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The Future of Non-Traditional Boxing Events: A New TSS Survey

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For our latest survey, we came up with this question: “Fights between celebrities, boxing legends, cross-overs, and YouTube influencers have become more and more commonplace. Do you think this will prove to be a passing fad or something that will endure, and why?”

Here’s what 34 respondents had to say. They are listed alphabetically.

Russ Anber elite trainer, cornerman, and owner of Rival Boxing Equipment: I am afraid I don’t know what to think anymore! I never would have thought we would have seen what we are seeing now. The reverence and respect for boxing has been lost in a way it may never recuperate from. The facility in which ANYONE can be granted a PROFESSIONAL BOXING LICENSE is beyond insane!! Sadly however, we cannot blame these people, we can’t blame the networks or streaming sites, the fact that there is an abundance of people who are paying, and gladly paying, to watch these ridiculous sideshows is truly beyond comprehension!

David Avila– TSS West Coast Bureau Chief: Celebrity boxing has been around forever. It ebbs and flows and will continue to do so as long as boxing exists. It just takes someone willing to step into the ring like this kid Jake Paul. Gotta have the guts to do it.

Joe Bruno — prolific writer; Florida Boxing Hall of Fame inductee: Celebrity fights are akin to the circus coming to town. Will it continue? Of course, if it makes money.

Jeff Bumpus — former fighter; writer: It’s an insult to people who have devoted a large chunk of their youth learning the intricacies of the sport, only to have a You Tube fool swoop in and act like all that blood and sweat isn’t necessary. Apparently, if you have followers, BS trumps substance. I believe it’s a passing fad to be replaced by something even more offensive to purists.

Tracy Callis — noted boxing historian: The fighting of celebrities is interesting now but I believe it will become less so over time. It will become more like other shows that people enjoy very much at first and then the idea will fade. But who knows?

Steve Cantonauthor; President of Florida Boxing Hall of Fame: I do not like these types of fights in our sport and have to wonder if it’s because we have an unexciting era of boxing where the best avoid fighting the best. Fans are starved for good, exciting fights and promoters have tried to cash in by pitting celebrity names or YouTube fighters against each other instead. It ultimately hurts our sport because we no longer have quality fighters who are technically skilled. The more these type fights happen, the worse the situation will become. In addition, older, former top fighters are coming back, tarnishing their reputations and risking serious injury. These type bouts should be outlawed by commissions.

Jill Diamond International Secretary, WBC: A new and younger audience is always welcome. The question is, does this audience remain with us or are they as fleeting as the interest of the celebrity boxer? The return of our legends is more troubling. My concern for all is safety which is threatened by commissions willing to sanction fights that should not happen.

Rick FarrisPresident and Founder of the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame: I believe this is the worst possible situation ever for professional boxing. It is the ultimate low point in boxing history. These “clowns” being matched with ancient boxing champions in sideshow acts has taken boxing to it’s lowest form since the Marquis of Queensberry laid down the ground rules in the 1800’s. And I don’t care what anybody thinks, boxers over 40 should not be licensed! They are too old! Boxing is a young man’s game, and these circus act exhibitions are a bad joke.

Bernard Fernandez — lifetime Member of the BWAA; 2020 IBHOF Inductee: I guess, depending on one’s point of view, I am a stodgy traditionalist, curmudgeon or anachronism. Maybe I’m all three rolled into one. But I reject the premise that the Paul brothers, and other so-called “YouTube” sensations are good for boxing because they bring new and young fans to the sport that is admittedly hewing older. Having some strange sort of appeal to skateboarders and rasslin’ fans who can’t tell the difference between a real Sugar Ray (either of them) and a manufactured packet of Sweet ‘N’ Low is demeaning to legitimately skilled boxers who must recoil in horror at having to appear on one of these clowns’ undercards in order to get a half-decent payday. No disrespect to Nate Robinson, the 5”9″ former NBA player who is one of Jake Paul’s four “victims,” but there had to be at least a half-million everyday Americans who could have starched him just as readily as Jake the Fake. Enough of this nonsense.

