Thursday, September 20, 2007

Another sporting memory bites the dust

Even a quick glance at the list of labels on the right hand side of this blog will show that I don't normally post sports related articles. However, this is a story close to my heart.

I think most regulars are aware of my interest in "old-time" boxing, and my good mate Jenny in New York, will know that two of the things on my "to do" list are to stay at The Chelsea Hotel, and to visit Madison Square Garden. Today I read an article in Voice of America, signalling the end of an era.

"The boxing ring at New York City's Madison Square Garden that over the past 82 years saw thousands of boxing greats rise and fall is being sent into retirement. Victoria Cavaliere reports from VOA's New York Bureau the ring found a new home at the museum of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Madison Square Garden's storied boxing ring has been the venue for more championship bouts than any other ring in existence. It's the ring where many boxing legends made their debut, won a world championship or lost their title. George Foreman's first-ever professional fight was in the ring in 1972. The so-called "Fight of the Century" was also fought at the Garden on March 8th, 1971, between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. Frazier won the 15-round bout by a unanimous decision.

The ring debuted at the Garden in 1925 and the last fight took place there in June. On Wednesday, Madison Square Garden threw a "retirement party" for the ring and invited some of boxing's most recognizable-faces. They included Joe Frazier, Jose Torres, Emile Griffith and Bernard Hopkins.

Joel Fisher, the senior vice president of sports at the Garden, said it was a tough decision to decide to retire the ring. "It's really a bittersweet day to be honest. After 82-years, Madison Square Garden is officially retiring this legendary boxing ring. Unfortunately, this ring has begun to show it's age and it has become more and more difficult to maintain and set up," he said.

Inside the ropes, the ring measures five-point-six meters on each side. Boxing officials say today's fighters want even bigger rings for their bouts. The old Madison Square Garden ring will be replaced with a six-by-six meter ring that will host its first match October 6th between the World Boxing Council's heavyweight champion, Oleg Maskaev, and its number one ranked contender, Nigerian Samuel Peter.

The old ring will move to the upstate New York town of Canastota, where the International Boxing Hall of Fame has its headquarters. Boxing promoter Don King says the ring and Madison Square Garden helped make boxing a mainstream sports attraction in the United States. "The Garden is the temple, the temple of boxing. It's where you go to pray and pay. And it's a place where everyone can come for all sorts of sporting events. But it is boxing that really put the Garden on the map," he said.

One part of the ring that will stay behind at the Garden is the brass bell that rings in the beginning and end of each round."

I find it ironic that Don King says the ring and Madison Square Garden helped make boxing a mainstream sports attraction - he was the one who helped kill it."

Published with the permission of Voice of America