Keeping Boxing in Perspective

So far, 2017 has been a spectacular year for boxing with the best fighting the best in great fights and with still more to come. Exciting fights seem to occur every week. In short, it’s been an aficionado’s dream year. However, a series of happenings once again has dampened things and has put our country and close neighbors on edge. Unlike the deadly events that occurred in 2016 including the deaths of five police officers in Dallas that forced an introspective look at just where our country was at the time, these are more macro in nature and potentially far worse.

Charlottesville

In August, white nationalists and counter protesters clashed in a “Unite the Right” rally.  Both sides blamed each other (and the police) for the deadly violence that ensued in this heretofore sleepy Virginia college town. President Trump condemned the violence, but in refusing to place the blame entirely on white supremacists – “I think there is blame on both sides,” he said – he drew criticism from many quarters and once again stirred up racial debates that are still going on.

A few months later, President Trump disinvited Stephen Curry and the NBA champion Golden State Warriors to the White House. He also called on NFL team owners to fire players for taking a knee during the national anthem. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell responded by chiding the president for his “divisive comments” and for failing to understand “the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.” Goodell said there was no better example than the response of the players and clubs to the natural disasters that were occurring.

The reason for mentioning this is not to make a value judgement one way or the other, but to point out that these more recent criticisms seem vastly disproportionate in importance given what has happened in Houston, Florida, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and much of the Caribbean, and given the threatening exchanges between President Trump and North Korea.

Hopefully, boxing will be spared from this kind malaise and hornet’s nest, but if a boxer takes a knee during the playing of the National Anthem, I no longer will be surprised.

Mexico

As the arguments rage on over the judging in the Canelo-Golovkin fight, most Mexican boxing fans have now become more concerned about the magnitude 7.1 earthquake that hit central Mexico on Tuesday, Sept. 19. It occurred 12 days after a monster 8.1 earthquake offshore of Chiapas, in southern Mexico. As the death toll exceeds 300, valiant rescue efforts continue and individual acts of heroism occur but few, if any, seek credit as heroes. These noble people are of one mind—to help one another and to save lives.

While Mexican boxing fans are disappointed with the results of the blockbuster fight and some have even criticized Canelo for what they feel was less than an all-out effort, those criticisms now seem minuscule in light of an earthquake that puts things in harsh perspective.

Puerto Rico

Meanwhile in Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria made brutal landfall around 6:15 a.m. on September 20 as a powerful Category 4 storm causing mind-boggling damage to the Island of Dominica along its way. This, of course, came after hurricanes Harvey and Irma did their damage to Houston, Florida and much of the Caribbean, including almost total devastation to St. Martin and most of the Virgin Islands.

As for Puerto Rico, it’s an island already crippled by enormous debt and what is close to a bankrupt financial system. That road to recovery now becomes more arduous and lengthy. Ricardo Rosselló, the governor of Puerto Rico, said “There’s still some rain and, of course, the soils are saturated, so it’s still not safe to go outside…We’re still on emergency protocol and our main objective right now is making sure people are safe. ….The people of Puerto Rico are really being tremendous under these circumstances.”

At this point, few Islanders are thinking about who Miguel Cotto will be fighting next.

Rocket Man

“And I think it’s gonna be a long long time
‘Till touch down brings me round again to find
I’m not the man they think I am at home
Oh no no no I’m a rocket man”

As if natural disasters were not enough, frightening threats between President Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un continue to escalate to the point where it’s no longer the colorful insults and bluster of which we have become inured. As the tension moved to a more perilous level, North Korean foreign minister Ri Yong-ho, speaking to reporters outside his hotel in New York, said that North Korea might conduct the “biggest ever hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific.”

President Trump responded on Twitter by declaring that Kim Jong-un was “obviously a madman.” Trump himself was called a mentally deranged “dotard” causing many to rush to the dictionary for a definition. (According to Merriam-Webster, it means, “a person in his or her dotage,” which is “a state or period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise and alertness.”)

This is not yet the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 but the cycle of escalation has the potential to become something similar—or worse.

Like the ritual of boxers’ feigned mutual antagonism before a fight, hopefully this will become equally meaningless. The fighters glower at each other at the weigh-in, trading obscenities and even hint at physical confrontation, but in the end it’s nothing more than orchestrated hyperbole — hopefully.

It should be noted that the Rocket Man in the Elton John song is on his way to Mars, not nuclear oblivion.

Boxing 

“I wish people would love everybody else the way they love me. It would be a better world.” — Muhammad Ali

“Boxing is my guilty pleasure. I love it and I hate it. I appreciate it, but I’m also the first one to shout ‘Stop the fight!’ when it becomes an unequal beating rather than a competitive sport.”–Jack Newfield

Within the above context, boxing has had some important things recently happen such as the passing of 95-year-old Jake LaMotta, the surprise retirement of undefeated and underappreciated Andre Ward, and the unnoticed deaths of former world ranked middleweight contender Joe DeNucci and heavyweight title challenger David Bey.

Vasyl Lomenchenko vs. Guillermo Rigondeaux on Dec. 9 looms as the next big one, although Deontay Wilder’s fight with Luis Ortiz on Nov. 4 may produce more fireworks. Mexican-American Mikey Garcia claims he would move up to 154 to face Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto. Front running Anthony Joshua will fight Kubrat Pulev on October 28 and that should be an interesting, if short, battle. Sergey Kovalev is coming back sans coach John David Jackson and Shawn Porter has his eyes set on Danny Garcia.  Finally, Freddie Roach wants Manny Pacquiao to avenge his loss to Jeff Horn and then call it a career. The year 2017 has been a vibrant year for boxing and it is set to end with a bang.

The excellent Canelo-GGG fight (notwithstanding one atrocious scorecard) still has fans buzzing, as does the question of who will be Number One on the next Pound-For-Pound list now that SOG has retired, but hurricanes, earthquakes, racial clashes, affordable health care, and nuclear threats have a way of keeping these things properly grounded.

Conversely, boxing (even though it is sometimes more theater than sport) can serve as a safe haven, a sanctuary from which to escape into more familiar and comfortable surroundings. As the renowned sports journalist Ralph Wiley wrote in Serenity, “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.”

When immersed in boxing, my own feelings of uncertainty and fear are probably not as great as they should be and that might have something to do with my advanced age. Yet it’s difficult to misperceive a dangerous series of events, some predicated on nature, others predicated on the folly of man. Some cannot be prevented; others can.

When all the dust is cleared and the haze finally dissipates, I can turn to boxing because it’s also my love and hate outlet. As David Foot wrote in a November 28, 2008 article in the Guardian, “It is no bad thing to examine our conscience from time to time. The most indecipherable dichotomy in my case during a lifetime of sporting observation is why I remain incorrigibly seduced by the greasepaint world of professional boxing while trying my hardest to hide my guilt.”

Ted Sares, a member of Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame, is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and holds several records in the Grand Master class. He has won the EPF Nationals championship four years in a row.

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