NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson fights an unknown named Kevin McBride here in Washington, DC, this weekend. Almost 10 years after he last held the title, Tyson is still the most recognized name in boxing. But it's clear that he's a shell of the fighter he used to be. It's probably fair to say that many who see this fight in person or on Pay-Per-View TV will be watching to see if Tyson pulls a bizarre stunt, like the time he bit off part of an opponent's ear.

Not so many years ago, boxing was a major sport in this country and a championship fight was a national event. Today, even most sports fans don't know who holds the title, any title. In many parts of the world, boxing is big, but not here--not anymore.

On the other hand, the success of movies like "Rocky," "Raging Bull," "Million Dollar Baby," and the newly released "Cinderella Man" suggest that we are still interested in the drama, violence, discipline and athleticism of boxing. Americans have always responded to larger-than-life figures from John L. Sullivan to Muhammad Ali, but there's no one in the sport today who commands anything close to that level of interest. What happened?

Later in the program, an update on the political crisis in Bolivia, where the president has resigned amid angry demonstrations. And we'll take a look at the upcoming visit of South Korea's president to Washington.

But first, what happened to boxing? If you're a fan or if you used to be, call and tell us why. Should something be changed? Why do you think there are no more big names? Is there anything that would draw them or you back to the arena? Our number is (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. And the e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

And joining us to begin is Teddy Atlas, a boxing analyst and announcer for Friday- and Tuesday-night fights on ESPN2. He's with us from Staten Island in New York.

Nice to have you on the program.

Mr. TEDDY ATLAS (ESPN Boxing Analyst): No problem.

CONAN: And obviously if boxing is on a cable television channel, the prominence of ESPN, two nights a week, it's obviously not being done in secret. Yet the sport is nowhere near as big as it used to be.

Mr. ATLAS: No, it's not. I mean, when you go back--you just mentioned "Cinderella Man." When you go back to that time in the early 1900s, boxing was the biggest sport in the country. The New York Yankees during that time were drawing 9,000 people to Yankee Stadium. Boxing was drawing 50 and 60,000 to the Polo Grounds and to other arenas, like Yankee Stadium, outdoors. Madison Square Garden was always full when there was a boxing match on.

There's a lot of reasons for it. First of all, boxing was (technical difficulties) sport back in those days. I mean, all the immigrants, all the different flows of people that came to this country--boxing was one way of getting them (technical difficulties) in society. And you had--people in different neighborhoods were attached to that and would follow that. Also you had a lot of clubs, you had a lot of activity where fighters could be developed. There's a lot less clubs now, a lot less places where fighters can be developed. There's other options for people where parents and society will push them rather than towards boxing.

And obviously, also, there's a time where--the best fighters were fighting each other in those days. It didn't matter if you lost a fight. As long as you were at a certain level, as long as you fit in with a certain company of opponent and a certain company of level of ability, you could fight again a week later, two weeks later, three weeks later. People didn't care as long as they were seeing competent fighters and the best fighting the best.

Nowadays people are more concerned--even though there isn't a lot of network television, with whatever television is out there, whether it's HBO, Showtime, pay per view, people want to see records. So managers are more inclined to keep their fighters safe and to develop a glossy record rather than let them develop as a fighter and let the best guys fight the best, which really would draw and attract more fans.

CONAN: Does it help the fight game when Mike Tyson is still a big name, and--I don't mean to denigrate the guy he's fighting against tonight, but nobody's ever heard of him. He's regarded as a stiff.

Mr. ATLAS: Well, Tyson will probably score a one-round knockout because--not wanting to knock anybody who has the courage and the wherewithal that it takes to come out of that locker room and take that long march to the ring and step up those lonely (technical difficulties) squared circle. That's a difficult thing to do. But this fighter is not a fighter of real athletic merit. He's been knocked out four times by nominal (technical difficulties) subpar opponents. So this is a fight that will not be competitive, most likely.

I don't think that Tyson really helps boxing in the long term. The short term, just like the movies that you mentioned and the other things, the peripheral things that are happening that are attached to boxing--I think that that helps temporarily. Right now, there will be attention that Tyson's back in the ring. He's been on all the news stations. He's been on different radio programs across the country as well as television programs. But long-term, I don't think the image of Tyson really is conducive really to building the sport.

