This is the boxing spectrum. Two world champions climb into the ring and go to war for 45 minutes and earn more money than most can imagine. Two four-round fighters climb into the same ring and trade vicious punches for less money than Donald Trump spends on shoes.
In between those two destinations is the fighter’s journey. And along that journey young fighters meet old fighters. Sometimes the timing of that meeting is perfect and you see a fantastic and competitive fight. Of course, sometimes experience wins the day and sometimes youth steals the show. Along the way you also learn about the pain that comes with boxing. The pain isn’t always in an acute physical form. There is mental anguish and that can hurt so much more because the fighter gives so much to boxing but often takes so little out of it.
Most of this was on display recently at Madison Square Garden’s Theater, that flashy little venue for those contests not deemed big enough for the main arena. In the main event, former world champion Ike Quartey lost a very close decision to another former world champion, Vernon Forrest. Clearly, the disappointment, the agony of that decision hurt far more than any of the blows Forrest landed.
Then, earlier in the night, we saw Jaidon Codrington, the brilliant 21-year-old super middleweight prospect who is still coming back from that other kind of pain. Last November he was knocked cold in one round by Allen Green in a nationally televised bout. This would be his third fight since that loss and by far the toughest.
For most, fighting in the Theater is a step up. And two weeks ago, Codrington was ready to take another step up. There to provide that step would be former WBA junior middleweight champion Carl Daniels.
“This is the kind of guy he should be fighting,” said Codrington’s trainer, Nirmal Lorrick.
It was a typical scenario, one that demonstrates the harsh, live-for-the-present mentality that has fueled boxing for decades. Codrington was the young lion on the way up and Daniels was the sacrificial veteran on the way down. The only thing left to be taken by the 35-year-old Daniels was the punches.
Codrington is known in boxing circles as “The Don,” and they literally summoned him to the ring with the subtle strains of a trumpeter, who stood inside the ring while blowing the theme from “The Godfather.”
They summoned Carl Daniels to the ring – to New York, to climb back into harm’s way – with a payday. Their purses were in the range of $3,000 to $4,000 for this six-round fight. That’s a good night’s pay for a preliminary fighter but a pittance of what Daniels fought for during his heyday. This was a man who made six figures in some very high-profile bouts. The cash he put in his pocket on this night afforded him the luxury – so to speak – of a few more months before accepting that job on a construction site.
The Don arrived from Queens with his entourage, his fans, his gaggle of cornermen and all the hype and expectations that travel with a future world champion. Daniels arrived from St. Louis with his suitcase. At the weigh-in, he ran into Ross Thompson, a boxing acquaintance, and asked him to work his corner. He also sought out George Mitchell, New York’s cutman-for-hire, to assist in the corner. Daniels walked into the ring without a robe, instead wearing a black t-shirt. Mitchell was still wearing a cornerman’s jacket with the name Pat Mwamba scripted across the back. Mitchell had worked his corner earlier in the evening.
Across the ring, Codrington was loosening up in a matching robe and trunks and all his cornermen had matching jackets. That’s the same way Daniels once entered the ring for a fight.
Codrington has the kind of amateur pedigree that makes promoters and managers salivate. He won a New York Golden Gloves title and a National Golden Gloves title while building a 73-9 record. He is fast and he can punch, a rare combination in our sport. Do you want to know what boxing people thought while assessing Codrington’s natural ability before he turned pro? Here’s a hint: Try to imagine what must have run through the mind of that baseball scout for the Yankees after the first time he saw Mickey Mantle on a ball field.
Now you understand Codrington’s potential.
Once the bell rings, Codrington sets the tone. He is faster and stronger and better. He is boxing beautifully. A residual effect from his knockout loss to Green cannot be found.
This would be one of those times when youth steals the show.
“I was happy,” said matchmaker Joe Quiambao, the man promoter Lou DiBella has trusted to advance Codrington’s career. “Carl Daniels was in shape. He had a month to prepare for this fight, he didn’t take this at the last minute. He called me once a week to tell me how he was training.”
This made Quiambao, himself a former Golden Gloves champ, happy because he knew that Codrington would be tested. How much he would be tested is that important subtlety in the art of matchmaking. On this night, Quiambao perfected that art.
Daniels came to fight, he upheld that ethic that all fighters carry into the ring. Never quit. And Daniels was certainly not going to quit, no matter how much speed or power was displayed by Codrington.
But this is the catch, he wasn’t going to win either. Unless there was some kind of fluke knockout, Codrington was going to be tested just enough without jeopardizing his future.
