I don't want to scotch any further discussion of Mike's list of hall of famers, although I think that the unimpeachability of the names he has put on the list will tend to cut down on discussion. I mean, you'd have to look far and wide, or at least as far as the nearest internet chat room, for somebody dumb enough to question, say, Harry Greb's right to be on the list. ("Harry Greb!? IMHO, that fuckn faget wooden stand a CHANCE against my boy De La Hoya he's the dop no what I mean bitzsch!?! Peece outt.") But I saw Duran a couple of days ago, and seeing him reminded me of something Charles likes to argue: that it's unlikely we'll ever see another pound-for-pound all-timer, that Duran is the last of the breed.
I was at a press conference in a restaurant in midtown Manhattan. Duran was there along with the usual assortment of former fighters, trainers, reporters, promoters, et al. He and some partners are starting up a monthly boxing show in New York, with pay per view TV, the usual low-grade sort of thing. Duran's looking fleshy and jolly these days, kind of like Ingemar Johanssen used to look in his late middle age: you can see the man he was inside the man he is now, framed by the extra meat. When the press conference was over, everybody straggled out onto the sidewalk. In addition to Duran, Joel Casamayor and Shannon Briggs were there, and there were a lot of other currently or formerly significant names and faces in the fight world. They were all hanging around out front, talking loud and laughing, hugging and smacking hands, doing those gusty expansive things that fighters do when they get together, which comes down to assuring everybody that everybody's okay.
The thing that got me was that nobody else noticed. It was a busy street. People were going by and making annoyed faces, squeezing past, not breaking stride. A couple took a second look at Briggs, who's 6-4, weighs 275 pounds, and had his bleached dreads tied up in a vertical knot, like a whale spouting in a stylized old print. But they probably thought he might be a football player or something. Nobody noticed that there was a fairly impressive gathering of boxing talent right there in front of them: the boxing equivalent of a football crew that included, say, Joe Montana (Duran), Marc Bulger (Casamayor), and Rex Grossman (Briggs). If some weight-lifting stockbrokers had happened by and Duran had bumped into them (he was surging around freely, so it's not that hard to imagine), they probably would have checked him out for a moment and then decided it was safe to call him a fat fuck. They wouldn't say that to Briggs, obviously, but they might to Duran. We're long past the point, as a culture, at which the average person on the street can tell that maybe this guy's pretty good with his hands and not the best person to mess with. They'd just look for muscle definition and base their judgment on the lack thereof.
I don't need everybody to bow down before boxers, and I don't need to protect them against anybody, but even I, who don't really care what other people think of boxing, felt a vague impulse to announce, "Hey! That's Roberto Duran! He's one of the greatest fighters who ever lived! Maybe the last of the all-time pound-for-pounders! You should care!" If the boxers had been football players, baseball players, hockey players, tennis players, musicians, anchormen, actors--hell, if they'd been competitive skateboarders--somebody would have noticed. But boxing has become such a niche market, such an esoteric pursuit, that these guys can pass anonymously down the street, at least until they happen to go by one of the few remaining places where they might matter--a social club for old men, for instance.
I'm not all broken up about it, but it was yet another reminder that we write about something that, at least in this country, used to matter and increasingly doesn't. It's all relative, of course, and boxing matters more in other places in the world, and it matters here at least enough that a handful of fighters get paid millions of dollars per fight, but still, it felt like I was keeping company with ghosts. Ghosts who could kick your ass, but ghosts nonetheless.