Steve Bunce on Boxing: Punchy spoilers preferable to shameful charlatans of yore

 

There is no science or set of rules attached to the sport of heavyweight boxing and becoming a rich champion is as random as a raffle.

David Price found out the hard way last weekend against Tony Thompson that careful matchmaking, being a star and standing 6ft 8in tall are not enough to walk into fame and glory. A decade ago the seemingly invincible Klitschko brothers both found out the Price way that all the advantages are helpless against a bit of old-fashioned punching power. They came back stronger and better.

Thankfully, there are also no outrageous illegal deals in the modern sport of boxing that exclude certain fighters from getting what they deserve. The business might operate in a murky twilight of confused morals but it is not criminally corrupt. It was a very different landscape in the Fifties and even the early Sixties, when a dozen or more terrific heavyweights either missed out on a championship fight or were granted an audience with the champion too late.

It was into the middle of this confused and prejudiced world that Sonny Liston fought his way from nowhere to the title, a journey he completed after an outrageous series of hard, hard fights; Liston, a little bit like Jack Johnson 50 years earlier, met all the hard men, the avoided bangers and the easy-to-ignore sluggers.

It is too simplistic to adopt the "it was harder in my day" approach to analysing boxing, but it was most definitely harder before about 1970 for fighters to get a fair crack at world championships. The exclusion of most black fighters before then was outrageous and a more detailed look at the scrap heap of the forgotten would make disturbing bedtime reading. There are some fighters who were potentially great still being discovered 50 and 60 years after being avoided and left to rot by a boxing business that was crooked and evil.

Liston had his established connections with various criminals, shadow men who operated his career, but he was still thrown in with fearsome fighters like Nino Valdes, Zora Folley, Cleveland Williams and Eddie Machen before he was finally given a world title fight against Floyd Patterson in 1962. Patterson had avoided most dangers, feasting on men like Pete Rademacher, Tom McNeeley, Brian London and a ruined fighter called Tommy Jackson. Liston waited about three years for his shot; he was in an invisible line with Machen, Folley, Williams and Valdes. It was a disgraceful period in sport and I would rather the often false mannequins of today's business than a return to the shame.

Liston ruined Patterson in two title fights, one each in 1962 and 1963, and was then manoeuvred into a fight against a kid called Cassius Clay. That fight took place on 25 February 1964 and ended with Liston sitting out after five torrid rounds. The day after victory, Cassius Clay announced in a press conference that he had become Cassius X. The Muhammad Ali bit followed. The new champion won the title in his 20th fight and even he was not in any hurry to fight the dangerous old men of the division. He beat Liston in a rematch 15 months later, then blasted a broken Patterson.

Ali, it has to be said, inherited a safety-first approach from Patterson and took care of a brave Canadian called George Chuvalo, Henry Cooper, London and a German called Karl Mildenberger before fighting two from the list of four great ignored heavyweights. Ali beat Williams, who had been shot by the police, was 33 and was having his 72nd fight, and then Folley, who was ancient at 35 and having his 86th fight. It was better than it had been, but it was hardly a golden period.

It is certainly easier to get to a title now but, as Pricey found out on Saturday night, it can still go horribly wrong.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C#.NET Server Side Developer (C#, XML, WCF, Unit Testing,SQL)

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET ...

Junior Database developer (SQL, T-SQL, Excel, SSRS)

£20000 - £30000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Junior D...

Helpdesk Team Leader / Manager

£45000 per annum + pension,medical: Ashdown Group: A successful & reputable gl...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?