Various sports have produced remarkable sporting icons. Basketball has Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant among others, the world of golf has Tiger Woods. And the list goes on. For boxing, the sport has been shaped over the years by various sports persons. The sport has produced a number of icons, whose legacy has endured the years and whose greatness is still incomparable.
Over the years, the sport has created a number of icons. Boxers whose worldview, skill, personality, and mannerism have shaped the sport.
Rushcutter’s Bay, 26 December 1908, Jack Johnson fought Tommy Burns in a specially built arena on the outskirts of Sydney. While Burns got £6,000, Johnson got a quarter of that amount. The crowd was huge and they were eager to see a black man and white man fight. More than 16,000 fans bought tickets and still the arena wasn’t spacious enough for the many that wanted to watch the fight. Johnson battered Burns and won the fight, becoming the first black heavyweight champion. Johnson later built a formidable reputation and not even Sonny Liston or Mike Tyson could instil as much fear in opponents as him. Outside the ring, Johnson was notorious for dating multiple white women, a penchant that eventually led to his downfall.
From Johnson to Joe Louis
The sport went on to bring different characters into the game. Unlike Johnson who always smiled when he defeated his opponents, especially his white opponents, Joe Louis was taught to show no emotion when he won and was presented as “a good ambassador for his race”. Louis’ blows were powerful and one of his victims, Max Schmeling was knocked unconscious. Louis became the second black man to hold the heavyweight championship. He was regarded as one of the best boxers of all time. At this time, more blacks started fighting. After Joe Louis retired, came The Great Sugar Ray Robinson.
The Great Sugar Ray Robinson
Sugar Ray Robinson went on a 91 fight unbeaten streak, and he became an iconic figure in boxing. He was described as the greatest pound-for-pound boxer in the world. Robinson fought LaMotta on the 14th of February, 1951 in what has become known as the ‘St Valentine’s Day Massacre’. He outboxed and outclassed LaMotta who was rescued by the referee. Robinson is said to have introduced the ‘entourage’ into the sport of boxing. His entourage included sisters, manager and wife, trainers, secretary, mascot (a dwarf) and hairdresser. Robinson fought LaMotta six times and won five times.
Sonny Liston then enter Muhammad Ali
Sonny Liston came onto the boxing scene and demolished Floyd Patterson on the 25th of September in 1962 in the presence of a crowd of 19,000. The fight lasted 126 seconds. In the return match, Patterson was whooped and only lasted a little over 130 seconds. But Liston who appeared indestructible was challenged by a young man from Louisville whose lips were fast and irritated as well as intrigued the boxing world. This young man called Liston an ‘Ugly Bear’. At the time, the world knew the young man as Cassius Marcellus Clay. What the world didn’t know was that this young man would be one of the lasting icons in boxing.
Clay was hyperactive at the weigh-in and for a full 30 minutes before the fight, kept taunting Liston. On the 25th of February 1964, Liston had a 7-to-1-on favourite. Clay was nine years younger than Liston and also slimmer. Liston had predicted that Clay would fall in the second round. Clay had predicted the seventh round. Before the seventh round, Liston retired on his stool introducing the world to a new heavy weight champion, Muhammad Ali. In the rematch, which is embroiled with a lot of doubts, Liston went down in the first round. Many doubt the blow Ali gave was enough to make Liston fall.
In boxing, ‘The Greatest’ was the best thing to happen and his most remarkable victory was probably against George Foreman in Rumble in the Jungle, Zaire, 1974. Boxing received its biggest boost with the arrival of a brash young man who dominated the sport for close to 15 years. After renouncing his slave name, ‘The Louisville Lip’ was given to rhymes and predicting the round in which his opponent would win. His catch phrase, ‘I am the Greatest’ was his reply to whatever his opponents had to say. His style of fighting was totally different. He was a heavyweight boxer that fought like a lightweight. When Patterson refused to call Ali by his new name, Ali subjected him to 12 rounds of punishment. It was during this time that Ali was stripped off his belt for failing to join the U.S. Army to fight in Vietnam.
The 60s and 70s was filled with a lot of iconic figures in boxing. Joe Frazier, who was one of the few men to beat Ali and had fought Ali a record of three times. George Foreman who lost to Ali in Kinshasa.
The reign of Mike Tyson
In 1985, Mike Tyson, otherwise known as Iron Mike became a professional boxer. His first opponent was Hector Mercedes whom he knocked out in the first round. He developed a winning streak with his iron fists. His was a quick destruction. The 19-year-old won 18 of his first fights within the first few rounds.
Great boxers of recent past
The game of boxing went through various stages introducing other great boxers, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, Davide Haye, Wladimir Klitschko.
Anthony Joshua: Can he dominate the game?
Anthony Joshua seems to have reignited global interest in the game of boxing. In the presence of a crowd of 90,000 Joshua took the belt. A late bloomer unlike others who had picked up the game at an early age, Joshua no doubt seems ready to dominate for a long time. The 27-year-old who seems to just want to have fun has warmed his way into people’s heart. His cool demeanor, humility and dedication to his craft are likely to shape him into one of the icons of boxing.
Most important is the fact that Joshua just became a professional fighter three and a half years ago with only 19 fights so far. With the world still basking in his victory over Klitschko, many are looking forward to more fights involving this hugely talented young man. It is highly likely that the world has found its next boxing icon.