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Neglect leaves USA boxing on the ropes
Tuesday afternoon in a preliminary round of Olympic boxing, a nondescript Russian boxer tried to beat some sense into America’s latest Great Big Dope.
It didn’t work. Shortly after barely surviving a 9-minute onslaught delivered by a Ruskie tomato can, mid-major quarterback-turned-American super heavyweight fighter Dominic Breazeale enthusiastically talked about his plans to turn professional and reach the top of boxing.
Breazeale is as clueless as the people running the USA boxing program and many of the people offering up reasons for the demise of American boxing.
Breazeale is a creation of television syndication mogul Michael King’s All-American Heavyweight boxing academy. In a previous life, King and his brother Roger ran King World Productions and birthed The Oprah Winfrey Show, among other things. In recent years, Michael King decided he wanted to reinvigorate boxing by developing a heavyweight champion through unconventional methods. King recruits former college football and basketball players and trains them to be prizefighters. Breazeale, a former QB at Northern Colorado, was King’s prized recruit.
In a little less than four years, All-American Heavyweight turned the 6-foot-7 Ben Roethlisberger clone into a national amateur champion and an Olympian.
The Great Big Dope repaid King’s substantial financial investment -- Breazeale received a $3,500-a-month stipend, free food and rent money -- by first distancing himself from AA Heavyweight once he qualified for the Olympics and leaving the program altogether on June 5 of this year.
There was at least one person not surprised by Breazeale’s comically-bad, two-eight-counts, one-hand performance on Tuesday.
“Dominic looked terrible,” said King, who watched the bout at his Los Angeles home. “He looked one thousand times better getting to the Olympics. He’s lucky the bell rang at the end.”
Breazeale, perhaps with a bit more flab, looked like the typical American boxer left in the care of the USA boxing program. Breazeale got winded early. He was off balance much of the fight. His punches had little pop.
Breazeale said he abandoned his game plan.
We chose a coach, Brasheer Abdullah, who is forbidden from working the corner during these Olympics by a quirky Amateur International Boxing Association rule about working with pros within a certain time frame.
No. I’m serious. We chose a coach we knew would be forced to scream instructions from the stands. Abdullah’s experienced assistants are restricted to spectators, too, during fights. The people working the corners for our men’s and women’s boxing teams have zero experience.
Only in American amateur boxing! Don King is definitely brighter and possibly more ethical than the men running the USA boxing program.
There’s a popular theory that black kids from the ‘hood don’t box anymore because they’re too smart to take repeated shots in the head when they could make millions of dollars playing football or basketball. The truth is actually a little deeper.
The civil-rights movement and integration killed boxing, particularly amateur boxing. The last great U.S. Olympic boxing team was 1984. Meldrick Taylor, Pernell Whitaker, Mark Breland, Virgil Hill, Evander Holyfield, Henry Tillman and Tyrell Biggs starred on a team that won nine gold medals, one silver and one bronze. OK, Russia and Cuba boycotted the ’84 Games. But Taylor, Whitaker, Breland, Hill and Holyfield all went on to significant, accomplished professional careers. They formed an all-time great U.S. boxing team. The fighters were all born in the early 1960s. The full impact of integration wasn’t felt when they were formulating their athletic dreams.
U.S. amateur boxing stinks because there is no NCAA equivalent.
Kids in the ‘hood have no fear of taking a punch. They’re too smart to pursue a sport that has no Plan B and doesn’t remove them from the ghetto. You play football or basketball, even if you’re not even close to displaying professional talent, there are literally thousands of colleges willing to give you some form of financial aid to leave the ghetto and start a new life someplace safer and more promising.
What teenage boy wouldn’t choose four of five years on almost any college campus over four or five years commuting to a dingy gym most likely located in a dingy neighborhood?
You have to be elite for boxing to take you out of the ghetto. A scrub on an elite high school football or basketball team can go on to play at a small college. Before the civil-rights movement, before full integration, black kids had extremely limited athletic and educational options. Boxing made a lot more sense when only a handful of northern schools would pluck a handful of mostly middle-class black kids to play football, basketball and baseball.
Once Sam Cunningham forced Bear Bryant to visit the ‘hood, boxing lost its appeal. Kids from poor inner-city schools may not be fully prepared academically for college, but, trust me, they want the educational opportunity and the access to safety. It’s not all about the money. Football and basketball are the underground railroad out of the ghetto.
I have an even larger point. College athletics power our Olympic teams, not the USOC. We’re good at swimming, track and field, gymnastics, basketball, tennis, soccer, wrestling, volleyball, etc. We’re good at the sports played in college. Many kids, even rich suburban ones, stick with sports through high school because there’s the chance they can play in college. As funding for Olympic sports decline at colleges, we’re likely to see the performance of our Olympic teams dip. It’s already happening in track and field.
We can be hypocrites, remain in denial and bitch that the Chinese are surpassing us athletically because they’re cheating with performance-enhancing drugs. Or we can acknowledge that our system for supporting and training Olympic-level athletes is inferior and finally catching up to us.
In 1984, no one would’ve ever believed that USA boxing would win a single bronze medal in 2008 and have a Great Big Dope as the face of the program four years later.