When boxing was in its last great era, its fighters chose their opponents based on merit, not on their economic muscle. And while some fighters ducked other top fighters (see most welterweights of the 1940s when Charley Burley's name came up), most of the time the glory of victory was enough to put these men in the ring together, toe to toe on a collision course with destiny. Because of that, we witnessed three memorable clashes between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier (okay, two memorable clashes sandwiched around a fight few care to remember), three between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran, and six (yes, six!) wars between Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta.
The list goes on and on, and while we have had our great fights of the current era (Corrales-Castillo I, Marquez-Vazquez, Gatti-Ward, etc.) I feel that much of what made boxing so great back then has been lost amid the falsity of meaningless title belts, empty proclamations of greatness, and the lure of money above all else, even when it means leaving a legacy more bone-dry than a Texas town during the Dust Bowl.
First, everyone is caught up in the mess of multiple title belts, interim title belts, super champion title belts, champions in recess, champions emeritus, Diamond Belts, Continental Americas title belts (whatever the hell those are) that it seems as long as a fighter has one of the above, he has somehow arrived. Honestly, if it wasn't for Ring Magazine, I don't know what I would do. While I don't agree with all of their rankings and/or champions, at least they are legitimate, unlike the WBC, which chooses to make its home in a country that has become synonymous with political corruption (not dumping on Mexico, mind you. Just calling it like I see it.) The WBA (Panama) isn't much better. We ought to demand the canal back unless they get their stuff in order. While those are out of our jurisdiction, the WBO (Puerto Rico) and IBF (New Jersey) are not, and frankly I am ashamed that we allow this corruption on American soil. We are supposed to be better than that. Alas, until fighters develop the stones to shun these fake trinkets (and the real sanctioning fees that go with them), boxing will continue to water itself down. (Note to all of you Little League apologists and No Child Left Behind sycophants: This is what happens when you have a competition and every child gets a trophy).
Second, there is too much artificial greatness in boxing.
Exhibit A: Sugar Shane Mosley is the welterweight champion of the world. His accomplishments speak for themselves. He has never ducked anybody and in fact has five losses instead of three because he immediately sought rematches with two of the fighters who beat him (Vernon Forrest and Winky Wright). One can also argue that he deserved the decision against Miguel Cotto, but that's another column. And yet, the entire welterweight division (excepting Andre Berto, may all our prayers be with him) avoids him like the plague, while calling attention to themselves. Now, due to Berto's untimely exit from their fight, Mosley may now be on a collision course with Floyd Mayweather Jr., assuming Floyd's ongoing contract negotiations with Ivan Calderon fall through.
While I would love to see that fight (Mosley wins by KO 10), I remain dubious until the contracts are signed. That is because Floyd Mayweather is everything that is wrong with the sport. He cares nothing for legacy, nothing for glory. Just pay him a fat fee so he can make it rain somewhere before launching into another one of his racist rants to Brian Kenny.
But it's not just Mayweather. At one time, it was Jermain Taylor talking about whatever fight paid him the most money instead of the best fight (which was Kelly Pavlik, a fight he did ultimately agree to because it was the most money. Had it not been, we might have seen him fighting Ricardo Mayorga). To put it nicely, fights are now made based on money potential, not the matchup, not best vs. best. Until that gets fixed, boxing will survive, but never thrive.
Hopefully, when the all-time rankings for boxing are readjusted, you won't see Floyd's name anywhere near Mosley (who I think is a top-10 all time welterweight and lightweight, and would have competed in any era) or Manny Pacquiao.
That is, if we even know what greatness is in this sad country of ours anymore.