headquarters), a Massachusetts born Manhattan resident …

Art Loveley, age 90s, has been a guest two times on the Everlast "Talkbox" podcast.

..who was one of the world’s best CEO head hunter back in the 70s and 80s, on “Talkbox,” it got me to thinking more about the merits of the OGs versus the new guard. Art made a massive push to get Tony Demarco (58-12-1), a Boston based welterweight, into the International Boxing Hall of Fame…and succeeded. “I was really, really pleased, because a real injustice had been solved. Demarco fought eight world champions and was one of the most exciting fighters of the 1950s,” Art told us on the podcast.

Tony Demarco, immortalized for the ages with this statue in Boston's North End neighborhood.

We chatted more about “the old days,” and the caliber of athletes and beings then, versus now. Were they better back than, Art, I asked? Do they make then now like they used to?

“No they don’t, they don’t,” he told listeners. “But I will say this…the 20th century was a great century for America, we had our good days and our bad days, but also, it was a great century for boxing,” he stated, noting that boxing was king. College football was big, baseball was of course a monster…and then they had boxing, with Dempsey, and Tunney and Benny Leonard..”and boxing was the most popular of all!”

He continued: In 1935, amidst the Depression, he sat in his dad’s new car, the only one in town with a radio. He was 7, and Art and his pop drove into the country, and listened to Baer-Braddock, on radio. Braddock beat Max Baer and Art was a boxing convert. The whole nation pretty much tuned into the Joe Louis-Max Schmeling fight, he relayed, in 1936. (And by the way, you must listen to Art announce the combatants, in his ring announcer voice…it is, no lie, an epic moment.)

The seasoned fight fan told me that persons “back then” were tougher. We are softer, today? “That’s true, partially Mike. They were much better prepared…It’s the TV era, they had to have 50-80 fights before they could even get a main event,” he said, noting how many clubs featured bouts all the time. Now, they have ten or twelve fights and then you get onto TV, Art said. “They had tremendous experience before they even became (main eventers),” he said. I probed more–were people maybe more humble and didn’t think they knew it all so early on?

“Yes, I do, yes I do Mike, I really do, there is a different mindset today, they were more dedicated then, more dedicated, more determined! And they had a tougher road to hoe, they had to go through some great people before they got to the main events!”

Maybe if we respect history, and tell or remind kids how it used to be, maybe we can restore some of what was lost. Art noted how kids today feel pressure…but wasn’t pressure present when at age 19 you were asked to storm the beach at Normandy. “There’s a different mindset today, you can see it,” he said.

So…check out these takes on the differences between The Throwback and The Modern Boxer…great riffs from the NYFights gang, and check out that glorious illustration by Rob Ayala.

Hamza Ahmed: The old school is way better than the new school.

Nowadays, fighters are ranked on hype with a tremendous emphasis on the eye test i.e. how good a guy looks. We fans, media, fighters and everyone else involved have veered away from recognizing the importance of resume, so much so that we’ve all but forgotten what it feels like to see a guy beat one top opponent after another, all in their primes or close to it. We have accepted the norm that superfights must take place from 5 years when first discussed as opposed to say 2. Look at Joshua and Wilder, constant pussyfooting and we’re absolutely nowhere near close enough for the fight to happen. The fight should have happened last year. By the time the powers that be think Spence v Crawford is the right time to happen, Crawford will be around 33 years old and Spence will most likely have moved up to 154. That’s a superfight in severe danger of never ever happening. Canelo V Golovkin should have happened in May 2016. Instead we got Canelo v Khan and Golovkin V Wade. Then Canelo V Smith and Golovkin v Brook. Then Golovkin V Jacobs and Canelo V Chavez Jr. Then the rematch a full year later. But nobody questions why this kind of stuff happens and when one does, they’re met with that ridiculous word – “marinate.”

