How Did We Survive In A Pre-YouTube World? – "youtube" – Google News

This is Part 2 of a two-part article series; Part 1, exploring the impact of BoxRec on writers and matchmakers alike, can be found here.

Which is the more vital tool for a 21st century boxing writer, BoxRec or YouTube? At first glance, that’s a tough question to answer.

So here’s an easy one: Which is the more vital tool for a 21st century boxing fan, BoxRec or YouTube?

Access to records is lovely. But when it comes to elevating the fan experience, there’s no doubt which internet innovation has the greater impact. We can watch almost any fight from boxing’s rich history (provided there were cameras present) whenever we want.

I can watch Corrales-Castillo while sitting in the car (when I’m not the one driving, of course; protect yourself at all times, people). I can watch Hagler-Hearns during a bathroom break. I can pry my most hated enemies’ eyes open Clockwork Orange-style and force them to watch Ruiz-Holyfield III at any time of day.

It’s hard for a website listing the results of fights — even if we’re talking about a couple million fights — to compete with that.

For a boxing writer, though, both two sites are extraordinarily helpful.

Before YouTube, you weren’t able to write as many fight previews built around hardcore film analysis, and you frequently had to BS your way through a few sentences on either a foreign fighter or a boxer from the past you’d never seen. The job was perfectly doable, of course. It just required more patience, and sometimes it required a connection so you could get your hands on a VHS tape.

I recall early in my tenure as an editor at “The Ring” an example of a fight that would have been no problem to write a feature on now but was challenging back in April 1998. Showtime televised Felix Trinidad’s blowout of Mahenge Zulu in Bayamon, Puerto Rico and showed the co-feature of Frankie Liles vs. Andrey Shkalikov, but the rest of the undercard was visible nowhere in the U.S. That included little-known Freddie Norwood upsetting Antonio Cermeno for a featherweight belt.

Once we heard about the result — which, if I remember correctly, was a week or two later when our office copy of “Boxing News” arrived — we decided Norwood was worth a feature story. But only if Don King Productions could hook us up with the tape of the international broadcast.

We called, they FedEx’d, I watched, we were able to confirm that Norwood won cleanly and looked decent doing so, and soon I was interviewing “Li’l Hagler” and writing a feature about him.

In modern boxing writing times, thanks to YouTube, that all happens much more quickly. Pre-YouTube, if DKP is unable to fulfill our VHS request, Norwood doesn’t get a feature story in “The Ring.”

Before YouTube, we almost never did feature stories on Asian fighters if they didn’t travel to the U.S. to fight. Had Naoya Inoue come along 25 years sooner than he did, “The Ring” certainly wouldn’t have ignored him, but the reality is most of his bouts would have been relegated to 400-word “Ringside Reports.” (Although I suppose that’s as much an example of streaming services’ impact as of YouTube’s.)

As just one example that comes to mind of an article I’ve written in the YouTube era that would have been a different exercise beforehand, 10 years ago, Grantland.com assigned me — as a companion to a mini-documentary on Muhammad Ali-Ken Norton III at Yankee Stadium — an article exploring boxing’s perpetual problem with controversial decisions.

I’d never seen Ali-Norton III in its entirety. Without YouTube, I would have had to go off of whatever contemporary accounts I could find regarding the decision and I would have had to tip-toe around the notion that it was an all-time robbery because I wouldn’t have seen with my own eyes that it was. Thanks to YouTube, I was able to carefully score the fight, witness just how badly Norton got screwed (I had it 10 rounds to 5 for the challenger), and confidently categorize and contextualize the decision as an example of judges blowing their assignment.

As with the advent of BoxRec, longtime matchmaker Eric Bottjer has seen the way he does his job change dramatically since YouTube came along — mostly for the better, although the ability for anyone to watch any fight at any time has sometimes made his work more challenging.

“YouTube has made it harder to make fights, because of two things,” Bottjer said. “One, commissions now can look at a guy with, say, a 1-1 record, and if he’s embarrassing, they will not approve the fight — where in the past, just because all they had to go on was the record, 1-1, ‘Yeah, he’s fine.’

“And secondly, maybe the 1-1 guy is really good, and his opponent will go on YouTube and look at him and go, ‘Yeah, I ain’t fighting that guy. That guy’s really good.’

“So it’s made it harder for me to do my job, but that’s fine, because it saves the promoter and myself and the commission the embarrassment of putting on potential mismatches.”

In the end, thanks to YouTube, “there is no excuse now for people like me to put on horrible mismatches,” Bottjer said.

And even if Bottjer misses something, someone else may catch it thanks to YouTube. He used the example of Matthew Delaglio, the executive director of the New York State Athletic Commission, who does his due diligence and habitually watches the most recent fight or two of the boxers Bottjer proposes pairing up.