When you go back to the days when boxing, as we just mentioned, was the top sport in the country, believe it or not--and I'm almost scared to use this word--but character was attached to boxing. I mean, it was a noble sport. These were the noblest of athletes. Kids would scurry around the neighborhoods to carry their gym bag to the gym. I mean, they were proud to be around the contender or around the champion or soon-to-be champion. And I don't think the conduct of a Tyson obviously perpetuates that kind of image.

CONAN: We're talking about the future and the past of the fight game. You're welcome to join us: (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is totn@npr.org. We're talking with Teddy Atlas, a boxing analyst with ESPN2.

And Natasha. Natasha's on the phone with us from New Braunfels in Texas.

NATASHA (Caller): Yes. Hi. How are you?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

NATASHA: Great. I wanted to talk a little bit about "The Contender." I really thought that that show--it was hosted by Sly Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard. I thought that that show would bring new life to boxing. They had middleweight boxers; they were nationally ranked. I just really thought that that would be a good thing to bring life back into the boxing game. And NBC's decided to cancel it. And I think it's a real shame.

CONAN: That was one of two boxing reality programs that was on TV. And, Teddy Atlas, both of them bombed.

Mr. ATLAS: Well, the first one really bombed. The Fox one was poorly conceived and really poorly navigated by the people involved, to be quite frank with you. It had Oscar de la Hoya attached to it, as far as their marquee name and their host. But that didn't even, you know, get to the second round.

But "The Contender" was done better. It had a better production value, I believe, for whatever my humble opinion is worth. But it was done by Mark Burnett and the DreamWorks people. And of course Sylvester Stallone, as just mentioned, was involved with it. It didn't bomb. I mean, they hit certain numbers, but they didn't hit the demographics, the numbers that--nowadays the magic numbers that you have to hit, of course, go to families, go to women, or go to certain age groups. And they didn't do high enough in those numbers. But from what I understand, especially the last episode, they did well enough where they showed they can shop it. If not NBC, they can shop it to other networks and hope that it will find a place to, of course, come forward again and maybe be up there again next year.

But I think one of the problems with it is they were trying so hard to hit across, you know, into other markets outside of just across the market that boxing would attract. And that's what you have to do on network if you're going to do a reality show that's going to be successful. And they might have tried too hard. I mean, reality means reality. And in some ways, they almost had to put another word to it and say `sometimes reality' because bringing the kids in and bringing the family in--that's not reality in boxing. You're not going to have the family coming into the locker room, you're not going to see kids crying at ringside. And I'm not so sure that that brought forward the response that they thought it would bring forward to people watching it.

And you have a trainer there that really was talking like he was out of central casting. You know, he wasn't really saying the things that a trainer would say. He was saying things that he thought television executives wanted him to say. So again, I'm not so sure that's reality television. I'm not so sure that they didn't miss the boat with not understanding that. But they were trying so hard to cross that market.

CONAN: Natasha, thanks very much.

Here's an e-mail we got from Brock Altman(ph) in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. `I am a young American who very much enjoys boxing. I can certainly name a heavyweight champion or two--Vitali Klitschko, for example. In my opinion, many of these fighters are stars, though admittedly more stars exist in lower weight divisions. I believe the unpopularity of boxing stems not from the fighters. Actually, watching them in the ring will never become unpopular. However, boxing really loses viewers because it's thought of as corrupt. Having multiple titles furthers this impression because it would seem that money and claims of prowess are more important than actually beating other contenders for titles. Having one title held by one person who fought the other good fighters out there--that,' he says, `would significantly help boxing.'

What do you think, Teddy?

Mr. ATLAS: Well, that is on the mark. That's a guy that understands the boxing situation all the way across the board. The organizations and therefore parts of boxing are corrupt, quite frankly--WBC, IBF, WBA. The IBF was found guilty--aside from everybody, what they thought of the corruption and what they perceived as the corruption, it was proven in a federal court of law that the IBF, the head of it, the president at that time, Bob Lee, was caught on videotape taking payoffs to rank fighters; taking pay for ratings, in other words. So, yeah, it is corrupt, and it's a damn shame that we can't get a national commission.

Senator McCain has been trying--I've talked to him in the past. For the last six years I've been advocating, I've been lobbying on my show on ESPN, to try to get a national commission, as the other major sports have, to give us structure, to give us credibility, to give us the things that this person on the e-mail just rightfully talked about. I think that this sport needs it. I think that the fans need it, and they deserve it. And I think that the athletes in this sport deserve it, and that they would beg for it to come--where we could have structure, we could get rid of some of these organizations that rate fighters, nothing to with the merit in the ring, but with the merit of the relationships that these organizations have, the corrupt relationships that they have with different promoters and different managers connected to the sport.

