At the moment, I am entering some extremely intensive work that I cannot be distracted from. I will be gone for quite some time (a year or more), and to make sure I will need to ban myself. Before I go, I wanted to say goodbye to everyone and wish you all good luck. I've enjoyed the writing competitions, the Fitzsimmons worship, the battles between fans of old and new fighters. During my stint in the ESB forum, I've learned a great deal about boxers old and new, and I've been inspired to continue my research on the earliest periods of boxing history. I cannot name all of those who have been helpful, because I am sure that I would leave someone important out--but I thank you nonetheless, and wish you all luck!
In closing, I might as well post one final article--something I've been thinking about for a while. Yes, it's a final "Old Timers and Moderns Contrasted" article. I also posted an article collection in the Training forum. Enjoy!
There are those who believe that all sports improve, and boxing must improve along with them. A brief look at Greb and the boxrec records of the old-timers confirms their impressions, and they leave it at that. Then there are others who claim--against all logic--that boxing is NOT a sport like any other, and that it's the only one where the fighters have declined. Well, I disagree with both. Boxing IS like many other sports, and follows the same rules of progress that they do. And BECAUSE of those rules, it has not improved. Let's look at them for a moment:
#1: Sports improve when the talent pool improves
This is an obvious one. If there are more talented athletes participating in a sport, chances are greatly enhanced that the sport as a whole is stronger. "Modern is better" pundits claim that the talent pool has definitely improved over the past few years--with globalization and the opening of Eastern Europe, more boxers are available than ever, and therefore the talent pool is bigger.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Boxing may have improved in some areas, but it has definitely declined in its former home-base of the United States. In the past, the immense popularity of boxing in this region was reinforced by frequent televised fights, a larger number of boxing gyms than today, and a large reservoir of experienced trainers. The trainers are still there--Steward, Roach, McGirt are still the best in the world--but the old gyms like Kronk are closing down, and the native talent that once fuelled them is dwindling.
It may seem that this shortfall will be easily made up for by the growing presence of boxing in Europe. Perhaps, but it will take a long time. During the 50's, 60's, and 70's, America faced the same international challenges that it faces today. Western Europe, South America, and Central America were all heavily involved in the global boxing business...in fact, the only change has been the addition of the former Soviet states, which haven't made a huge impact on non-heavyweight boxing yet. So how could America be so dominant?
Because America was specialized for boxing. A combination of greater poverty, more gyms, and the considerable popularity of boxing compared to other sports produced a constant flow of tough, hungry prospects into the gyms. They were then developed by a cadre of coaches who were more numerous and more experienced in professional rules than those of today. Similar effects can still be seen in regions like Puerto Rico, where a tiny population has produced a huge talent pool.
Perhaps you want more proof? Take a look at top fighters' boxrec records from forty years ago. You'll see more losses--which is almost always a sign of a larger talent pool. In sports with large participation rates, top performers do not hold onto their titles for long--they are quickly swept out because the competition for the top positions is so intense. It's even true of non-sports talent pools in everything from business to politics. It's true in track and field, in general. Yet somehow, it's not true of our supposedly more competitive modern era in boxing....Perhaps it's the critics who believe that boxing is a world unto itself.
#2: Sports improve when training improves
This is one area where modern fighters have an advantage--the advances in sports science have been considerable over the past fifty years. Still, it's not as massive as it first appears. Even in the advanced Eastern European training methodologies, the training techniques for boxing--aerobic and interval training, plus sparring--remain very similar to those used in the past (see: Bompa, Periodization). There has been an evolution over the past few decades, but it's been a slow creep, not a giant step forward.
Moreover, there have not been advances in the ability to train two of the most important aspects of boxing skill--reflexes and chin.
#3: Sports improve when techniques improve
This is the most important aspect of boxing--even the most dedicated devotee of modern training admits that boxing has far more to do with skill and experience than with pure athleticism. That's why the Bernards of the world will always defeat the Tarvers.
