An old sport’s got new fight

Jesse Smithey

Not once in my 12-year career as sportswriter for the Knoxville News Sentinel did I pen an article about boxing.

I covered high school sports mainly, with some golf and Tennessee athletics sprinkled in here and there.

But never boxing.

Not an amateur Golden Gloves story.

Not even a local professional boxing angle.

So this is a definite first for me.

The reason for the debut: Heavyweight boxing has my attention for the first time in 20 years. And it should have yours.

The heavyweight boxing champion used to be somebody. Remember? He used to be a contender – for our attention, for our worldwide admiration.

He used to be one of, if not the, most recognizable sportsman on the planet. Their names were lost on no one.

I will never forget how much I almost idolized Mike Tyson. My friends and I gawked at every one of his knockouts. Nintendo’s “Mike Tyson’s Punchout” video game escalated his abilities and reputation to such unrealistic levels that even Sylvester Stallone couldn’t fathom. On that game, one punch from Tyson to the face sent you flailing to the canvas.

So naturally, we all thought that Tyson was some kind of Chosen One of boxing.

But when Tyson lost the last of his invincibility in the late 1990s, boxing deflated a bit and I lost interest.

Champions like Lennox Lewis, John Ruiz and Vitali Klitschko failed to move the needle like their predecessors.

My generation, meanwhile, gravitated toward Ultimate Fighting and its street-fight-like feel.

Boxing returned a couple of weekends ago, however, unbeknownst to me and probably you.

Twitter, as you would expect, gave me the wake-up call and even had video highlights.

I marveled as Anthony Joshua, a 27-year-old undefeated (19-0-0) Englishman, took care of Wladimir Klitschko in the 11th round of a reported indelible tit-for-tat championship bout on April 29. The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Joshua actually comes across in the public eye as a likable figure. He wore white gloves, trunks and shoes in the fight against Klitschko, as if Joshua was some savior to the sport.

While that simile of divinity was in jest, Joshua does have a certain look to him, a budding superstar quality to his style and person.

Still, he lacks two belts to be the unanimous heavyweight champion. And one of those belts belongs to an American.

I’m reeling you in back to boxing now, aren’t I?

Seasoned American fighter Deontay Wilder (38-0) is the World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight champion. The other belt Joshua lacks, the World Boxing Organization (WBO) championship, belongs to New Zealand’s Joseph Parker.

Joshua holds the International Boxing Federation (IBF), International Boxing Organization (IBO) and World Boxing Association (WBA) title belts.

So who does Joshua fight next? When does he fight next?

Ah, that’s the intrigue of it all. That’s why boxing has become captivating again.

I seriously can’t hand over my pay-per-view money fast enough.

If the sport stays out of its own way, it will have Wilder and Parker square off, with the winner facing Joshua for all the belts.

But we’ll have to wait and see what happens next.

After all, there’s a certain science to these types of things.

A sweet science, that is.

And I am glad it’s back.

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