Whether it was the days of Muhammad Ali versus Joe Frazier or Sugar Ray Leonard versus Thomas Hearns, there was a time when boxing was as exciting and just as popular as any sport around.
(Sound of the Sugar Ray vs Hearns fight).
Sugar Leonard made nearly 12-million dollars in his first fight with Hearns — the most in any sport at that time.
Houston’s Willie Savannah has been a fight trainer for 30 years. He knows his sport is losing popularity to football, basketball, even mixed martial arts.
“People like to see blood. Do you think they go to a Nascar race to see cars going around and around? They are waiting for that accident.”
Savannah says there are actually more amateur boxers these days than there used to be. What’s missing he says is the quality of fighters. One theory is that many of them are playing football instead.
“I had a kid over here he was 14, 15 years old weighed two hundred and eighty something pounds, fast, could do the splits, agile. One of the coaches in high school talked him into quiting boxing and playing football. Now, he doesn’t have a career in either one cause he blew his knee out.”
Some believe if Mohammad Ali was 21 today, he’d be a linebacker headed for the NFL. Ray Leonard made almost 12 million in that fight against Hearns — these days the signing bonus alone in other sports is more than that.
Reverend Ray Martin is another long time Houston Boxing trainer. He believes there’s a racial aspect to the decline in boxing.
“At one point they weren’t allowing blacks to play on your football teams, your baseball teams or your basketball teams.”
He says more young black athletes saw boxing as a way out of poverty in the 40’s 50′ and 60’s. Now a day’s some see the sport as too dangerous. But Savannah says they shouldn’t.
“And football is a lot more dangerous then boxing is. In boxing, you get hit upside the head. In football, you get hit from your head to your toes and you walk around for the rest of your life, can’t hardly walk.”
A week from this Sunday, millions of Americans will be glued to their TV sets to watch Reggie Bush and Peyton Manning play in the Super Bowl. Sugar Ray, Ali, Tyson, they all used to be that popular. Even some boxing fans believe those days are gone for good.