I was five years-old when Muhammad Ali took on Leon Spinks in defense of his Heavyweight title. I remember racing home from a classmate’s birthday party to watch the fight with my dad. Ali, The Greatest, lost. I cried a lot.
A few years later I was squirreled away in my parents’ bedroom, tuned into a 9″ black & white Panasonic television to watch Larry Holmes take on Gerry Cooney in Las Vegas. I kept score. Holmes won. I cheered a lot.
As a kid, boxing was a big deal to me. It wasn’t until I was much older, long after my interest waned, that I realized why; boxing mean time spent with my father. I won the parent lottery with my folks, no question, but dad and me didn’t share a lot in common. I liked basketball, he liked cars. I liked Public Enemy, he liked Marty Robbins. But we both liked boxing. So for a while in the mid-’80s, big matches became our shared ritual. We watched Marvin Hagler, James “Bonecrusher” Smith, Mark Breland, Thomas Hearns. We watched as 19 year-old Mike Tyson went from Kid Dynamite to Heavyweight Champ. I have a crystal clear memory from a 1986 match between Tyson and Marvis Frazier (son of the great Joe Frazier). The phone rang a few moments before the opening bell. Dad got up to answer and rushed through a quick chat with his brother Richard. I could hear the urgency in his voice. Then this happened:
Within the span of a 30-second phone call, Frazier was down, I was euphoric, and dad was incredulous.
The sport of boxing took a big leap in the late ’80s — from network TV to cable to Pay-Per-View. My dad’s job took a big leap from local operations to travelling 200 days of the year. We spent less time together — me, my dad and boxing — and eventually our shared ritual faded into memory.
I stopped following boxing around the same time I began to feel mortal. When you’re a kid, you lose great-grandparents, great-uncles — when you’re an adult, you begin to lose friends, friend’s children. Your eyes are opened to the realities of life, of violence. So my interest now is a nostalgic one; one of popcorn and Pepsi, and my dad fumbling with the antenna on a 19″ console color TV.