Knockout puts pounding in perspective

Santo Caruso

There are a few things I am certain about when it comes to sports. I’m pretty sure the sport of kings is horse-racing and that soccer is the world’s most popular sport. I know baseball is the national pastime, although we all know football is the real national pastime. But what I can’t recall is where boxing fits into this equation. ranked boxing as the world’s most difficult sport, but this acknowledgment has failed to raise the sport to the ranks of football, baseball and basketball.

Boxing does not draw the same kind of attention as these other sports, and the few names and faces that people do recognize and associate with boxing are quickly disappearing.

Recently, Roy Jones, Jr. was knocked out twice. What cultural significance does this have? Seemingly little to the average person, but for me, there was symbolism in his defeat.

Jones was the last unbeatable boxer, the last great national figure representing a dying sport. He was a character whose abilities earned him the “Best Pound for Pound Boxer in the World” title. His personality even landed him in a role in the “Matrix” movies.

Jones was also an idol of mine. In a sport I cared little about, he stood out and earned a spot on my childhood bedroom wall next to Randall Cunningham, John Kruk and John LeClair.

He stood there for years, lean and menacing. “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive,” the caption read, advertising for Jones’ victory. (Back then it was a given that he’d win.) He was a light in the dimming world of boxing.

With the heavyweight belts going to a monstrous British man, and the lower weight classes dominated by Latinos whose flamboyance often turns into annoyance, Jones was one of the last great American boxers. He moved in and out of weight classes, searching for a challenge. Everywhere he went, though, he encountered the same result.

He was too fast for heavyweights but too strong for the lower classes. He had flair but did not seem as pompous as other fighters. He would flaunt and strut and flex his muscles, but when the bell rang, it was all business. And business was good.

Boxing is dead, or at least dying. In the ’60s and ’70s, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman were kings among men. Ali was not just a national star but was known throughout the world.

In a scene from “Ali,” Will Smith, playing the “Greatest,” runs through an impoverished section of Africa as the children cheer, “Ali boombaye!” (Ali, kill him!). The world cared about this American athlete.

He stood up to the government and lost years of his prime because he did not believe in the war in Vietnam. His demolition of Sonny Liston is captured on the walls of college students’ dorm rooms across the nation. Although he suffers from the physical debilitating Parkinson’s disease, he still lit the torch at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta for the entire world to see.

My friends and I can debate over who we believe is the greatest boxer of all time, Ali or Frazier, without ever mentioning the most dominating man to ever be associated with the sport of boxing: “Iron” Mike Tyson. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, he was unstoppable.

He was an animal in the ring- faster, stronger, meaner and unbeatable. The closest I will ever come to fighting Tyson is by playing the NES game, Super Punchout and even in that, he intimidates me.

However, with his skills deteriorating, he is now just a freak show, a joke, a novelty, a criminal and a sob story. He will never be remembered as the juggernaut he once was.

Today no one watches, follows or cares about boxing. Not even the stylized fights of “Raging Bull” could save the sport. Most people would rather watch a Rocky marathon than subject themselves to a televised middleweight title fight.

Boxing has become so much of a joke that two reality shows are now attempting to find “The Next Great Champ.” Without a dynastic fighter, like Ali, or an ugly little indulgence, like Tyson, the sport offers little or nothing to keep the public interested.

Jones lies there, out cold. The trainer has to rip the mouth guard from behind his teeth as a doctor struggles to revive him. For a brief second, you wonder if he is dead, and if this no-name, who Jones would have buried like Hoffa two years earlier and who will probably retire in a couple years anyways, has just put Jones’ lights out for good.

We may have just seen Jones, the last great boxer of our generation, and the sport that he has embraced and that has embraced him for so many years, take the final hit.