By Lyle Fitzsimmons
All things considered… I’d rather be in Key West.
And not just because of the near-tropical weather. And not just because it’s got one of the coolest bar strips known to mankind. And no, not even just because it’s where I was married six years ago this May.
Actually this week, the real reason to be in Florida’s southernmost city is for the start of the basic cable boxing season – in this case, season No. 14 of ESPN’s Friday Night Fights.
Forget the fact that only the hardest of the hardcores would recognize the principals in the scheduled main event – super middleweights Dyah Davis and Alfonso Lopez – if they stood alongside them while watching a pre-fight sunset alongside the makeshift venue at Mallory Square.
Because even if the fighters aren’t the same ones you’ll typically see for a premium fee on HBO, Showtime or their respective pay-per-view arms, watching the show now as is as much about maintaining the connection to the network’s old-school days as it is about today’s matches.
Sure, Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas do a great job at ringside. They’ve created a stage for a lot of guys who’d otherwise never get it. And the mid-show studio work with Brian Kenny is undeniably solid.
But while the announce team is strong and the top-to-bottom package more complete, the sentimentalist in me simply recalls a more palpable anticipation and intrigue leading into the shows of the 1980s – when the network’s Thursday broadcast was known as Top Rank Boxing.
Maybe it makes me nostalgic. Or maybe it just makes me old.
Perhaps it's only because I was a kid, but it somehow felt as if an upset or surprisingly competitive fight happened more regularly back then, more so than with today's scripted, "this house fighter will beat that opponent en route to bigger PPV shows" routine.
Instead of an ESPN date being a sign that a fighter has made the big time, a weekly appearance now too often reeks of a carefully arranged, drama-free steppingstone.
The former left it all in the ring. The latter expend little now and save more for later.
And because they were fighting for more with each show, identifiable past characters like Mario "Bucket of Blood" Chavez, Kenny "Bang Bang" Bogner and Eric "The Prince" Martin seem far more romantic and interesting than the Teon Kennedy, Demetrius Andrade and J.C. Burgos ilk of 2012.
Another sure favorite of the old days was the annual ESPN tournament, in which the network would arrange a handful of bouts leading to the crowning of various weight-class champions – who then would occasionally defend the belts in subsequent title bouts.
Some of my fondest memories revolve around those fights and those titles, and even the gimmicky sudden-death 13th round that would occur when a close bout ended – prompting the referee to tell the corners not to cut gloves off – and was scored a draw after 12.
Imagine such a scenario today.
No promoter in his right mind would suggest it. No manager in his right mind would consider it. No fighter in his right mind would agree to it.
And sadly, no young fan will ever experience how fun it all was.
Sometimes it's hell getting old.
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Meanwhile, on the topic of time machines, I was paging through the archives and looked back with a smile at some old columns from the last few Januarys.
It’s always amazed me how, even in the course of 12 or 24 months, the fighters who seem so entrenched in the upper crust can instantly seem irrelevant and far from consciousness.
Not to mention the reminder that all of a sudden, I’ve been doing this a while.
Here’s a snippet:
Four years ago (Jan. 10, 2008)
Nate Campbell interview, prepping for Juan Diaz
"When I get in there and hit a guy, he stays hit. Guys who I fight aren't the same once I put my hands on them, and it'll be the same for Diaz. It'll go on as long as he can take it, and if he can take it for 12 rounds, it'll be the worst 12 rounds of his life, I promise you."
Three years ago (Jan. 8, 2009)
Wladimir Klitschko, on a potential David Haye fight
“A year ago, I didn't know his name. People told me that he'd been an undisputed cruiserweight champion, but I must've missed it. And suddenly, a year later, he wants to be in the ring against me. That's just the way it happens sometimes. New names are coming in. Haye has made himself famous, but he's been very loud and noisy. I have to teach him how to behave himself."
Two years ago (Jan. 14, 2010)
Kassim Ouma, prepping for Vanes Martirosyan
“I've been out a long time and I have to reestablish myself, but I'm ready. I've always had the hunger, but never the fight I was looking for. This is the fight. A young fighter up and coming and trying to prove himself, and he's ready to go do that. But I'm ready to give him a surprise."
One year ago (Jan. 14, 2011)
Evander Holyfield, prepping for Sherman Williams
“If it were left up to me, I'd fight the Klitschkos and David Haye, and that'd be it. If it were three more left, that's what I'd do. Or maybe one Klitschko fights Haye and I fight the other Klitschko, and the two winners fight. I'd take that, too. Whatever it takes to be undisputed. I'm not the kind of guy you can go to sleep on, and these guys know that. They say I'm taking a big chance by fighting them, but they're taking a big chance fighting me, too."
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
No fights scheduled.
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Last week's picks: 2-0
Overall picks record: 277-92 (75.0 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.