BOXING COGITATIONS: It seems that periodically—maybe every five years or so– I reach a point where my guilty pleasure intersects with my revulsion of this thing called boxing. Like a moral pendulum, I go back and forth and, ever so slightly, I begin to look at boxing with just a tad more cynicism, but just a tad.
Usually something specific happens that triggers the pendulum to tilt. In the recent past, the precipitator was a split decision that allowed Timothy Bradley to steal in plain sight a victory from Manny Pacquiao in 2012. In this connection, I have been repelled by state boxing commissions composed of political hacks that provide a platform for the subjectivity of unqualified judges. “Can you believe that? Unbelievable,” Bob Arum said. “I went over to Bradley before the decision and he said, `I tried hard but I couldn’t beat the guy.’ “
I also have been taken aback by a sport that enables too many fatalities and horrific injuries to occur; that provides the structure for someone to spar with an already grievously damaged Nick Blackwell. And there will be more Mike Towell’s and the familiar scenario of brain bleeds that create blood clots that often lead to death. It seems the more things change in boxing, the more they are alike—and that’s just plain wrong.
This time the trigger was watching a fifty-two-year-old, one-time legend fight a young and hungry monster after a 25-month layoff. Witnessing Bernard Hopkins get knocked clear out of the ring and fall on the back of his head was stunning, but listening to a starry eyed announcer interview him despite his being badly dazed was sickening.
“I might have got hit with a right hook…“Next thing I know he [Joe Smith Jr.] shoved me out of the ring. I hit my head first and my ankle got hurt when I hit the ground…. .”- —Bernard Hopkins (to Max Kellerman)
Notwithstanding this, I clearly am nowhere near ready to embrace the damning indictment from Pete Hamill’s classic 1996 article “Blood on Their Hands: The Corrupt and Brutal World of Professional Boxing,” in which he states, “Old loves are a long time dying. They can survive deceptions and separations, petty cruelties and fleeting passions. But, eventually, they give way to the grinding erosions of time. And suddenly, one cold morning, they are dead. For too long a time, I loved the brutal sport of prize fighting. But I’ve arrived at last at that cold morning. You cannot love anything that lives in a sewer. And the world of boxing is more fetid and repugnant now than any other time in its squalid history.”
Nor am I prepared to agree with the words of the late Jack Newfield from his compelling 2001 article, “The Shame of Boxing”: “My conscience won’t let me remain a passive spectator to scandal any longer. I think too much about Bee Scottland being strapped onto a stretcher. I dream about Ali’s tremor. I am haunted by the Alzheimer’s stare in Ray Robinson’s eyes…”
I’d rather embrace the following words of the late sports journalist Ralph Wiley from his book “Serenity, A Boxing Memoir”: “Boxing was on the one hand barbaric, unconscionable, out of place in modern society. But then, so are war, racism, poverty, and pro football. Men died boxing, yet there was nobility in defending oneself.”
Maybe I’m in denial, but my love for boxing remains strong if somewhat strained (especially by the seeming epidemic of PEDs issues). The thrills garnered by the sport simply outweigh the negatives. Watching a Freddie Roach-trained Manny Pacquiao take apart Timothy Bradley “three” times, or a Vasily Lomachenko twirl like a figure skater and do things in the ring that make me stand up and say “did you see that?” or a Chisora and Whyte wail away at each other in a UK blood and guts affair, or a Gennady Golovkin knock out Mathew Macklin with a body shot that could be heard throughout Foxwoods are surely akin to watching George Foreman fight an aroused Ron Lyle in a 1976 classic, or Juan “Kid” Meza knock out Jaime Garza in a furious exchange, or watching a gassed Earnie Shavers come back from certain defeat to take out a scary Roy “Tiger” Williams with seconds remaining. These thrills cannot be dismissed.
In the Chicago of the late 40’s and the 50’s, boxing was a part of my heritage. It was glamour and noir. Marigold Gardens, Rainbow Arena, and the Coliseum (they are all gone now) became places where I bonded with my father; they became our stomping grounds. Guys like Tony Zale, Anton Raadik, Chuck Davey, Bob Satterfield, Beau Jack, and Johnny Bratton thrilled us. With the advent of television, I was enthralled by Kid Gavilan, Bobby Chacon, Danny Lopez, Wilfred Benitez, and the great Salvador Sanchez. Later, I saw Hagler, Duran, Hearns and Leonard and their UK counterparts, Watson, Eubanks and Benn. There have been others too numerous to mention.
I witnessed the shootouts between Hearns-Hagler, Martin-Gogarty, Brooks-Curry, Ruelas-Gatti, Letterlough-Gonzales, Moorer-Cooper, Kirkland-Angulo, Vazquez-Marquez and the big boppers, Cobb-Shavers-Norton at the end of their careers. I also witnessed Corrales-Castillo, Rios-Alvarado, Crawford-Gamboa, Thurman-Porter, Salido-Vargas, Holm-Mathis, Luna-Luna, and Salido-Kokietgym.
These days, bearing witness to the skills of Errol Spence Jr. and Terrence Crawford and their propensity to fight “mean” is equaled by watching a disciplined Irishman named Frampton stick to a game plan and win a world championship. Waiting for Anthony Joshua to become the next Lennox Lewis is equaled by wondering how Tyson Fury will look in his comeback. Moreover, the prospect of watching a humble construction worker—heretofore considered fodder– step up on boxing’s world stage and offer a Long Island brand of shock and awe is just too good to miss. And will Cinnamon finally square off with GGG? “I fear no one,” Canelo said. “I was born for this, and even though many people may not like it, I am the best fighter right now. I’m ready.” How can I possibly relinquish what’s to come?
While the paradigm continues to change and the unheard of might become the “new norm” along with a changing business model of more bangs for the buck with fewer fights, the essence of the thing won’t change anytime soon.
In the ring boxing is genuine, but outside it can be harsh, for it has never been all that stringent in its application of scruples or morality. Still, it will continue to be my safe place–a place where I don’t have to worry about what I say. Boxing is hardcore and not for the politically correct—and that’s especially important going into 2017 and beyond.
My love for boxing, while sorely strained at times, will endure. Hell, finding Jake’s wife Vickie, with her sexy New York accent, is still on my bucket list.
Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and holds several records. He enjoys writing about boxing and is a member of Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame.
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