Boxers deal with "little deaths" much more than us regular folks. (Chris Farina-Top Rank)
Truth be told, I am absolutely terrified of death. It’s not the idea of what comes next. No, as a person of faith, I believe with all my heart in what comes next. Like other Catholics, I professed it at my Confirmation and believed every word of it: I believe and profess all the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims…
Part of this, of course, includes final matters. The Church refers to it as eschatology.
I believe these things, but I do not know them. Knowing is different than believing. Knowing requires proof; faith is void of it. This is the beautifully terrifying aspect of my faith I’d mostly rather ignore, but I know it’s not best for me to do so. After all, death surrounds me. It’s everywhere and there is no escape.
As soon as I was born, I began to experience things I like to call little deaths. I began to lose things. First, I lost my comfort, next my innocence and then my dependence. As I moved through life, I lost other things. I lost my pets, my friends, my family. What began at my birth has only continued and escalated as I’ve grown older, and will carry on until the day I die. In a way, these little deaths prepare me for my future, but I still don’t like them.
I try to ignore them sometimes. I fill my head with all sorts of nonsense. Some of it is good and some of it is not. I listen to music, watch television, take my dogs for a walk, read a book, watch boxing, go for a jog, laugh with my friends…the list goes on.
Still, there is no escape, not really. These little deaths are prologue to my future. The light is dimming and it will die someday. It is inevitable.
Perhaps this is why I love boxing.
Fighters never have a chance, you know. They face these little deaths every day, and they do it bravely and right out in front of everybody. It starts when they are young. They learn all the little things they have to give up in order to be successful. No pudding after dinner, you have to be at your best. No time to hang out with your friends, you have to train. You have to experience pain, in order to experience gain. No mercy for your opponent; boxing is not a game.
Should they be good enough to become professionals, they learn more little things they have to give up if they want to make it to the top. Keep your eye out for the crooks, because most people in the business cannot be trusted. Forget about pleasing people, you’ll let somebody down no matter what. Don’t say no to an opportunity, because it may never come around again. Everybody loves a winner but everybody loses, eventually.
Only the very best of these people make it to that top. All hail the conquerors, yes, and it’s great. But they’ll not be there forever. They are still fighting against the inevitable for boxing mirrors life. Everyone must fall. No matter how good you are, eventually you will meet someone better. They may be younger than you. They may be stronger than you. They may just be lucky. No matter, they will beat you or you’ll retire and they’ll replace you anyway. It doesn’t matter; there is no escape.
Even for the rare few who remain undefeated, it is the same. There will always be someone you didn’t face. There will always be something you didn’t do. There will always be somebody who did something better than you did or more of what you didn’t. As it is with us, history is both frail and corruptible.
It is absolutely hopeless, but here is where I find boxing’s truest merit. See here thirty-three-year-old Manny Pacquiao. He’s accomplished as much as just about any boxer could hope to achieve. Yet, see him slipping a bit now. He’s a bit older and slower. He’s less menacing now than before and only as aggressive as his age will now allow. He’s lost a bit of his edge. His little deaths have slid him down again to mere mortal. See here Juan Manuel Marquez, just one year shy of forty. See his weathered skin and forlorn eyes. See him struggle with his legacy. Winless against his nemesis, see him fret the little death of retiring without ever have beaten his chief rival. See him recall his three little deaths against Pacquiao: a draw, a loss, a loss.
And see them rage against it.
Let us look at this fight in a vacuum now and, for a moment, forget about the little deaths these men are facing. Let us also forget the particulars of this occasion: the blue canvas they’ll stand on, the Las Vegas crowd dangling their brim pockets to the poor millions not able to see it live, and the razor-thin trilogy of fights which preceded this one, each as closely contested as the other. I do believe that on its surface, even if I’d never seen the other thirty-six brilliant rounds of fisticuffs, this fourth fight between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez would be something special. After all, this fight will feature two brilliant pugilists with styles aimed to please. Pacquiao is an ever-moving combustible, bouncing his way in and out of harm’s way with ferocious intent. Marquez, on the other hand, is the master boxer of his time, whose penchant for hurling brilliant combinations and ruthless use of counter aggression is unparalleled in the sport.
But when I remember this rage against the little deaths, I am certain that it moves me even more. The call of boxing’s wild is magnified exponentially here. Yes, I can hear Dylan Thomas urging them from the grave to rage against the dying of the light, but I know they’d do it anyway. Because these souls, Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez, are fighters. They will fight the little deaths until they can fight no more. Again, again and again…once more now and with feeling….they will rage, rage, RAGE… and the thought of this gives me peace.