And of course one of the other things that goes along with that problem is bad decisions. I talk to fans all around the country every time I get on an airplane going to another show. And one of the things they say is what that e-mailer just said. We love the sport. We love when there's a good fight. There's nothing quite like watching men against men, making choices, making decisions, being put out there in that chamber of truth that we talk about sometimes in that squared circle. There's nothing quite like it. But, at the same time, when there's a bad decision; when it's a horrible decision, a tremendously bad decision, it turns away people. It makes them run for the fences because they start to feel like it's been preordained; that no matter what happens, the wrong thing is going to happen at the end. And that's, again, corruption in the sport. And that's lack of structure, as far as anybody being accountable when it comes to judges.

I'd like to put...

CONAN: Teddy Atlas, I'm afraid we're out of time. But we thank you for your time today. Appreciate it.

Mr. ATLAS: No problem.

CONAN: Teddy Atlas, a boxing analyst for ESPN2. And he was kind enough to join us by phone today from Staten Island in New York.

When we come back from a break, we'll be talking with Jeremy Schaap, also of ESPN, and the author of the new book, "Cinderella Man."

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We're talking about what's happened to boxing, the sweet science. If you'd like to join the conversation, (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. E-mail us: totn@npr.org.

Boxing was probably never more popular in this country than it was in the 1920s. Jeremy Schaap has written a book about that era. It's called "Cinderella Man." It comes out with the movie of the same name. And Jeremy Schaap joins us now from Howard University here in Washington, DC, where he's preparing to cover this weekend's Mike Tyson fight.

Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. JEREMY SCHAAP (Author, "Cinderella Man"): Thanks for having me, Neal.

CONAN: Remind us, how big a deal was boxing in those days?

Mr. SCHAAP: Well, I don't think you can overstate it. It was, in this country, certainly--along with baseball, college football, horse racing--the pre-eminent sport. Its champions were the most famous, the most well-compensated athletes in the United States. And beyond that, it was the only truly international sport. You know, there was no such thing as international soccer. Baseball was limited professionally to the United States. Race-car driving hadn't really become an international sport. Golf and tennis were purely country-club sports, although they were played in different places around the world. At the same time, there were boxing champions from everywhere. I mean, just in the heavyweight division, there were world champions in the first 30 years of the 20th century from Italy, Germany, the United States, New Zealand, Canada. There were light heavyweight champions from France and Senegal. So it was truly huge.

CONAN: And it stayed--it was truly huge then, but it stayed very, very important in this country for a long time. But I was just reading part of your book about the Jim Braddock/Max Baer fight. There's a moment in the book where it's revealed at some point that Jim Braddock was on relief. This was the Depression, and this made big headlines. And all of a sudden a fight that hadn't been all that attractive--reporters start coming up to the Catskills from England to report on this underdog who's suddenly become the man of the masses.

Mr. SCHAAP: Yeah, exactly. I mean, it was one of these remarkable stories that, you know, people really started paying attention to when they found out that Jim Braddock had been on relief, that he had been among the first people in this country really to go on welfare in 1933 because of the dire circumstances he had at home--he couldn't feed, he couldn't shelter his family, he had to farm out his kids. And like millions of his fellow Americans at that time, he went on relief. And that's what made him an enormously sympathetic figure to so many people. It was something that he was ashamed of, something that embarrassed him, but the story broke not through his own doing, not as a marketing ploy, but through other circumstances. And that really changed the whole nature of what was going on in his fight against Max Baer. It made it a huge international story.

And boxing was huge at that time. I mean, to put into a little bit of perspective, think about in 1927 when Gene Tunney fought Jack Dempsey--it was their second fight, a rematch--in Soldier Field in Chicago, for 30 minutes' work plus about 10 minutes sitting in his corner between rounds, Gene Tunney made $990,000 from that fight, which was more than twice what Babe Ruth had made for his 14 major-league seasons to that point combined.

CONAN: So what happened, Jeremy?

