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“The Weigh In”: European Boxing in a Golden Age?
By Michael Klimes: Recently I have been unable to write about boxing as I was an exile in my own bedroom where I revised copious amounts of notes in preparation for my exams. Nonetheless, I could not help but think about boxing and I was particularly animated by the thought that the current generation of European fighters are doing rather well with Britain contributing its own contingent. By far the most accomplished of the British boxers has been Joe Calzaghe, who finally received a degree of recognition in the winter of his career that he had never experienced before. To partially gain this recognition, he had to defeat a very good fighter in Mikkel Kessler who had established his own little empire over the previous few years.
Now Calzaghe’s presence has been replaced by Carl Froch who won his title from a fighter with a French name in Jean Pascal. Another title holder in this very cosmopolitan division is Lucien Bute who is a Romanian.. Bute has successfully transposed himself to Montreal where he is one of the most popular and successful fighters in North America. It is fascinating to realise that he is on the American continent yet is in the most European part of it, which is intriguing. Perhaps only Boston and San Francisco can match Montreal’s distinctly European identity.
What is encouraging about Bute is that he is a European fighter who has managed to find success across the Atlantic which has not always been the case. Two other fighters have managed to establish a second home in the United States and these are Tomasz Adamek, who has become a popular attraction in Chicago and Newark and Ricky Hatton who prefers Las Vegas. The most lucrative ticket seller among these three is of course Hatton and although he has not had complete success against the best competition he has faced, he still has put on some good shows and at least dared to be great. Hatton has not remained sheltered in a way that Calzaghe did right up to the end of his career.
Similarly, until a while ago, the cruiserweight division was commanded by an insolent but charismatic Englishman David Haye and he beat the tough Frenchman Jean-Mark Mormeck. Furthermore, the middleweight division has Felix Sturm and Arthur Abraham in its ranks. Abraham, although Armenian, is based in Germany and appears to be comfortable there and why shouldn’t he be? At the light-welterweight limit, Andreas Kotelnik is the WBA Champion and the heavyweights are commanded by the Klitschko brothers. They are perfect exponents of the stand up European style of boxing where considerable speed, power and technique are displayed. Sultan Ibragimov, Ruslan Chagaev and Nicolai Valuev have all made their own impact in various ways.
It is difficult to say why the European boxers are doing so well at the moment. This could be biased on my part as I am a European and I might have a natural predisposition to these types of fighters. Also, the Mexicans and the Puerto Ricans have an abundance of good to great fighters at present but when has not that been the case? Europe’s boxing heritage does not strike me as rich as these two countries which are superpowers when it comes to boxing. Currently, the US is perceived to be experiencing a downturn in its fighters which might be somewhat exaggerated since the main focus of the criticism seems to rest on there being no great American heavyweight. Sugar Shane Mosley and Bernard Hopkins, judging by their last bouts are as good as they ever were. Chad Dawson and Paul Williams are two extremely gifted fighters and Floyd Mayweather Jr. is on his way back so the decline might not be as dire as it seems. However, the main problem with these fighters is that although they are undeniably skilful, they are not megastars like Oscar de la Hoya or Mike Tyson who were big at the box office and as ticket sellers. Kelly Pavlik is popular in the Midwest but his appeal ends there.
Understandably, there is a degree of fear among the powerbrokers in boxing that not having a cash lynchpin will leave the sport somewhat adrift financially.
For some peculiar reason and it might just be a symptom which afflicts American boxing culture, there is a demand for a champion who transgresses boundaries through their popularity. Perhaps, as boxing has been seen to decline over the past decades, a demand has been cultivated whereby what is viewed as the best hope for boxing is a single superstar whose corporate power is one on which the sport can rest. Since America has been the nexus of the sport for so long, this affliction has developed in the United States.
However, the recent credit crunch and threat of Ultimate Fighting has invigorated boxing to return to its grass roots and I personally see this as positive as the morbid PPV culture has taken somewhat of a beating and the boxing tsars at HBO have not been able to completely monopolise the boxing market or least have been forced to think about increasing the quality of their product. I feel A.J. Liebling with his aversion to the surreal and commercial power of television would welcome such a development with pleasure. In fact, this tarnishing of the PPV has somewhat explained the success of European fighters as Britain and Germany have been able to negotiate terms with American promoters and get American fighters over to Europe thereby making boxing more of a global sport with a global appeal.
I do not think European boxing is experiencing a golden age in terms of having a plethora of legendary fighters. Joe Calzaghe has been the outstanding boxer of his generation and Hatton has had a fan base which has been exceptional. No one else is quite at his level in terms of skill and popularity but the quality of Bute, Abraham, Kessler, Haye, Adamek and the Klitschkos is impressive. Furthermore, the bargaining power of Germany and the UK to host fights has increased which is just as significant.
The age of Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, Steve Collins, Michael Watson and Herol Graham was probably better as there was more depth in the light middleweight, middleweight, super middleweight and heavyweight divisions back then on both sides of the Atlantic. However, European fight fans and more importantly fans in general should enjoy the current group of European fighters who are some of the best on the planet.
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