Boxing even transcended World War II when Max Schmeling was used as a propaganda tool by the Nazi regime as he defeated American champion Joe Louis. Back in those days there were very popular champions like Sugar Ray Robinson fought in the welterweight class for most of his career. But the big ticket fights were always the heavyweight prize fights and champions like Rocky Marciano became heroes to Americans and others all over the world for their success in the ring and their ability to electrify a crowd by knocking their opponents out. The war years were the golden age of boxing but it was not until 20 years after the end of World War II that possibly the most famous boxer in the world would come along and put professional prize fighting on the map for ever.
Cassius Clay was an Olympic boxing champion for the United States who won the gold medal in boxing at the 1960 Summer Olympics. After he left the amateur ranks and fought as a professional for a few years he converted to the Muslim religion and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. Ali’s enthusiasm and confidence were infectious and he quickly developed legions of fans all over the world. But his ability to say whatever was on his mind soon caused him to become a divisive figure in the explosive civil rights era of the 1960’s and soon Ali’s boxing accomplishments were getting overshadowed by his personal life. Even though he remains as one of the greatest box champions of all time, and certainly is credited with causing a surge in boxing’s popularity, to this day he is considered to be as much of a social enigma as he is remembered as one of the greatest athletes that ever lived.
When Ali retired there was yet another lull in boxing’s popularity until a very unlikely event brought boxing back into the spotlight and this time the popularity would stick around for a while. In 1976 the Sylvester Stallone movie Rocky was released and the runaway popularity of the movie ensured a legion of new box fans for generations to come. Even though the actual boxing action in the movie was very exaggerated it still put boxing back in the spotlight where it was to stay for almost 30 years.
In the 1990’s a seemingly unstoppable boxing champion name Mike Tyson exploded onto the box scene and soon live boxing events were popular again. For years Tyson led a list of champions that included Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield that helped make prizefighting big again in the sporting world. Today Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield continue attempt comebacks to jump start their failing careers but it is very apparent that boxing needs another hero and it needs one soon.