I mean look at this – within 4 years of turning pro, Sugar Ray Leonard had already beaten Wilfredo Benitez, Roberto Duran, Ayub Kalule and Tommy Hearns. Errol Spence Jr has been a pro for 6 years 3 months and his best wins are Kell Brook and Lamont Peterson. Terence Crawford has been a pro for nearly 11 years, is 31 years old and still doesn’t have a win over a prime A class opponent. Deontay Wilder is another, 32 years old and a Bronze medallist and fought absolutely nobody for the first 38 fights of his career. 38 FIGHTS! Conversely in 37 fights, Joe Frazier retired having beaten Bonavena, Jones, Chuvalo, Mathis, Quarry, Ellis, Foster and Ali. Ditto Gennady Golovkin, who fought Jacobs after 37 fights and I haven’t even touched on guys like Kell Brook on this side of the world, who has only ever beaten Shawn Porter.

Are there extenuating circumstances surrounding the aforementioned guys who I’ve listed above as to why certain fights haven’t happened? Absolutely but right now, I don’t want to give them a pass. Why? Because everyone in boxing is responsible for inflating these guys into supermen without actually having them prove themselves. It takes just one good win and suddenly you’re P4P. Two good wins and suddenly you’re greater than Ray Robinson or Ali. If you big these guys up then they better have the chops to back up the noise.

Bluntly speaking, we have become accustomed to mediocrity. In my opinion, the worst thing that ever happened to this generation was Mayweather V Pacquiao happening in 2015. Having seen the financial windfall that fight produced, promoters are now happy to delay proceedings for they now know fans are dumb enough to pay for a fight whenever it happens. They know they can get away with marinating a fight for years because the fans will still vote with their wallets, even after complaining. Managers are content too to collude in delaying proceedings and the fighters are happy with this notion as well. Given the vast riches currently being lavished in the sport, fighters are happy to fight lesser opponents for big money, then demand even more money to make a big fight. Guys nowadays want Mayweather money without Mayweather effort. People forget that before money made Floyd soft, he had actively worked himself into the position of being worthy enough for a de la Hoya fight, having beaten Manfredy, Hernandez, Corrales, Castillo, Judah and Gatti. Now folks want the de la Hoya fight without the effort needed. If Mayweather v Pacquiao never happened in 2015, promoters would be absolutely scrambling to make Canelo V GGG, Spence V Crawford and Joshua V Wilder due to fear on watching potentially millions upon millions of dollars go up in smoke. Instead, the precedent has been set and that means a minimum wait of 4 to 5 years.

Russell Peltz, when matchmaker at the Philadelphia Spectrum, once said “because we had no vested interest in protecting a fighter’s record, we could make the best fights, which was all we wanted to do.” Nowadays it’s all about protecting fighters and giving them the path of least resistance on the road to riches. This is also why I don’t have a top 10 P4P list anymore. How can I rank guys when everybody is content in their position? There’s no desire, there’s no fight. Who out there is genuinely reaching out and saying I want to leave a legacy on the sport? Just a handful of guys, a drop in the ocean when assessed comparatively with the level of active fighters in boxing today.

Inactivity/inconsistency is another issue which has been plaguing the sport for some time. Take Gervonta Davis as an example.

Gervonta Davis, seen with promoter Floyd Mayweather, isn't as busy as a throwback fighter..and he gets frustrated at the lack of activity.

The kid was TREMENDOUS against Pedraza, that was his Mayweather – Manfredy/Hernandez moment. He should have been catapulted to the top with a rocket strapped onto him. Instead he hasn’t fought someone at the level for 2 years now and spent 2018 having just one fight – an April wipeout over Jesus Cuellar. The kid should be a star but he’s not at the moment. What about Gary Russell Jr, who only fights once a blue moon?

