Boxing is rough, violent and physically destructive. Boxing takes stamina, it takes dedication and audacity. Boxers develop their skills through years of painstaking training. A boxer will face countless rounds and injuries before ever even stepping into the professional ring.
Make an argument against the sport, but there’s something about boxing – something that has drawn paying fans to overfilled arenas, and boxers into rings for decades. Boxing is exhilarating. Boxing is an extreme sport, it can be extremely dangerous and that’s part of its thrill. Boxers must be in top physical condition to contend, but fights can leave boxers with broken limbs and crippling injuries.
Within boxing’s tumultuous history there have been fighting legends. Seemingly undefeatable athletes who homed in on their strengths, whose dedication to the sport was undeniable – it’s those legends that keep us watching year after year.
Unfortunately, not everyone has made their way to the top honestly. From cash hand-outs to drug abuse and cheating – we’ve categorised some of the biggest scandals that have become a part of the rich and controversial history of this incredible, riotous sport.
The International Boxing Federation (IBF) is one of four boxing world championship governing bodies. To rank highly, a boxer must gain merit within their division by winning fights. To ensure better rankings, The IBF accepted bribes from big-time promoters like Don King who paid over $100,000 to get George Foreman out his upcoming mandatory fight. All together, IBF President Robert W. Lee accepted $338,000 in bribes until his arrest in 2001. He was charged with money laundering and tax evasion.
Sonny Liston was at the peak of his career when he lost a six-round fight to Cassius Clay in 1964 because of a supposed shoulder injury. In fairness, Liston had been dominated in the 6th – but whether or not the injury in question was real is another matter. Their 1965 rematch was an enormous event, but the fight was an easy win for the now-named Muhammad Ali, who a minute and half into the first round, struck Liston in the head with a hard right – or did he? Many claimed not to have seen the stunning blow and thus it became known as “the phantom punch.” Many people questioned the legitimacy of the fight, including Liston’s wife. Sonny had ties to the mob and it was far from unheard of for mob money to fix fights. Meanwhile, some even claim that extremist Muslim groups were involved and wanted to secure the recently converted Ali’s victory. Sonny Listen died only five years later of a heroin overdose that many believe was no accident.
Professional boxers deal powerful blows and without proper padding from boxing gloves there is enough force behind a punch to break fingers – and jaws. If, say, that same padding was reinforced by a cement-like material, the blows dealt by a boxer could be potentially fatal. This is story of Antonio Margarito who sprung to fame in 2008 when he defeated the former welterweight champion, Miguel Cotto. A year later, Margarito was scheduled to fight Shane Mosley, but Mosley’s trainer, Naazim Richardson, noticed powder in Margarito’s gloves. Richardson told officials, who discovered Margarito had been wearing a plaster of Paris-type substance under his hand wraps, which hardened when in contact with water or sweat. After losing his cement-cast fist, Margarito was brutally defeated and banned from boxing for a year. His victory against Cotto was also cast in doubt.
The 1940s were overrun with dirty underground deals and mobsters who wanted a slice of the action, exerting their influence to decide the fights. Jake LaMotta was the rising star of the era, but he wanted more fame and faster money. He got in with the mob and agreed on a deal to go down to Billy Fox in exchange for a title fight against French champion Marcel Cerdan and 20 grand. Billy Fox was hardly a match for LaMotta and when LaMotta let Billy pounce him, it was obvious to everyone, including the FBI, that the game was rigged. LaMotta was given his title shot and awarded the money. Some years later the FBI was investigating the mob’s influence over boxing and, when questioned, LaMotta admitted the fight was fixed.
Fight to the death
He was known as Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, a tough lightweight fighter with an aggressive reputation. In 1982 he was defending his title against Duk Koo Kim. The fight was sensational. Kim was dealt terrible blows, but in a stunning show of immense strength and willpower came back round after round. In those days, fights could go on for as many as 15 rounds, but Kim had never faced an opponent in a 15-round contest. By the 14th round Kim was struggling to maintain composure. Mancini seized his opportunity, and with nothing but a short combination knocked Kim to the ground. Kim tried to recover but the referee called the fight. Kim died only four days later of brain injuries incurred during the fight. Mancini never fought the same.
Mancini’s 1982 title match wasn’t the first boxing-induced death. The year was 1962 and welterweight rivals Emile Griffith and Benny “The Kid” Paret were set to duke it out once and for all at Madison Square Garden. ABC was broadcasting the fight nationally. The two men seemed evenly matched but into the later rounds Griffith was gaining control. By round 12, Griffith had Paret pinned to the ropes. Grifith started hitting Paret, dealing blow after blow. At some point, Paret had lost consciousness but by the 20th punch Griffith had killed him on live television. Networks wouldn’t show a live boxing broadcast again until the 1970s when Joe Frazier went up against Muhammad Ali.