James Lawton: Boxing devoid of greats is sport with no soul

This is probably not the week of the death of heavyweight boxing, the arena of great men like Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and Jack Johnson and, when his mind was on the job, Lennox Lewis. Maybe lurking in the Bronx, or the high-rise jungle of East Saint Louis, is another phenomenon of dark and thrilling force?

But it just does not seem to be that way when one of the weekend's smaller headlines referred to the latest controversy involving Andrew Golota, who complained that he was jobbed out of victory in his International Boxing Federation world title fight with Chris Byrd, the sole native-born American among the six fighters who by Saturday night will have fought for a part of what used to be the most fabled crown in all of sport.

Byrd is a technically adroit fighter with zero capacity to stir the blood. Golota, 36, showed considerable promise in the mid-Nineties, ruining the last of Riddick Bowe but also much of boxing's credibility. Eight years ago he provoked a riot in Madison Square Garden, found various ways to quit in big fights, and simply fell down before the fury of Lewis in the old convention hall on the Atlantic City boardwalk. That he should be fighting for the great prize so long after the years of disgrace tells its own sad story.

On the undercard John Ruiz, who last year had his ears boxed off by the puffed-up middleweight Roy Jones, defended his World Boxing Association title against his obscure fellow Puerto Rican, Fres Oquendo.

In Los Angeles on Saturday Vitali Klitschko, whose greatest claim to fame is that he came close to beating Lewis on a night when the former champion had made one of his periodic detours around his own training camp, fights the moderate South African, Corrie Sanders for the World Boxing Council belt once worn by Ali.

So where are the raging bulls, the angry young Tysons, the warrior Holyfields, the pounding Foremans? They're bulking up on steroids and going to the plate as sluggers or tearing up the gridiron. It leaves a wrenching hole in the fabric of the sporting life, but then some might say it is better than the alternative. By this they mean a return to the days when a young black American had a simple choice: he could fight, or he could forget any hope of the good life.

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