The Ring Magazine December 2009. Review by Paul Salgado
If you're a longtime boxing fan, you know the conventional wisdom is that the sport enjoyed two golden eras, the 1950s and 1980s. But for historian Mike Silver, it was these two eras that began what he perceives to be a long and steady decline in the game.
In his book, "The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science (McFarland & Company, 229 pages, hardcover, $25.00), Silver argues that boxing's true golden age was the three decades from the 1920s to the 1940s, when masters like Tommy Loughren, Benny Leonard, Willie Pep, and Charley Burley fought. According to Silver, from the post war era onward, the sweetness began to erode and boxers started to lose the development of real science.
So what led to the decline? The advent of televised boxing, Silver believes, and the resultant demise of the once thriving club show circuit where fighters plied their trade. When small club shows virtually disappeared, so too did a once thriving gym culture where boxers apprenticed under master trainers and learned defense, infighting, clinching and body punching.
Forced to abandon the sport when they could no longer make a full-time living, these one-time sages of boxing took with them a body of fighting knowledge that nowadays remains known by only a handful of trainers
Silver calls today's style of fighting offensively biased "speed boxing," and observes that contemporary fighters show little strategy and diversity in their game. A lack of activity and an obsession with undefeated records, with which to please television executives, has also led to the degeneration of talent.
Undefeated records are impressive marketing tools, but too many uncompetitive fights and high knockout ratios against inferior opponents have actually served to handicap today's young boxers in developing sophisticated skills en route to a title fight. So-called champions of the current era, writes Silver, hardly compare to someone like Archie Moore who had 177 fights before finally landing his title shot against Joey Maxim, 17 years after turning pro.
Moreover, as Silver reminds us, Moore won the linear belt, not one of the fractional belts that proliferated in the '80s courtesy of TV networks eager to broadcast bouts as title fights.
It would be easy to dismiss Silver as losing himself in nostalgia, but to his credit the author comes up with some compelling arguments. And he doesn't stop there. Utilizing short first-person narratives, he enlists a number of old school voices including Teddy Atlas, Bill Goodman, Mike Capriano Jr., and former lightweight champion 'Carlos Ortiz, all of whom dissect the sport and its participants, and critique the many changes that have led, they believe, to boxing's to boxing's currently diminished state.
The book may be a lament, but the author clearly loves boxing. True aficionados, whether they ultimately agree with Silver or not, are sure to enjoy his book for its unmistakable knowledge and passion.