TranscriptQuestion: Does a sport as violent as boxing still have a place in our society?
Bert Sugar: Well, in today’s society... you know, I quoted a Budd Schulberg line about boxing is chess played with human bodies. We’re in a violent world. You’ve got mixed martial arts, which is Grand Theft Auto played with human bodies. I don’t know whether the cages are there to keep the participants in or the spectators out. I haven’t heard "ban boxing" for 20 years, as the society gets more violent. Yes, there was a call for it, the AMA. I used to argue with them back in the ‘80’s. They’d say "There’s brain damage." And I said, “Yep, if you get hit in the head too many times, but so is there in football.” “No, there’s none in football.” And they’ll go on, “They’re wearing helmets.” Tell that to the guys who are now like John Mackey walking into walls. All of a sudden, they found it in football. Troy Aikman retired after eight concussions.
In boxing if you get a knockout... if you’re knocked out, you’re suspended for 30 days. In football, if you’re lying on the ground with a concussion, they’ll take you out and put you back in, in 30 seconds. And the announcers trivialize it, “He got a dinger.” He’s going to the wrong sideline looking out the earhole, he’s got a "dinger." So, boxing, I think is really—there was a study done where, I think it was the ninth- or tenth-most-dangerous sport. And those above it, including luge and bungee jumping and now football are accepted. And so is boxing.
Boxing has other problems though; it’s lost its place in terms of favoritism amongst the sports fan, and part of that reason is simply stated that when it was at the top of the fan preference list back in the first 50 years of the last century, through 1950s, there were only three sports of major import. There was boxing, baseball, and horseracing. Pro football didn’t come to the popular frame of reference and into great popularity until '58, until the New York Giants played the Baltimore Colts in the greatest game every played, et cetera. You couldn’t give away pro basketball—it was played in the afternoon. They call came of age, and boxing kept going down the list of the preferred sports.
We now have so many sports—I mean, do you know Texas Hold’em is a sport? I see it on ESPN all the time. I’m waiting for competitive pole dancing. I mean it’s gotten silly out there. But everything’s a sport. X-games, Y-games, Z-games, who cares games. "Y" is right. Why games? But boxing continues to lose its position and that’s a problem.
The heavyweight champions today are so, almost anonymous, you could put them all in a police lineup in gloves, robes, and trunks holding their belts aloft, and not only would no one know who they are they wouldn’t know what these guys do for a living. But the heavyweight champion was the great... we haven’t had a heavyweight champion in so long that we could identify with, whose name isn't Klitschko. And I think there’s only one or two of them keep walking out of a room and changing their name, I think there’s one guy, that it suffers. The sport suffers because it’s not that identify... at least in the United States.
Question: What's wrong with professional boxing today?
Bert Sugar: I’ll tell you want the problem is. Lennox Lewis, very good fighter showed us that fighters 250 pounds or more could move, could punch, could be entertaining, and could box. Now, Rocky Marciano was 189. Joe Lewis was 204. This was at their heaviest. Mohammad Ali was 224 at his heaviest. We’ve not got heavyweights up to 300 pounds. Nicolai Valuev. And then a kid, a talented kid, an American, let’s just stay there, who is talented in athleticism and in an athletic way and over 250 pounds would go into football. The best American heavyweights are named Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher because they’re over 250, and they can make more money. That’s what happened to the heavyweight division in America.
Recorded May 4, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen