It's entirely respectable for a fighter to lose a fight while giving his best effort. There's something noble out a boxer who continues to give his best in the face of insurmountable odds.
It's entirely another to give a performance so putrid, that it borders on farcical and defrauding the public.
Derrick 'Smoke' Gainer crossed that line in handing over his WBA featherweight belt to Juan Manuel Marquez this past Saturday night in Grand Rapids, Michigan on HBO. His 'performance' was bad enough, but in abdicating his title, he underscored a deeper problem that has been plaguing boxing for years- but more on that later.
Whatever beating he took from the steady Marquez, it paled in comparison to the shellacking he took from Larry Merchant, the respected boxing analyst for HBO. From the opening bell, Merchant and his colleagues Jim Lampley and former heavyweight champion George Foreman, all shared their disdain for this 'Smoke-out'.
In the opening round both men would go through the predictable 'feeling out' stage but it was Gainer who looked as though he was on the opening stage of the Tour De France, ready to bicycle alongside Lance Armstrong.
With just over a minute to go, Foreman would remark:” Marquez is trying to get into the fight,” as Marquez would make his way forward.
To which Merchant responded,” And Gainer looks like he's trying to stay out of it.”
Boo's could be heard at the end of the first round.
The second round would see the same pattern, except this time Marquez would actually get close enough to hit Gainer with a few shots on the belt-line of his high trunks. After his second complaint to referee Luis Pabon, the boos increased.
” The only thing offensive Gainer has done in this fight is complain about two borderline punches,” said Merchant, obviously annoyed at what he was witnessing.
In between rounds two and three, Gainers trainer Alton Merkerson would tell his fighter,” A lil' too defensive,” which may have been the biggest understatement since 'Gigli' was labeled a box-office bust.
Round three would see more of Gainers non-action, Marquez was trying to make a fight of it, but as they say, it takes two to tango. Something that was noted by Lampley during the round.
” You've heard that old saying about how styles make fights,” said Lampley.” Well, styles can break fights, too. And that's whats happening here.”
” So far, he just auditioning for the Jofre ballet” remarked Merchant. At this point the running commentary was more far entertaining than the actual 'fight' between Marquez and Gainer.
It was during this point in the inaction that I was reminded of the venerable old referee Arthur Mercante, who when he was involved in a bad fight with little going on, would warn both fighters and exhort them both to give the fans a good show.
Or risk disqualification and a revocation of their purses. Mercante on this night, was badly in need to counsel Gainer.
Through three rounds, CompuBox numbers had tabulated five punches landed for Gainer. Which could be a severe miscalculation, nobody could actually account for those five shots- they must have been given him credit. Talk about no-hitters, Nolan Ryan has nothing on this guy.
With about a minute to go in round four, Merchant would state,” This is one of the most disgusting performances I've ever seen by a so-called belt-holder in Derrick Gainer.”
What made this performance even more frustrating to watch is that Gainer is a fighter who constantly whines about being ducked and dodged by the bigger names in boxing. He places himself in the role of a victim despite having piggy backed his way onto many other HBO showcases on the influence of his friend Roy Jones. In the past he had his shots at the big time that were undeserved and now, with everything on the line for his future, he wouldn't even compete.
At the end of the fifth stanza, Merchant would say,” If I were Marco Antonio Barrera watching this I'd be saying,' If 'Smoke' Gainer happens to win this fight, I would never fight him.” A thought that was quickly agreed to by Lampley.
And then the impossible happened- Gainer did even less.
As the bell sounded at the end of round six, a thoroughly disgusted Merchant would declare,” I gave a two point round to Marquez that time because even by his own standards Gainer did nothing that round.”
Honestly, a cadaver may have fought better against the well-schooled Mexican. It had about as much life.
Mercifully, the action would suddenly come to a halt- yes, there must be a God- as Gainer and Marquez would clash heads, causing a cut over the left eye of Gainer, who looked like he wanted out at all costs, despite the fact he had to be knowing he was well behind on all the scorecards. But alas, he finally did something that pleased the audience by basically folding his tent and going home.
” Gainer doesn't really want to go on,” Merchant remarked. And then as he saw the replay of the butt, he would say with glee,” All I can say is, that's one of the best unintentional butts I've ever seen. If it ends this nightmare, this abortion, hallelujah!!!”
” This was dreadful,” said Lampley, relieved that they could go onto the main event featuring Floyd Mayweather.
So you think these guys were harsh? Try watching this fiasco and you'd feel exactly the same way. It was a pathetic performance that brought shame to the event, to the sport of boxing and most of all, to Gainer himself. He deserves every bit of ridicule he receives for this fight.
Yes, boxers should be given the utmost respect for what they do. Boxing is a dangerous sport where you put your life on the line each and every time you step inside the squared circle. But at the same time, when you're on the platform that Gainer was on and earning the paycheck that he was, there is a responsibility that he has to the game to perform with honor and dignity. Gainer did neither.
In wrapping up this fight, Merchant left us with one last thought:” What comes into my mind is here is yet another example of what all these various belts mean. If a fighter like 'Smoke' Gainer can call himself a 'world champion' what has this game come to?”
And he's absolutely correct. A guy like Gainer having a title, devalues the meaning of being a true champion and it forces other more deserving fighters into having to subject themselves to facing guys like him. Marquez, who is truly a gifted prizefighter and worthy of the 'champion' label only fought Gainer because he thought that by unifying their titles( Marquez came into the bout with the IBF belt) he would enhance his reputation, while fortifying his case for a fight with Marco Antonio Barrera, who despite having no belts is considered the 'true' featherweight champion.
It's great that Marquez would take such a risk to build his case for a fight against his countrymen, it's just too bad that he had to do it against an undeserving opponent who was only their because of a fake championship that was held by him.
In other sports like baseball, football and basketball, expansion has diluted those sports. In boxing, it seems as though the proliferation of titles, has done it to boxing.
Fighters make the titles, not the other way around. And in this case, neither Gainer nor the title, is worth much.