The Best Advice May Be Staying Put...
10.25.04 - By Chris Acosta: "Pick on someone your own size." - My grandma, in the summer of 1977, to a bigger kid who kicked my as$ and took my Big Wheel."
Article posted on 25.10.2004
I will never understand why fighters can't just stay at or near the same weight for their entire careers. While the monetary and historical rewards are more attainable now due to the profuse number of titlists, there is an inherent risk involved that goes beyond just losing a boxing match.
Adding more pounds to an already fit body means that said weight becomes almost parasitic in its attachment. The body becomes accustomed to the extra poundage and involuntarily learns to make the necessary adjustments needed to retain its efficiency.
But what of the boxer who moves up to challenge a bigger man, only to fail? What happens when he decides to return back to his "natural" weight? We need look only as far as Roy Jones Jr. to see the damage that fluctuating weight gain and then loss, can wreak.
Before his move up to challenge WBA heavyweight champion, John Ruiz, Jones looked very different - physically speaking- than the man who returned against Antonio Tarver. There was a depleted quality to his body, a lack of fullness to his muscles that was closely associated to what bodybuilders experience when too much muscle is lost in a rapid period of time.
Jones did in fact have plenty of time to trim down but his body had already grown into a new suit that was incapable of being shed correctly, no matter what the means. In taking such a big risk to fight and defeat Ruiz, Jones won big and ironically, lost, the moment he decided to alter his bodies' chemistry once again. Cus D'Amato, known for his work with Floyd Patterson, Jose Torres and Mike Tyson had a saying, "Get in shape and fight what you weigh." It is great advice but fighters are frequently fooled into thinking that the extra pounds and greater strength will benefit them.
You frequently hear a boxer comment that "they feel so much stronger at this weight" and why shouldn't they? More weight equals increased strength but indelibly, there are going to be minute sacrifices in balance, speed, stamina and even punching power and in a sport so often decided by those intangibles, the word minute becomes all the more critical.
We've seen Shane Moseley rise up from a devastating lightweight and turn into a better than average Jr. Middle. While his body appears solid and there isn't any excess fat on him, it is obvious that his musculature is deceptive and that it's stymied his overall dynamic. It's understandable that a young boxer in his twenties will eventually grow into a larger frame but in a world where enhanced athletic performance can be attained right out of a bottle, modern pugilists don't have the patience of their predecessors to allow nature to navigate the safer route into higher territory.
There's another side to this however. When Donald Curry was the undisputed welterweight champion in 1986, he was implored by his trainers to move up in weight because he could no longer get his body down to 147 lbs. His reasoning was that he liked being an undisputed champ, especially since only he and Marvin Hagler shared that distinction at that time. But this thinking cost him as he entered his defense against Lloyd Honeyghan weakened and with a whole lot of fighter to deal with. His case is rare though.
It is frequently pointed out that today's heavyweights are so much larger than in the past but has anyone stopped to examine the differences between what a lightweight looks like now as opposed to twenty years ago? Again, the advances in training methods, supplementation and scientific approach to diet have created a viscerally exaggerated portrait of muscle and bone that borders on the freakish.
Perhaps it is an extension of the times in boxing that fighters are searching so hard for an extra edge when all traditional ideologies needed were three square meals, proper rest and woodcutting. Maybe this is why modern trainers express the lack of great "teachers" today and the gravitation towards "manufacturing "ability. Could it be an excuse around good, old- fashioned hard work or is it simply a painful evolution of sorts that is finding a hard time gaining acceptance? Would a Sugar Ray Robinson have been better with what is available now?
Would that brilliant jab of Larry Holmes have been even better with an extra 20 pounds behind it? Bernard Hopkins and Kostya Tszyu are two prime examples of modern gladiators who've maintained time- honored constants without ever compromising their own personal load ratings. But again, are they also the beneficiaries of fast metabolisms which make the overall conditioning process a little easier to maintain? This isn't to impugn upon their dedication but there are reasons why some of us need to diet while others do not. Here are a few conditions that lend towards considering a fighters chances at safely rising upwards.
1.) Height. Body types come in so many different proportions that it's nearly impossible to favor any particular one. In a matter of physics, it is a pretty sensible notion that a taller person has a correspondingly larger frame with which to hold carry more weight. Thomas Hearns was able to rise from a skinny welterweight all the way up to light heavyweight and challenge and defeat then champion Virgil Hill. At 6'2" and possessing a 78-inch reach, Hearns, much like Diego Corrales today, had the dimensions to match naturally bigger men.
2.) Style. The basis for this argument is made on the accomplishments of undersized fighters who actually used their lack of size to their advantage. Pernell Whitaker was an undisputed lightweight champ who moved up to welterweight and performed well due to his extraordinary defense and reflexes. In fact, the man he dethroned for the welter title was another small boxer in Buddy McGirt. McGirt was also a remarkable counter puncher with a smoothness that offset the power and size of his opponents. Consequently, Meldrick Taylor, who beat Buddy in 1988 for the Jr. Welterweight belt, never appeared to be comfortable at welter. Like his two contemporaries, Taylor stood in the 5'6"-5'7" range and though faster with his hands, ate far more punches which eventually contributed to his removal from title contention.
3.) Original Start Weight. Oscar De La Hoya began as a Jr. Lightweight and carried his power as far as two divisions up. But there was a noticeable drop once he invaded the welterweight division that only grew in hindrance as he rose higher. Interestingly, the most telling difference in power at any weight seems to be the seven pounds separating Jr. welter and welter. (My theory is again, that most Jr. Welters round out under 5'9" and then find themselves up against 6 foot welterweights with far greater leverage, but you can draw your own conclusions) Floyd Mayweather Jr. has competed in three weight divisions but even his grade of skill will cancel out if he continues the path uphill. In terms of skill, he is a better fighter than Cory Spinks but will the concessions he gives in size level the playing field? These are only a few considerations that I found the most glaring. I am sure that there are countless others. I only hope fighters realize that success over a long period in one weight class is just as impressive as gathering multiple titles along the way.
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