Mr. SCHAAP: A lot of things happened. You know, in a lot of ways, I think the country just kind of grew up. It became a less brutal, savage society in many ways, and boxing became less appealing. But beyond that, the sport was really torn from its grass roots. You know, in the days of Dempsey and Tunney and Braddock and Baer, every neighborhood had a champion. And boxing was linked very closely to ethnicity, you know--there were Irish champions, there were Italian champions, Jewish, German, Polish, black. And people cheered for fighters on the basis of where they came from, their ethnicity, their religion, etc. And, you know, when that all kind of started to fade away, when Italians and Jews and Germans in particular and the Irish stopped fighting, they lost a lot of fans. And they did kind of fall away from the ranks of boxing.

And it certainly is partially a racial story, but it's also an economic story about what happened when television came along. And it make it easy for people to just sit at home and watch the big fights and watch only the champions and the top contenders. There was no reason anymore to go around the corner to see the neighborhood guys fight. And slowly that just kind of strangled the sport.

CONAN: Carlo Rotella joins us now. He's got a slightly different take on the declining popularity of boxing in America. He's director of American studies at Boston College and author of "Cut Time: An Education at the Fights." He's with us from the studios of member station WBUR in Boston.

Good of you to be with us today.

Mr. CARLO ROTELLA (Author, "Cut Time: An Education at the Fights"): Thanks for having me.

CONAN: I wonder, Jeremy was talking about how we've changed. Has boxing also changed?

Mr. ROTELLA: Well, I mean, I think that both he and Teddy Atlas have hit on the main thing, which is that at its base, the most important thing that made boxing what it was, was all these neighborhood gyms. You know, boxing was a sport of the industrial working class. And it was really rooted in these gyms in the urban villages. And for all the many, many reasons that the urban villages broke up in the second part of the 20th century, boxing lost its roots.

So one of the things that happened was that trainers were no longer able to impart the same sort of deep knowledge to fighters that they had before. And boxing has definitely changed. I mean, I think--and you see it most in the heavyweights, where defense is less valued than it has been before; where, you know, especially in the case of characters like Tyson, I think, just incredible musculature is so valued by audiences and perhaps TV executives that something like being able to slip a punch or block a punch becomes much less--not only less valuable, but people can't even see it anymore.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail from Michael Sekulich--I hope I'm pronouncing that correctly--in Grand Rapids, Michigan. `Big boxing matches used to be on network TV. I can remember when all of Leonard's, Ali's, Hearns' fights were broadcast on mainstream TV. Now you have to have Showtime or HBO and a thick wallet to view the fights. And now that Roy Jones Jr. has retired, there's no longer a Michael Jordan of the sport. Floyd Mayweather from my town has a lot of ring charisma and is technically an excellent fighter, but he seems to be a head case.' Well, we'll let that go aside, but, Carlo, TV obviously plays a big role in all of this.

Mr. ROTELLA: Absolutely. And it also depends where you look, for instance. Yes, it's true that promoters can sort of go for the main chance and set up too many title fights just to get TV money. On the other hand, it depends where you're looking on TV. I mean, if you're looking at Tyson/McBride, I think that, you know, your decline story is going to work very well. But if you look to a different channel and you look in a different place on that same night--Madison Square Garden instead of down in Washington--you see a Puerto Rican fighter named Miguel Cotto who, you know, has the mark of perhaps greatness upon him fighting a guy from Uzbekistan named Mohammad Abdulaev. Madison Square Garden will be full, the fight will be on TV, and a very large Hispanic audience for boxing will be tuning in. You know, the Census Bureau tells us that one out of seven Americans is Hispanic. And there's a very strong Hispanic audience for boxing. So even when you say, well, it's TV's fault, it depends what channel you're watching and it depends who you're thinking about as the audience watching.

CONAN: Jeremy Schaap, ESPN watches very carefully. And you just don't see a lot of boxing on their mainstream "SportsCenter" program, for example.

Mr. SCHAAP: No, that's true. There isn't a lot of coverage of boxing on "SportsCenter." There is this week--I happen to be hosting our coverage here as we're covering the Tyson/McBride fight. And that kind of, you know, tells you all you need to know about what's happened, particularly, as Carlo mentioned, the heavyweight division. The fact that 17 years after Mike Tyson's last big win--I mean, 17 years since he knocked out Michael Spinks in Atlantic City--he is still the biggest draw, the most compelling figure in the heavyweight division. We're still paying attention to this guy. And "SportsCenter" is no different. I mean, I was at the press conference yesterday, the pre-fight press conference for a guy, again, who hasn't held any of the titles in nine years, who's fighting a tomato can at best in Kevin McBride. There were reporters from all over the world--Sweden, Japan, South America, all over Europe, all over Asia because Mike Tyson fascinates. And the only reason he continues to fascinate--I shouldn't say the only reason, but the primary reason is because no one has come along in the last 15, 17 years to really replace him as the object, the focus in boxing.

