“Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson, the rematch, the evening they were selling as the greatest fight of all time, will go down as just another black eye for boxing. No, this time call it a black ear. Make it two black ears. Holyfield will wake up this morning with his title in place, and an earache to remind him of last night’s bizarre three rounds. This was a fight that may have grossed $130 million, with a ringside ticket price of $1,500, and a pay-per-view audience that was certainly the largest of all time. The fight was broadcast in 11 languages, including three Chinese dialects. No dialect can accurately describe Tyson’s performance.”
– Vic Ziegel, New York Daily News, 1997
“The 32-count indictment handed up yesterday in United States District Court in Newark alleged that unworthy boxers were elevated to the status of No. 1 contenders to fight for titles based on promoters paying I.B.F. officials for the rankings. People involved in boxing believe more indictments are coming, and that promoters and managers who paid the alleged bribes will be next. ‘Short term, it’s another black eye for boxing,’ said Pat English, a lawyer for Main Events, one of the largest boxing promotion companies in the nation. ‘The allegations are horrific. Long term, if it helps clean up the sport, it’s a good thing.’ … The indictments came nine days before Evander Holyfield, the I.B.F. and World Boxing Association champion, meets Lennox Lewis, the World Boxing Council champion, in a rematch for the undisputed heavyweight crown. The first bout ended in a controversial draw. One of the judges, Eugenia Williams, who had close ties to the I.B.F., and was selected by the organization to judge the fight, had Holyfield winning the bout.”
– Tim Smith, The New York Times, 1999
“What a chance Sharkey threw away at Miami. He had a habitual foul-claimer to fight. No foul-claimer has a fighting heart. Sharkey must have known that it would be easy to whip Phil Scott, even though his own ‘fighting heart’ skips a few beats occasionally. If he had used any intelligence he could have knocked out Scott without giving him any chance to claim fouls. But he didn’t, and the result was ‘another black eye for boxing.’ If the poor old sport of boxing had as many heads as the Hydra, slain by Hercules, all its eyes would be black this year.”
– Robert Edgren, The Oregonian, 1930
“It is an unhealthy thing, for the spectators as well as the fighter himself, when worn-out punching bags such as Savold are permitted to continue absorbing punishment and leaving a trail of blood wherever they appear. The fans have a right to expect some boxing along with one-sided slugging. They have a right to feel that they are about to watch a fairly even match, and should not be lured to these blood-lettings. Marciano was such a one-sided favorite that there was no betting on his Savold fight. The purpose of the match plainly was to get a payday for all concerned. In that respect it was a success. As a sports event it was strictly another black eye for boxing, not to mention for Savold, plus multiple bruises, cuts and abrasions.”
– Lawton Carver, The Repository, 1952
“Former featherweight champion Davey Moore has been added to the growing list of fighters fatally injured in the ring. The new tragedy has produced new denunciations of the sport. Gov. Brown of California, scene of the fight in which Moore lost his crown and suffered his injuries, has called for abolition of boxing in that state. Even stronger is the criticism voiced by the official newspaper of the Vatican, which describes boxing as ‘substantially illicit’ and calls on all governments to outlaw it. ‘Here is another crime committed in the name of the boxing idol,’ said Osservatore Romano, ‘another moral taint in our civilized usages which do not agree to dutiful prohibitions and myths of certain largely instinctive and often unconsciously savage crowds … practical atheism.'”
– Morning Advocate, 1963
“It is debatable whether Tommy Collins or professional boxing took the worse beating in the televised exhibition of mayhem in Boston last Friday night. That the referee, the state boxing commissioners, the commission physicians or Collins’ handlers did not stop the brutal affair when it became apparent the challenger was no match for Champion Jimmy Carter was an incredible piece of stupidity and an undeserved black eye for boxing. Thousands of television watchers throughout the country telephoned their newspapers to protest the exhibition which at times bordered on sadism … Unquestionably the flood of protests from television witnesses will prevent a recurrence of the Boston barbarism. In that respect television will play a wholesome and unique role.”
– The Modesto Bee, 1953
“Ferguson probably saved Mercer’s life by beating him. Net let us assume that Mercer did in fact try to bribe him in the clinches (it is more plausible that he was using any means necessary to get a 230-pound man to stop hitting him). That means that instead of knee-jerk ‘black eye for boxing,’ Ferguson told Mercer what he could do with his $100,000 while he pounded away for his $10,000 purse. Instead of praising Ferguson, the knee-jerks bewail the fact that he then qualified for a mismatch with Bowe. I never heard the knee-jerks talk about the old Yankee-St. Louis Brown or Yankee-Washington Senator games. The knee-jerks put down boxing because there are damn few heavyweight contenders around — the same knee-jerks who write hymns to the Bulls and Suns making one of 72 shots in the clutch, who sanctimoniously praise a national pastime that nobody can play anymore — or do you remember the last time anyone hit the cutoff man? I don’t measure the decline of 20th century civilization by who’s ranked No. 5 in a heavyweight division that doesn’t reach that far, but by the kids who get out of their Jersey-plated vans in the Village and urinate against my apartment house’s walls.”
– Mike Katz, New York Daily News, 1993
Last week marked the 15th anniversary of Evander Holyfield vs. Mike Tyson II, AKA “The Bite Fight,” which until a few years ago carried the distinction of being the highest-selling pay-per-view event of all time. Even as its numbers were surpassed, though, its cultural impact sent shock waves that boomerang back at us to this very day. It was a ridiculous fight, made all the more disappointing given its coverage and popularity.
Countless incidents before and since have been labeled some sort of injury to the sport of boxing, and many rightfully so, some worse than others.
The cliche carries with it little meaning anymore, though. Do an Internet search on “black eye for boxing,” and the first however-many pages will be littered with references to the Manny Pacquiao vs. Tim Bradley fight from early June. It is now a trite catchphrase.
Through calamity, scandal, corruption and even immense tragedy, boxing endures. Perhaps it endures because of these derangements, but it hangs in there, reinventing itself along the way, however leisurely.
And not always for the better.