Jeffrey Freeman (AKA KO Digest) — TSS writer: It’s all a part of the professional wrestlingization of boxing into something more resembling sports entertainment but it’s not fair to lump Holyfield-Belfort into that mix because those were real fighters coming to fight and that’s better than the future of fake fights no matter what the critics say. Real boxing tells us the truth (Holyfield is utterly, completely shot and Belfort fights to win regardless of his opponent’s frailty) while “celebrity” boxing obscures the truth and traffics in lies. The Tyson-Jones “draw” was just such an example of sports entertainment.

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“…When the sideshow draws more than the circus, you’re in trouble” Don Majeski

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Lee Grovesauthor, writer: A generation ago, there was a burst of “celebrity boxing” matches involving the likes of Tonya Harding, “Brady Bunch” star Barry Williams and Danny Bonaduce of “The Partridge Family” and so on, and those ran its course before fizzling out. The difference between then and now is money and social media, and these, more than anything, will extend their stay. Its ultimate fate will depend on the two audiences they’re trying to serve; boxing people are already sick of it, but it’ll be the more casual followers — who are probably larger in number — who will determine how long it lasts. If they tire of it in large enough numbers, which I think will happen, the trend will end.

Henry Hascuphistorian and President of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame: I hope it’s just a fad, but it will continue until someone gets seriously hurt, then it will be too late!

Jim Lampley2015 IBHOF inductee; renowned boxing broadcaster: Fights which are predicated not on proven skill but on sheer social media recognition are the product of social media’s growing influence and omnipresence in the global information pool. Are social media a passing fancy whose allure will gradually fade in the face of that which is proven, time-honored and legitimate?? Or will traditional standards of proven legitimacy in every field of endeavor be swamped by clickbait?? I don’t know the answer to that question. I only know the question itself is no compliment to our progress as a global community. Boxing is an easy target because it is entrepreneurial and only loosely organized. But at what point will the Rams’ starting quarterback be chosen on Twitter or Instagram?? At that juncture we might conclude that legitimacy has lost ALL the games, and popular chaos has won. Right now we are in the first quarter, but I would have to say chaos is leading.

Every popular new technology changes society in ways both predictable and unpredictable. Someday we may look back and say no other technology produced more cataclysmic change than that engendered by social media. It all seemed so innocent back at Harvard when Zuckerberg envisioned a way for students to keep up with their classmates on their laptops. He didn’t know he was opening a Pandora’s Box that could engulf vulnerable institutions like boxing.

Jimmy Lang former boxer and promoter: I like it. I am all for someone doing what he has to do to promote himself into position to do what these guys are doing and make the money they’re making.

Arne LangTSS editor-in-chief, author, historian: The recent Triller card in Miami with Evander Holyfield was an abomination. I’m reminded of something that the late, great British sports journalist Hugh McIlvanney said to Thomas Hauser: “The whole circus approach to boxing that we see so much of these days appalls and depresses me. And the more I see of that show business rubbish, the more I feel I could turn my back on the sport.”

Ron Liptonactive referee; inductee into the New Jersey and New York Boxing Halls of Fame: As long as these contests are sanctioned with participants who are not just physically fit or pass a cursory physical exam but prove themselves to be in condition to withstand the impact trauma of a strenuous boxing match then it can be acceptable within limits of experience attained and, of course, age constraints. I refereed Holyfield twice on HBO and PPV at his zenith. What I saw the other night left me as numb as when I watch the film of Joe Louis being knocked onto the ring apron by Marciano. Thank God Evander was not injured badly. The boxing world felt nothing but despair at the spectacle of it.

Great warriors of the past earned a pittance compared to what is available with the right kind of hype today. If you can get the money, OK, but sanctioning a fight where someone is on the periphery of being a senior citizen is a dangerous roll of the dice.