Here’s why: Daniels was throwing punches through a filter and that filter was age. His punches were slow and muffled. Think of a man throwing punches under water and you’ll get a sense of the difference between the punches Daniels threw at The Theater as opposed to those he threw in his prime.
Yet there came a moment, in the third round, when Daniels wasn’t restricted by age or ring rust and his punches were moving the way they did 10 years ago. At this moment, Quiambao and DiBella and about 1,000 fans who paid their way to see “The Don” experienced something a little queasy in the stomach. And it wasn’t the dirty-water dogs they were selling outside of the Garden.
All of a sudden, Daniels drove home a left hand and Codrington felt what it was like to be in the ring with a world champion. He retreated. Could this happen to Codrington again? Youth was on the run. A better fighter may have been able to finish the deal right there. Or, more precisely, a younger Carl Daniels.
But this was Codrington’s night. He recovered quite nicely and regained control of the round and the fight. Daniels never threatened that golden future again. “He never really hurt me,” said Codrington. “The punch landed straight on my eye and it affected my vision. The fact that you noticed it, and that Daniels noticed it means I didn’t do my job. You are never supposed to let the other guy know you are hurt.”
Added Quiambao: “He got stung with a left hand and Carl looked like he was coming on. Then Jaidon took the fight back. Jaidon did what he was supposed to do, which is beat guys like this without much trouble.”
The phrase “Guys like this” means Daniels has become a steppingstone. He’s lost six straight now and seven out of nine since challenging Bernard Hopkins for the middleweight title in 2002. Each of the last six losses were against prospects or contenders with an average age of 25 and a combined record of 91-5.
It was a unanimous decision for Codrington. The scores by all three judges were 60-54, which means “The Don” won every round on every card to improve his record to 12-1. Daniels record is now 49-10-1.
“They said [Codrington] was struggling to comeback from a setback,” said Daniels. “I didn’t see it. I think he has his stuff together. He has potential. I think he’s very good.
I think he can box. They said he was good boxer and he was.”
This is another cruel irony of boxing, one that leaves many ambivalent. You want to like both of these guys. After the fight, they had nice things to say about each other. They are what athletes should be – respectful, intelligent, earnest. You’d prefer that the conversation take place over dinner somewhere where you could talk about things far less dangerous than boxing.
Daniels was asked what he would be doing if he wasn’t boxing. He spoke about carpentry and a construction job that he once held, “I was pretty good at it,” he said.
You want to care about Daniels and Codrington and when a man steps into the ring you know that at some point he is going to get hurt. That’s what hurts most when you cover this sport. But at same time, you know, that’s what boxing is all about. It’s been said so many times by so many fighters, “This is a hurt business.”
Here’s why this fight hurts more than most. If Daniels’ punches were filtered, so too was his vision. Not that the New York State Athletic Commission would have noticed when it issued him the standard pre-fight eye examination. Daniels passed that one. But what he can’t see is that his sport has passed him by.
“I just want to find out and see what I can still do,” said Daniels. “I’ve been a world champion. I want to see what else is left for me. But I won’t be taking any more fights at super middleweight. I’m more comfortable at middleweight. That’s where I belong.”
Is it? Is the ring where Daniels really belongs? Does he fight on for the glory and at the same time risk his mental faculties, risk the ability to even consider a job on a construction site? When these two men stepped into the ring, they were each risking their future. Codrington’s risk was immediate. But the longer Daniels takes these punches, the riskier his own future becomes.
The sport that Daniels loves, the sport that made him exactly who he is, has left him. It is a sport for the young. But how do you tell a man to stop doing what it is that has defined him to the world? How do you tell him to stop being the man he is?
“I told Daniels after the fight that I respected him and that I appreciated the chance to fight him,” said Codrington. “Without guys like him, there wouldn’t be guys like me.”
That is precisely the point. That is a question that boxing has been struggling with for decades. The young overcome the old in this game just as often as the strong overcome the weak. Perhaps if George Foreman didn’t shock the world and win the heavyweight title at the age of 45 to culminate an improbable comeback, we would have less men fighting past their primes. But what if someone told Foreman, “No, you are too old.” Then boxing – sports in general – would have been denied one of the greatest stories of the last 50 years.
We don’t know what will become of Codrington, if he will fulfill all that potential. We already know what Daniels became – a champion of the world. What he becomes from here is unclear. What he becomes from here is a scarier proposition than anything Codrington did to him over six rounds in The Theater.