Boxing

What Makes A Champion: Skill Or Will?

07.12.04 - By Tyrus Linston: Since the inception of the sport of boxing back in the late eighteen hundreds, there have been many champions and even fewer great champions. I can also imagine that there have been many discussions and debates pertaining to what many feel, myself included, is the greatest sport of them all: Boxing. As the former heavyweight champion and super-entrepreneur George Foreman put it, “ Boxing is the sport that all of the others aspire to.” To be a boxer you must possess an iron will, as the life of a fighter is one of challenge and at times, peril. To be a champion, in addition to the will to win you must possess skill. Immense skill. All other factors aside, which attribute is more important? Which attribute produces a world-class fighter? A champion?

Back in 1973, George Foreman, Joe Frazier and their entourages flew down to Jamaica to put on what was billed as “The Sunshine Showdown.” Joe Frazier was the champion and Foreman the challenger. Both were former Olympic heavyweight champions, Frazier in 1964 and Foreman in 1968. After his defeat of Ali in 1971, Frazier’s next two fights would be against fringe contenders Terry Daniels and Ron Stander. They didn’t offer much competition for the champion, but his next challenger would offer that and much, much more. George Foreman’s trainer Dick Saddler, the cousin of featherweight great Sandy Saddler, had prepared Foreman for anything that Frazier might be prepared to throw at him.

Foreman was the bigger man, but by his own admission, he was initially intimidated by the smaller, more experienced champion. As the first round began, Foreman and Frazier stood center ring sizing each other up, and then the leather started to fly. It was apparently clear to those at the fight and those viewing it closed-circuit, that Frazier would not last the distance as Foreman pummeled him mercilessly. Frazier tried everything that he could think of, but it was not enough as he tasted the canvas six times in less than two rounds. Frazier’s will and heart were never in question, as he kept getting up after each knockdown. George Foreman’s skill in the ring was not as impressive as his power, but his ability to keep Frazier on the outside at the end of his powerful punches does suggest that he had enough intelligence and skill to know how to go about his job professionally and efficiently.

In 1962, Emile Griffith and Benny ”Kid” Paret fought what was to be the last bout of their trilogy and it was to be the last fight of Paret’s life as he collapsed in his corner following their welterweight championship bout. Paret never regained consciousness and died in the hospital a day or so later. In their first two bouts, both Griffith and Paret both claimed victories. Griffith in the first bout and Paret in the second. Four or five months prior to their third bout, Paret lost to world middleweight champion Gene Fullmer in a bout that many said he had never had the chance to fully recover from. Gene Fullmer had given him a savage beating and he was back in the ring far sooner than he should’ve been. After Griffith’s tragic bout with Paret, there were many who demanded that the sport of boxing be banned, as the bout was televised in a live broadcast for all the world to see. In this particular bout, it was the referee’s job to notice that Griffith was consistently getting the better of Paret and stop the bout, which he did not do. Paret was competitive in the first two bouts, but not in this one. And it is not the fighter’s job to stop fighting, especially not when he gets paid to finish the job, as heartless as it may seem. Paret’s heart and will to go on will never be forgotten by the fans, his conqueror or boxing historians. He paid the ultimate price for his bravery and so have many others. It’s too bad the ref didn’t notice, for the fighter’s sake, that he(Paret) was overmatched. Had someone stepped in, be it a ringside official such as a doctor or maybe a commissioner, Paret might have survived the carnage. Unfortunately he didn’t.

The last bout that we are going to examine will be a classic war which took place in 1958 between Archie Moore, “ the old mongoose” and Canadian, Yvon Durelle. This fight ranks right up there with “ The Thrilla in Manilla”(Ali-Frazier III) in 1975 and “The Showdown”(Leonard-Hearns I) which was in 1981. The first bout between Moore and Durelle starts out with Moore being put on the canvas by Durelle. Many who witnessed the knockdown say that it was one of the most vicious ever and they don’t know how Moore was able to make it to his feet. He was put down again in the same round, the first round, but went on to survive it. The fight went on for ten more brutal rounds with Moore tasting the canvas two more times before stopping Durelle in round 11 of what many called the greatest fight ever up to that particular point in history. There is no doubt in my mind that it was Moore’s great fighting heart and unbreakable will that enabled him to get up off of the canvas four times, perservere, and later stop Durelle in an epic war of attrition. After the fight Moore remarked, “ This was my finest hour.” Indeed it was.

Well, folks, we have examined three different bouts, each with different circumstances that all ended with the same decisive outcome: A knockout. Regardless of what is said here, right now, today, the debate as to which attribute is more important in terms of ring greatness will go on. Nevertheless, I will share my thoughts with you on the matter. It was actually a very simple decision for me, as I just finished watching Trinidad vs. Reid from Y2k. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, skill beats will. As important as it is to possess the will to win, it is also equally or even more important that one possess the necessary skill to compete and win on the world-class level. If the skill level of a fighter isn’t what it should be, truth be told, he will never become a world-class fighter. Sure, he has to be able to take it(punishment), but he also has to be able to dish it out. Being able to dish it out is how you win fights. Your ability to take a punch will keep you in a fight, but your ability to give one will enable you to win it. And that is ultimately what boxing is about: Winning. Right?

Article posted on 08.12.2004



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