Paul Magnowriter, author, ring official in Mexico: I don’t think exhibitions and fluff celebrity fights have ever really gone away. They’ve always been a part of boxing. This current craze, however, will die down as the bankability of the celebrities getting involved diminishes and as the fan base tires of paying PPV prices for garbage programming. For me, all of this celebrity/legend boxing stuff tells me that the mainstream WANTS to buy into the boxing product, but they’re simply not being sold on the actual elite-level fighters on the scene today. This is a clear indication that today’s boxing promoters are just not doing their job and that the business model is not conducive to building new stars. The issue needs to be addressed. It’s like a one-on-one half-court exhibition between two retired NBA legends out-drawing Game 7 of the NBA Finals. The NBA execs would freak out. Boxing’s boss men should be freaking out similarly.

Don Majeskimatchmaker, historian; affiliated with RING 8 and the NYSBHOF: I would hope it is a passing aberration brought on by the forced isolation of the Covid virus and the cancellation of so many cards that has turned the fans into voyeurs of the aberrant and senescent boxers to break out into some weird St. Vitus’ dance .If there is no market, there would none of these perverse exhibitions that lure faded names back into the ring for the benefit of no one in long run but the titillation of some in the short. It should run its course — particularly after the Holyfield fiasco. When the sideshow draws more than the circus, you’re in trouble 

Gordon Marino – philosophy professor, Wall Street Journal boxing writer, trainer: I am pretty much out of the boxing writing business but for what it is worth… I think boxing has always had its carnival acts — e.g. Wepner vs Andre the Giant. There are more of them now with the Paul bros circus. But I am hopeful that the steam will run out of these spectacles soon. Spectacles are a disgrace to boxing, make boxing look even more like WWE, and alas take the attention away from a multitude of good competitive fights that should be in the offing.

Given all that we know about CTE, I do, however, find the likes of the Holyfield “fight” and the upcoming Toney fight.. absolutely deplorable.. or maybe criminal would be a better word.

Layla McCarter- multi-divisional world champion. I really don’t like the trend, i.e. crossover fights, celebrity boxing. I don’t think it’s safe or meaningful to the sport of boxing. However, I believe this trend will endure because it sells and that’s what entertainment is about. They don’t care about the “integrity” of boxing or integrity period. It’s all about the $$.

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                                     “Enough of this nonsense.” Bernard Fernandez

Bob Mladinich — actor, former  fighter, writer, author: You don’t have to look past the Holyfield-Belfort  debacle to realize this will pass quickly and end badly. Old fans will be disgusted and potential new fans will be dismayed.

Harry Ottyhistorian, author: It seems this area of ‘boxing’ can grow legs and the sport itself may be partially to blame. Too many governing bodies, multiple belts per body, and sub-standard cards and PPV events. With live-stream technology (helped somewhat by COVID-19 lock-downs) Youtubers/influencers have an ‘easy in’ to multi-million-dollar sales – though they still have to train hard to get in shape at least – and sometimes it’s easy for the average fan to get carried away along with it all.

With the same live-stream technology, Holyfield, Tyson et al, have a bigger platform today than they had in their day so it is hard to blame them for getting involved. I know some who have said it is great because they never got to see (for example) Mike Tyson fight live, well – I never got to see the likes of Ken Buchanan fight live either, and I wouldn’t want to see him do it now – for his sake.

The bottom line is the almighty dollar. I don’t care for media ‘celebs’ getting involved, but good luck to them while they play boxing. But there should be some kind of regulation against veterans getting into the ring

Joe Pasquale — elite boxing judge: I have worked a few fight cards that featured a celebrity gloved-up. One show included Tanya Harding as the main event. She showed some skills and won her fight. The rest of that show was Pro Boxing but her fight was considered an exhibition. The show was a success. I think that you can look at these fights as Amateur Boxing events, which is almost always the case. If part of a pro Boxing card, the celeb participant helps boost the ticket sales, and now even PPV. Support Amateur Boxing! The sport begins there.

John Raspanti — author, editor, writer, historian: Money drives everything. YouTube guy “Jake Paul” is cashing in. His marketing talent is pretty extraordinary. He’ll be around until he loses. Soon, I hope.

