The Ring

There was a time when boxing was a heck of a lot more popular in America than it is now, and therefore The Ring

-- which immodestly refers to itself as "The Bible of Boxing" -- was a heck of a lot more popular as well. But that was when the sport itself was viewed much differently.

Changing demographics? Changing sensibilities? Changing ethnicity among the leading contenders? All these things and more undoubtedly have hurt American boxing, a sport now overseen by a confusing range of alphabet-soup sanctioning bodies and greedy cable TV promoters. This trend may be reflected in how hard it can be to locate the latest issue of The Ring amidst all the professional wrestling, martial arts, and ultimate fighting magazines in the full-contact sports rack these days.

The Ring has a long and varied history dating back to 1922. For a while the magazine was published by Bert Sugar, a colorful cigar-chomper generally regarded as the dean of boxing writers and a man who could have been created by Damon Runyon. But today's version of the mag has no such pedigree; a company owned by the slick entrepreneur Oscar De La Hoya now publishes The Ring. Boxing fans remember the night in 2004 when Bernard Hopkins landed a devastating left hook to the liver that resulted in the first knockdown of De La Hoya's career. But even then, the engaging fighter already was expanding into quite a few enterprises outside the ring.

Which raises the question: Can someone who oversees a stable of dozens of contending athletes publish a successful and unbiased magazine devoted to that sport? The answer remains a work in progress, as sports journalists grapple with such issues in an age when baseball teams own the TV stations that broadcast their games. But the stakes are higher at The Ring, since the magazine awards titles and belts, and some of De La Hoya's fighters are in contention for them. Yet when the deal was finalized in 2007, he promised "total independence."

Once you dive into The Ring, what may surprise you is just how much content is provided. There are 130 dense pages in the November issue, and the mag is filled with profiles, news, columns, rankings, forecasts. For those who are serious about the sweet science, that "bible" tag is fairly accurate. Yes, there's quite a bit of sloppy editing (weird hyphens pop up, quotation marks are opened but not closed, etc.). But there's also some good stuff:

  • The Ring offers great action photography, and unlike the old days, most of it is in color now.

  • For those who view boxing as a participatory as well as a spectator sport, "Perfect Execution" provides a well-done tutorial -- employing both photos and text -- on how to master infighting on the ropes, courtesy of the same Bernard Hopkins who defeated The Ring's publisher.

  • There's also a well-written profile of Alexis Arguello, aka "The Explosive Thin Man," a lethal Nicaraguan title-holder who was elected mayor of Managua last year, and who may or may not have committed suicide this past July.

    Interestingly, The Ring seems to operate as though it's 1952 and boxing still reigns supreme in American hearts and minds. Consider this quote from one columnist commenting on the recent documentary Tyson: "The film is not just riveting; it's mandatory for anyone who's been following Tyson's life these last decades -- that is, everyone on Earth." You get the feeling such hyperbole is sincere.

    And yet -- after I worked my way way to page 124, I realized that the "editorial trust" De La Hoya promised is actually working. I start reading "The Decade's Biggest 'Didn'ts'" -- a compilation of great match-ups that never were -- and stumble across the imaginary Oscar De La Hoya vs. Winky Wright fight. Are my eyes deceiving me? Is De La Hoya being criticized for dodging a bout with a serious contender? In the very pages of a magazine he owns? Wow. Imagine for a moment that, say, Rupert Murdoch was being similarly criticized in one of his publications.

    Yeah, I can't imagine it either.

    MAG STATS

    Published by: Sports and Entertainment Publications LLC

    Frequency: 13 times per year (twice in February)

    Web site: www.ringtv.com

    Tags: magazines
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    1 comment about "The Ring ".
    1. Jesse White from Icon Media Direct , October 29, 2009 at 6:41 p.m.

      Very insightful commentary. As an avid boxing fan, someone salivating over the upcoming Pacquiao v. Cotto fight, The Ring certainly serves as the bible of boxing.

      Yes, there was/is some concern regarding separation of church and state between De la Hoya and the editorial staff, but as Mr. McGee writes, the promise seems to be holding up so far.

      To follow up on Mr. McGee statement that The Ring still operates as if boxing still reigns supreme in America, I would add it does reign supreme, but within the hearts and minds of boxing fans across America.

      I'm not sure what I'd do as a boxing fan should the Ring cease to exist.