The United States failed to medal in Olympic men’s boxing this year.
What’s your reaction? Or do you even care?
You don’t? Hey, that’s been the sentiment of much of the country to amateur boxing for about a couple of decades now. Historically, though, it might come as a surprise because of all the greats that have come through the Olympics from the U.S.
History hasn’t done anything to keep the interest in amateur boxing burning. Pro boxing is barely surviving here in popularity because the sport still has two superpowers in Wladimir Klitschko and Floyd Mayweather Jr.
OK, I’ll add a third, Timothy Bradley. I mean, he did beat Manny Pacquiao, if that decision means anything.
With a little more interest, Andre Ward and Austin Trout would be regarded in the same breath.
Ha! You don’t know who they are, do you? They are undefeated American fighters.
If you had to look them up, don’t feel bad. But that’s how shallow America’s love affair with boxing has gotten.
We are far from the days when my first boxing hero, Pernell Whitaker, grew up from Olympic champion to “Wide World of Sports” good guy. So, who’s going to care what the Americans (don’t) do in the Olympic ring when Ward and Trout can’t achieve the popularity of Mayweather, who makes headlines for the wrong reasons half the time?
Yet the quick assumption is that boxing should allow professionals in the Olympics to fix the Americans’ woes. Well, that would be a good way to force Manny Pacquiao and Mayweather to fight each other if they compete. And people might tune in for that high-profile, big-money — I mean, no-money — clash.
It might also prevent another no-medal performance for the U.S. But it won’t be enough for this country to re-establish itself as a force in the sport.
Only five of the 17 World Boxing Congress champions across all divisions are from the U.S.: light heavyweight Chad Dawson, super middleweight Ward, welterweight Mayweather and interim welterweight champion Robert Guerrero and super lightweight Danny Garcia. Take away Mayweather, and it’s not exactly a must-see fight card here in America.
Weekend sports television (i.e. “Wide World of Sports”) used to be dedicated to up-and-coming boxers either fighting for a belt in any class but heavyweight or positioning themselves as top contenders. So, the amateur boxers then had someone visible motivating them every time, and they had a better sense of the long road to worldwide stardom.
But such fights haven’t been staples of weekend TV since the 1990s. America has found so much more to put on television, to draw multisport athletes with good boxing skills away from boxing and strengthen their interests in something else.
In some countries, Olympic fans can hang their hopes and dreams on boxing more than in gymnastics, swimming or track and field. And America’s interest in these sports wavers three out of every four years, unlike when there was a fight on TV almost every Saturday.
These sports also have marketable American champions we can follow, even if it’s every four years.
Until today’s TV makes us care about boxing the way Howard Cosell did, we’ll be hard-pressed to find another professional hero from the Olympic ranks.
I.C. Murrell is the sports editor of The Commercial. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.