'A Colorblind Blackeye'?: Are Mayweather And Winky 'Wright' About Race In Boxing?
By Vivek Wallace: Lately, it appears that U.S. politics isn't the only topic that entertains the question of race. In what may quickly become a 'watershed' moment, ignited by arguably one of the sports most outspoken figures, the question of race has unfortunately found a way to rear its ugly head. In a sport best suited for those not accustomed to backing down, suddenly comes a topic that leaves most put on the spot about this matter doing just that. Last week it was reported by David Mayo of the Grand Rapids Press that longtime Pound for Pound great, Floyd Mayweather Jr., had some less than flattering things to say about the state of race as it relates to the sport. Mayweather was quoted as saying that "Pavlik should get credit for defeating Jermain Taylor twice, but they [HBO Boxing Television Crew] talk about Pavlik, a white fighter, like he's the second-coming, or they go crazy over Manny Pacquiao". He then asked rather rhetorically, "Is it being racial"? The response, "Absolutely. They praise White fighters, they praise Hispanic fighters, but Black fighters, they never praise". Chiming in on the topic a bit later was Ronald 'Winky' Wright, whose statement touched closer to perhaps the true core of the problem. Wright stated "Boxing is supposed to be an art, but the announcers, all they want is someone who goes out there face-first. But Black fighters, we've got style and pizzazz, but all they want is for us to go out there and slug it out". This statement, (in my observation), doesn't prove any blatant racism, but does point out a view that somewhat supports the thoughts of Mayweather and Wright..
Article posted on 07.07.2008
In example, those familiar with the inception of the term "Pound for Pound" know that the evolution of the term started with perhaps the greatest to ever lace up a pair of gloves, Mr. "Sugar" Ray Robinson. If there was ever a textbook definition of the term, it would all come down to a fighter whose overall quality and pure talent transcends that of any other fighters overall quality and pure talent at any weight, be it higher or lower. Most recently, that fighter would be Floyd Mayweather Jr. Some would argue that Floyd Mayweather Jr. didn't get much love from the media because of his 'brash-eager-to-trash-an-opponent' swagger. Clearly, those comments don't take away his talent, but few can argue that they haven't served as a reason for those verbally presenting the fight cards (TV commentators) to take away some of the props they would ordinarily give him. While they have openly admitted that Floyd was the P4P best, based on his personality, it's safe to say they chose not to embellish him in it, rather focusing their attention on other great stars of his era. The P4P crown holder prior to him was Roy Jones Jr., who just like Floyd Mayweather Jr., was easily the sports most talented star, yet he also possessed a mouth that left some waiting for it to be closed. Two great fighters with talent unseen in this generation, yet their personalities outside of the ring was allowed to make a bigger statement than the television crew appointed to help define who they truly are inside the ring.
Arguably the best 5 minds in the sport of Boxing today, if we were to sit the the prolific Bert Sugar, the great Teddy Atlas, the legendary Angelo Dundee and Lou Duva, and the iconic Don King in a room together to have an open debate on the topic of P4P, I doubt very seriously that either of them would name 2 active fighters that actually belong in the discussion with "Sugar" Ray Robinson and company. Each of the active fighters currently under consideration are ones that are crowd pleasers, but aren't exactly what one would call a total package. This is where the true disconnect comes relative to touting certain fighters and being gun-shy when it comes to actively promoting others. If you look at various P4P list around the sport, Pavlik, Calzaghe, Pacquio, or Cotto are all in the top 5 somewhere. Pavlik, Pacquiao, and Cotto, are currently my favorite three fighters to watch, and Calzaghe I have learned to love because he's a consummate professional with great Championship tenure, but relative to a total package of talent, (meaning equally amazing offense as well as defense and everything between), which of those men would you honestly put in the class of a prime "Sugar" Ray Robinson, a prime "Iron" Mike Tyson, a prime Muhammad Ali, or a prime Roy Jones Jr.? Now this isn't to say that Pavlik and that group couldn't beat any of those legendary P4P fighters I named, but when you analyze the talents, any true boxing mind will tell you that they're on a different level totally, yet they're the ones that deserve the high acclaim in the mind of most media.
