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Wednesday, December 28, 2011
2011 confirms boxing still alive, swinging

By Igor Guryashkin

Boxing is dead.

Apparently.

It's a sport populated by fighters who won't fight one another, promoters who fight more than their fighters and low ratings that ensure no one is watching anyway. "It's not like it used to be in the '70s and '80s!" come the calls.

Well, no need to heed the warnings of these doom-driven soothsayers, because the biggest fallacy in sports is that boxing is dead. Indeed, reports of the fight game's death have been greatly exaggerated.

Just take a look back on Delvin Rodriguez and Pawel Wolak's fight on ESPN's "Friday Night Fights." Their battle was fought to a grandiose stalemate. Wolak walked away with a welt the size of a pomegranate under his eye (and a draw, to boot), while no belt was won by either man.

Instead, the prize for both was universal respect among fans and peers alike in a fight of the year candidate. That evolutionary quirk allowing us to garner pleasure from watching two fellow homo sapiens brawl and spill as much blood as a medieval medical procedure clearly lives on.

But behind the pugilistic heroics lie stories that fuel the sport itself and will forever drive interest. Few were left unaffected when Miguel Cotto exacted revenge against the villainous Antonio Margarito -- a man widely suspected of having used illegal hand wraps in their first fight in 2008. It was a bout that inflicted on Miguel Cotto his first career defeat, not to mention a face like a salisbury steak.

In front of thousands at Madison Square Garden and as millions more watched enthralled, Cotto claimed redemption and enacted drama in equal measure.

Boxing this year has reaffirmed the enduring strength and vitality of the sport. Victor Ortiz vanquished Andre Berto in a fight that wildly seesawed in momentum and thrilled those in attendance. James Kirkland got up from a punch that would send most of us to intensive care, overcoming Mexican juggernaut Alfredo Angulo in the 2011 ESPN.com round of the year. Gary Russell Jr. put on full display the bright-lightning pace of his fledgling talent. Finally, Andre Ward overcame a smorgasbord of fine opponents to cement his place in the current pantheon of the sport's top stars.

Of course, boxing -- like everything in life -- is far from perfect. It's existence rests solely on our primal lust for carnage. But it's run by a cast of characters more devilish than Shakespeare could dream up, all capable of an assortment of Machiavellian machinations that tarnish boxing at every turn.

How else could the judges and the most ardent of Pacquiao apologists rule in the Pinoy idol's favor in his third bout with Juan Manuel Marquez? More egregiously, how did Paul Williams take a unanimous victory over Erislandy Lara when he clearly lost every round?

Gone are the days when fistic titans like Dempsey shared equal billing with slugging stars like Ruth, but boxing's eternal fixture on an increasingly diverse sporting landscape is secure. Stories such as Dewey Bozella's journey to the ring, after his having spent decades in prison, are still capable of transcending the sport and affecting those outside of boxing's realms.

If the death of a sport is measured in fiscal terms alone, then it's true boxing has been a terminal patient for decades, with no remission in sight. But its lifeblood is our hunger for regular sacrifice on that small, squared canvas altar. It's this that gives boxing eternal sustenance. Boxing isn't dead, but immortal.