Legendary fighters doing a cash dive is understandable but, in many ways, pathetic. I hate it. The recent Evander Holyfield freak show is a perfect example of how LOW some will go for the almighty dollar. I hope that the result and negative publicity will make “them” think twice. My thinking is that this “fad” is fading – but then I remind myself that Riddick Bowe will be fighting soon. It can’t be gone soon enough.

Dana Rosenblatt — former world middleweight champion; inspirational speaker– I do not like it at all. Makes the sport look like a side show. Not good

Ted Sares –TSS writer: It’s simple economics. The frequency and “popularity” of this new wrinkle will endure as long as “fans” will pay for it. But fans are fickle and Bowe vs. Odom could reverse the current trend.

Iceman John Scully– manager, trainer, commentator, writer, historian, former world title challenger: I have no interests in this and I’ve never watched it. I have never seen Mayweather versus McGregor or Mayweather against that Japanese kickboxer and I’ve never seen Jake Paul fight. It is not real.

Peter Silkov—writer at ‘The Boxing Glove’: I think these Triller promotions and the Paul ‘fights’ are the last nail in the coffin of sanity for the game. The new eyes are not boxing fans but You Tubers with little appreciation or understanding of the sport and with their main aim being to be entertained by some outrageous trash talk and then a farcical spectacle in the ring. This is the reason why a week before AJ vs Usyk many people don’t even know or have forgotten it is even taking place.

Michael Silver — historian, author, writer: Hard to say. The internet has changed everything. I don’t know if these sideshow fights would take off like they have without the internet audience and the army of clueless fight fans (not to be confused with boxing fans) who shell out sucker money for the pay-per-view circus. Legitimate professional boxing has been in the toilet for so long and is such a confused mess thanks to the thieves and scumbags who control it. As long as the sideshow bouts can draw they will continue.

Alan Swyer — filmmaker, writer, and producer of the acclaimed El Boxeo: Nonsensical match-ups have long been a part of sports. Think of Jesse Owens racing a horse. In contemporary boxing, however, the combination of over-the-hill fighters in search of one last paycheck, ridiculous crossover mismatches, plus bogus exhibitions featuring pseudo-celebrities has overshadowed the actual sport of boxing. What a world when a bout featuring Jake Paul garners more attention than a Terence Crawford championship fight, and where the Trumps pay homage to 9/11 with gibberish that makes me long for the likes of Merchant, Bernstein, Foreman, Pacheco, or even Howard Cosell. I’m with Jim Lampley, who wisely chose not to sully his Hall of Fame status by participating in the Holyfield/Belfort debacle.

Bob Trieger – fight publicist; President, Full Court Press agency: I hope it’s a passing fad because it’s disrespectful to real boxers I see today who work so hard for relatively chump change. Old timers should stay retired. Do signings and appearances to make money. And internet “fighters” should just stay online and never lace up a pair of gloves. Boxing is poetic when done properly. This stuff is nothing but a sad joke.

Harold Westonformer two-time world title challenger: Everybody wants to know how to fight. It is something in life that people want to say, that “I can fight, I was a ‘fighter.’ It’s “The World We Live In.”

Gary “Digital” Williams–The voice of boxing on the Beltway: Unfortunately, I think this will be something we will have to endure until the real sport of boxing rights its own ship. We can’t keep having bad judging and mismatches that hurt the real sport.

Peter Woodformer fighter, author: These mixed-matches aren’t new. In 1940 — 81 years ago — a 45-year-old Jack Dempsey knocked out an arrogant wrestler named Cowboy Luttrell. (A brutal fight horribly refereed by Nat Fleischer.) The problem is boxing itself. It is no longer a major sport as it was in 1940. Mixed-matches starring “media sensations” are simply filling the void and people’s vapid heads.

Observations: The respondents were almost unanimous in their strong dislike (disgust) for what’s going on in boxing. After all the dust has been cleared, Layla McCarter’s comment, namely “It’s all about the $$”, pretty much reflects the consensus.

