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Page 16 BOSTON POST-GAZETTE, AUGUST 14, 2015 HOOPS and HOCKEY in the HUB by Richard Preiss Hey, who's the Champ ? There Was a Time When Everyone Knew Who the Heavyweight Champion of the World Was Jack Johnson In recent years, boxing has deteriorated greatly. The skill level has dropped pre- cipitously, commentators strive to discuss the sport in baseball-like terms by using crazy punch stat numbers, and there is an aura of pro- fessional wrestling when the fighters enter the ring that has had a demeaning effect on the sport. I could go on and on, but it is clear that boxing is very different from the sport, or as I prefer to call it, the art, it was a number of years ago. One of the major changes has been in the loss of pres- tige the "Manly Art of Self Defense" has suffered. In the 1920's through the 1940's boxing, horseracing, and baseball were the most followed sports in the coun- try. In the case of boxing, it was most likely the most fol- lowed in the world, and it could be argued that the Heavyweight Champion was the most famous person on the planet. As author Chris- topher Klein points out in his book Strong Boy, the Life and Times of John L. Stdlitnan, America's First Sports Hero, it was The Great John L. who elevated the role of boxing champion to celebrity. This was made possible by the creation of the interconti- nental railway, which, for the first time, enabled a sports hero to travel at a relatively fast pace across the nation and be seen in person by millions of people. *I shook the hand that shook the world," were the words repeatedly spoken by those who met the Boston John L. Sullivan Strong Boy. His fame took on mythical proportions, and that aura carried over to subsequent titleholders. James J. Corbett became known as the first scientific boxer and was noted for us- ing brains over brawn when he won the title from Sullivan. In stopping Corbett, Bob Fitzsimmons added an anatomy lesson to the world of boxing with his paralyzing solar plexus punch that left Corbett help- less on the canvas. And so it went on, with each new titleholder being recognized as a one-of-a- kind person. Each was known as the toughest man in the world, but also as a much larger-than-life figure that drew crowds wherever he went. Just getting a glimpse of the champion was enough to thrill people. Also, many of these champions fought either in other coun- tries or defended their title against challengers from places outside of the United States, making them true worlds champions. Fitzsimmons, a British citizen, was born in New Zealand, and Tommy Burns in Canada, making them the first two non-American title holders. Jack Johnson won the title from Burns in Australia and lost it to Jess Willard in Cuba. Jack Dempsey defended the title against Luis Firpo from Ar- gentina and Georges Carpentier from France. The list goes on throughout the years, further proving the legitimacy of being called World Champion. The Heavyweight Champi- onship has also been at the center of a number of social and political battles, as in when Jim Jeffries tried to win the crown from Jack Johnson. It was felt at the time that the white race had to be saved from being seen as inferior to the Negro, a word used at the time and not the worst of what was said. Joe Louis, a black man, transcended race when he represented America against Nazi Germany in his second fight with Max Schmeling, as did Ali in the first All / Frazier match, with all kinds of social over- tones to it. Starting in the nineteenth and lasting throughout most of the twentieth century the Heavyweight Championship held incredible significance. This is no longer true. If you were walking down any street in America during most of the twentieth cen- tury, and yelled out "Who's the Heavyweight Champ?" just about every man, woman, and child would re- spond immediately with the correct answer. That would not happen today. A whole generation, maybe two, ex- ist that sees no prestige in Jack Dempsey that honor, and it is no won- der seeing the proliferation of titles that now exist be- cause of the various sanc- tioning organizations and the television networks that are complicit with them. I think the last undisputed and lineal Heavyweight Champion was Lennox Lewis, and he hasn't held the title since 2003. Since then, it has been mostly chaos. Walk down that same street today and ask who the Champ is, and you will get puzzled looks. This is true not only of the heavyweight division, but of all the boxing weight classes. Tune into almost any televised fight nowadays and at least one, ff not all the bouts, will be billed as for a world title. Boxers are be- coming champions with less than a dozen fights under their belts. There is no longer a process where young fighters spend years learning the art of boxing, working their way up from preliminary fighter to a higher place on the undercard to semi-final sta- tus where they would hope to crack their way into con- tender status, a once great achievement unto itself. The sport has been cheap- ened and demeaned by those who are profiting the most from it. In On the Waterfront, Terry Malloy, the character played by Marion Brando, ut- ters the famous lines "I coulda been somebody, I coulda had class, I coulda been a contender ..." Well, boxing no longer has class, and that is a shame for the fans, but mostly for those who work hard and step into the ring. They have lost the right to try to stand with the giants, to join the few