And then onto this argument I constantly see suggesting today’s fighters are better than yesteryear’s because of modern day science and nutrition. My counter argument to that is the guys back then were fighters. The guys now are athletes. The OG’s were better fighters, the modern era are better athletes. The older generation could go 15, 20 rounds no problem without showing any sign of fatigue. Nowadays, guys are winded after 8 or 9 rounds and in some cases, need an oxygen mask to continue, largely due to superficial means in looking the part as opposed to being the part. And this is my opinion, though which I’ve held for a long time now but as far as I’m concerned, ‘modern day science and nutrition’ is a fancy buzzword for steroids. Yep, I said it and by steroids, I mean an umbrella term encompassing outright steroids, ‘supplements’, designer PEDs, undetectable PEDs and the latest craze of weight cheating, where guys who should be at say 160 are instead campaigning at say 154 or 147.

We will never ever have an era as stacked as the 50/60’s welterweights, the 70’s heavyweights, the 80’s Four Kings or the 90’s heavyweights. Imagine if Robinson fought Fullmer when it was too late, Ali never fought Foreman, Hagler V Hearns never happened, etc. That’s where we are today.

As a fan, I’m at a point now where I don’t even care who fails a drug test or who fails to make weight or whatever. The problems of boxing lie at the very top end of the sport where the stars are. It’s only when you watch Canelo V Golovkin do you realize one guy got off scot free for Clenbuterol and the other has one good win, that a close one versus Jacobs. It’s only when you watch Mayweather V Pacquiao when you realize the halcyon days of when Leonard and Hearn met in their primes. It’s the top end of the sport where we truly realize issues such as corrupt judging, corrupt officials and marination are at their most rampant.

The true beauty of boxing I believe, lies in the middle part of the sport. Guys like Jarrett Hurd…

.. Shawn Porter, Caleb Plant, Oleksandr Usyk, Sor Rungvisai, Daniel Jacobs, Badou Jack who have compelling narratives but aren’t exactly superstars. Guys who will fight anybody, anytime, anywhere, no questions asked. No politics involved with those guys and or similar ilk, no BS masking any facades.

And through these guys, there is light at the end of the tunnel. More money is in the sport than ever before. More dates are open. More outlets are showing boxing. More promoters are involved. More fighters are coming. More kids are becoming interested in engaging in the noble art of fisticuffs. Deals such as FOX/PBC/ITV and DAZN for $10 give hope that a better future could be upon us. Big fights on the lower and middle end of the sport are happening but not at the top end. But perhaps we should just detach ourselves from the expectations shackled to the top end of the sport and just watch that end for what it is whilst maintaining a healthy and vested interest in the middle and lower end of the sport.

But even then, the days of the previous glory eras are over with. That will never be replicated. Greater fighters, greater fights, greater moments, greater memories and a sheer disparity in mentality.

David Phillips: “I find there are boxers to love in any era. What I prefer about the olde skool era is the fact that more often than not, you got the match-ups you wanted. The best often fought the best. The ducking and diving – which is more often to be laid at the feet of today’s handlers as opposed to the fighters – wasn’t as prevalent then as it is now. Unless my glasses are full of roses. Which is a possibility. But if I look at the CV of Muhammad Ali and who he fought, who did he miss that was top tier during his time? And he’s not the only one. Who did Marvin Hagler ever dodge? As much as anything – corruption, woeful judging, poor TV coverage, etc. – this is what hurts modern boxing the most.”

Jab Hook Joe Healy: “Are we talking about the generation gap here, or what? Been there and done that at both ends of the timeline, so here is my view. It is all a question of perception and as “Old School” mellows out and “New School” learns and matures, the lines blur and the roles ultimately reverse.

If the task is to compare the caricature boxers and their attitudes, I offer Teofimo Lopez as the best of both worlds. “El Brooklyn” is a real boxer who is better than either of these cartoon jokers and personifies the solution to the problem.

But Woodsy said, “…convince us that the old days only look better because that is the way our brains work to forget how in many ways things stay consistently shitty…”.

Jab is in his 7th decade, literally “Old School”. And I do embrace some of the values attributed to that camp in boxing. But that label has other connotations that I reject, e.g. “the good old days”. Here and now is all we have in life. And maybe I’m lucky, or optimistic, but right now is good, really good for Jab Hook.