Ted Sares is a member of Ring 8, a lifetime member of Ring 10, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He is an active power lifter in the Master Class. He enjoys writing about boxing and can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Ellie Scotney and Rhiannon Dixon Win World Title Fights in Manchester

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England’s Ellie Scotney started slowly against the long reach of France’s Segolene Lefebvre but used rough tactics and a full-steam ahead approach to unify the super bantamweight division by unanimous decision on Saturday.

“There’s a lot more I didn’t show,” said an excited Scotney (pictured on the left).

IBF titlist Scotney (9-0) added the WBO title by nullifying Lefebvre’s (18-1) reach and dominating the inside with a two-fisted attack in front of an excited crowd in Manchester, England.

For the first two rounds Lefebvre used her long reach and smooth fluid attack to keep Scotney at the end of her punches. Then the fight turned when the British fighter bulled her way inside with body shots and forced the French fighter into the ropes.

Aggressiveness by Scotney turned the fight in her favor. But Lefebvre remained active and countered with overhand rights throughout the match.

Body shots by Scotney continued to pummel the French champion’s abdomen but she remained steadfast in her counter-attacks. Combinations landed for Lefebvre and a counter overhand right scored to keep her in the contest in the fifth round.

Scotney increased the intensity of her attack in the sixth and seventh rounds. In perhaps her best round Scotney was almost perfect in scoring while not getting hit with anything from the French fighter.

Maybe the success of the previous round caused Scotney to pause. It allowed Lefebvre to rally behind some solid shots in a slow round and gave the French fighter an opening. Maybe.

The British fighter opened up more savagely after taking two Lefevbre rights to open the ninth. Scotney attacked with bruising more emphatic blows despite getting hit. Though both fired blows Scotney’s were more powerful.

Both champions opened-up the 10th and final round with punches flying. Once again Scotney’s blows had more power behind them though the French fighter scored too, and though her face looked less bruised than Scotney’s the pure force of Scotney’s attacks was more impressive.

All three judges saw Scotney the winner 97-93, 96-94 and a ridiculous 99-91. The London-based fighter now has the IBF and WBO super bantamweight titles.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said a possible showdown with WBC titlist Erika Cruz looms large possibly in the summer.

“Great performance. Great punch output,” said Hearn of Scotney’s performance.

Dixon Wins WBO Title

British southpaw Rhiannon Dixon (10-0) out-fought Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-2) over 10 rounds and won a very competitive unanimous decision to win the vacant WBO lightweight title. It was one of the titles vacated by Katie Taylor who is now the undisputed super lightweight world champion.

An aggressive Dixon dominated the first three rounds including a knockdown in the third round with a perfect left-hand counter that dropped Carabajal. The Argentine got up and rallied in the round.

Carabajal, whose only loss was against Katie Taylor, slowly began figuring out Dixon’s attacks and each round got more competitive. The Argentine fighter used counter rights to find a hole in Dixon’s defense to probably win the round in the sixth.

The final three rounds saw both fighters engage evenly with Carabajal scoring on counters and Dixon attacking the body successfully.

After 10 rounds all three judges saw it in Dixon’s favor 98-91, 97-92, 96-93 who now wields the WBO lightweight world title.

“It’s difficult to find words,” said Dixon after winning the title.

Hometown Fighter Wins

Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett (31-2, 17 KOs) battled back and forth with Jordan Gill (28-3-1, 9 KO-s) and finally ended the super featherweight fight with two knockdowns via lefts to the body in the 10th round of a scheduled 12-round match for a regional title.

The smooth moving Barrett found the busier Gill more complex than expected and for the first nine rounds was fighting a 50/50 fight against the fellow British fighter from the small town of Chatteris north of London.

In the 10th round after multiple shots on the body of Gill, a left hook to the ribs collapsed the Chatteris fighter to the floor. He willed himself up and soon after was floored again but this time by a left to the solar plexus. Again he continued but was belted around until the referee stopped the onslaught by Barrett at 2:44 of the 10th.

“A tough, tough fighter,” said Barrett about Gill. “I had to work hard.”

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O.J. Simpson the Boxer: A Heartwarming Tale for the Whole Family

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O.J. Simpson passed away on Wednesday, April 10, at age 76 in Las Vegas where he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For millions of Americans, news of his passing unloosed a flood of memories.

