African-Americans Now a Minority in…Boxing!

There was a time not too long ago when professional boxing was dominated – absolutely flat-out dominated – by
African-Americans. Particularly in the heavyweight division, which since the days of Jack Johnson to the retirement of Muhammad Ali, and then with a short respite through the prime years of Mike Tyson, dominated the sport.

Finding a top contender among pro boxing’s heavys who was NOT African-American was about as rare as finding one who was in the National Hockey League.

But over the better part of the last 20 years, that statistic has done a complete reverse. This month’s Ring Magazine ratings, which comprise the top fighters in each division, without taking into account the oft-artificial, politically-charged ratings of the “alphabet boys,” i.e., the different organizations that rank “champions” (WBA, WBC, IBF, and WBO, among others).

Ring, the self-proclaimed “Bible of Boxing” and long-considered the sport’s preeminent publication, ranked the fighters as follows:  CHAMPION: Wladimir Klitschko (Ukraine). 1) Kubrat Pulev (Bulgaria); 2) Alexander Povetkin (Russia); 3) David Haye (UK); 4) Tomasz Adamek (Poland); 5) Bermane Stiverne (Canada); 6) Tyson Fury (UK); 7) Robert Helenius (Finland); 8) Chris Arreola (US); 9) Odlanier Solis (Cuba); 10) Ruslan Chagaev (Uzbekistan).

Only two of the ten (Haye and Stiverne) are of African descent, and only one (Arreola) is an America. Not one, however, is a black American.  Not ONE!  In a sport that less than 20 years ago was monopolized, at least in the heavyweight ranks, by African-Americans.

It is an utterly amazing statistic. No different than if, say, in 10 years every NFL quarterback were Asian.

As amazing as that demographic change might be, if only from a sociological/geographical perspective, the disappointing element is that heavyweight boxing – and, to a greater extent, boxing in general – has been on the decline for several years.

Whether because of lack of flamboyant personalities, life-threatening injuries, lack of exciting talent, and dubious fight decisions, boxing has given way to more extreme contests, like the Ultimate Fighting Championship and, for sheer entertainment if not actual undetermined competition, professional wrestling.

Over the past century, boxing has always had an ambassador: Jack Dempsey gave way to Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson, who turned it over to Rocky Marciano, then Muhammad Ali, and then Sugar Ray Leonard. Tyson was the anti-hero, but filled the live seats and pay per view orders just as successfully as the protagonists have done.

Since Tyson’s slow and definitive demise 20 years ago, however, boxing has waned, and the sport is in danger of going the way of the dodo bird.

This time around, perhaps the listless sport can be revised by a great white

black hope.