In terms of the Sweet Science, again my feeling is that today boxing is great and as good as ever. Yes, it is also true that quite a few individuals from the near and distant boxing past have emerged over the past century and half as uniquely special, memorable, and worthy of note. Jab sorely misses some those greats.

But such people are also walking this earth among us today. And yes, you can lament this weight division or that promoter or that media giant for weakening boxing. What do you think boxing was complaining about back in 1970, in 1925, in 1888?

We have it made in boxing today!”

Rob Ayala: Here is a quick list of why I believe The throwback fighter is > than today’s:

–We can put a lot of blame on promoters. They are too concerned with PPV numbers, and protecting their cash cows/golden goose. They aren’t concerned with making great fights. Fighters are taking a year or two off between “filler” fights just to sit on one of MANY useless alphabet belts. It’s sad.

–The splintering of different titles and organizations are so corrupt. WBC and WBA were legit until the 1980s when WBO was founded. They started breaking their own rules to favor all these backroom deals and shady rules.

–Boxing would serve better under a single umbrella—which we know will never happen but works quite well for MMA: well matched fights (fights fans want!) predictable and well televised schedules. The US doesn’t have a deep bench of talent like the days of Ali, Foreman, Frazier, Holmes, Tyson, Lennox, Holyfield. It seems as though all the best US boxers are most likely playing football in the NFL. However, we are seeing a lot of solid Eastern European talent.

(Publisher Note: Check out Ayala’s work here. Promoters and platform people should be hiring him, IMO, as his art can appeal to an outside-of-boxing fanbase.)

Abe Gonzalez: Boxing goes all the way back to around 688 BC, when it was billed as part of the Olympic Games. Just like anything else in life, the world evolves in time and if you want something to survive the test of time, it has to evolve with it. Boxing is no different as I grew up watching it as a kid in the 80s where fights were transitioning from fifteen rounds to twelve as medical research and technologies advanced. As a sport, it has to change and remain relevant with the trends that occur with modern society.

“Old School”: The primary way of communicating was through telephones, letter correspondence and in person. Printed and TV media was the main source of how people “got the news” on events that occurred whether through sports, entertainment or anything that the media felt necessary to report. That wasn’t exactly the wrong way of doing things, it was just the only way. Computers were expensive and not everyone had the ability to afford dial up internet or cable. Promoters marketed events using printed media and local news because that was the only thing available to them and the average consumer paid attention to those things. The buildups of fights were different as more eyeballs were involved since there was limited avenues of communication. People paid good money to see fights as it was more so an event while your average income folks watched it on regular TV. You had fighters who did out of the ordinary stuff like the Vinny Paz’ and Camachos, which brought a different feel to it. It was as if they knew what the next “thing” in boxing was going to be. Was the “old school” boxer doing it the right or wrong way? I would say that the answer to that is they did it utilizing the limited tools available for a sport that was still working under an even older business model.

“New School”: I want to start off by acknowledging the one fighter I believe revolutionized how social media can be used to market fighters and that’s Paulie Malignaggi.

Paul Malignaggi handled social media quite well back around 2012..he chatted with fans and took on haters, and built his buzz.
Malignaggi was ahead of the curve in being interactive with fans…and haters.

He opened his Twitter account in 2009 and it wasn’t until I opened mine in 2012, that I noticed something unique about what he was doing. He was one of the few and maybe only boxers that truly communicated directly with his fans utilizing Twitter. I have to mention this as I believe this started how promoters, fighters and media folks communicated and marketed their events. He started with hashtags like “TK” & “SMK” which made people pay attention and start to emulate this. As this was going on, society expanded their way of communicating and with this, companies exploited what most would call the “American Dream” which was to get rich and live a lavish life by putting it out on TV and the internet in an effort to gain attention. This absolutely worked as it glorified the lavish lifestyle and out came the birth of Floyd “Money” Mayweather. People love to see the fancy cars and the jewelry as it’s something they know they will either have one day or enjoy watching it as they know they won’t ever be there in life so why not live vicariously through others. With this modern day technology came more competition in regards to promoters and out came the terms “this side of the street” and let that fight “build” or “marinate”. It’s no ones fault and as frustrating as it may be, the sport evolved with society and that is what it has turned into. Fighters do all their talking on social media because that’s is what is available to them and they know people pay more attention to that than anything else. It’s the new way of doing business but doesn’t mean it’s the wrong way.

