Have you ever loved a particular sport for much of your life, followed it religiously, then lost that interest altogether?
It happened to me.
Even before I was old enough to start school, I was going to more than my share of hockey games, baseball games and boxing matches. My father was a big supporter of those three sports and, as I’ve mentioned on other occasions, he was instrumental in harvesting my enthusiasm for them.
I was just four and five years old when I began accompanying Dad to the old arena in downtown New Glasgow, the rink down in Pictou, and the ball park up in Stellarton.
Those three sports became the favourites in my childhood introduction to the sporting world.
By the time I was into reading, writing and arithmetic, I had already witnessed many exciting goals, many baseballs turned into dramatic home runs, and a lot of knockouts and splattered blood inside the ring.
My mother kept saying I was spending too much time watching such things. I usually responded by telling her that sports were far more fun than homework.
To this day — 75 years later — hockey and baseball remain my favourite sports.
But what about the third? What about the tough-looking guys throwing punches at each other? Isn’t boxing still among my loves?
No, it’s not.
I had really taken to fisticuffs back in the late 1940s and that interest grew through the ’50s and ’60s. I enjoyed the sport for decades, giving me many fine memories. I wouldn’t miss a boxing card, amateur or pro, in Pictou County or other places like Halifax and Cape Breton.
My appreciation of fighting started with matches involving New Glasgow’s Keith, Percy and Sparky Paris, along with the first heavyweight I can recall, Bearcat Jackson. Boy, was he big! As well, I loved seeing our police chief, Spinney Wright, step into the ring.
Early on, there were main events featuring Doug Odo and Gary Simon. And, of course, there was nobody more exciting than Westville’s Jackie Hayden, a great guy who became a lifetime friend. Buddy Daye was another smart local boxer I admired.
When I got into the newspaper business, my old pal Sterling Bain and I travelled to fights, really piling up mileage to watch Blair Richardson, a smart young guy with a knockout punch that thrilled his fans. The same happened when Clyde Gray came on the scene.
Yes, there were many reasons to enjoy being a boxing fan.
I couldn’t talk about Pictou County boxing without mentioning brothers Art and Lawrence Hafey. Their emergence in the sport in the 1960s attracted many fans, even when they were on amateur cards in Stellarton.
They responded with great careers that earned them pews in the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame and Pictou County Sports Heritage Hall of Fame.
At the beginning, a third brother, Ernie, pulled on the gloves, too. His short stay in boxing had a very different twist.
He would pitch victories for the Stellarton Keiths in senior baseball, then cross the street and switch to boxing gear. I’ve often wondered how far he might have gone in boxing.
The sport was big in the county for a long time, thanks in part to important people contributing from outside the ropes. People like referee Bobby Beaton, promoter Harry Trainor, and ring announcers John (Brother) MacDonald and Bill MacCulloch.
When my newspaper career took me to Halifax 50 years ago, I continued seeing many boxing cards, from the Halifax Forum to the Montreal Olympics. Fighters like Dave Downey, Chris Clarke, Ricky Anderson, Ray Downey and Trevor Berbick provided great moments.
I loved covering boxing.
Like most fans, I had “heroes” on the world scene. My first was Rocky Marciano, the great heavyweight champ.
Thanks to the arrival of television in the 1950s, the Friday night fights became as popular as Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday evenings.
I was particularly fond of the big guys, heavyweights like Joe Louis, Floyd Patterson, Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier and George Foreman.
A name not on that list? I left Muhammad Ali for special mention. I think I enjoyed him fighting more than any other. He was the champion of champions in my mind. Adding to my memories was the fact I had the privilege of meeting him. By then, though, he was a shadow of himself, suffering with Parkinson’s syndrome. Nonetheless, it was a magic moment just being in his presence.
For sure, I enjoyed the sport for a long time, and enjoyed reading as much as I could of the greats, learning as much as I could about the good ones of earlier times — close to home and not so close to home. Boxers like Sam Langford, George Dixon and Tiger Warrington come to mind.
Then it happened.
I lost all that interest as the sport changed, as it took on new ways of attracting the public’s attention.
I don’t love it anymore. I even stopped watching fights, in person or on television, since retiring from The Chronicle Herald a decade ago.
The professional fights were no longer what I considered to be boxing. It was very different from what held my attention for decades.
The golden age of pugilism lasted a long time, but then the spotlight turned to what is called mixed martial arts and other “forms” of boxing. Competing barefoot, kicking opponents in the head, hitting opponents when they’re down — I never considered those things part of “boxing.” I never will.
There are plenty of statistics to confirm a drop in the sport’s popularity. At the same time, there are lots of arguments supporting the notion that the sport is followed by more people than ever before. Take your pick.
I just happen to be one of those who went down for the count, with no desire to get back on my feet and sit at ringside.