Sports historian: Boxing close to being down for the count in U.S.

December 7, 2012  


Randy Roberts

Randy Roberts
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Boxing will need more than a legendary fight Saturday (Dec. 8) between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez to regain its popularity in the United States, says a Purdue University sports historian.

 "Boxing is no longer on this country's radar as a sport; instead it's often buried on top American websites under 'other sports,'" says Randy Roberts, distinguished professor of history. "Boxing's infrastructure is so complex and complicated it can be impossible to follow. It's as if boxing has tried to find ways to be unpopular."

The lack of central organization for the professional sport has sidelined it from the mainstream, and the lack of American champions has not rallied a fan base, says Roberts, who is the author of books about Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey, Jack Johnson and Mike Tyson.

"The heavyweight champion has always been the cowbell of boxing in America, and the health of the sport has always followed," he says. "Interest trickles down from the heavyweight title holder, because as you move to the lighter weights, the top fighters tend to be more international."

Pacquiao has captured the adoration of many Americans because people are watching to see if he is the next boxing legend.

"This fight will say a lot about Pacquiao's career," Roberts says. "He certainly has had some really tough fights early in his career, but his recent fights haven't been great. The almost-34-year-old's career may be starting to slide. I think he needs a convincing win this weekend to show he's one of the greats."

Roberts says the other challenge to boxing's popularity is the decentralization of the sport and its expanding divisions.

"Baseball, football and basketball all have commissioners who rule their sports with a heavy hand, and we know who those commissioners are," he says. "In boxing they have individual sanctioning bodies that no one knows."

Roberts is the author of "Joe Louis: Hard Times Man," "Jack Dempsey: The Manassa Mauler," "Papa Jack: Jack Johnson and the Era of White Hopes" and "Heavy Justice: The State of Indiana v. Michael G. Tyson." He also was featured in an HBO documentary "Joe Louis: America's Hero ... Betrayed" that aired in 2008.

Roberts has made more than 50 appearances on television documentaries and films in the past 20 years for the History Channel, ESPN Classic, HBO, BBC, PBS, E!TV and on the ABC, CBS and NBC networks. As a pop culture historian, he often is quoted in national media and appears on nationally syndicated radio shows. He is a regular on History Channel's "Reel To Real," and he also served as a consultant and on-camera expert for the Emmy-Award winning series "10 Days that Unexpectedly Changed America" and the award-winning Ken Burns documentary "Unforgivable Blackness."

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Randy Roberts, rroberts@purdue.edu

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