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Boxing’s Necro-Journalism (They Say Harry Greb…)

(Originally Published @

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I am not fond of nostalgia. I can think of nothing more depressing than dwelling on things that used to be, but will never be again.

“Remember when I used to do that? Remember what I used to watch? Remember What I used to listen to?”

Ugh. How utterly sad.

As a boxing writer, being an anti-nostalgia guy is especially tough, almost like hating small children and working at Chuck E. Cheese, because there’s a significant subsection of writers and fans who are almost entirely about backward glancing.

I get it, I really do. Honoring yesterday’s heroes, yesterday’s wars. I get it. I go back and watch old fights and I grew up around some old timers, who I cared for like family. But how much is too much? At what point is boxing’s obsession with its past affecting its future?

Boxing is not unique in embracing yesteryear, but no other sports does it quite so much. No other fan base/media clutches at the past so desperately, often to the exclusion of attention that could be devoted to present-day activity.

Given the realities of the sport today and its existence as a niche sport, there’s only so much time and space where boxing can be a topic of conversation. Ignoring the present tense for tales of a glorified past is ultimately harmful to the sport’s future.

Along with this obsession for the past comes a sub-species of boxing writer, eager to fill up boxing’s niche within a niche.

These guys, are the ones with the shovels and the flashlights, digging up corpses of old pugs and making them into your own personal hand puppets. They molest the carcasses of long dead boxing heroes, forcing their thoughts into the fighters’ heads, and creating dramatic, semi-fictitious scenarios born from Boxrec footnotes.

These frustrated warrior poets, freshman-level fiction writers, who are mostly privileged rich boy wannabe Lieblings adopting a fake Mickey Spillane-style noir style to tickle the gonads of lame-brain boxing scribes and the elderly-at-heart, are just as dangerous to the sport’s narrative as the half-literate keyboard slappers who churn out publicist-friendly “content” for mainstream sites.

These self-proclaimed “boxing historians” re-work history to fit their narratives and agendas, which mostly lean towards maintaining status quo in a sport that so desperately needs change. And even when lowering themselves to cover the contemporary scene, everything they do points back to their melodramatic, “the past was always better” leanings.

The boxing gravediggers keep stories of bravery, bravado, and triumph of the human spirit in the present tense out of the public eye by flooding websites with rewritten tributes to past bravery, bravado, and triumphs of the human spirit.

Some of these guys are actually good, though, and actually do research above and beyond Boxrec footnotes and previously-written material on the subject. But they rarely do much beyond hero-worship and backward-glance.

Why talk about today or tomorrow when yesterday’s there and so much easier to deal with? The dead and gone never contradict you. They never prove you wrong. It’s so much simpler to nail down a story that’s already been nailed down-- digested, re-digested, and painted with the “right” shade by history.

Any attribute or attitude can be sock-puppeted via Harry Greb, for example, who is a favorite of necro-minded scribes. Who can contradict your assessment of his style when no film exists of him actually fighting? Prove me wrong if I say that he fought windmill-style with eyes closed, hopping on his left leg and whooping like a mental case. Beyond being very accomplished, everything else about him is fill-in-the-blanks—and that makes him the perfect prey for the lantern and shovel set.

So, what’s the point in all this griping about other writers and their personal writing preferences?

There’s bigger-picture stuff at play. Dwelling on the past, fetishizing old school boxing romanticism DOES steal life from the here and now. But, there’s also a selfish personal reason for railing against boxing’s necro-journalism (Yep, that’s me coining a phrase).

I’m reminding myself that when the news cycle gets slow and living in the present becomes a pain in the ass (because people will pounce on you for incorrect fight predictions and declarations that prove to be flat-out wrong—plus, sometimes, things just get boring), I need to try harder to find light and life rather than dig into some rotting carcass for warmth and comfort.

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