Sour Grapes Never Taste Good

By Ted Spoon: Excuses in boxing, though unashamedly flung about, are more unwelcome than anywhere else in competition. The act of two guys fighting tends to produce decisive results, and when one fails there are no team mates on which to lay blame.

When asked about the relationship between fighter and trainer Kevin Kelly was cocksure that it was the fighter who made the trainer (not vice versa), emphasizing that autonomous nature which is at the core of a boxers make-up.

“…and may the best man win…” has typified boxing's noble policy since Jack Broughton lent fist-fighting its dusk-jacket in 1743, alas while the majority of fighters routinely demonstrate their powers of sportsmanship, sour grapes are ever present, and they have spawned the most ludicrous apologies.

On his way to oblivion against Mike Tyson, Larry Holmes claimed that his final offering which unfortunately got snarled up in the ropes would have turned the fight on its head; that a split second before he was down for keeps. Knowing Holmes and his loose tongue it's a comment you could hear without getting grumpy but equally moronic remarks have been pushed as legitimate.

A 'poison scandal' inflamed message boards with laughter when Lamon Brewster outhustled Wladimir Klitschko. Sakio Bika cited nearly drowning in a swimming pool as to why he lost to Lucian Bute. Modern megastar Manny Pacquiao has blamed his gloves and even his socks when things went a little bumpier than usual.

It's a reflection of this politically correct age that comments similar to the above are able to seize the spectators serious side. Comments that would have had past boxers chased out of their gym are now circulated as modern fighter's abuse their airtime, defiling that code of honour which moulds the boxer.

General excuses are understandable; “I wasn't quite myself”, “My training camp was cut short”…there are assuredly times when the boxer doesn't truly believe what he is spouting, just offering some rhetoric to help shield against the immediate sting of defeat. Other times there must be a splinter of truth to these instances, or rather, the stories warrant an investigation.

What happened in New Orleans on the 25th November 1980 still and probably forever shall befuddle our rationale. There is something very irksome about a fighter, renowned for glistening when given a challenge, to suddenly quit unscathed. Unfortunately this works both ways and somehow makes Ray Leonard's sweetest victory the least significant of his great career.

The divided parties split into two groups, consisting of those who believe that Leonard simply fought a different fight and those who maintain Duran had not adequately prepared. Again the problems multiply, as looking good has this funny habit which involves the opponent looking bad.

Stomach cramps, too much ice cream, and even theories of having been poisoned are side stories which amusingly revolve around the 'No Mas' legend, drawing new comers into a tale already butchered with interpretation. Why a man who pushed Marvin Hagler and manically waved in Thomas Hearn's should quit rightfully leaves us postulating. And rightfully we should never go easy on Duran for committing boxing's ultimate blooper.

Quitting contradicts the idea behind the fighter, and as such it must be the last thing they are willing to do. If your arms and legs are functional, if your equilibrium is sound, you fight, and if worst comes to worst your corner does the humane thing. We can only hold so much empathy for fighters when others have completed bouts with broken hands, broken jaws, busted ear drums and various, equally incriminating injuries.

If a fighter is willing to retire in the middle of a career full of heroics then it says much more about Leonard's performance (a textbook exhibition in frustration) than Duran's growing list of alibis.

It makes perfect sense that boxing's most beloved fighters should be the ones who are the most fiercely defended. Things went a little differently when Ray Robinson collapsed against Joey Maxim. There was no quitting, and it was no secret as to why he didn't last, but it left that timeless riddle for future generations to twist into different shapes.

For the majority of the fourteen rounds the Sugar Man was the one doing all the work. So passive was Maxim that it was written that he “would have done credit to Ghandi.” Out in Yankee stadium the summer temperature reached an ugly 40 degrees Celsius; a taxing time for a two mile jog, let alone a fight.

Well ahead on the cards, Robinson had nothing to do but remain standing for six more minutes; alas he had failed to account for the dreaded humidity. Ruby Goldstein who had suffered with the fighters for ten rounds had been replaced by Ray Miller. Three rounds later Robinson was flat on his face after a desperate right missed its mark. The effort just to rise put his weary limbs in a state of insoluble fatigue. Eventually fulfilling their duty, a rubbery-legged imposter needed assistance to reach his stool.

Boxing's version of 'The Tortoise and The Hare' came to a close with the statuesque Maxim energetically thumping the air, thrilled about his technical knockout.

Since its occurrence, despite the honest vibe of contemporary print, the romantic outlook has been that it was the heat (not Maxim) that beat Robinson. Of course it takes two to tango, so that argument must be ruled out. Joey didn't throw much, partly because he was busy absorbing plenty.

“Did I have air-conditioning in my corner?”

Maxim's brilliant retort epitomised that lack of consideration he gets. The light-heavyweight champion had a good chunk of weight on his smaller challenger, but lest we forget that it was Maxim who had to jump through hoops to make the weight; had it been he who collapsed these difficulties on the scales would have done wonders to tarnish Robinson's victory.

As it was they faced an uncommon opponent, but one man knew how to deal with him.

The change of referee mid-fight was sighted as a first by many of the senior geezers. Extreme weather is something of a novelty in boxing, a pigmy in debate. The third man in the ring, the guy with the white shirt, can and often has caused the kind of public outrage that is usually exclusive to prime ministers.

Sometimes the criticism is unjust; early stoppages are hard to condemn when played off against merciless ones. Other times however the officiating is so awful (as a whole) that even the passive audience is compelled to remonstrate like fanatics.

The infamous 'Battle of The Long Count' set the bar for controversy, and not just because referee Dave Barry restarted a count that was five seconds old.

Gene Tunney's extended crisis in the seventh was the centrepiece of a seemingly bias supervision. When the champion sent Dempsey to his knee during the next round Dave Barry practically launched himself into the count without bothering to make a note of where Tunney was. Perhaps the real question lies not in whether Tunney could have survived a straight count, but to what extent did the officiating handicap Dempsey?

The neutral corner rule goes without saying, but Barry's general behaviour, most notably continually severing the inside scrapping heavily favoured Tunney's long boxing. If we compare this to Dempsey's 1923 suffocation of Tommy Gibbons it's almost if the new world did not condone the Mauler.

Separations were finished off with a calculating dash between the pair of them, destroying Dempsey's chance to exercise his beloved hitting-on-the-break; so much that made him as a fighter was deviously hand-cuffed. It's difficult, and probably doubtful to say that this was what made the different between a loss and a win, but it's worth the interrogation.

Of course that was quite a while ago, well before fighters started getting too big for their own boots. Any tender feelings Dempsey had about that fateful night were quickly exchanged for a lifelong exaltation of his conqueror.

For whatever reason, if a fighter loses it is in his best interests to curb that impulse to make a fuss. Honouring the final decision brings us full circle with that gentlemanly conduct which pugilism was founded on. If something is not right then we can rely on the fans to get their megaphones.

Ricky Hatton got a lot of flak for his post-fight party trick of ballooning in weight, but when he was put before Larry Merchant to discuss loss number one he was memorably sarcastic:

“What a fluke that was” jested the Mancunian.

Ricky knew better than anyone that boxing is not (in his own words) “a tickling contest.”

If you have made it to the ring should excuses even be allowed to weed themselves into the equation, with a most careful preparation having brought them to this point? Is it not so that fighters used to have more of a right to complain, but no voice, and now it's the other way around?

The most outspoken boxer today has just stated that he views Miguel Cotto as an unbeaten fighter…it sounds silly today; you wonder what Jack Broughton would have made of his assessment.

Article posted on 04.04.2012

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