- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Even though his campaigning style could be considered pug-nacious, Republican presidential nominee John McCain hasn’t said much about boxing lately. That’s certainly understandable because the Arizonan has a few other things on his mind.

Yet over the years, McCain has been the best friend this beleaguered sport has on Capitol Hill - and he certainly hasn’t done it for political reasons. The way interest in boxing has declined, its fans don’t figure to swing much weight at the polls come Nov. 4.

Nobody is neutral about boxing; you either love it or hate it. For those who remember when title fights were the stuff of potential sporting legend, the current assortment of alphabet-soup ruling bodies and slapstick bouts is enough to make you sick.

Let’s try a little test. Can you name all the champions nowadays?

Some of them?

Any of them?

There are people who want to see boxing outlawed on grounds of brutality. Presumably most of these people have never seen a pro football game.

Others, such as McCain, have attempted manfully to “clean up” boxing - a task at least equal to the customary election-year bombast about cleaning up Washington.

Some of us appreciate the artistry, skill and dedication required of true champions. If you ever marveled at the fistic and strategic talents of Muhammad Ali or the two Sugar Rays, Robinson and Leonard, you know what I mean.

Odd as it may sound, boxing can be lovely.

It also can be sickening because of the way it uses, abuses and tosses away ordinary fighters, most of whom lack the education and/or smarts to earn a respectable living otherwise. In many years of covering the sport, I never heard a boxer say he loved his sport. It was merely a painful way to put food on the table.

To his credit, McCain has long stood up for the average guy wearing trunks and gloves and against the plethora of greedy managers and promoters who skim meager profits off the top and then hand a battered, bloody fighter $150 while mumbling (out of the sides of their mouths, no doubt), “Take it or leave it.”

McCain first got involved when he authored the Professional Boxing Safety Act of 1996, which created an identification card system and mandated that state commissions honor medical suspensions.

Four years later, he co-authored the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, which tried to limit the control of fighters by promoters and sanctioning bodies. It passed in the Senate and House and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, but the promised reform has been slow to come.

Writing in the Stanford Law Review in 2004, McCain said, “Without the adoption and implementation of uniform federal stands, I fear that the sport of boxing will continue its downward spiral toward irrelevance.”

Really? You mean it can sink lower?

The same year, McCain tried again by sponsoring the Professional Boxing Amendments Act of 2004, which would, among other things, establish a U.S. Boxing Commission to oversee the sport nationwide. The senator cagily attached the bill to a noncontroversial copyright proposal, but it never passed.

So goes the legislative battle to save a sport that might be beyond saving. If McCain enters the White House in January, I don’t know whether he will push for boxing reform through executive action. Sometimes it’s better just to take the patient off life support.

Still … do you remember Joe Louis’ devastating overhand right? Rocky Marciano’s pulverizing left hook? Ali’s rope-a-dope? They serve as golden memories of a tarnished game.

In “Field of Dreams,” the James Earl Jones character was talking about another sport when he rhapsodized that baseball “reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.” So could boxing if others in positions of power fight the good fight with John McCain.

Somehow.

Someday.

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