Weighty Issues: Boxing's Latest Epidemic
It used to be that a pre-fight weigh-in was merely a formality. Sure, it did have official implications by ensuring that the fighters were on weight, but that was once a given. It served mainly as one last means of publicizing a fight, a chance for fans and analysts to size up the combatants at a glance, and maybe even one final round of filibustering and psychological gamesmanship between rivals. All this was a prelude to the competitive suspense that would soon take place in the ring.
However, weigh-ins have lately taken on their own brand of suspense, as was demonstrated by the weigh-in for this past weekend's matchup between Erik Morales and Danny Garcia. The question now is whether a fighter will even bother to make the contracted weight. In Morales' case, the answer was a unequivocal “no,” as Morales weighed in a full two pounds over the agreed-upon weight of 140 pounds and declined any further attempts to make the contracted limit.In regards to his failure to make weight, Morales is quoted as saying “If I tried to make the weight by taking off those two pounds it would have really affected me in the fight.”
As disappointing as it was to see a respected warrior like Morales cavalierly handle such a grievous breach of boxing ethics, it is even more disturbing to see that it is a trend which is occurring with alarming frequency. Over the past few years, some of boxing's A-list stars have demonstrated a propensity for failing to make weight prior to major fights.The list of offenders is a long, but an abbreviated list includes Jose Luis Castillo, Joan Guzman, Floyd Mayweather, Nate Campbell, Brandon Rios, and the aforementioned Erik Morales.In almost every case involving these fighters, the penalty instituted was monetary and the fights were allowed to go on after being given the OK from the opponent. In reality, surrendering a portion of one's purse is of little consequence when considering the potentially huge competitive edge of not having to sweat off the last few pounds. It seems that this trade-off is an appealing one to many fighters, which is why it seems to be happening with increasing regularity.
The fact that the stars of the sport appear to be getting away with this with relatively little punishment has sent the message to younger fighters that making weight is of little importance, as was grossly illustrated recently by former U.S. Olympian Shawn Estrada, who weighed a completely absurd 22 pounds over the contracted 174-pound weight limit for his fight against Terrance Woods.
This recent epidemic of overweight fighters should have fans and officials up in arms. In modern sports, attempts to gain unfair competitive advantages have been met with outcries for reform. The most common example is performance enhancing drugs. Any athlete in any sport who becomes linked to PEDs becomes branded with a scarlet letter. Fans recognize that there is an honesty in athletic competition which cannot be compromised. Obtaining an unfair edge over one's opponent soils the beauty of the human drama inherent in sports. The increased attention in the past decade to preserving the purity of competition via stricter testing and regulation is a testament to the importance of keeping a level playing field for competitors in all walks of athletic competition.
In boxing, fighters who do not (or, worst case scenario, refuse to) make weight can gain a similar edge over their opponent as one who takes an illegal performance enhancing substance; the offending fighter is benefited by having physical advantages that their opponent can neither anticipate nor prepare for and, worse yet, can put the opponent's health and safety in jeopardy. There are certainly assumed risks that come with combat sports such as boxing, but these risks need not be exacerbated by fighters who demonstrate recklessly negligent behavior by weighing in above an agreed-upon limit.
A modern parable which illustrates this point is the 2005 rematch between Jose Luis Castillo and the late Diego Corrales. The first Corrales-Castillo matchup was one of the great all-time wars in the history of boxing, with both fighters giving and taking punishment in equal measure. The highly-anticipated rematch promised more competitive fireworks. Then, things got interesting. Castillo failed to make weight on three separate attempts, with his lowest weight being 138 ½ pounds, well over the 135-pound lightweight limit. At that point, ball was in Corrales' court. He could fight Castillo despite the fact that Castillo didn't make weight, or he could walk away, leaving untold numbers of disappointed fans and a career-high payday in his wake. After Castillo agreed to surrender 10% of his $1.2 million purse, Corrales chose to fight on, and ended up paying for it. The same two fighters who waged a hellacious battle the first time around failed to create the same level of drama in the rematch. The bigger and stronger Castillo dominated Corrales en route to a fourth round knockout victory. The only fighter who fulfilled his professional obligations prior to the fight was Corrales, and he was rewarded with a concussive loss. Something about that seems more than a little unjust. Apparently, though, Corrales learned from the experience as he walked away from a rubber match months later when Castillo again failed to make weight. Castillo, though, seemed to learn very little from those experiences, as he came in overweight for a scheduled fight against Jose Cotto on the Morales-Garcia undercard this past weekend.
Much is made of the unprofessional aspect of a fighter's failure to make a stipulated weight, and, yes, it is poor form when a fighter throws the entire promotion in jeopardy as a result of failing to live up to contractual obligations. Greater still are the ethical implications of the offense.
A fighter who fails to make weight is giving the ultimate middle finger to his opponent, the fans, and the sport. The offending boxer is, in essence, saying to his opponent “I don't give a damn that you had to pay the price to make weight. I don't respect you enough to do the same.” It forces the opponent to make a decision that no fighter should have to face: whether they should compromise their safety or a (usually very needed) paycheck. Weeks of physical and mental preparation hinge on a catch-22 scenario. It is simply wrong to put a fighter in that situation, and mutual respect between combatants should prevent it from ever occurring. Whether a fighter stands to make a million dollars or a hundred is irrelevant. Failing to make weight is an insult to a boxer's opponent and to the long tradition of fighters who have sacrificed of themselves for the love of the sport.
Something clearly needs to be done to stop the spread of this latest epidemic in boxing. It is quite evident that the current system of fines and purse forfeiture is doing little to buck the trend of fighters coming in overweight. Higher percentages of earnings need to be forfeited and suspensions need to be levied in order to serve as a deterrent for fighters who view making weight as optional. A strong message needs to be sent that contractual weights are taken seriously and that failure to honor those obligations will be considered a severe offense. This is an issue that is relatively easy to enforce but, like so many other problems in boxing, is drawing little attention in the way of serious reform. The way things are currently run, it is only a matter of time before a ring tragedy results from this issue. Regrettably, tragic circumstances are almost a prerequisite in boxing before actions are taken to right a lingering wrong.
Boxing has never been an honest sport. As long as there have been fighters, corruption has been following them like a specter in the background. There are few things that a fighter can be assured of in this game. Betrayals, scandals, and improprieties in boxing play out more like the plotline of a telenovela than a regulated and sanctioned sport. Heck, a fighter can't even be guaranteed that the officials appointed to a bout are going to treat them fairly, so it's fairly obvious that little in the sport can be taken for granted.One of the few variables that can be regulated fairly, however, is weight. It's simple. It's standardized. It involves no subjectivity. There is no guesswork involved. On top of that, fighters used to carry themselves like fighters. A deal was a deal, and a real sportsman honored the arranged terms of competition.
Sadly, this is no longer the case. A fighter cannot trust that his opponent will adhere to the code of honor once so reverently held. The me-first selfishness that has overtaken athletics is revealing itself at the scale in the Sweet Science. The fact is that there are selfish punks parading as prizefighters who don't feel that the rules apply to them. Honor is becoming an archaic notion, and the fighter's ethos is slowly becoming obsolete. This is yet another sad reminder that the sport of boxing as we once knew it is gradually slipping away. Only this time, the blame cannot be placed on governing bodies, promotional kingpins, inept officials, or other external factors so commonly cited for their toxic impact on the fight game. This time, the wound is being inflicted from within.