“I’ll take Boxing for one hundred, Alex.”
What North American city currently holds the title as the heavyweight boxing capital of the world?
“That’s easy Alex. What is ‘Las Vegas, Nevada’!”
Oh, I’m so sorry. The correct answer is Birmingham, Alabama.
Yep, the Birmingham, Alabama of segregation, then forced integration. The Birmingham, Alabama, where “everyone loves the govnah…. boo, boo boo.” The Birmingham. Alabama that labels itself as the ‘College Football Capital of the South’, yet a meaningful college football game hasn’t been played within fifty miles of decrepit Legion Field in fifteen years.
And for you foodies, the Birmingham, Alabama, that secret gem of a community, that just might offer the finest dining, per capita, of any city its size in the world. It’s also the city of Valentine’s Day love specials. Yes, that Birmingham, Alabama.
And it’s the same Birmingham, Alabama that Saturday night hosted its fourth heavyweight championship fight over the past 20 months. Las Vegas has hosted one in the same period of time. Once called “Bombingham”, for blowing up churches, Birmingham is now known as Bombingham for its favorite sons’ fists. Birmigham, the city in a state that as recently as seven years ago didn’t even have a boxing commission. Yes, it’s the place that clearly has become the heavyweight championship capital of the world. Maybe it really should be called Boxingham.
“Okay Alex, I’ll try Boxing again, this time for two hundred, please.”
Who is the current World Boxing Council Heavyweight Champion?
“Uh, uh, uh……..”
Quickly…we need an answer!
Dah-dah, dah-dah dah-da daaaa.
“Who is Leon Spinks?”
No, I’m sorry. That was thirty-nine years and two front teeth ago. The correct question is, “Who is Deontay Wilder.”
Yes, “Dee-On-TAY”, as he’s known in these digs, is only one piece of the confusing and frankly nobody-gives-a-shit-anymore part of the boxing puzzle.
Remember, not so long ago, when everybody knew the name of the heavyweight champion of the world? You may not have been able to name the Speaker of the House, but everyone knew who was champ of the ring!
Liston, Clay, then Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Spinks, Norton, Holmes, Holyfield, Lewis, O’Neill. We knew ’em all.
Oops. Sorry. Take O’Neill off the list. That’s Tip O’Neill, former House Speaker, but a heavyweight nonetheless.
And we knew the contenders for the throne because back then we read newspapers and paid attention to the game: Chuvalo, Shavers, Ellis, Cooney, Norton, Bonavena, Quarry, Bobick, Lyle, Cooper.
But like everything else in the world, except for the constant strife in Sweden, things have changed.
Try looking for a pay phone. How about a cassette recorder? A pack of Taryton’s? And soon to join the list of the nearly-extinct: the morning newspaper tossed on the driveway.
Boxing is no longer mainstream, either. What started with the Friday Night Fights on the small black and white television screen and was a must-watch for both your grandfather and mine, with a smoldering Antonio y Cleopatra in the ash tray and a six pack of Schaefer by their side, has evolved into Ali-Frazier closed circuit broadcasts in theaters and arenas where you had to pay to watch. And today from the comfort of your man cave you can fork over $50 (via something called the internet) to watch Mayweather and Pacquiao. Make it $60 if you want HD, so the cut over the eye is really blood red.
Boxing, though, is dying a slow death. The sport has been tossed aside by the millennials with their huge disposal income and their love affair with the UFC and its five minute, no mercy rounds. It is bloody and savage. It is over the top. You don’t even need HD to get the feel. It’s Rhonda Rousey and Holly Holm and Conor McGregor, not two guys spending three minutes trying to poke each other in the nose in what’s known as the “sweet science”. Science was always boring. It has caught up to boxing.
Today, as opposed to the days when we had one world champion that everyone knew, we have champions from the World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association, World Boxing Organization, International Boxing Federation and International Boxing Organization that nobody knows. On the next cold day go ahead and forego the chunky beef and open a can of alphabet soup instead. Have fun with the WBO, WBC, WBA, IBF and IBO.
