From Beyond The Grave: The Death Knell

“Tex Rickard, veteran promoter of boxing contests, today told the Staff Press the end of boxing in New York state is so near he can almost feel it. Even if Gov. Whitman, in the opinion of Rickard should suddenly relent in his avowed intention of crushing the game in this state, the sport has been given such a black eye that it should never recover. This of course, indicates beyond a shadow of a doubt that Rickard, stager of sensational matches, no longer is to be considered a factor in moving for big bouts in this city or state. … ‘There is no attraction, no matter how great in the boxing world,’ the promoter said, ‘that would be worth a man’s while in New York. The attendance would be so small money would be lost on any great venture in the sport.'”

– H.C. Hamilton, United Press, 1917

“John L. Sullivan must be spinning in the grave. Rocky Marciano is just plain spinning. It’s not only because boxing in Boston has deteriorated from the womb to the tomb. The whole game’s dead, interred completely in the opinion of former heavyweight champion of the world Marciano. … Rock listened to the grisly tale of how his Hub home town defaulted the heavyweight champ go between Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston to Lewiston, Me. yet. ‘You’ve got to be kidding!’ exclaimed Rocky. Assured there was little jest left in Hubs-ville, Marciano reflected, ‘I heard there was trouble. But I figured it would blow over. What happened?’ So Boston’s second strongboy was filled in. …District Attorney Garrett Byrne fault Intercontinental Promotions as an unlicensed agency in Massachusetts… the D.A. branded the fight a public pain… the court supported the charge… Intercon chucked Boston, new or ancient, for Lewiston. ‘Lewiston!’ breathed Marciano. ‘What can it draw there?’ Oh, 4,600 give or take a couple hundred. ‘Fantastic!’ gasped Rocky. ‘Imagine! A heavyweight title fight in front of 4,600. I don’t care who sees what on TV. It means just one thing. Boxing is dead. Not just in Boston but everywhere.’ Having completed his role as mortician, Marciano continued. ‘Nobody can make a living in it… not fighters, promoters, managers, nobody. TV hasn’t helped. It’s killed the game. I haven’t seen any fights for a long time. Know why? There aren’t any. There hasn’t been a fight in Florida that I can recall. But it’s not just here. It’s the same everywhere I go. I was in Des Moines to speak to the Chiropractor’s Ass’n. I felt so sorry for the local promoter Pinky George. Boxing’s been his life. It’s all he knows. But it’s dead and he’s dead with it.'”

– Bucky Yardume, Boston Traveler, 1965

“Reason 2,571 that boxing is dying: Too many champions. Someone out there is the Intercontinental Boxing Federation featherweight champion. Big deal. Everyone is a champion. And no one is a champion. The sign in the corner of the little gym on Greene Street tells what boxing used to be. This is James J. Corbett’s famous quote about fighting one more round: ‘When your nose is bleeding and your eyes are black, and you are so tired that you wish your opponent would crack you one on the jaw and put you to sleep, fight one more round.’ Most of these kids probably never even read this sign. They are here to fight, not read. But they pass it by every day. Boxing has become glitz and glamour. It’s become The Mirage in Vegas and Trump Castle in Atlantic City. Has-beens fight has-beens, and champions lose their heart, and fighters die in the ring, and fighters fight to build bank accounts of ruthless promoters. Boxing is dying. But they all look to fight one more round here in boxing’s last oasis. Just one more round. Unless there are other places like this one, one round might be all boxing has left.”

– Joe Posnanski, Augusta Chronicle, 1992

“Now a traffic representative for a trucking concern, [Gus] Lesnevich mourns the fact that boxing is ‘dying’ but doesn’t see the say when it will become extinct. ‘In New York City alone there used to be seven fight clubs running each week,’ he recalls. ‘Now I don’t believe there are that many in the whole country. But the amateurs will help to keep it alive and there is still big money to be made, even though the government takes most of it.'”

– Oscar Fraley, Trenton Evening Times, 1958

“Jack Dempsey celebrated his 66th birthday yesterday with a wish that boxing would take steps to save itself — and its fighters. ‘TV, or rather too much TV, and the people who profit from it, has put the independent promoters out of business,’ the Manassa Mauler said. ‘There are few, if any, small clubs in the country. Those clubs were the source of talent. Without fresh talent, boxing is dying.’ Dempsey suggested that a fighters’ pension fund could be established with a percentage of television fight receipts. ‘A small percentage, just one percent,’ he said.”

– Jack Dempsey, Associated Press, 1961

“[Kid] Howard, who has seen champions come and go, believes that professional boxing is dying and that it will be supplanted by the amateurs. ‘And it will be just too bad,’ Howard said. Himself a former featherweight, Howard believes he knows whereof he speaks. ‘Boxing is a sport for men and not young boys,’ he explained. ‘The result, in my judgment, will be distressing if they allow young boys to engage in the game. The results of early training and abuses in the ring will bring about mental, perhaps physical, injuries if there is not supervision of their conditioning and their performances in the ring.’ … ‘The sport is dying,’ he said reminiscently. There are not enough good boxers or attractions left. I can see no future for the sport.'”

– Charles Dunkley, Register-Republic, 1934

“Yep, interest in boxing is dying out in the U.S.A. Only about 100 bouts are being staged each week in the city of New York alone. Nine clubs had shows last Saturday night, making a total of twenty-seven fights for the evening, counting two preliminaries and one main event for each show. Some of these days boxing will be legalized in the state of Washington, just as it is in New York and other large centers.”

– E.R.H., Seattle Daily Times, 1914

As we can see, for decades the tolling of the iron bell has been calling boxing on home to Valhalla. It’s easy to think of boxing as in its death throes, suffering from a grave case of black eye, in the wake of bad decisions, scandals and canceled fights leading to more downtime than we’d like. It’s also convenient to say that boxing has lost insurmountable ground to mixed martial arts for whatever variety of reasons despite a lack of evidence that boxing’s popularity has done anything but rubber band up and down in the last century. The truth is that boxing is not leaving us, even if we should leave it. Boxing has spindled its roots down into the foundation of society and set up camp there. And it’s not leaving.

(Photo: Tex Rickard, Library of Congress)

About Patrick Connor

Patrick Connor is a long time boxing fan and historian. He is additionally a voice actor and co-host of TQBR Radio, Queensberry-Rules' boxing podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Vine: @VoiceOfBeard