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Boxing Reels From Deaths of Three Champs

Three former boxing champions are dead. Did anyone notice?

For so much of the audience, the sport is now lost in the shadows, and far off their radar screen. Forgotten or ignored by the masses, it has been tossed onto the pile of the no-longer relevant, going the way of the phonograph record.

We'll know how far it has dropped, if even blood can't draw a crowd.

Three boxing champions are dead, all gone in 25 days, none older than 57, each the victim of violence - by their own hand or someone else's.

Alexis Arguello was found at home in Nicaragua with a single gunshot wound to his heart - authorities speculating it was he who pulled the trigger. That was July 1.

Auturo Gatti was found in a beach resort apartment in Brazil, strangled or hanged. Police have named his wife as the chief suspect, though suicide remains a possibility. That was July 11.

Vernon Forrest was gunned down on an Atlanta street, the apparent victim of a robbery-gone-mad. That was Saturday night.

Three boxing champions are dead. How large would the headlines be if they were three Super Bowl champions, or three World Series champions or three NBA champions? How many television satellite trucks would be parked outside?

But this is boxing. It is easy to guess the reaction of so many when the sport is mentioned. Boxing? Click. The theory being this is an ugly and crazed pastime, and a disorganized shambles, full of too many shady figures to count, let alone follow.

The heavyweight champion of the world once was one of the most recognizable athletes on the planet. Stand on an American street corner now and ask passers-by for a name (or names, depending on however many there are at that particular moment). You would have better luck asking for the identity of the secretary of agriculture.

Away from the hard-core believers, boxing is a lake drying up. But death is conspicuous, especially when it comes in threes.

Seen any of these fellows fight? Probably not.

What needs to be mentioned is Arguello's relentless quest through four weight classes, even if he was a troubled and tarnished man away from the ring (which, of course, is a boxing mantra). He was mayor of Managua.

Then there was Gatti's ferocious will to fight, which led to television moments that even the non-believers of boxing could appreciate.

And finally, Forrest's humanity and grace. The 1992 Olympian launched an idea called Destiny's Child, which served mentally challenged adults. He was, by nearly all accounts of those who knew him, one of the more thoughtful men in his trade. Just because boxing is no longer on much of America's mind, a loss such as this should not be missed.

Forrest was adding air to the tires of his Jaguar Saturday night, according to the authorities, when someone approached him, demanding his car, or money, or everything. The meeting turned into an armed confrontation and then perhaps a chase, one man's handgun against another man's automatic weapon. Just another sickening Saturday night in America.

Forrest might have decided to give up and return to his car. Whatever happened, he was shot seven or eight times in the back, according to reports. Two men are being sought.

Arguello was 57, Gatti 37, Forrest 38. All of them won multiple championships, none of them were without past flaws. Could we expect anything else? If their stories were normal and uneventful, this wouldn't be boxing.

They died in the same month, so boxing has had to busy itself with remembrances, mourning and funerals. A sport that prides itself on the ability to take a punch - even if so many of them are self-inflicted - could not help but be groggy.

The bad news keeps popping up in Muhammad Ali's old neighborhood, amid the baseball and the golf and the tennis and the NFL training camps. It's a hard way to finally get attention.

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