Heroes and Boxing

By Ted Sares: Let's roll. -Final words of Todd Beamer to his fellow passengers on Flight 93

If you sit there and watch a person take about an hour to tie his shoestrings, then you realize that whatever problems you got ain't that significant. ---Vernon Forrest 2006

I have always been struck by how loosely and generously this word has been used.. Too often in my view, sports figures including boxers are referred to as heroes. Oh I get that an act of heroism can be made within the context of a contest-such as a last second three-pointer in basketball or a walk-off home run.. For that one moment, the athlete is indeed a hero. Now, I can deal with idolatry—heck, Mickey Mantle was my idol back in the day. And I’m sure Jean Pascal is an idol to many a young Quebecois, but when Al Michaels refers to him as a “hometown hero,” real and more permanent heroes are diminished. Bobby Czyz’s nickname was "Matinee Idol." Bobby had it right.

Sergio Martinez, for example, is not a hero, nor is Manny Pacquiao (though millions might disagree with me since Manny is quickly transcending the sport of boxing). Of course, there may be exceptions. Ted Williams, as a baseball player, was not a hero except perhaps when he won a game in the bottom of the ninth with a hit. But as a decorated marine pilot who served in two wars, he qualified. Jackie Robinson was both idol and hero, and when I was a kid, I gawked at him in amazement. Charlie Sifford's steadfastness and skills allowed him to break many of golf's racial barriers and become the first black to be inducted in the World Golf Hall of Fame. By paving the way for others, he was a hero. Mohammed Ali, by taking a stand against racism was a true hero to millions around the globe. For his unassuming community activities, the late Vernon Forrest was pretty darn heroic as well.

Heroes can be men or women, black or white, gay or straight, privileged or poor, patriots or rebels, fathers or mothers, children or adults. We honor and celebrate them. They are different from the rest of us, and yet they are the same. But I believe what sets them apart is that they provide our inspiration. They demonstrate the high ideals and values that inspire us to go beyond the norm.

Within this context Michael “The Force” Watson remains one of my true personal heroes.

“The Force”
September 21st, 1991, was the night that Michael Watson should have died
--Chris Baldwin

To be honest, a few months before I started training for the marathon, I could hardly walk across my bedroom without falling over,
--Michael Watson

On April 19, 2003, Michael Watson completed the Flora London Marathon walking two hours each morning and afternoon for six days as he raised money for the Brain and Spine Foundation. Watson slept each night in a support bus that followed him. Finishing the race by his side were Chris Eubank and Peter Hamlyn (his neurosurgeon consultant), both of whom had become his personal friends. Few who witnessed this emotion-packed moment did not have watery eyes. The event was the culmination of a long fight back for Watson after having almost lost his life in the ring against Eubank on September 21, 1991 in what has been called one of the most savage fights in British boxing history. It was Britain’s Hagler-Hearns.

Both Watson (25-4-1) and Eubank (28-0 coming in) were highly skilled fighters who could adapt well for differing opponents and circumstances. After a grueling 10 rounds of action, things came to a boil in round 11, one of the great rounds in boxing history. It featured an incredible ebb and flow action with Eubank tiring badly, but then suddenly rallying and taking it to Watson, hurting him with several hard shots. He had “The Force” ready to go, but Chris gassed allowing Watson to return the punishment in kind and finally decking Eubank with a crunching right to the head. Then, with Watson ahead on points and seemingly on the verge of a stoppage victory, Eubank—who had struggled to his feet-- immediately connected with a devastating right uppercut that caused Watson to crash backward and strike the back of his head against the ropes. His eyes glazed over as the bell rang and he staggered back to his corner. Soon after round 12 began, a helpless Watson was trapped in a corner and Referee Roy Francis wisely stopped the fight, but Watson collapsed in the ring. The damage already had been done in round 11..
A total of 28 minutes elapsed before he received treatment in a hospital. Michael spent over a month in a coma, had six brain operations to remove a blood clot, and then languished over a year in intensive care and rehabilitation before facing six more grueling years in a wheelchair while he ever so gradually recovered some movements as well as the ability to speak and write.
No one really expected Watson to live, much less talk or write. Yet, against all odds, he finished the Marathon in 2003, capturing the hearts and minds of an entire nation, as people wept in joy and urged him on. He had reached his goal after twelve long years, way too many operations and hospitals, and far too many years in a wheelchair. But he trained for months and walked the entire 26 miles and 385 yards.

This is not about his boxing record; this is about his incredible fighting heart. This is about what inspiration means which is all anyone really needs to know about a very, very special man named Michael Watson.

Postscript: On 4 February 2004, Michael Watson was awarded the MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) by H.M. Queen Elizabeth II.

Article posted on 20.12.2010

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