Thursday, January 06, 2005

Sad Sad Kiddie

I was sort of hoping that the NHL lockout would be fixed while I was on vacation. Alas, no.

Now, people I've talked with have just shrugged and said, eh - hockey gets the ratings of the Paint-Drying Channel, so who gives? I say, consider the ripple effect. Tuesday, I flipped on ESPN, "The Worldwide Leader in Sports," and this is what I got:

"The Deuce" had women's billiards. Worse, Jeannette Lee was not involved. That's like spaghetti with ketchup. Pass.

ESPN was carrying the Classic Sports feed, a 1971 fight between Muhammad Ali and Jurgen Blin. They followed with better fare: the "Rumble in the Jungle" (Ali-Foreman) and then Ali vs. Chuck Wepner, the famed "Bayonne Bleeder."

I was two when the Rumble went down, and if you'd like to know it all, you should go rent the documentary "When We Were Kings." Until then, here's the Very Short Version: Ali deserves his rep. The man could fight. His hands were bloody fast, and he had choices on defense - either block everything and let a man punch himself out, or take a few while countering. But it seemed to my apprentice eyes that he was nearing the end as a great fighter. His legs were only there in fits; he did a lot of clutching and shoving that other fighters would have lost points for; and especially against Foreman, the ropes were so slack that Foreman could barely even reach him when Ali leaned back.

About Ali-Wepner there's not much to add. As you can tell by his nickname, Wepner wasn't especially noted for grace or technique. What he was, was tough as hell. Ali barely did anything in the first two rounds, and Wepner came right after him; when he finally did catch Ali solidly, Wepner actually put him down. That got Ali's attention, and Wepner spent the rest of the fight blocking leather with his face - but it still took five more full rounds before Ali knocked him out. (It was the first time he'd ever gone down, too.)

The real deal about this fight came outside the ring. I never got the name of the play-by-play guy, but the color guy was Redd Foxx. (Yup, that Redd Foxx.) He was pretty good, too. (I still wonder if, before the fight, he got in any plugs for Sanford and Son.) The other side note is that this fight inspired a certain struggling actor to write a boxing movie you may have heard of.

Boxing's not really my thing, though. We're talking about one of the five great heavyweights ever, back when there was a Heavyweight Champion of the World, Period, and I only tuned in sporadically. It's worse now. How many heavyweight titles are there? Five, six? Can you name even one of the titleholders? In the end it only reminded me how far things have fallen.

Fox Sports Net has been reduced to replaying every old hockey match they can grab, even the ones the Rangers lose. My own teammates and I spend time debating, not which teams are strong now, but which ones will lose older players to retirement because the layoff is too long to keep in game shape.

We also debated Marginal Hall-of-Famers, loosely defined as anyone you have to really think about before talking yourself into a decision. Some of our names? Brian Propp, Ken Morrow, Trevor Linden, Neal Broten, Alexander Mogilny, Peter and Anton Stasny, Pierre Turgeon, Kevin Stevens, Clark Gillies, Bernie Nichols, Mike Liut, and Mats Sundin.

Some of these will of course seem like slam-dunks one or the other way, but in a group of a half-dozen or so, none of these guys got a unanimous in or out - at least, not unless the one holdout eventually got convinced, which demonstrates the point. There were at least fifteen more, too, that I can't recall right now.

But like the boxing, the Marginal Hall-of-Fame debate just turned out to be depressing. I'm gonna put on my Islanders sweatshirt and cry myself to sleep...

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