Boxing skills are like wealthy people. Everyone has the ability to make one million dollars but relatively few people know what it takes to be wealthy. The beauty of boxing at its essence is its simplicity. You have to throw a punch to hit the other guy. Even the smartest dummies could figure that out. The ability it takes to dominate a fight without receiving a scratch on your face, well, that takes another level of understanding.
A fighter told me once, “People could watch the sport all they want but until they get in the ring, they will never truly understand the game. This game is about skills.”
The definition of skills in boxing gets misinterpreted at times. Think back to 2005 when Floyd Mayweather Jr. fought Arturo Gatti.
Thomas Hauser wrote, “In boxing, the better fighter beats the more exciting fighter almost every time.” He was illustrating his point in a post fight description of Floyd Mayweather’s sixth round knockout over Arturo Gatti. The story focused on the comments made by both combatants during the buildup of the fight. Before the bout Mayweather said, “I'm not going to let some guy beat my brains out. The name of the game is to hit and not get hit. The less you get hit, the longer you last in this sport. I'm not in this sport to see how hard I can get hit or to see how many big punches I can take. That's what he does.”
Arturo responded with, “Floyd talks a big game, but he's never fought anyone who hits as hard as me. When I punch my opponents, I hurt them. People fall down when I hit them, and he's going to walk into it. The only thing he has over me is speed. We'll see what happens when speed and power go against each other.”
Well, power does not work in boxing if your target has enough ability to get out of the way. When looking at differing viewpoints closely, Mayweather was saying that he was going to win by out-boxing Arturo Gatti. And the result of the contest was one of the most lopsided PPV bouts in recent memory. But it was also one of the most overlooked fights of Mayweather’s career because it looked too easy.
Describing a victory in boxing is complicated. Mayweather is 41-0 and has been justifiably wobbled by only two punches (thrown by Shane Mosley) since he fought DeMarcus Corley back in 2004. But he is considered soft to some viewers because he refuses to engage in a test of chins.
Today, Andre Ward is falling into the same Mayweather mold of misinterpretation. I addressed the issues of criticism with the super middleweight champion over the phone last week.
Much like Mayweather or Hopkins, Ward’s fights are not always filled with the most action. He might not always win with mind numbing speed or blazing knockout punches. He wins because he has more boxing skills than his opponents. And the ones with the most boxing skills have the ability to make a fight look dull in victory when they refuse to stoop to the level of their competition by engaging in a back and forth tussle, by taking risks and allowing themselves to be hit just to prove that they have a solid chin.
Nobody earns success without criticism. Nowadays, the Oakland based champion seems to end up describing his level of competition, and his style as a pugilist, and his in-ring strategies, more so than luxuriate in his dominant victories, a dilemma that Mayweather has endured throughout his career.
Maybe the way an average fight fan views a fight compared to a world class boxer is completely different. It could be that most of us don’t see what the fighters see because we have not stepped foot in the ring.
Ward has his own assessment. “I think it is a combination of things. It depends on how long the person has been a boxing fan. If you were a boxing fan that follows the fighters from the 60’s, 70’s, or 80’s, I think that those guys tend to appreciate the sweet science a lot more. They are able to see what you need to see in the game of boxing as a whole. But if you just became a fan a few years ago, with the rise of the MMA, you might be looking for some sort of tough man competition. I respect MMA a great deal. I watch it and appreciate the sport, but boxing is much different.”
“You cannot argue with the result,” Andre Ward told me after he defeated Arthur Abraham on May 14th by lopsided unanimous decision. It was the Ward’s third straight dominating victory. Besides the fact that Ward has practically shutout his last three opponents, winning almost every round on all of the judges’ scorecards, many observers have criticized him for having unexciting fights. But analyze his level of competition. Look at who he has fought and who they have beaten before making a judgment. To make a boring fight against world class boxers is a difficult task.
Now, Andre Ward has a long ways to go in order to fight at the level of expertise of Floyd Mayweather, or Bernard Hopkins. But he is a schooled fighter. And when describing his technique in the ring, the champion echoes the thoughts of his current boxing heroes.
Ward said, “I don’t care who you are, if you take a lot of punishment in this sport, you are not going to last long. And I have heard those same words come out of Floyd Mayweather’s mouth. I have heard the same words come out of Bernard Hopkins’ mouth. Two guys who seem ageless, who are masters, not just fighters or boxers, they are masters of this sport that we call boxing. Those two guys have been criticized for having boring fights or not putting up action. But it looks like that sometimes when you shut a guy out. When it is not a back forth type of deal, sometimes it looks easy. But (in my fights) it might look easy sometimes or effortless, and the conclusion that people draw is that you are not giving it your all.”
Making it look easy might not be cool for some of the viewers but it is very fun for fighters who are trained to duck punches. Ward said, “You can’t force a guy to fight. I am going in there to please the fans and put on a spectacular performance every time out. But if the other guy is only in there to survive then there will be less action. It does not necessarily mean that it is a bad fight.”
Then Ward described the fighting styles of his recent last five opponents and why their styles dictated the results of the outcome. He said Edison Miranda and Mikkel Kessler came to fight and win, which led to more exchanges in the fights. However, he believes that Allan Green, Sakio Bika, and Arthur Abraham all stopped trying to win and were only in there to survive.
And he has a good point that seems to get overlooked sometimes. Surviving a fight is the natural instinct of every boxer. All of them are trained to endure punishment in the ring. It is a part of the game.
Sugar Shane Mosley was heavily criticized by practically everyone that follows boxing for his poor effort against Manny Pacquiao a few weeks ago. Say what you like about his performance, he knew how to survive. After the fight Mosley said, “I did not want to take any risks.” Crafty veterans who were once great fighters know how to do what it takes to go the distance. Boxers are taught first to protect themselves. Against Pacquiao, Mosley did the same thing that De la Hoya did, he did the same thing that Roy Jones did against Joe Calzaghe, he did enough to survive.
There is a difference between outclassing and outpunching your opponents. Fighters like Floyd Mayweather, Bernard Hopkins, and Andre Ward understand that. Why can’t we?