Kelsey McCarson: Throwbacks and modern boxer are just like anyone else: They are a product of their time periods. In the old days, fighters made a lot less money, fought a lot more times a year and did what their peers did. In modern times, fighters listen to their promoters and managers, try to maximize their earnings and…do what their peers do. People romanticize the old days. They always have and always will. But fighters are a lot better off today than they were 50 years ago, and they’ll probably be a lot better off 50 years from now, too. (Read more McCarson here.)

Gabe Oppenheim: I can’t begrudge the new school fighters their money, their greater ownership of their schedules and careers, their being protected by promoters who want to keep all contests in-house and relatively safe (investment-wise). Because while that makes for a less rational game — one in which there are multiple champs at one weight who won’t meet until both are old and the IRS comes calling — it also makes for a safer one.

I’ve interviewed loads of fighters from the 1940s to the present. The ones from the more distant past — and I mean even the successful ones, the champs — they were so bedeviled by physical ailments brought on by boxing and so impoverished from mismanagement of money by managers (or the denial of money owed them by the mob) that their greatness in the ring was overshadowed, overtaken, meaningless.

That’s not to say today’s fighters won’t encounter money or health issues as they age, but they’re quite clearly taking less punishment by fighting less often and they’re certainly getting more money at the top (although without financial literacy, that extra dough won’t help ’em avoid the ignoble slide, on the other side of the bell curve, into diminished circumstances — #MCHammer).

One example of the past I think about from time to time. The first oldhead Philly trainer I got to know one day shared an amazing story — he’d been walking either to or from the grocery store the day before and encountered ’60s welterweight Johnny Knight. Turned out, Knight lived right there, two blocks away from where we were sitting, in an assisted living facility for the elderly.

Through this oldhead intermediary, I received permission to visit Knight, and while he recalled his own career perfectly, his body was otherwise failing him. He was nearly blind in one eye, and in fact, he wound up reciting all the injuries he’d picked up in-ring, and the list went on and on.

And who was Johnny Knight in the first place? Only one boxer who wasn’t either a heavyweight or a champ has ever appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated — it was Philly’s half-blind, hot-dogging welter genius Gypsy Joe Harris. Well, Johnny Knight went to high school with Gypsy and fought him twice, back to back — he lost one by decision and the other by KO. A photo from one of their encounters was framed on Knight’s wall.

The point is, having seen what a fighter used to do to get by, I’m in no position to judge the more protected and privileged pugs of today. Do their moves make for a weaker product? Absolutely. I wish someone had ordered Mayweather and Pacquiao to fight five years earlier. Of course, in bygone days, the order would’ve come from a mobster or the dictator at Madison Square Garden.

The system was dangerous and unrewarding then. It remains so for most boxers today. Those who can escape it, while ruining my unification fantasies, probably should. But don’t expect me not to excoriate ’em for it. Writers have their own prerogatives and problems.

Johnny Wilds: “Old school for me! The posturing online is really old hat. I miss the days of a bit of banter in person or on teleconference versus the continual diatribes without even settling it in the ring like today’s fighters are doing.”

Editor/publisher Michael Woods became addicted to boxing in 1990, when Buster Douglas shocked the world with his demolition of the fearsome Mike Tyson. The Brooklyn-based journalist Woods has covered the sport since then, for ESPN The Magazine, ESPN.com, ESPN New York, RING, and he was editor of TheSweetScience.com from 2007-2015. Woods is also an accomplished blow by blow and color man, having done work for Top Rank, DiBella Entertainment, EPIX, and numerous other organizations.

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