Veteran sportswriter: Armstrong part of the golden years of boxing
Tuesday, October 14, 2008 12:12 PM CDT
Ed Schuyler Jr. covered boxing for The Associated Press for nearly 40 years.
So you can take his word for it when he says the late Henry Armstrong, of Columbus, was one of the sport’s all-time greats.
Schuyler was in town Monday night to celebrate Henry Armstrong Day and participate in the Hazard Lecture Series at HeritageAcademy.
A state historic marker honoring Armstrong was unveiled Monday afternoon at the corner of Wilkins-Wise and Waverly roads, near where Armstrong lived as a child. Armstrong was born Henry Jackson Jr. on Dec. 12, 1912, in Columbus.
Schuyler considers Armstrong one of the greatest pound-for-pound boxers of all time.
“I don’t know if he’s the greatest,” Schuyler said. “When you talk about the greatest you have to mention him.”
In 1938, Armstrong became the first and only boxer ever to hold three undisputed titles — featherweight, lightweight and welterweight — at the same time, and almost won a fourth middleweight if not for a controversial draw.
His accomplishment never can be equaled because the holding of multiple titles was barred in the 1940s.
Armstrong moved with his parents and siblings to St. Louis when he was 4, but Columbus remains home to more than 20 relatives.
Armstrong had 152 victories in 181 fights throughout his career. He won his first world title in 1937 and was named “Boxer of the Year” in 1937 and 1938. The New York Times proclaimed him “pound for pound the greatest boxer of all-time.”
In 1954, Armstrong, who was only 5 feet, 5 1/2 inches tall, was one of three active boxers after 1919 to be elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame. Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis were the other two.
“(Armstrong) was a fighter in boxing’s golden age,” Schuyler said, “when boxing rivaled baseball as the nation’s top sport.”
One little-known fact related by Armstrong’s grandson, Edward Scott, is that his grandfather helped Joe Louis prepare for his second fight with Max Schmeling, the German boxer who was heavyweight champion of the world from 1930-1932. Louis lost to Schmeling in their first fight and the rematch was cast as a battle between America and Nazism. Louis won with a technical KO in the first round.
Schuyler spoke about some of the other fights he covered in his career, including Muhammed Ali vs. Joe Frazier, Ali vs. George Foreman, and Tommy Hearns vs. “Sugar” Ray Leonard.
Schuyler has fond memories of Ali saying, “Ali transcended boxing — people who didn’t know much about boxing watched Ali. He had a comedian’s sense of timing. He was just a different of guy.”
Schuyler spoke briefly about fighters from different eras and how they compare. A debate that continues to rage today is who would win a fight between the Mike Tyson of the 1980s and the Ali of the 1960s.
Schuyler said Ali would have won the fight because Tyson was a creature of impulse and never thought about his next move.
Schuyler also spoke about some of the reasons the fight game has deteriorated. He said one of the primary reasons is there are too many weight classes — 16 — and governing bodies — 8.
Schuyler said the proliferation of sports on television also has contributed to boxing’s loss of popularity. Boxing available now on TV is pay-per-view.
“Television only wants you if you have a name,” Schuyler said. “It’s a catch-22 because the only way you can get a name is fighting on television.”
He said there is more focus on the boxer’s name and not on if he can actually fight.
Oscar De La Hoya, a former Olympic Gold medalist and 10-time world champion in six weight classes, made $52 million for his fight against “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather Jr. on May 5, 2007.
Mayweather Jr. made $25 million for the fight.
Fighters nowadays only fight once or maybe twice a year, unlike in Armstrong’s era when fighters had more than 100 career fights as a norm. Armstrong once defended a title five times in one month, Schuyler said.
“They make a lot of money (and) they are not nearly as dedicated,” Schuyler said.