Before There was MMA
Published: 05/02/2011 at Richard Gonzalez
Remember not to long ago when there was just one combat sport in town? No reality shows that depected wanna be's that live in a house and have to fight eachother in order to stick around to obtain a six figure contract. The world of MMA has a lot to do with the sport of boxing taking a back seat, however some of the activites that happened over the years need to take some sort of credit for its fall from grace. The monicker "Sweet Science" still holds true to some die-hard fans opnions, but it gets a little shaddy after looking well beneath the surface.
Take a step back and weigh some of the worst things that happened in the world of boxing and the haze around what happened to this sport becomes clear. Thugs, corruption and all around shaddy characters take the lead in this made for movie riches to rags story.
James "Harlem Hammer" Butler was from New York City and was a very promising fighter. His troubles probably started back in November 2001 in a benefit bout for the survivors of 9/11. His opponent that night was with Richard "The Alien" Grant in which Grant lost by unanimous decision. However the excitement happened after the fight. While Butler went over to Grant's corner to congratulate the fighter, Grant extended his arms in an apparent motion to hug Butler . Butler , whose gloves were already removed, threw a vicious haymaker that resulted in a broken jaw, lacerated tongue and several stitches. Consequently Butler spent some time in prison. The fall of Butler continued. After never getting back his success in the ring, Butler murdered Sam Kellerman, whose brother is HBO Boxing analyst Max Kellerman's brother. Butler plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 26 years in prison.
Boxing has opened its arms to many different personalities but no one takes the cake more then Don King. Not only has King's questionable exploits include fraud, but he has also been implicated in murder, bribery, theft, bookmaking, breaches of contract and mafia assisted racketeering - quite an alter boy. I don't think that anyone can question his business savvy, regardless of how crooked it is - in 1974 he shrewdly promoted his first boxing match - the Ali vs. Formen bout which was famously dubbed "Rumble in the Jungle' held in Zaire. Larry Holmes, former heavyweight champion, once said "Don King wears his hair like that so he can hide his horns."
Boxer since the beginning have always been rumored to be on the take - that is receiving payments for throwing fights. No one better then the great Sonny Liston. One can point the finger of his questionable activity due to his rough childhood. A victim of poverty and physical abuse, Liston left home at a very young age - which resulted in him getting involved in some violent crimes. The time in prison proved to be the stepping stone for Liston's professional decision - when he got out he ran through some opponents on his way to the Heavyweight Championship -- and his trouble continued. Sonny Liston fought a young Cassius Clay on May 25, 1965 - and at this time many thought that the mob was already pulling the puppet strings. This fight was so obviously fixed that would forever be associated with Sonny Liston. The "Phantom PUnch" became part of boxing folklore. Even in slow motion you can see that Clay's combination seems to miss Liston, or at the very best on graze him. Liston's life would come to and 5 years later under very suspicious circumstances.
MMA might be the next big thing in hand to hand combat, and although many say that it is very violent, there has never been one fatality. One could argue its only a matter of time, but that remains to be seen. In boxing there have been a few deaths in the ring, but none more memorable then that of Duk Koo Kim. Kim was a superstar in South Korea and has risen all the way to #1 contender for the lightweight title. Ray "Boom Boom" Mancine was the title holder and on November 13, 1982 the battle was fought. It was a brutal beating, especially for Kim who had begun to wear down in the latter rounds. In the early part of the 14th, Mancini hit Kim with a crushing right hand that caused him to fly toward the ropes and hit his head on the canvas. Kim, much to his credit, got up but the fight ws stopped by the referee. Minutes later Kuk Koo Kim collapsed into a coma and was carried out of the ring and taken to the hospital. Four days later, Kim succumb to his injuries (brain trauma). After Kim's death, Ray Mancini would never again be the same caliber fighter and it was widely reported that he blamed himself for Kim's death. Kim's mother committed suicide three months after her son's death by drinking a bottle of pesticide. Even the bouts' referee, Richard Green, consumed by guilt, took his own life shortly after the fight.
Yeah, a lot of things can be associated with the sport of boxing. Hand to hand combat is something that has been around since the beginning of time; and boxing shows the good, bad and the ugly of how a 'sport' can take a life of its own. I know that MMA is the new kid on the block, but there is something missing when the two gladiators go at each other in a 'no holds barred' match up. Maybe I'm just old fashion, but for me, MMA comes a distant second to boxing.