The Arrival of the Hitman and the American Soccer Problem

For all of you who do not like sports I am in a sports state of mind. As many of you may or may not know I am a boxing guy and this weekend one of my favorite boxers will be making his American debut ( sort of).

Ricky “the Hitman” Hatton is from Manchester, England and last year he won the linear Junior Welterweight Championship from the tough Russian-Australian star Kostya Tszyu and later defeated WBA Champion Carlos Maussa of Colombia. Saturday he is moving up in weight-class, to Welterweight, and will fight WBA champ Luis Collazo who is a Brooklyn-based fighter of Puerto Rican heritage. The fight will be in Boston and will be televised on HBO after the replay of last weekends Oscar De La Hoya-Ricardo Mayorga PPV.

Hatton is a very interesting figure and is a big fan favorite in his native Manchester. Whenever he fights the MEN Arena in Manchester is packed with more than 20,000 fans who wildly cheer for him as he enters the ring to the theme song of the Manchester Untied Football club. He is also the first white English boxing star in a long time ( there have been a few Irish stars in recent years, Joe Calzaghe of Wales, and even Scott Harrison of Scotland).

The other current big names in British boxing from Danny Williams to Audley Harrison to Howard Eastman or all black and of West Indian lineage ( as was former Heavyweight Champion Lennox Lewis).

The last British fighter to again worldwide fame was Prince Naseem Hamed who is a Muslim of Yemeni heritage and had a wild and flamboyant style. Like Hatton, Hamed had built up a huge fan base in Britain and had made a lot of money; but in order to really cash in on his succes he would need to come to America to make the big money.

In his first fight in the US Hamed fought at Madison Square Garden in New York in a wild barn-burner against Kevin Kelley in which Hamed won after being hurt early. However, when he faced the well-schooled and tough Mexican Marco Antonio Barrera in Las Vegas a short while later Hamed tasted defeat for the first time and was easily beaten and has only fought once since.

American fans though Hatton, before his fight with Tszyu, was just a British wonder who had not fought anyone and he wouldn’t last when he fought a real opponent. After Tszyu American fans said would he would not come to the US and fight with the big boys and Saturday will be his first foray into that stage in his career. Will he last longer in the US than Hamed? Only time will tell.

Soccer and America
Now soccer is the most popular sport in the world and most of the world now is eagerly awaiting the World Cup of Football which will happen this year as it happens every four years.

Make no mistake about it Americans; this is the biggest sport event in the world. Compared to the World Cup, the Super Bowl is a Pop Warner football game.

Now, like most Americans, I grew-up with no interest in the World Cup. I grew up playing football, wrestling, baseball, and boxing and those were the sports I watched on television. Soccer is the sport played by the most people in America and there are more people in soccer leagues than any others; but growing-up I saw soccer as a sport for middle-class and rich kids and for pussies. Let me explain this; a lot of American mothers wouldn’t let their kids play football and let them play soccer so football teams were usually made up of a tougher lot ( and I’m not even going to get into what kind of nuts were on my football teams but lets just say many of them are keeping correctional offers employed).

So, while millions play soccer in America ( especially Catholic school kids), few pay any attention to professional soccer anywhere in the world including the US. They will play soccer; but on TV they will be watching American football, baseball and basketball. Few Americans will be watching the World Cup.

The first time I watched the Cup was in 1994. I was a part of a hustle involving baby formula involving a few African-American Muslim brothers and number of Malaysians and a Saudi . We were hustling everyday and making good money; but when the World Cup began the Malaysians informed me that they would not be able to work because they would be watching the World Cup. The other Americans thought they were nuts but I decided to watch the Cup with them.

Seeing all of these different rabid fans from throughout the world and their colorful get-ups and the passion they brought to the game made me fall in love with the games and when the games came around in 1998 and 2002 I was watching. I still do not follow world football, and don’t enjoy it the way I enjoy American sports; but I love watching the World Cup every four years even if I don’t know who the hell I am watching.

I do not cheer for America. Why? Because I know if America won the cup the team would get a little media attention but most of the people would not give a shit and I know that a World Cup victory for the other nations in the event would be an historic feat and would bring joy to millions.

The question is this; why does America not have the best soccer teams in the world when we get immigrants from all of the great nations of world football? Is it on the immigration form that you have to forsake soccer? A lot of this has to do with the good soccer teams being in the suburbs and the fact that in many areas it is such a Catholic school kid sport.


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