im- mortals. They may be called champion, but they are in a crowded field holding a title that has no value or real meaning. When I was a kid, I got to meet Jack Dempsey. Dempsey had lost the title many years before I was born and was, at the time of our meeting, an old man. But I still get excited when I think about shaking his hand and (Continued on Page 12) A WHOLE NEW SEASON FOR JAROMIR JAGR- Down in the Sunshine State, where the climate never changes to hockey weather, the fortunes of the Florida Panthers may take an up- swing to meet the higher temperatures. If they do, that may be due in no small part to veteran NHL forward Jaromir Jagr, who will be starting his first full season in Sunrise, Florida, when training camp opens next month. Jagr, who was sent by New Jersey to the Panthers for draft picks near the trade deadline back in February, left the northern climes as the third leading point pro- ducer on the Devils with 29. Down in Florida he imme- diately resumed where he had left off in New Jersey -- in fact, he got better -- com- ing away with 18 points in the 20 games he played with the Panthers. It's been said that a rising tide lifts all boats. That seems to be what occurred in Florida after Jagr joined the team. As one NHL writer has pointed out, the Panthers were 26-22-13 prior to Jagr coming on board. That projected to an 87-point team total in the standings over a full season. With Jagr playing on Flor- ida's top line alongside 19-year-old Aleksander Barkov and 21 -year-old Jonathan Huberdeau, the Panthers went 12-7-2 down the stretch, projecting to a 101-point team total over the course of a full 82-game slate. With Jagr on their line, Barkov scored 7 goals and had 8 assists for 15 points while Huberdeau found the range for 6 tallies and 15 helpers for 21 points. Huberdeau con- cluded the season with 54 points -- tops on the team. Jagr himself wound up with 6 goals and 12 assists over the 20 games he played with Florida, and had 17-30-47 totals in the 77 games he played split between the Devils and the Panthers. In the closing days of the 2014- 2015 regular season, he overtook Ron Francis and assumed fourth place on the all-time points list. He also passed Phil Esposito for fifth all-time in goals, Adam Oates for sixth all-time in assists and Alex Delvecchio for elev- enth all-time in games played. Quite a productive 20- game span, wouldn't you say? When the regular season starts in October, Jagr will enter the campaign first among active NHL players in points (1,082), games played (1,550), assists (1,080), goals (722), plus/minus (plus 291) and power play goals (204). Among the all-time NHL leaders, he also ranks first in game winning goals (129) and fourth in points. In addi- tion, he has scored 78 goals and amassed 121 assists for 202 points in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Those stats might even be more impressive if he hadn't spent three seasons (2008- 2009 through 2010-2011) playing overseas in the Kontinental Hockey League. Oh, and by the way, he's also won an Olympic Gold Medal -- with the Czech team in 1998. He also took home a bronze medal in 2006. In an era where younger players seek long-term deals, Jagr is just grateful to get the opportunity to extend his career. Yes, he would have liked a two-or three-year deal. But he's realistic, not de- manding. So, just a day after the conclusion of the regular season, the Ageless One signed a one-year contract with the Panthers, meaning he'll still be an active player in the NHL when he turns 44 on February 15~. "We are extremely pleased to have resigned Jaromir," stated Panthers GM Dale Tallon in a press release. "He found instant chemistry with Barkov and Huberdeau. Jaromir's intense work ethic and positive attitude has had a tremendous impact on our locker room." Florida owner Vincent Viola added that "Jaromir is a true professional in every sense of the word and a world- class player. This signing further shows our commit- ment to building a competi- tive and winning team in South Florida. In just 20 games, he became a fan favorite. We look forward to his continued contributions to our organization." Florida is the eighth NHL team that Jagr has played for. Selected by the Penguins as their first choice (fifth over- all) in the 1990 NHL Draft, he set right to work, winning the Cup with the Pens in both 1991 and 1992. Way back when Bruins Head Coach Rick Bowness got dismissed after losing to the Pens in the Wales Conference Finals in 1992. Jagr Was on that Pens team that beat the B's. He's also played for Wash- ington, the New York Rang- ers, Philadelphia, Dallas, the Bruins and New Jersey. Over the course of his 21-year NHL career, he put together 15 consecutive 70-plus point seasons (from 1992 to 2008), a feat that stands as an NHL record. He also had 18 straight seasons with 50 or more points. He had 35 points in 48 games during the lockout season (2012-2013), but rebounded in 2013-2014 with 67 points -- a year in which he turned 42 years old. Jagr came to the Bruins late in the 2012-2013 season and played 33 games -- 11 at the end of the regular sea- son and 22 in the playoffs. Nevertheless, he made a big impression on the fans and media members. It was a sad day on Causeway Street when then GM Peter Chiarelli refused to sign him up for a full season. Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon once searched all over Florida for the Fountain of Youth. Centuries later you can find an example in the Sunshine State. Just watch Jaromir Jagr in action.