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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lennox Lewis, the noted British heavyweight boxing champion, is being inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame. Boxing is my second-favorite sport, behind baseball. Still, my appreciation has grown mostly in this decade, bolstered by ESPN's "Wednesday/Friday Night Fights," but having its real genesis in "Tuesday Night Fights" which used to air on USA Network in the 90s when I grew up. (Thanks, Kenny Albert & "The Champ" Sean O'Grady.) You see, free boxing on TV is so beautiful and tragic. You see the young up-and-comers before fame and Pay-Per View snatches them up. You also get to see the journeymen, who fight because they love it, or because they have nothing else. In the same way baseball types get sappy about the minors and Little League ('when it was a game', it goes, before something was lost) boxing fans are the same way. Now, on national TV with ESPN is a pretty huge deal, one can surely say. But you won't see a mega-fight (not a pre-hyped one, anyway) and you still get the drama I was talking about. One thing you realize when watching the brutal glory that is boxing: these are real people. They might be crazy or stupid,--and everything in between--but people they are.
I wonder if boxing is inherently sinful, though. I'm taking a shot in the dark that in Heaven with God, we won't watch these brutal contests. On the other hand, you can surely be a great fighter (even a really hard-punching, cut-inducing one) and still love our Lord Jesus Christ with all that you are. And that goes for everyone involved, including the audience. I mean, wasn't that one of the things we love about the fictional champ Rocky? He's pious. And courageous. And loving. And steady as a rock. He took a few wrong turns here and there, but really, shake it all out, and most people would say that emulating this character would be a good thing to do. And we could also say we wish we knew a guy like him if we don't.
But I digress. This was going to be about Lennox Lewis. What was he, about 6'5," 230-240 pounds, with an 82-inch reach? And quick as lightning. How did this guy ever lose? I can see where his critics point to lack of effort, and to the fact that his fights weren't always exciting. But I have enjoyed watching some of his fights on ESPN Classic, in honor of his induction. We might rightly be dismayed my the proliferation of boxing federations (which award meaningless, and often far too numerous titles) corrupt judging, record-padding promoters and fighters who dodge the fights we want, and tons of other things. In addition, the 1990s were considered weak by many purists. Still, I like Lewis, and I'm happy he's being honored. In honor of this, I give you another top 5 list:

JK's 5 Favorite Fighters (note 'Favorite,' not the best, necessarily)

5. Pernell "Sweet Pea" Whitaker--I have only seen his fights in footage, since he fought mostly before I watched the sport. But he was one of the fastest--in both foot and fist--that the sport has ever seen. You will never see someone better at not getting hit. End of story. He didn't knock many dudes out, but who cares? He made boxing pretty.

4. Chris Byrd--Not nearly as legendary as Whitaker, but hands nearly as fast. I saw him on USA when I was about 16, when he was young, and thought, "He's one to watch." You'll note, he's still around. There has been some disappointment with the fulfillment of his potential (and he's running out of time) but he's got serious skills, and his early days won't let you down.

3. James "Lights Out" Toney--Another story of somewhat unfulfilled potential (and I think still active) when he's in top form, his defense and accuracy are a credit to the sport. He's not always in top form, but I can't not watch when he fights.

2. "The Golden Boy" Oscar De La Hoya--Having earned his nickname as the unlikely Olympic champion for the United States in 1992, Oscar went on to become a legend and champion in multiple weight divisions. (6?) Right at this very moment, he's the biggest draw in the sport, though he retired just weeks ago. Despite his declining skill, he could still rake in 25 million dollars for one fight by himself. I'm not sure how he lost either, especially in his prime. His otherwise amazing record is only slightly marred by his recent losses, which have led to his retirement.

1. "The Greatest" Muhammad Ali--No surprise here. The quintessential champ for the TV age, Ali was the definition of a boxer. Unmatched speed and accuracy, especially for a heavyweight. Ali will show you what boxing is supposed to look like. He was a loud-mouth and even a jerk in his time, some say, but there is no doubt he backed up the talk. There is noone whose fights I enjoy more. Even aging Ali (sans his final two fights) was amazing. I don't have words adequate for the non-fan to understand. Just know that there's a reason you've heard of him, and it has little to do with Islam or Viet Nam, at the end of the day.

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