When you analyze a prime Jones Jr. and Mayweather Jr., you see talents so refined that it literally made their fights often appear very dull because their total recall and command of those skills would rarely allow them to even lose a single round in most fights. The fact that their defense and reflexes were so paramount that they were rarely hit highlights the comment made by 'Winky' Wright (one of this era's best defensive fighters) where he stated that "[they] just want to see fighters go in the ring face-first". That finding brings about the question of what exactly makes a better fighter? Is a better fighter perceived to be the guy who can take a beating and overcome it, or the guy who avoids the beating, making it all look too easy? That question brings to mind a story from years ago when NFL stud Troy Aikman was asked how he compares to Hall-of-Famers like John Elway or Dan Marino, and he stated that "he didn't understand how people felt it diminishes his ability or makes him less of a quarterback because his teams were BETTER ALL AROUND which helped him to avoid having to comeback in the clutch to win 30 some games" like the other two quarterbacks had to. That excerpt is very relative - (in an indirect way) - because just like Aikman's Dallas Cowboys proved, you can get same results with pure fundamentals that won't require you to rely on heroics and heart alone. Once again, I wouldn't be so quick to yell racism, but if you want a glimpse of the perception Mayweather and Wright speak of, think Arturo Gatti for a second. A great fighter, and a guy that I personally love to this day. This is a man who has the heart of a lion king, yet came up short quite often on the big stage. Now ask yourself, how much promotion and props did the HBO crew give him over the years in comparison to say a Roy Jones Jr.? Some would argue Gatti was more likeable, and his heart made him highly supportive, but none could argue his talent to be remotely close. Whether viewed as a fact or fallacy, it's this type of perception that makes some pull the race card. Personally, I have too much respect for Lampley, Merchant, Kellerman and the HBO crew, but perception is reality and this is a very real reality to a certain group of people.
Does race play a role in Boxing? Why ask me? I'm just another face in the crowd, blessed enough to speak out loud. But, what I will say is that as much as I don't think it's blatant racism, I do think there's a serious game of 'catch 22' being played; In the sense that there are two underlying issues, both in which are considered necessary evils due to nature and evolution, but neither in which ultimately helps certain fighters. For one, everything about entertainment is marketing and promotions, and it often seems like some of these fighters have taken that mantle on their own shoulders to compensate for what they view as weak efforts by their promotion companies, and subsequently it cost them love from the media and fans. A valid example would be Floyd Mayweather Jr. who began to open his mouth about his talent when he felt Top Rank didn't do a good enough job. A non-valid, yet equally effective (and very entertaining) example would be Mike Tyson. What would a pre-fight circus have been in the twilight of his career without him telling the world how much he wanted to eat someones kids? Everyone supposedly hated it until the bell rang, which is when they all just shut the hell up because they were too busy watching to comment. Secondly, the dynamics of the fight game has changed drastically. For some odd reason it's gone from seeking pure overall talent to a quest to see which fighter can win after taking the most punishment. If it were about pure unequivocal talent, when we talk Pound for Pound, we'd be talking about the potential that lies within guys like Cuban Yuriorkis Gamboa, and the likes of Puerto Rican Ivan Calderon, not the the classy and entertaining, yet far from fundamentally sound Kelly Pavlik and Manny Pacquiao; Both of whom get hit far too much, exposing marginal defensive skills. Miguel Cotto I think should rank higher on the list and although both he and Pacquiao are slowly rounding into better fundamental form, despite the great ring moments, when compared to the Ray Robinson's, there's very little dialogue left to be held. As out of shape as James Toney has been in recent years, when talking pound for pound, he's still a guys who's skill level and ring smarts remain nearly unparalleled. This is a guy who could barely move in recent fights due to weight issues, yet still found ways to get the "W", or make it damn close. Guys like Wright, Toney, and Hopkins rate P4P accolades in my book. Not guys who make for the best fights because they're accustomed to taking leather to give leather. That's all great for the eye of the fan, but if we judged on that basis, some would argue that we'd better make room for recent champs like Glen Johnson and Carlos Baldomir. Few have more heart than those guys.
So in closing, once again we ask is there a race issue in Boxing? After further review, I still say no, but there's clearly a political one. Now, as far as who those politics build up and tear down goes, I'll refer that question to you. After gathering your intelligence and reading this piece, now you decide.
(Disclosure: This is a highly debated topic, and this piece isn't intended in any way, shape, or form, to mold anyones opinions. For those of us out there who are true fight fans, you know first hand that 'love for the game' transcends any topic color or race related. One Sport, One Mission, One Love)!
(Got Questions or Feedback?: Write ESB's Vivek Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org or show some love at www.myspace.com/anonymouslyinvolved)
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