Have you ever been to a press conference for a boxing match? Not one of those super-fight, Tyson or Oscar De La Hoya joints; all glitzy with flashes going off like a strobed-out music video. I’m talking about an “industrial” boxing match type press conference… One that is significant in terms of what happens next in a fighter’s bleak existence, BEFORE the title fight. The type of event which both fighters have suffered significant losses and need a significant win; the kind the press doesn’t dress up for, but the press (in the know) shows up for. Usually press conferences come complete with sit down eats, a high gloss folder containing info on the fighters, complete with 8x10 pictures, resume etc., collector’s type stuff… but this type of press conference you’d be lucky to get those miniature bottles of soda that they serve on airplanes… and the soda is flat.
The air is thick with desperation. Pity, hunger, anger, disdain and regret are also strongly represented at the event.
This press conference I speak of features not only two technically different boxers, but as individuals, these fighters are on opposite ends of the spectrum like Pluto ain’t Earth. (There are Africans and then there are African-Americans… There are Christians and then there are Orthodox Christians. Capice? The difference may not be obvious but it is significant nonetheless.) Yeah, these fighters breathed the same air, but besides boxing and ethnicity, that’s where the similarities would end.
At said press conference it’s obvious these two are fighting for more than money. Real fights never are. In fact, if it were about money, THIS fight wouldn’t be happening, that’s how much both boxers were getting paid. They know they’re getting jobbed and gypped by the network, the managers, and the promoters… now retrospect tells them that.
It became apparent and as obvious as blood on white boxing shorts that these two wanted to fight one another and would do so for free… Maybe that’s because neither has fought in the “major leagues” before… but in reality it was because their intent was pure… Your nature is what it is… in boxing you may be the spark or you may be the kindling, but either way you are a necessary part in the building of a fire.
This fight is, on the surface – from what the viewer can observe, from what the managers can absorb – the opportunity to fight again at a major venue and it will allow either fighter to breathe easy in between fights. Did I say “fights,” plural? I meant singular. You can never be idle without a title in professional boxing.
But for the boxers themselves, this is another world. For one of these fighters this fight is about the very definition of oneself… substance, character, rebirth and right of passage to manhood. Something that today’s society lacks for our male child. For the other it was that and for a respect that was never given to him. Both wanted something every prideful man puts ahead of all materialistic gain… One claimed the other would have to kill him in order to win the fight, and without a doubt you believed what he said, it wasn’t bravado, you felt it. The other didn’t have to say it... He carried it in his thoughts… he breathed it, to look at him you wouldn’t know it, but to hear him talk in a hushed tone contrary to his usual upbeat patter, he truly was ready to cross to the other side. This fight was worth dying for. It’s nothing new; both had left chunks of themselves in the ring before.
This fight was billed as the middleweight bragging rights to the “greatest city in the world” New York City, but it was so much more than that, and those on the inside knew it. It was almost like every fight in the boxing world stopped for this one. This was beyond a fight fan’s fight, this was a fighter’s fight (Those are the good ones) and all boxers have that innate sense of knowing when a fight is for real and when it just happens to be hype.
Another world. A boxer’s world; fighters picked sides like mythical god’s peering down on people from the clouds… This fight wasn’t based on ability… both had to have that in order to occupy the lofty spots they had, but it was a litmus test of character and tests of character to come after you get over the initial clash after the opening bell, headbutts, knockdowns and rallies. The true nature of an individual becomes clear after he picks himself up from a shot that takes away part of your brain. (Tell me, is it true that it’s easier to increase a lead if you are running in front than it is to close the distance when someone is far ahead of you?) Well, your true character becomes apparent when you are operating on autopilot, not consciously moving about following your corner’s advice... Fighters often are hit or dropped in one round and don’t “wake up” for five rounds. Memory erased. That’s survival.
How do you respond during that time of unbelievable duress? As significant as it is, this isn’t a quarterback mounting a last minute drive to win a game… That is something entirely different, no less difficult, especially if you don’t succeed, I can only imagine the psychological “cross” one has to bear the rest of their life for letting their teammates down, but different. The man you fight is someone who has dedicated his whole life and specifically the last 3 months developing the ability to render you unconscious with his fists, and – for the most part – showing no concern for your health until you are unconscious for longer than 10 seconds. Yeah, someone who has the legal right to bash you in the face with barely protected fists for 30-45 minutes… and be admired for it.
Any cowardice, any inability, anything that stood out as warped in the sense of boxing… it wouldn’t go down as a technical inability… more a character flaw. And this flaw would follow them to their grave… A gene in turn transferred to their offspring and so goes the curse of the quitter.
Yes, this fight was worth dying for…
(To be continued.)