Boxing book highlights fighters' lives
Alexandre Choko's coffee table book "The Future of Boxing" is seen Thursday, December 6, 2012 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
MONTREAL - Old-time fight great Carmen Basilio's take on the plight of boxers who are chewed up and spit out by their sport shows how things in the Sweet Science never seem to change.
''Everybody's greedy, everybody wants a piece of the pie and too many people are doing just fine the way things are right now. . . except the fighters, of course,'' Basilio says in an intriguing new coffee table book on the sport.
Alexandre Choko's self-published "The Future of Boxing" features 55 of the top fighters, trainers, promoters and other officials from around the world in pictures and print.
They are presented alphabetically, but it is only right that the first is perhaps the biggest name in boxing, Muhammad Ali. It continues with old-timers like Jake Lamotta and Briton Henry Cooper, to more modern pugilists like Roy Jones Jr., Joe Calzaghe and Vitali Klitschko.
Although Montreal-based Choko is Canadian, the book is international and the only Canucks profiled are heavyweights George Chuvalo and Lennox Lewis.
After discussing their careers and their ideas about the sport, each is asked about the future of boxing and how it can be improved.
For the most part, the answers are strikingly similar.
First, they want a union, or some system where they and the promoters will pay into a retirement fund so that boxers and their families aren't left penniless in their old age.
''No doubt about it, a good old American national union,'' says former heavyweight George Foreman, perhaps the last fighter to need one after the millions he made selling chicken cookers. ''Before a boxer even gets a license, he should automatically have the option a pension.''
Another near-unanimous wish is to do away with the mind-boggling array of sanctioning bodies — from WBC to WBA, IBF, IBO and so on. They'd prefer a single champion in each weight class.
It goes without saying they'd also do away with subdivisions like light welterweight, super-middleweight, junior bantamweight, and the rest to revert back to the traditional weight classes.
''They're making us like spaghetti boys, you know what I'm saying? Alphabet boys,'' says (Marvellous) Marvin Hagler. ''Even in my own division, the middleweights, they've created so many categories. Super-middleweight, junior. I mean, come on.
''Years ago, I used to know every fighter. What weight they were. Knew their names. And right now there's just too much confusion.''
And they'd like to see more boxing on free television, as it was decades ago before fighters and promoters discovered the riches available from pay-per-view. To watch top fighters now, like Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather, often means shelling out $50 or more to watch on TV.
Many also mention the need for another charismatic, preferably American, heavyweight champion to lead the sport the way Ali and Mike Tyson once did.
Choko said he wanted to do more than simply celebrate the careers of the boxing men — and women's fight pioneer Christy Martin — he interviewed over the last five years. He wanted their feelings and opinions about a sport that still thrives in some areas but which has faded to fringe status in others.
''I know boxing has a future and I believe everyone that I interviewed, even though some were very disappointed in the state of boxing, all agreed that boxing will never die,'' Choko said in a recent interview. ''It's one of the oldest sports in the world.''
Choko has been involved in boxing his entire career as a trainer and former owner of the Tristar Gym in Montreal, which is best known now as the training base of Georges St. Pierre, one of the biggest stars in boxing's main competitor of late, the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
He has also been a promoter, mostly of local bouts, although he was also the original promoter of a title unification bout between American welterweights Tim Bradley and Kendall Holt at the Bell Centre in 2009 before it was snatched away in a dispute with the arena managers and a rival promoter.
Choko also has books in his blood, as his father and grandfather both had illustrated books published on different topics.
He got the idea in 2004, but tracking down the fighters was not so easy.
''You can't just walk up to Mike Tyson's door and ask for an interview,'' he said.
That problem was solved with the backing of the Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y., which helped arrange the interviews in exchange for what Choko called a financial ''contribution.'' He also found a group of investors to back the project.
The result is a joy for fight fans, either for reading the fighters' recollections and opinions, or simply scanning the many full-colour and sometimes rare photos, especially in his sections on Cuban stars Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon.
It's not on store shelves, but can be ordered from www.futureofboxing.com for $75. A CD with interviews of the fighters is an extra $25. It can also be obtained through The Ring magazine, whose editor Michael Rosenthal contributed an essay on the history of boxing.
Choko said large-scale books of this type are usually priced at more than $100.
''It was important that the book could be purchased by any boxing fan,'' he said.
He will also try to sell it boxing events around North America and hopes sales reach at least 10,000 copies.
''My goal is that whatever I make, I'll have more resources to be able to continue to do constructive things in boxing,'' he said.