I am the greatest

By Bilal Abood: Part of a boxer’s success is an overwhelming and abundant amount of confidence. Strength, skill, ability, an impervious mentality and discipline are prerequisites for the sport – but above all, confidence. Never are the lines so blurred between confidence and arrogance than in the square arena of pugilism. While the most flamboyant arrogance can infuse and uplift a fighter’s career, it can also make you look a blithering idiot.

The most famous example of its ‘Marmite’ appeal is none other than living legend Muhammed Ali. Even through his contempt and racist ‘Uncle Tom’ rhetoric, people still resonated with the three-time heavyweight world champ and found themselves unashamedly admiring the ebullient character he exuded so naturally. His eccentric style eclipsed many both inside the ring and outside of it. If he wasn’t ‘floating like a butterfly’ or ‘stinging like a bee,’ using his ‘rope-a-dope’ technique or trash talking his opponent whilst repeatedly blistering their faces with leather inside the ring – he was busy composing whimsical poems to taunt his opponents outside of it.

Through all the ups, downs, twists and turns of his career – even through the jaw dropping four interviews he had with Michael Parkinson that were at times difficult not to cringe at, he is still loved. In an article by The Telegraph in 2010, Michael Parkinson still maintains his admiration for the Kentucky-born Ali. “Absolutely the most awe-inspiring man,” he said, 30 years after their final meeting.

But not everyone is ‘The Greatest.’ I don’t think anyone can be. In this regard he stands alone, and it will be another lifetime before someone as singularly remarkable as ‘The Louisville Lip’ comes around. That doesn’t stop them trying though.
There is a boxer that comes to mind, and when his name is mentioned, people’s eyes light up in awe for a second, only to be replaced with a bowed head shake. Prince Naseem Hamed was the greatest British boxer that never was. He had the class, charisma, skill, strength and a champion’s demeanor – but misplaced arrogance. His antics of keeping his opponent waiting for 10 minutes in the ring before entering, trash talking and dancing around the ring were certainly crowd pleasing and marketable, but his arrogance always felt a little strained and somewhat forced. It was evident that Ali’s footwork inspired a generation of boxers to do the same, (even Bruce Lee talked of how he incorporated Ali’s footwork into his martial art of Jeet Kune Do) and it was clear what characteristics ‘Naz’ had picked up from his idol. Unfortunately, some characteristics cannot be replicated no matter how hard you push and when Hamed finally lost to Marcos Antonio Barrera, he looked a little silly. Although it was his only professional loss, he never recovered from it and so one always questions the steel of his character. The thin translucent bubble of his confidence had finally burst, and with it the misplaced arrogance. When I say misplaced, I don’t refer to his ability. He could have been one of the greatest champions of all time, but he never had the gumption to tackle himself – instead secure in his illusion. That is why it was misplaced arrogance, and that is why he looked silly.

Floyd Mayweather is another boxing enigma most say, but he isn’t. The undefeated ‘pound-for-pound’ five-weight-division world champion is the stuff of legend, and has an insurmountable amount of arrogance. Ahem, I mean confidence. While it isn’t misplaced, and while he is one of the most talented and elegant boxers of recent times – he is a blithering idiot. Gambling problems, tax evasion, domestic violence and case upon case of stack-piled law suits that could potentially culminate in a hefty prison sentence make him a contender for the ‘blithering idiot’ top spot. Mike Tyson springs to mind as I write this, but that’s a separate encyclopaedia of idiocy.

Another contender is 2008 Beijing Olympic gold medallist James ‘Chunky’ Degale. It’s a little more embarrassing than Mayweather in some ways, because Degale finds it difficult to string coherent sentences together as he trash talks. With a penchant for malapropisms like “I’ve come on heaps and bounds” and many others that make me whistle out of shame for him make his arrogance seem like a circus act. Again when he lost to rival George Groves in a bitter grudge match full of classic Degale one liners and shambolic press conferences, he looked silly. Perhaps it was a good thing and he can come back a better person.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not lambasting all boxers and I do think that there have been some champions with charisma and character to match since the great man. Chris Eubank, Frank Bruno, Oscar De La Hoya are a few to name and there are many more. It’s incomparable though and the level of arrogance they had pales in significance to Ali who carried it off and the Mayweathers, Hameds and Degales who drowned in it.

What will prove the naysayers and the doubters wrong in the upcoming heavyweight bout between Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye, aside from potentially rescuing the downward-spiralling division, is if Haye can put his trash talking money where his mouth is. There hasn’t been a loud mouthed, obnoxious, skilled, intelligent, articulate and arrogant fighter as David Haye around for some time, especially in the big division and if he performs well he will be hailed a true champion. If not, unfortunately he’ll join the rest of the blithering idiots.

Article posted on 27.06.2011

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