Hall of Fame sportswriter Jerry Izenberg dropped by CBS Sports Radio on Thursday to discuss his new book, “Once There Were Giants: The Golden Age of Heavyweight Boxing,” which chronicles the greatest era of heavyweight fighters from 1962 to 1997.
Izenberg, 86, attended and covered some of the greatest boxing matches of all time, including the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manila. Over the last two decades, however, MMA has surpassed boxing in popularity. In fact, it’s not even close.
“I get letters from millennials – I guess that’s what they’re called – and they say you don’t understand because the whole thing is mixed martial arts and you’re not paying attention to it,” Izenberg said on Ferrall on the Bench. “I try to explain to them that boxing is at once and the same time the coolest and yet one of the most beautiful sports of all if you know what the two fighters are really trying to do and how they’re trying to achieve it. Now you get to mixed martial arts, the way I explain it is if you did it on the street, you’d be in prison for 10 years.”
And yet, MMA is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. It also attracts viewers and creates buzz in a way boxing no longer does.
“Oh, there’s no question about it,” Izenberg said. “You said where are the fighters? We’re down to about maybe six or seven world-class trainers. Without teachers, nobody graduates.”
Izenberg had the privilege of covering some of the most famous boxers of all time, including Muhammad Ali, who passed away last June.
“My wife will be the first to tell you I can’t keep a friend for five years – five days,” Izenberg said. “Ali was my friend for over 50 years. We were very, very close. I always say ‘is’; I can’t say ‘was.’ It’s difficult.”