And, you know, you were talking with Carlo about the TV factor. You know, it can't help a sport when all of the big events are Pay-Per-View events. I don't think anyone could reasonably suggest that the NFL would have benefited 30 years ago from deciding to put all the Super Bowls on pay per view and limiting the audience to people who've got 45 to $50 to spend to watch the game. And, you know, there's no way for the sport to grow when you are not exposing it to the people who want to see it.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail from Roger in San Diego. `I remember fondly boxing of the 1960s with Ali and Stevenson and the Olympics, and the matchups with Ali in the '70s and his quick wit. I lost complete interest when I saw Ali in person in the early '80s and saw the impact boxing had on him. He could barely talk, his eyes had a glaze to them, and it was so emotional for me that I walked in the opposite direction because I didn't want him to see the tears in my eyes.'

We've had a couple of e-mails along that line. And, Carlo Rotella, that aspect of the game--well, people are more aware of that now.

Mr. ROTELLA: I think so, although I think it might be a mistake to imagine that the American people are, you know, somehow more compassionate or squeamish than they were a hundred years ago. I think the case of Ali is really interesting. This is the danger of putting the whole sport's fortunes and popularity on one person, is that, you know, as much as that attachment to him helped the sport to become more popular in the '60s, exactly seeing what had happened to him later on encouraged people who were already inclined to turn away to turn away. There are certainly plenty of witty, interesting characters in boxing who one could look to now. And I think in a way it's too bad that since everything was placed on Ali, everyone can now turn to him and say, `See? This is what happens in boxing. So I'm not going to listen to, say, Bernard Hopkins, who's a fascinating character around now. I'm not going to invest in it, you know, 'cause it's just going to break my heart again.'

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. Ryan is with us. He's calling from St. Louis, Missouri.

RYAN (Caller): Hi, Mr. Schaap. I love the work that you do.

Mr. SCHAAP: Oh, thank you very much.

RYAN: No problem. I used to watch all the fights on pay per view until, if I remember correctly, the Lenox/Holyfield fight that was given by decision to Holyfield.

Mr. SCHAAP: Yeah. I covered that fight at the Garden in January of 1999.

RYAN: Yeah, and I remember that I felt Lennox manhandled him...

Mr. SCHAAP: He did.

RYAN: ...and the decision was unfair. And Don King was involved in promoting that fight, and since then I've never seen another fight. I've completely lost interest in the sport. I think that a lot of the fights are predetermined, they're rigged, or there's a general understanding of what the outcome's gonna be. And I'd like your comments on that.

Mr. SCHAAP: Well, I have to say that I think one thing we have to bear in mind--and I'm sure Carlo will agree--is that in terms of fixing fights, the sport was more corrupt in the 1920s and 1930s than it is today. I think it's very rare that we get what you would really call a `fixed fight.' That being said, there are outcomes that are essentially fixed, because we have so many guys fighting people they shouldn't be fighting, who shouldn't be ranked as highly as they're ranked.

And in the case of the fight you're specifically referring to, that was a fraud. Jean Williams, who was the notorious judge in that fight, who saw it entirely in Evander Holyfield's favor, was basically on Don King's payroll, and that was a disgrace and there was a New York state Senate investigation, etc. But the sport hasn't essentially cleaned itself up. There are people who were at that fight, distinguished people such as Dave Anderson--I disagree with him--who thought that Holyfield did win the fight. I think that's easily a minority view.

But there is a problem. I think the real problem with corruption--I know you were discussing this with Teddy Atlas earlier in the show, though--is the whole idea that people are ranked where they shouldn't be ranked, that we don't get the fights we want. I mean, it is to boxing's eternal discredit that in the 1990s, when there were four really compelling heavyweights in Holyfield, Tyson, Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis, that Mike Tyson never fought Riddick Bowe, that Riddick Bowe never fought Lennox Lewis as a pro, and that when Lewis and Tyson met and when--that they were over the hill. I mean, the fact that those guys never ended up getting into the ring to fight each other is disgraceful. And I think that's another thing that turns off fight fans such as yourself.

