I usually don't root for or against any fighters being in the position I'm in. I cover and write about the sport of boxing and it's imperative that I have a non-biased and objective view of things. Yes, there are guys that I genuinely like and get along with, but my job is to be journalist, not a cheerleader. If anything, I root for a great fight and hope that the fans get their monies worth.
But I have to fess up, I was rooting like hell against cruiserweight Richie LaMontagne this past Friday night when he took on Dale Brown on ESPN2's 'Friday Night Fights'. Now, you may ask, 'Richie LaMontagne, who?' and why I would break one of my tenants about rooting for or against any fighter.
LaMontagne is basically a fringe contender at cruiserweight who barely registers a blip on the boxing radar. He's basically an average talent in a below average division who outside his looks- his moniker is 'the Model'- doesn't really stand out.
He's been fed a steady diet of soft touches and every time he's stepped up, he's been defeated by the likes of Vassiliy Jirov. On the surface, he was just another pug trying to punch out an honest living in the toughest game.
But he has this victory celebration that just got on my last nerve. He did this thing where he would look in the direction of his fallen opponents and mimicked a shotgun blast. What made it worse was that he'd do this celebration while his foe was prone on the canvas after a knockout, sometimes barely conscious. And to add insult to injury, these guys he was taunting weren't exactly James Toney or Dwight Braxton, they were hand-picked opposition that really had no shot of winning.
And in the case of former 2000 Olympian, Michael Bennett, he was actually struggling in a life-and-death fight.
It was as tacky as it was tasteless.
There's no problems with guys getting excited and celebrating, jumping on the top rope, raising their arms, jumping into their trainers embrace, screaming, yelling and even talking a lil' trash. Hey, it's the nature of the beast, an emotional game where fighters put their lives on the line. But to have a celebration where you go through the motions of shooting a fallen opponent clearly stepped over the line of acceptability. This isn't a Terrel Owens autographing a football after scoring a touchdown, or Butch Johnson doing the 'California Quake' or even a Barry Bonds standing at the batters box admiring one of his long distance blasts.
In boxing, battles can be literally life-and-death, the brave men that step through those ropes know the risks they are taking. But at the same time their is a pact made between the fighters that what has to be done, will be done, but there will be some honor in doing it. It's one of the most endearing things about this sport to see two men land hay-makers at each other for 10 rounds and then embrace each other. Throughout those grueling rounds they have gone from grudging respect to flat out admiration for one another. It's something only fighters can understand.
And mind you, I'm a guy that likes celebrations and touchdown shimmies. Hey, sports is entertainment and athletes are performers. But the difference here is that when a Owens or Bonds show up an opponent, nobody is maimed in the process- and there is always a chance that somebody who got shown up by these two athletic diva's, will later on have a chance for retribution and revenge in the form of a hard tackle or a high hard one- but also they are doing it against their equals, not over-matched opposition that is there to serve as cannon-fodder.
It's bad enough that you get to play the role of bully, but then you rub it in. If he was doing his 'shotgun' blasts against world-class fighters, it's one thing, but to do it against guys who had no shot at winning, well, at that point it's just flat out obnoxious. It would like winning a hundred yard dash against a group of quadriplegics and backpedaling the last 20 yards and high-stepping against the handicapped racers.
So it was with great interest that I watched his fight against Dale Brown. Brown, certainly isn't a great fighter but there was one thing that separated him from LaMontagne- experience at the world class level. Unlike LaMontagne, he did't have promotional protection and he had gone on the road against some of the games best within his division. No, he did't win a lot of those fights but he was battle tested and seasoned. LaMontagne, to him, was just another fighter. On the other end of the spectrum, Brown represented a huge step up in class for LaMontagne.
And it showed.
Brown would floor LaMontagne in the first and judging by the look on his face, he knew he was in for a long night. Too many outings at the kiddie pool and now he was about to drown, as he knew he was in way too deep. Brown would continue to pour it on early against LaMontagne, bruising up 'the Model's' mug, it looked like this would be a short fight.
I could't have been happier and I could imagine that the legions of fans who felt the same way I did were probably know doing our own 'shotgun' blasts in the direction of our televisions and crowing out loud. And perhaps others were doing the ever popular 'throat slash' gesture, or doing the 'air shovel' and digging a grave for LaMontagne. Hey, what comes around, goes around as they say.
But a funny thing happened as the rounds went on and Brown kept shellacking him, LaMontagne, didn't quit, didn't whine or find a way out. He fought on like a true fighter, still attempting to win, being game and tough. It was a losing effort but a valiant one nonetheless. By the late rounds, believe it or not, I felt a lot of admiration for the way he stayed professional and steadfast in his commitment to fight. He was a real fighter on this night.
And while it may be easy to pile on him for his past antics, the question has to be asked, how many of you have gone through what he did? Teddy Roosevelt once had a quote that basically stated that it's not the critic who counts but the one who's out there on the battlefield putting himself at risk. LaMontagne, did something that very few human beings have the courage to do- and it's even harder when you're getting beat like a drum.
There would be no celebrations for LaMontagne on this night but he did gain a measure of respect that he had failed to earn in all his recent victories. And perhaps he also realized that the vanquished- like he was on this night- deserved respect also.