“It has saved me a couple of times where I would have a guy who’s like 2-0 and I would propose him, and then Matt would call me and say, ‘Hey, have you watched this guy yet?’ And I’d say, ‘Honestly, I have not.” So I go on YouTube and watch him, and I call Matt back and I’m like, ‘Oh man, thank you for catching that. There’s no way we could use that guy.’”

Back in the day, Bottjer — who used to have a massive collection of fights on VHS tapes, but loaned them decades ago to his neighbor Shannon Briggs and is still waiting for their return — often slotted in fighters sight unseen and had to go on word of mouth.

Kellyanne Conway may have introduced the world to the term “alternative facts,” she definitely didn’t invent the concept.

“What I would do is I would make calls,” Bottjer recalled. “If I had a guy from Colorado, and the guy from Colorado had six fights in Colorado, all on club shows, and there was no video, I’d have to call people. And of course, people that have motivation to put the fighter in the fight will tell you what you want to hear rather than what the truth is. And we all went through that. We all ended up making some fights that quite frankly should not have been made because of that.”

But the distortion of reality in boxing prior to the introduction of the lie detector that is YouTube went far beyond verbally overselling a boxer’s ability.

Bottjer shared a story of about heavyweight Peter McNeeley, who famously became Mike Tyson’s first post-prison opponent in a fight that sold more than 1.5 million pay-per-views and lasted all of 89 seconds. McNeeley’s manager, Vinnie Vecchione, was trying to steer his Medfield mediocrity into the payday of all paydays in 1995, and on April 22 of that year, in McNeeley’s final bout before securing the Tyson gig, he brought the 35-1 McNeeley to Hot Springs, Arkansas, to face mega-trialhorse Frankie Hines, who had a record of 14-70-2.

McNeeley scored what was immediately reported as the fastest knockout in boxing history, erasing Hines with a left hook in six seconds to enhance his credentials ahead of the Tyson fight.

“I was really getting entrenched in matchmaking at the time,” Bottjer remembered, “and I was curious about that result because Frankie Hines could take a punch and Peter McNeeley was not a big puncher. So it was just curious to me how that could happen.

“And I saw Frankie Hines at a show. He was from North Carolina, I was living in Virginia at the time. And I’m like, ‘How could you lose to that guy in six seconds?’ And he kind of smiled at me, and he goes, ‘I’ve never been in Arkansas.’ So I immediately realized what had happened.”

Just in case it’s unclear: Frankie Hines was telling Bottjer that the opponent McNeeley KO’d in six seconds was not Frankie Hines, but rather someone else, someone who probably knew going in that he was only going to last about six seconds.

“You could get away with that back then,” Bottjer continued, “because there was no YouTube, nobody recording the fight on their phone, there was no federal ID card. Look, Rocky Marciano supposedly fought his brother at least one time. I heard Peter McNeeley fought his trainer one time. You know, this sort of thing happened.

“But it is much harder to do today — it’s not a strategy anymore. Whereas back then, you could cut corners, and it was just a different world. YouTube and BoxRec have shifted that and you can’t do that anymore, at least not as a habit.”

In a fitting twist, when I was interviewing Bottjer for this piece, he mis-told the story initially. Memories of 29-years-ago tales being what they are, he got the opponent’s name and the precise soft-commissioned southern state that hosted the fight mixed up at first. And if not for the ease of looking up McNeeley’s detailed record on BoxRec, I wouldn’t have realized it and might have published this piece with McNeeley blowing out a fake Danny Wofford in Louisiana.

For me, as a writer, BoxRec has become a need, YouTube more of a want. So, going back to the question with which I started this article, I believe I have my answer as to which website I can less easily do without.

But certainly, both make the job immeasurably easier and make my articles more accurate and more detailed.

And I’m honored that you took the time to read this, when you could have been watching Foreman-Lyle on your phone instead.

Eric Raskin is a veteran boxing journalist with more than 25 years of experience covering the sport for such outlets as BoxingScene, ESPN, Grantland, Playboy, Ringside Seat, and The Ring (where he served as managing editor for seven years). He also co-hosted The HBO Boxing Podcast, Showtime Boxing with Raskin & Mulvaney, and Ring Theory and currently co-hosts The Interim Champion Boxing Podcast with Raskin & Mulvaney. He has won three first-place writing awards from the BWAA, for his work with The Ring, Grantland, and HBO. Outside boxing, he is the senior editor of CasinoReports and the author of 2014’s The Moneymaker Effect. He can be reached on X or LinkedIn, or via email at [email protected].

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