RYAN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. I have to say, though, that Muhammad Ali is still one of my all-time favorite athletes ever.

CONAN: I think there are a lot of people who would echo that line. Thanks very much for the phone call.

We're talking with Carlo Rotella, Boston College, and Jeremy Schaap of ESPN. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let me ask you both about the future of the boxing game. Teddy Atlas did mention the idea that's been floating around for a long time, and it's been brooded even in Congress--of the idea of one national commission, one set of championships, one group to police and market and promote the sport and try to develop it. Carlo Rotella, is this a fantasy?

Mr. ROTELLA: Well, I'm not sure that it is a fantasy. I suppose it's remotely possible. But let's assume that happens. Boxing is still not going to be what it was. It's still basically an esoteric TV spectacle put on by a few thousand people who know how to do it. It's not part of the fabric of neighborhood life in the way it used to be. So let's say you get all those reforms in place. Boxing will definitely be better. I don't know that people will be flocking to boxing matches, even so.

But I will say this: We've been talking about all the things that turn people off.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ROTELLA: Let's say, for example--a few weeks ago, if you'd seen the fight between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo, a lightweight fight--so not heavyweights, not, you know, people who speak only English and not big, you know, media names--the opposite of Tyson--if you'd seen that fight, even somebody who didn't like boxing, a person would have been so compelled by that fight, I think, that that person would have gone on to see other fights. And if Tyson and Holyfield had managed to have a fight that good, I think they would have converted a generation of sports fans to boxing. So, you know, I think that people are in such a hurry to say what turns them off about boxing and to paint a picture of decline; if you look elsewhere, if you look at the little guys, you look especially at Hispanic boxers, eastern European boxers, Asian boxers--I mean, just think about China. If boxing is the sport of the industrial working class, you know, China could have a great renaissance in boxing coming in the next century. It's not necessarily all gloom and doom and decline.

CONAN: Jeremy Schaap?

Mr. SCHAAP: Well, I certainly think it can't hurt. I mean, the sport is in such a bad state right now that it needs reform. The sanctioning organizations are, I think, hopelessly corrupt. They have absolutely no credibility. The promoters have never had the best interest of the sport in the long term--that's never one of their concerns. It needs some reform. But I'm not sure how much can be done. At the end of the day, you know, you create some kind of an organizing body that--I don't know what control it would exert.

And I agree with Carlo that there are a lot of great things out there in boxing, and there are ways to get people excited about it. And, you know, I saw some great fights in the last year, covering them for ESPN. I'm sure Carlo would agree Tony Margarito is one of those guys who's really compelling and exciting, and he had a fight a month ago against a guy named Kermit Cintron, you know, a Mexican guy vs. a Puerto Rican guy, and there was so much about that fight that was compelling.

And the thing that interests me about boxing, working at ESPN where we cover all sports--and I've made a conscious decision to spend more time doing boxing than NFL or baseball or anything else--is that it's the last sport where winning really matters, where so much is at stake every time a guy steps into the ring. And that's just not the case in the other sports anymore. I mean, you know, a guy like Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods or Ernie Els, they could go the rest of their life without winning anything, and it won't make any difference. For the fighters, you know, it matters financially, it matters in terms of their pride; it matters because if you lose, you get hurt, and that's what's still compelling about boxing. There's nothing else that I think equals that.

CONAN: Thanks very much for your time today, both of you. Jeremy Schaap, good luck. What, you've got the weigh-in for the Tyson fight in--What?--half an hour?

Mr. SCHAAP: It's actually 5:00 Eastern time.

CONAN: OK, an hour and a half, then. Good luck with that.

Mr. SCHAAP: Thank you.

CONAN: Appreciate it. Jeremy Schaap, an anchor and correspondent for ESPN, and also the author of "Cinderella Man: James J. Braddock, Max Baer and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History." Carlo Rotella is director of the American studies at Boston College, author of "Cut Time: An Education at the Fights," and he joined us from member station WBUR in Boston. Thanks very much.

Mr. ROTELLA: A pleasure to talk about boxing on NPR.

CONAN: When we come back from a short break, an update on the political crisis in Bolivia, where the president's resigned amid angry demonstrations. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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