The O.J. Simpson double murder trial lasted 37 weeks. CNN and two other fledgling cable networks provided gavel-to-gavel coverage. On Oct. 3, 1995, the day that the jury rendered its verdict, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN suspended regular programming to cover the trial. Worldwide, more than 100 million people were reportedly glued to their TV or radio.

O.J.’s life can be neatly compartmentalized into two halves. The dividing line is June 12, 1994. On that date, Simpson’s estranged wife, the former Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood at the home that Nicole shared with their two children.

Before then, O.J. was famous. After then, he was infamous.

Simpson first came to the fore on the gridiron. In 1968, his final season at the University of Southern California, he was so dynamic that he won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide, out-distancing Purdue’s Leroy Keyes by 1,750 votes. This was the widest margin to that point between a Heisman winner and runner-up and a milestone that stood for 51 years until surpassed by LSU quarterback Joe Burrows in 2019.

In the NFL, among his many achievements, he became the first and only NFL running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a 14-game season, a record that will never be broken.

But one can’t appreciate the depth of O.J.s celebrityhood by citing statistics. He transcended his sport like few athletes before or since. Owing in large part to his commercials for the Hertz rental car chain, he became one of America’s most recognizable people.

O.J. Simpson was raised by a single mother in a government housing project in the gritty Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Unlike many of his boyhood peers, he was never quick to raise his fists. Weirdly, he once said that running away from fights proved useful to him when he took up football. It helped his stamina.

Although he never boxed in real life, O.J. portrayed a boxer in a made-for-TV movie. Titled “Goldie and the Boxer,” it aired on NBC on Sunday, Dec. 29, 1979, two weeks after O.J. played in his last NFL game. Co-produced by Simpson’s own production company, it starred O.J. opposite precocious Melissa Michaelson who played the 10-year-old Goldie.

In promos, the movie was tagged as a heartwarming tale for kids and their parents. Associated Press writer John Egan described it as “a cross between the Shirley Temple classic ‘Little Miss Marker’ and a low-budget ‘Rocky.’”

Here’s a synopsis, compliments of New York Times TV critic John J. O’Connor:

“The year is 1946, and Joe Gallagher is returning to Louisiana as an army veteran. He is quickly ripped off by a succession of thugs and finds himself broke and battered in Pennsylvania where he is befriended by a young Goldie. Her father is a boxer and Joe joins the training camp as a sparring partner. When the father dies, Joe takes his place on the fight circuit and Goldie becomes his manager…”

The consensus of the pundits was that O.J. the actor was very much a work in progress, but that he had great potential. And the movie, despite its hokey plot, attracted so many viewers that NBC wanted to turn it into a series.

O.J. had too much on his plate to commit to doing a regular series. Among other things, he had signed on to become part of NBC’s main stable of reporters at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a gig that evaporated when the U.S. under President Jimmy Carter joined 64 other nations in boycotting the Games as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, the movie did spawn a sequel, “Goldie and the Boxer Go To Hollywood,” with Simpson and Michaelson reprising their roles.

I never met O.J. Simpson, but have a vivid memory of finding myself walking behind him into the outdoor boxing arena at Caesars Palace. If memory serves, this was the Hagler-Hearns fight of 1985, in which case the lady on his arm would have been Nicole as they were married earlier that year. She was quite a dish in that tight-fitting pantsuit and I remember thinking to myself, “of all the trophies this dude has won, here is the best trophy of them all.” (Forgive me.)

Simpson had cameo roles in several movies before leaving USC. When he finally turned his back on football, the world was his oyster. O.J., wrote Barry Lorge in the Washington Post, was “bright, affable, charming, articulate and credible, a public relation man’s dream-come true.”

No one would have foreseen the swerve his life would take.

When the jury, after only four hours of deliberation, returned a verdict of “not guilty,” there was cheering in some corners of America. The overwhelming consensus of the white population, however, was that the verdict was an abomination, a gross miscarriage of justice.

We’ll leave it at that.

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