By Trigo Egbegi
I remember the late Howard Cosell as the man they loved to brand and label for expressing his gut feeling about the multiplying deliberate effort at restructuring the true essence the pro boxing sport conveys.
Beyond the pleasures of the ring exhibitions and the varying combat patterns it’s been our privilege to witness the world over lies the fundamental philosophy this noble art of self-defense teaches, as a most effective way by which man copes with life’s numerous contending challenges.
Admittedly, Cosell was never a core boxing personality even at the height of his fame as a high-profile sports broadcaster more at home with baseball and football. For starters, he had no stomach for the intricate technical details around which the sport is woven. His bitterest critics came from the rival print media where the colorful Tv announcer was seen and envied as having the good fortune to have gate-crashed the fight game, accidentally, during the golden era of the fabulous Muhammad Ali.
Often times, Cosell was the subject of serious print editorials on account of mere slips in the course of calling a fight (actually, he couldn’t tell a jab from a hook, nor a lightweight from a middleweight) rather than provide the core coverage the event should have gotten from these same papers.
Yet, I admired Howard Cosell, largely, for his conviction and transparency that – even for all the violence that has become a part of its nature, man is too precious a creature to be sacrificed on the alter of carnage just to please a few unfeeling, sadistic minds. With each passing day, he began to feel uncomfortable with the rising number of, otherwise, questionable, unworthy mismatches smuggled (through his superiors) to his desk for transmission to millions worldwide.
On the night of November 26, 1982 Cosell, feeling morally assaulted by what he too had contributed to force-feeding millions of Tv viewers, bade farewell to the sport after Larry Holmes had handed down an unprovoked king-sized beating to fellow American Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb for 15 one-sided rounds in defense of the latter’s WBC heavyweight title.
Twenty-nine years after, I’m beginning to feel like Cosell, having become saturated with the amount of gut-wrenching malpractices and injustice I have witnessed in all my days as a follower of this noble game. The only difference is that unlike my American friend, Yours Truly isn’t ready to throw in the trowel. Don’t even think about it!
The woes of this great sport did not begin to happen only yesterday. And they don’t look to end tomorrow. The crimes of pro boxing and the numerous souls dispatched to their early graves have their root in the era far preceding the late Cosell’s. It’s not that he wasn’t aware when he came on board to join the Muhammad Ali train.
In fact, Cosell made no qualms for as long as he could defend what he willingly witnessed. He only quit when he felt he had witnessed enough of human degradation to haunt him for the rest of his life.
Like Cosell, I’m not about to pretend I’m unaware of the dark side of this great sport that I worship. Nevertheless, I’ve never tried to shy away from lashing this dark end with much the same intensity and vigour I have promoted its virtues. What I find particularly disgusting is that while the evil practices of yore were carried out discreetly, they are perpetrated flagrantly by the so-designated establishment that runs/controls boxing today.
My Cosell-like feeling touched a high point again the past weekend that recorded a couple of interesting championship contests. In the early hours of Sunday in California, Ghana’s Joseph Agbeko dropped his second straight loss at the hands of Abner Mares, going down at the end of 12 rounds for the IBF bantamweight title.
Four months ago, Agbeko was the subject of a major public outcry seeking justice in what turned out to be a rather controversial majority ruling favouring then challenger Mares. A sympathetic IBF reneged to some extent by granting and sanctioning the rematch.
This time it was not close, all three ringside judges returning an identical 118-110 score line in a contest that witnessed none of the low blows which enabled the American to prevail.
But the offending title event same night came up in New York where Mexican Antonio Margarito was parceled and presented for slaughter at the fists of Miguel Cotto of Puerto Rico. After nine rounds of merciless abuse during which his right eye was cut and pounded shut, Margarito was reluctantly rescued from farther harm. It terminated what was clearly a crazy, suicidal and meaningless mission in search of the WBA super welterweight title.
Antonio Margarito. O yes, the same name I had echoed in this same column only two weeks ago, as the latest in the unending column of boxing’s sacrificial lambs dispatched to the slaughter house to sooth the ego of promoter Bob Arum. Here’s a man who should be retired for good, having gone down to shattering back-to-back defeats since securing a rather dubious WBA welterweight title triumph over the same Cotto.
In November last year, not even illegal heavy hand wraps could help him survive a clinical trouncing from then still useful Shane Mosley who dethroned him inside the distance. Six months later, Manny Pacquiao also inflicted much physical body damage, including a dislodged orbital bone of the right eye that later required surgical repair.
This column was one of the many sounding the serious warning about the possible consequences of sending a man with only one eye on a mission likely to be a health risk. Shockingly, even the once-dependable New York State Athletic Commission found itself bowing to demands of the wily promoter by passing the Mexican medically okay.
Predictably, it turned out to be more of target practice on the repaired orb until ringside doctors prevailed on the referee to call a halt.
* It may interest readers that the Madison Square Garden served as venue of the weekend New York title fight. It was in the same MSG that our own Dick Tiger incurred the wrath of the Puerto Rican crowd when he dethroned Jose Torres December 1966 for the world light heavyweight title. The victory precipitated a full-scale riot.