And then try to name the various champions of each. You can’t do it. Joseph Parker, Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder split the letters. Probably the two most renowned heavyweights today are the non-champions: Wladimir Klitschko, who lost his title to Tyson Fury almost two years ago. Since then, Fury has failed two drug tests and had his crown stripped. The guy is more than a few fries short of a Happy Meal.
Wilder, though, is a safe bet for both Showtime and Fox and their Saturday night TV boxing specials. They have taken turns broadcasting Wilder’s Birmingham bouts. He’s from Tuscaloosa, 40 miles down the pike, and the great story of beer-truck-driver-turned-2008-Olympic-bronze-medal-winner-turned-heavyweight champion of the world. Or at least in this part of the world he’s a great story. Deontay is respected and well liked.However, once the bell rings, he speaks with his fists. Fighting in Birmingham guarantees about 12,000 partisans yelling and screaming, just the way television likes it. And as much as Birmingham, oops Boxingham, loves the guy, he wouldn’t play nearly as well in Peoria. The networks also love producing shows in Boxingham because of the low labor costs and overhead
But the local love and support for four heavyweight events in less than two years appears to be nipping at some pocketbooks. Tickets priced from $25-$600 every six months are nonetheless taking a toll in an community whose economy has always been better than the national norm.
And speaking of love, two weeks ago, during a crucial Saul-Carrie love/hate exchange on Homeland, I got a sales call from the promotional company handling the fight. They wanted to get me excited about a great Valentine’s Day special: for just fifteen bucks each, I could get two tickets to the Wilder fight, and be seated two rows below the upper catwalk in Legacy Arena, a building that was outdated a dozen years ago and has steadily regressed. For me, it would have been an easy sale if they had thrown in a dozen wilted roses. I would have easily paid eighteen bucks for combo. Can you imagine bringing home that package on February 14? It oozes love. But I told the guy on the phone that I already had tickets. He was surprised and without missing a beat he wanted to know if I wanted to buy two more.
I guess it’s ironic but I actually did give Andi tickets as a VDay gift. No, not for Deontay, but instead for U2 in June. It was either that or a long weekend in riot-torn Stockholm. I didn’t even know about the two cheap uppers until they called, and if I hadn’t already had something I might have been tempted. Please don’t mention that to Andi. Thanks.
So last night instead of bringing my wife I went to see Deontay with my boxing sweetie, Adam Cohen. Our tickets cost ten times the Valentine’s Day promotion. But we could actually see the ring for $150 a pop.
Wilder, 31, entered the bout with a 37-0 record, 36 by knockout and 18 of them in the first round, which creates a very poor entertainment-to-price-paid value. His original opponent was Andrej Wawrzyk, an alphabet soup nightmare. Fortunately for the PA announcer, the Pole failed a drug test last month so in stepped 34 year-old Gerald Washington with a 18-0-1 record, who must have been hanging around the gym looking for a gig. These two guys are lumberjacks: Washington, 6’6″, 239 pounds; Wilder at 6’7″, 222. Wilder, despite giving up 17 pounds, was a 16-1 favorite at the book. Washington was late to the fight game, turning pro at age 30, after being in the NFL as a member of the Seattle and Buffalo practice squads and then a stint in the navy. The #8 ranked WBC contender played college football as a tight end at Southern Cal.
Hopefully Washington was a better third down blocker than he is a big puncher, as Deontay toyed with him for seventeen minutes before depositing the big fella halfway to the parking deck for an official 5th round TKO witnessed also by heavyweight golden era legends Larry Holmes and Evander Holyfield.
Now it’s time for Boxingham to bid Deontay adieu. With 38 consecutive wins, including five successful title defenses, Wilder is ready to leave sweet home ‘Bama for boxing’s treasured land and a date in Vegas, NY, or perhaps somewhere in Europe where people still care about the fight game.
For me, I’ll miss the guy not boxing in Birmingham anymore. Especially if I need to scramble for a last minute, cheap Mother’s Day gift!