Last week one of my friends who is a managing editor at USA Today, who does freelance work for several boxing publications like 'the Ring' and 'KO', was lamenting the fact that his paper had put out a list of the ten toughest athletes in sports and despite his plea's, none of them were boxers.
Now, I may be biased, but shouldn't all of them be boxers? Yeah, you could throw in guys like Ray Lewis and Steve McNair and you wouldn't hear any complaints from me, those guys in another time and place would be heavyweight contenders and they are as tough as they come in football, which is a brutal sport in it's own right. But my friend went on to say that the list had folks like Annika Sorenstam, a female golfer who made a stab at a mens tourney this past year. Huh?
Then that must make teenager Michelle Wie some sort of iron-woman, then.
I bring this up because this past weekend I was in Las Vegas to watch Jesus Chavez defend his WBC jr. lightweight title against Erik Morales. Chavez, is a good, solid prizefighter from Austin, Texas that was thought to be nothing more than another 'belt-holder', just baby-sitting Jose Sulaiman's green trinket until Morales, a true 'pound-for-pound' performer came along and took the belt as a mere formality, on his way to bigger and more challenging fights.
In the opening stanza, Chavez would shock everyone inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena by rocking Morales with a terrific right hand that had ' El Terrible' wobbling and holding on. It was clear that Chavez was here to be a champion, not cannon fodder. Morales, being the consummate Mexican, tough guy, would fight back on even terms the rest of the round. In round two, he would come back with some blistering heat of his own, sending Chavez to the canvas twice.
The bout was shaping up into 'Fight of the Year' material. Here you had the well known, brand name fighter in Morales getting shook to his toes in the opening frame, coming back in the second round to send Chavez to the floor twice. The 8,000 or so fans lucky enough to be inside the tent for this fight were buzzing. It was one of the those rare moments only 'the sweet science' could provide.
But strangely as the preceding rounds went on, Chavez wasn't nearly as active as he was the opening round. He would stalk Morales, only to run into some hard, accurate right-hand uppercuts and crosses. What had started off as a well-matched slug-fest had quickly turned into a one-sided shellacking. You had the feeling that Chavez would be stopped in the middle to late rounds.
Around the fifth or sixth round I kept wondering to myself,' Funny, this guy hurts Morales in round one with a big right hand and he hasn't thrown one since.' And there was a good reason for that, it turned out that Chavez had badly injured his shoulder in the opening round and may have compounded that ailment in falling to the canvas in the very next round. For the last 11 rounds of this fight, his right hand would be as rare boxing on network television.
In the land of one-arm bandits, Chavez, himself had become one.
As the rounds were put into the bank, a familiar pattern was developing: Morales would land the consistently harder and cleaner shots, while Chavez would keep trying to get on either side of Morales and crank up left hooks- and left hooks only. And at times he would be effective with them, the only problem was that he didn't exactly have the left hook of Joe Frazier, but his son Marvis.
And it became increasingly clear to everyone in attendance- except Morales and his corner, who weren't nearly as perceptive- that Chavez simply couldn't use his right hand. Yet there he was plugging away and it wasn't just about keeping his title or protecting his payday- he could have easily retired early in the fight without much protest- but it was more than that that kept him fighting. He's a true fighter, and that's what they do- they fight till the bitter end.
In this game, you can't go to the bullpen, you can't call a timeout, there's no two-minute warning or halftime. All Chavez could do was keep winging hooks and duck, over and over again. By the late rounds it was clear that Morales would win his third world title, but by this time it was evident that this fight was just as much about Chavez's courage as it was about Morales' lofty achievement.
Morales won the fight, Chavez won our everlasting respect.
The plucky underdog would even have the temerity to win a few rounds down the stretch as Morales would tire from his relentlessness. It was just about a year-and-half-ago that Chavez took some ridicule for having his fight stopped by his then-trainer Ronnie Shields against Floyd Mayweather. You'd have to think he made amends on this night. Without being 'Shield-ed', Chavez erased any doubts that may have lingered about his ticker.
But that really shouldn't surprise any of us, after all, they're fighters, we shouldn't expect anything different from them.
On the same weekend that Chavez fought gallantly against one of the games most lethal boxers, a golfer by the name of Davis Love III, had the temerity to throw out a fan because he was heckling him. Last I checked, nobody hits you while you're putting or driving. And I'm assuming that Love still had use of both his arms and shoulders. After that incident, Love would fall apart like Howard Dean's campaign.
But then, that's the difference between boxers and guys who play golf for a living. It's the fundamental thing that will separate the Jesus Chavez's of the world from the Davis Love's.
So remember the next time some golf analyst talks about what a 'courageous putt' a guy hit, think about this, nobodies trying to clock him while he's doing it.
That's real courage.