“In those days boxing was very glamorous and romantic. You listened to fights on the radio, and a good announcer made it seem like a contest between gladiators.”
The first events in the Ancient Grecian Olympics were pure running events, but it was not long before combat sports became a prominent part of the competition. Wrestling or grappling may be the earliest combat sport. The Grecian Olympics also included pankration, a competition with few rules, considered to be the root of modern Mixed Martial Arts. However, the purest of the combat sports was boxing.
While the other forms of combat sport may have a closer resemblance to actual combat as seen in warfare, boxing is a purely athletic competition. It is a competition of strength, skill, stamina, and even intelligence, but it is also a test of bravery. Although victory may be determined by points, or on rare occasions by submission, the goal of boxing is to knock your opponent out. Boxing is often criticized as the only sport where the object is to injure your competitor. This attitude discounts the heart and the sacrifice required to rise through the competition in order to reach the championship levels of boxing.
Although on the surface boxing seems to be an exercise where the competitors stand toe to toe and do their best to injure one another, boxing requires a lifetime of dedication and sacrifice. Success in boxing depends on being better trained and in better condition than your opponent. A boxer who is not willing to rise early to get in his road work, before spending long hours in the gym developing his strength and skills, will find himself doomed to embarrassing defeat.
Although largely sanitized for the modern “Pay for View” cable television spectacle, boxing has often been considered to be an unsavory pursuit and those involved in the boxing world were decidedly the sort to be found on the wrong side of the tracks. Far removed from the aerobic dance studio atmosphere of a modern gym, boxing gyms were usually in the rough part of town. They were smelly places, the air heavy with the stench of sweat, liniment, tobacco, and pain. Not that this was particularly disturbing to the boxers themselves. Their only goal was to become stronger and better skilled so that they could perform better in their next bout.
The themes of sacrifice, pain, suffering, and often desperation make boxing an incredible tool for drama. Common boxing dramatic themes include the contender who works hard for a shot at the title, the down on his luck fighter who goes on despite his injuries and the danger, and the fighter tempted to sacrifice his honor by cheating and throwing a fight. The theme of throwing the fight can be particularly poignant. Given the amount of work and sacrifice it takes for a fighter to ready himself for a bout, the thought of throwing it all away for money, while tempting, can be soul shattering.
Radio comics often lampoon the sacrifice, pain, and especially the bravery required to be a boxer. Usually this is meant with no disrespect for boxers; rather it plays up the “Mr. Chicken” element of the comedian. Burns and Allen, Jack Benny, Lou Holtz, and Red Skelton all played this up.
The “wrong side of the tracks” element makes boxing themes a natural with the hard boiled and noir elements of many radio detective programs. The Saint and Philo Vance took a more refined view of “the sweet science”, while Frank Race, Nick Carter and Philip Marlow tended to stay on the grittier side of the ring. The drama of boxing is terrific inspiration for the Movies, and we have several examples from Lux Radio Theater, Movie Town Radio Theater and Screen Guild Theatre.
As dramatic as the fight game can be in fiction, it pales next to the real thing, and included in the collection are a number of historic fights as well as a selection of the weekly Pabst Blue Ribbon Bouts.
For more listening see the old time radio collection: