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U.S. Olympics boxing, once so bright, now dim

Thursday, August 18, 2016by  Jon Osterberg
The Rio Olympics boxing finals are approaching, and it appears the American men have just one contender left.
     Bantamweight Shakur Stevenson battles Russia’s Vladmir Mikitin in a semifinal bout today. Aside from that, I see no U.S. men remaining in any weight division.
     That explains why I’ve seen virtually no mention of boxing on NBC’s prime time coverage. It’s a real contrast with past Olympics.
     Let’s look way back to 1972, when Tacoma’s Sugar Ray Seales was the lone U.S. gold-medal winner, in the light welterweight division at the Munich Olympics. If you don’t know his story, read this article.
     Seales won his first 21 pro fights before losing a close decision to Marvin Hagler. Seales’ Facebook page says, “In a 1980 fight with Jaime Thomas, Seales was thumbed in the eye, tearing his retina, and he gradually went blind. Seales retired in 1983 and currently works with autistic students at Lincoln High School in Tacoma.”
     The 1976 Olympics in Montreal were memorable for America. The night of the boxing finals, July 31, I was one of thousands staying overnight in Kennewick’s Columbia Park waiting for the next day’s hydro races. My buddy Bruce set his little DC-battery-powered TV on his tailgate, and a huge crowd gathered around to cheer on the U.S. boxers: Leo Randolph, Howard Davis, Sugar Ray Leonard, Michael Spinks, and Leon Spinks, all gold-medal winners.
     Boxing was big back then in America, bolstered by popular personalities like Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, and Ken Norton, not to mention the blockbuster movie Rocky.
     The 1984 Olympics gave the U.S. another bounty of gold medalists: Paul Gonzales, Steve McCrory, Meldrick Taylor, Pernell Whitaker, Jerry Page, Mark Breland, Frank Tate, Henry Tillman, and Tyrell Biggs. Wow – nine Americans!
     Three Americans won gold at the 1988 games – Kennedy McKinney, Andrew Maynard, and Ray Mercer – and only one each in 1992 (Oscar De La Hoya) and 1996 (David Reid). America won no gold at the 2000 Olympics.
     By then, boxing had lost popularity in America, much like horse racing. I blame part of that on the Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield heavyweight fiasco in 1997, when Tyson notoriously bit off a chunk of Holyfield’s ear.
     Holyfield himself blames boxing’s decline on modern scoring that favors defense more than throwing and landing punches. Fans expect action, engagement, and aggression, but refs reward defensive boxers who win by decision instead of knockout.
     So, back to my first point: Don’t look for Americans boxing on NBC, because there may be no Americans left to box in Rio after today. Perhaps a fresh Olympic crop can rekindle interest at Tokyo in 2020.

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