So why has modern boxing technique not improved? Unlike in track and field and weightlifting (but similar to kickboxing, wrestling, and MMA), proper technique does not depend on an objective standard, but on your opponent and his preparation. Sometimes, a textbook approach straight out of the USA Boxing manual will allow you to beat your adversary, but at other times, you have guys like Hamed whose bizarre techniques create openings that their opponents aren't prepared for. There are even fighters like Mayorga and Foreman who use downright terrible techniques, but have the experience to pull them off anyway.
That's where the difference in experience comes in. Modern fighters are raised in an amateur environment. Instead of the 200+ professional fights of men like Moore, Stribling, Robinson, and Greb, modern fighters get most of their experience in a few hundred amateur fights. Yet amateur scoring, rules, and protective equipment make it very different from the professional environment. It produces very different results from professional boxing--Audley Harrison being an excellent example. The difference in technique between older and modern fighters stems largely from this divide--that the old-timers began their careers competing in more realistic conditions. Even amateur boxing was similar to professional boxing in the 50's and 60's.
The results have been interesting. Modern fighters are less likely to go to the body, since this is not scored as heavily under amateur rules. They are less likely to rough their opponents up in clinches, and are less skilled on the inside overall, again because of prohibitions in the amateur system. They are less adept at dirty tactics (Hopkins would not be exceptional in the 1950's), and are FAR less likely to use unorthodox punches to snake their way around their opponents' guards. They display fewer survival skills than the old-timers, with the exception of men like Toney, because amateur fights are stopped rather early. They do not even utilize feints to the same degree at a top level--compare Louis to the modern heavyweight division and you will see what I mean.
To use a track and field analogy, it would be like modern athletes using 1890's shot put techniques, while 1890's shot putters are allowed to use modern techniques.
A few older fights that show what I'm talking about:
#4: Sports improve when equipment improves
Ever wonder how Owens' time is terrible by today's standards, yet the equipment free deadlift records haven't improved since the 1920's (1922, to be exact)? Why modern tennis is played at a faster pace than it was in the past, yet the Highland Games (a strength sport extraordinaire in an era that excels in producing strength athletes) has not improved substantially on its 60's records? Because equipment has improved in tennis and track and field--everything from high-tech rackets to a switch to modern tracks. Nor is weightlifting immune--the unequipped deadlift record has not changed for eighty years, but the equipped deadlift record has increased by 200 lbs.
Unlike many other sports, this does not apply to boxing, where the same gloves and ring are used by both opponents.
This is the reason why, despite our more "advanced" training techniques, we have not been able to exceed late 80's marks in many track and field events. Yes, twenty years without significant improvement--because steroid testing has become better since the 80's, so it's harder for athletes to cheat. Boxing is starting to see the fallout as well--Mosely, Holyfield, Toney, and many others have admitted to using illegal performance-enhancing substances.
You're an incredibly valuable resourse and contributor on this forum, CT. If you invest even a fraction of the energy you do here to your new job, you're gonna be on the fast-track to top management.
Only just joined here and CT you were the first poster I became familiar with. The Bergeron deal sealed it. Thanks for a lot of laughs and some really interesting topics. The Avatar club shall not die, no-one will be laughing when JFB unifies the titles in '08. I expect you back when he does that. If somehow that doesn't happen in the next 15 years, well, expect you back anyway.
...Actually that must be it, hes leaving here to go train JFB! Onward and upward CT!
In the past, the immense popularity of boxing in this region was reinforced by frequent televised fights, a larger number of boxing gyms than today, and a large reservoir of experienced trainers.
A quick look at late 1940's to late 1950's shows these were two opposite trends, the TV popularity and the number of gyms and trainers. It was considered back then and for some time, that TV was killing boxing, making a lot of boxing gyms close up (including the Stillman's gym) and the trainers skills stopping to improve with that.