Fighting, whether it's boxing, wrestling or mixed martial arts, is the toughest sport known to man. Yes, all the other major sports require some form of skill, strength, toughness, stamina, speed, mental concentration and athleticism, but not to the degree that fighting or one-on- one combat does. You show me a great fighter in any combat sport and I'll show you someone who is very smart and who is also quick to analyze and process things pertaining to situations that change in milliseconds.
No two fighters in the world fight or move alike. They are all built differently and every part of their body is different. There are other one-on-one sports, but no one is physically trying to prevent you from accomplishing what you're trying to do with the intent to hurt or disarm. In addition to that, in most fighting confrontations, each combatant knows what the other is trying to do and vice-versa. And that makes fighting that much tougher.
Recently, rapper 50 Cent challenged Floyd Mayweather to read a page of Harry Potter, which was later downgraded to reading The Cat in the Hat on Jimmy Kimmel Live. This escalated when an audio recording of Mayweather surfaced with him reading a transcript....."I'm Floyd Mayweather, and I've joined IHeartRadio for the Show Your Stripes movement to support the hiring of vets. Go to ShowYourStripes.org, a website that connects veterans with employees and helps businesses find candidates with the best training." Mayweather's reading didn’t flow smoothly and he certainly didn't sound like a national news anchor reading copy.
Once the audio went viral over the internet, the venom really spewed in Floyd's direction. He was called dumb, stupid and illiterate. Mayweather responded by posting photos of two pay checks totaling over 71 million dollars on the internet and mocked those who delighted in calling him dumb.
Only, Floyd isn't dumb. You can't be a great fighter and be dumb; in fact you have to be very smart and quick on your feet to be a great fighter/boxer. It requires much more than just athleticism and skill.
Muhammad Ali, the most widely known athlete, not just fighter in history, graduated at the bottom of his high school class. Yet in 1968 and only 26 years old, he went on Firing Line and held his own with conservative icon William F. Buckley, and boxing wasn't discussed once during the 90 minute program. Buckley mentioned during one of his last interviews that Ali was one of the smartest and quickest on his feet thinkers that he ever interviewed or debated. For not being highly educated, Ali sure knew how to control the emerging new media and transform himself from a fighter who wasn't taken all that seriously when he turned pro after winning a gold medal at the 1960 Olympics, into one of the most recognizable faces on the planet.
Ali was a great communicator and understood people. He also understood psychology and worked his big name opponents to death before their in-ring confrontations. He also grasped that the quickest way to reduce great fighters to their lowest common denominator was to get them mad. This is evidenced by how many boxers have looked anything like professional fighters when getting into it at a press conference. Or how MMA fighters Jon Jones and future opponent Daniel Cormier looked flailing away at each other during their recent confrontation at a press conference. Isn't it amazing how much better a fighter's technique and skill come out when they aren't mad? In all of Ali's 61 fights, it's safe to say that his antics had the least effect on Ken Norton and Jimmy Young as far as name opponents go. He tried everything in his book but never unraveled them once. Maybe he realized they were a tough style match-up for him, but they added to his degree of difficulty by not getting mad and keeping their cool during their bouts with him.
Everyone knows that Ali wasn't book smart or very educated, but he was a very smart man and more than held his own in and out of the ring with all those he crossed paths with. He barely got out of high school yet was asked to give lectures not pertaining to boxing at Oxford and some of the highest learning institutions in the world.
How about Bernard Hopkins. He spent almost five years in prison and didn't graduate high school. Has there ever been a better self-managed athlete in any sport? If so, I don't know of them. Hopkins wasn't a gold medalist, doesn't necessarily have a fan friendly style, he's not the kid next door, and he didn't have any corporate or establishment money working behind the scenes trying to advance his career. In fact, once he captured the middleweight title, the establishment was trying to knock him off, and he was smart enough to see it. That's why he never got out of shape and kept his eye on every fighter who he knew he'd one day most likely have to defend the title against. Hopkins was also smart enough to learn the business of boxing, insuring that he wouldn't get ripped off and taken advantage of like many other past great fighters were.
And when it comes to ring combat, Hopkins is as smart as they come. He's great at understanding his opponents’ strengths and weaknesses and usually takes away their strengths and forces them to fight from their weakness. On top of that he's earning some of his biggest pay days and enhancing his legacy at the end of his career. How many athletes can that be said about? No, Bernard will not be getting calls to read radio spots once he finally retires, but he's every bit as smart and intellectual as the guy writing them.
What about Floyd Mayweather? In Floyd you have a fighter who isn't a former gold medalist, he doesn't have natural charisma, he's not the best boxer you've ever seen, nor is he the fastest or the hardest puncher. If that weren't enough, he has a reputation of not fighting the toughest and most worthy opposition when they are at their most dangerous. His managerial skills as far as picking opponents are every bit as good as his ring skill. Actually, they are better because he's one of the top three fighter-managers ever.
Floyd realized around the time that he fought Oscar De La Hoya, in mid 2007, that he couldn't be promoted as the kid next door like Oscar. He also didn't possess flashy and blow you away skill like Sugar Ray Leonard or Roy Jones, and he wasn't a destroyer like Thomas Hearns. So what did he do? He transformed himself into the ultimate cocky bad guy who, in the style of a WWE wrestler, relishes playing the villain. And all that has done has made him the highest paid athlete in the world the last two years, and that’s without making one cent from endorsements like Peyton Manning, LeBron James and Tiger Woods.
Mayweather has never taken a beating in any fight, so he'll retire with his health and wealth. This leads me to conclude that for a guy who some say isn't too smart because he may be moderately illiterate, he’s done really well for himself. Remember, he can be taught to read like everyone reading this was... However, we could never be taught or learn to fight like he can. And there's no such thing as a great fighter who isn't a very smart and shrewd person.
Fighting is the hardest thing to do athletically. To be a great one you must be a very quick thinker and not only process information quickly, but you also must have the capacity to apply what's needed and throw away what doesn't apply, all in a moment’s notice. Floyd Mayweather may not be the guy you want to read advertising copy, but he sure is one smart man.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com