By Jose Corpas
My nose was sunburnt last week.
Not counting vacations, it was the first time that happened during the winter. While I was out relishing the near 80-degree March weather, others warned it was not a good thing. The 30 degree higher than normal temps were because of greenhouse effects they said. Climate change.
It was a reminder that not all change is good and it got me to thinking that boxing is in the midst of a climate change of its own.
Around the same time attached thumbs became mandatory and trainers went into a mini-scramble to relearn how to clinch, a pair of other changes were implemented – the ramifications of which are only recently being noticed.
On December 9, 1982, the WBC announced it was reducing the number of rounds in title fights from 15 to 12 effective January 1, 1983. Safety was the reason though critics felt they caved in to public pressure following the death of Duk Koo Kim the previous month. Along with the reduction in rounds, the WBC allowed the use of the standing 8-count in title matches and stated they were awaiting the results of a medical report before increasing the minute rest between rounds to 90 seconds.
The rest remained 60 seconds. That further fueled speculation that the reduction in rounds had motives other than safety. Some believe the fights were shortened to better fit into American television schedules. Dr. Ferdie Pacheco pointed out that deaths in amateur boxing outnumbered professional fatalities. Manager and historian Jimmy Jacobs told the Washington Post, “Of the last 26 ring deaths, only four occurred in the 13th, 14th, or 15th rounds.”
Cus D’Amato asked, “Must we change the rules because we have a bunch of incompetent trainers who don’t train their fighters right?”
Cus tiptoed across the threshold of a problem few discussed. While he focused on trainers, a consequence of the proliferation of titles and divisions was the need for more challengers. And some of those “challengers,” because of attrition, were underqualified to be in “championship” fights to begin with. Aside from an occasional oddity, such as when Pete Rademacher challenged Floyd Patterson for his title in his professional debut, title challengers were experienced veterans at the top of their games. A generation ago, the upcoming Charles Martin-Anthony Joshua fight would be a crossroads matchup of prospects clamoring for a ranking rather a 12-round fight for the “world title.”
While the notion of 12-round fights being safer than 15-round fights is debatable, the change in strategies because of the shorter limit is making its presence felt. Over the years pacing changed and body blows are now increasingly deemed less necessary. A fighter behind in points has to “go for the knockout” much sooner and without the benefits that a sustained body attack would have provided. Fighters like Eusebio Pedroza, who concentrated on the body until the 12th or 13th round, would likely be forced to shift their attacks to the head as early as the ninth round.
And because of the shorter distance, more fighters were willing to cut maximum amounts of weight than they would have if faced with three additional rounds because fighting in a potentially weakened state is more attractive to do over 12 rounds rather than 15. Which brought about another major change right around the same time.
In order to prevent extremes in dehydration, weigh-ins were changed to the day before rather than the day of. An extra day to rehydrate was safer, proponents stated. It is crucial, they say, since a dehydrated brain is much more susceptible to not just the sheer force of a blow, but also the repeated cranial accelerations caused by snapping punches.
Critics, however, point out that day before weigh-ins encourage weight cutting and as a result, cancels out any safety gains. Some have even gone on to say that, like 12 round limits, bringing out the scales the day before has as much to do with promotional purposes as it does safety. Promoters now have an extra day to advertise a match, especially when it involves the headline making, pushing and shoving that occur at some weigh-ins. In the past, there was no time to report such incidents in the papers and, if they were lucky, it received a mention on the evening news. Today, it would be trending on every social media platform for 24 hours.
Experts are split on the topic of when a weigh-in should occur. One thing for certain, day before weigh-ins have increasingly made a mockery of weight limits. No longer does a light heavyweight need to weigh 175 pounds on the morning of a fight. In fact, the IBF calls for a second weigh-in the day of and officially allows a fighter to be as much as ten pounds over the contracted weight the day of the fight. That effectively makes the light heavyweight limit 185 pounds for IBF title fights.
That partially explains why a former middleweight champion like Vito Antuofermo looks the same size as a modern welterweight like Paulie Malignaggi. It also helps to explain why Marvin Hagler is dwarfed by someone like Joe Calzaghe, who is presumably only eight pounds heavier.
Because of this allowance, Sergey Kovalev can step into the ring to defend his 175-pound title while weighing as much as 185 pounds. In fact, according to unofficial weigh-ins, he tipped the scales as high as 188 the day of his match against Bernard Hopkins. Consider that Rocky Marciano weighed 184 on the morning he won the heavyweight title. The heaviest Marciano weighed in for a title fight was 189. Instead of debating how Marciano would have fared against Wladimir Klitschko, perhaps we should debate how he would’ve fared against Sergey Kovalev.
The Rock vs Krusher. 5’10 184-189 vs 5’11 185-188.
HBO’s unofficial, day of, weights have seen Victor Ortiz weigh 164 instead of 147 for the Mayweather fight and Arturo Gatti tip in at 160 for his 141-pound match against Joey Gamache. Note that Rocky Graziano weighed 154 the day he beat Tony Zale. How about matching Graziano against Gatti on the undercard of the Kovalev – Marciano fantasy fight?
Rocky 5'7 154 vs Arturo 5'7 161. A junior welter vs a middle yet, because of the day before weigh- in, the junior welter is bigger.
Yes, there was a time when a middleweight weighed under 160. That was back when one reached for the down filled parka instead of the Hawaiian Tropic during winter in New York.