Boxing is unique in the sporting world

By Paul Strauss: There is little difficulty in spelling out differences between pugilistic endeavors vs. other athletic pursuits. It's obvious to even the most sedentary of us that they don't get socked in the kisser when participating in other sports. It's also true that to be successful, all sports require a "competitive nature" and the "will to win". All sports involve dedication, determination and self-sacrifice. With team sports, it's necessary to place team before "self". Golf and tennis are individual, but again there's no threat in getting your brains beat out. This potential for getting pulverized isn't the only thing that gives boxing its peculiar flavor.

In fact, all sports have their own little oddities. Football has its Monday morning quarterbacks. Telecasts and instant replay make every fan, in hindsight, an expert. After this year's Super Bowl, we even had one player's better half sound off with her opinion about a particular slippery handed receiver.

With golf it's the nineteen-hole. That's where duffers lube up a bit with a few of their favorite libations. Then the whole round is replayed in great detail, which lathers up these swingers for the next bad lie.

Baseball fans sometimes suffer over a close call that didn't go their team's way. "Kill the ump" is probably shouted out more than once over the course of nine innings. Of course there's also the seventh inning stretch.

In round ball, it's the official who failed to call any fouls, or who called too many! Maybe it's the home court fans, who sit behind the visitor's basket and harass the free throw shooter. That becomes the difference?

The common element very often is that "someone else" is to blame. Sour grapes? With boxing it is most often the referee that gets blamed. Next, comes the judges. Some disgruntled fans might go so far as to blame the trainer or coach for their man's defeat. The last straw is when they blame the fighter himself.

There's more, though. Unique to boxing is the mentality of the fighter. There is an odd, or you might even say weird make up involved with a fighter's thought process. For example, a fighter can be soundly beaten, which is seconded by everyone who witnessed it. Yet, something in the fighter won't allow him to believe it. That's not the case when a team loses a football game 21-0, or ball players who get no hit. Or, maybe the dribblers lose by twenty in the basketball game. Equally disturbing is when the short-pants racket swinger hears "love" directed at him while on the court.

In boxing, this uniqueness isn't associated with the proverbial "I was robbed" guy. Fans get tired of hearing a moron babble on and on about such things as "hometown decisions". Those types are more wannabees than real fighters. It's not just sour grapes either. There's more to it.

This uniqueness becomes especially interesting when you realize it is espoused by the very best, the contenders, champions and former champions. Just recently, think about Miguel Angel Cotto's defeat against Floyd "Money" Mayweather, Jr. There doesn't seem to be any dissent in the minds of the judges, analysts, journalists and most fans about who won, only the margin of victory. Yet, Miguel honestly believes he won the fight. He's not just conjuring up that opinion to impress someone. He firmly believes he beat "Money", regardless of what anyone else might think.

It's a bit like George Carlin's description. He said,"... it only means "rationalization of failure to attain a desired end. ... It doesn't deal with jealousy or sore losing". If it's not being a sore loser, then what the hell is this behavior? Is it an example of someone acting delusional in a pathetic attempt to overcome failure?

This mindset is not unusual to boxers. But, it is unusual to see it present in athletes involved with other sports. Granted, circumstances are different, but more important, the mindset or rationalization itself is unique to boxing. There are many examples of situations similar to the Cotto one. Think about Juan Manuel Lopez. Just about everyone in the world who viewed his 2nd fight against Orlando Salido thought the referee made a good stoppage. But, Juanma honestly thought otherwise. Don't blame him for thinking that way. Although his attitude or thought process might be unique to boxing, it is not unique in boxing.

There are lots of similar examples, both in recent years and historically. One of the most famous trilogies of all time was Zale vs. Graziano. In the second fight, Graziano pummeled Zale mercilessly until "The Man of Steel" was literally draped over the ropes. If the ropes gave way, the then middleweight champion would have landed in someone's lap. Yet later, Zale had the audacity to say he thought the referee stopped the fight too soon, and he believed it! To a great extent, it's this unique and honest thought process that enables a fighter to come back from disaster. That's exactly what Zale did when he kayo'd Rocky in their third fight.

In fact, this unique mentality has enabled many a fighter to come back from defeat and win rematches, or go on and beat the rest of the competition. It's not dishonest or delusional. It's more like a warrior's version of survival. It's essential for a fighter to believe he can win, often times despite facts to the contrary. It's important for a fighter to see things differently. He needs that unique ability in order to win and to be successful. A critic might say, "He's too dumb to know any better? But, the truth is it's just a different interpretation of the same facts. It's more than just confidence in oneself, although it includes that too. If, when going into the ring a fighter doesn't think he can win, he should turn around and take up a different sport.

Joe Louis suffered a brutal knockout at the hands of Max Schmeling. It was his first loss. But, he still believed he was the better fighter and should have won the fight. He proved he was right in their rematch. One of Joe's many victims was Two Ton Tony Galento. Early in their fight Tony shook up Joe with a good left hook. Later he shocked the boxing world when he deposited the Brown Bomber on the canvas via his left hook. He paid for it dearly with a terrible beating. Returning the favor, Louis landed one of his own left hooks. His punch literally lifted "Two Ton" off the ground. One wag said, "You could have counted ten while he was in the air!" Did that dissuade Tony? Hell no! Tony still thought he could have and should have won the fight. Two Ton argued that he wasn't allowed to fight "his fight". "His fight" meant total disregard for the Marquess of Queensberry rules. The point is Tony believed it, and to him it was the truth.

Obviously there are different degrees involved with this uniqueness, which are based on the circumstances and particular individuals. Each fan can fill in the blanks with their own examples: Darchinyan vs. Donaire (Vic thought it was a flash knockdown); or every Bernard Hopkins' loss. How about Rafael Marquez' losses to Juanma and Israel Vasquez? Muhammad Ali always maintained a sincere belief that he beat Joe Frazier in their first fight, despite the fact that no one else believed it, other than possibly his most loyal fans. How about the whole of George Foreman's comeback career? At the end of his first life, Big George suffered two embarrassing losses, one to Ali and the second to Jimmy Young. However, that didn't keep him from regaining the title twenty years later! There's definitely a uniqueness in that.

It's difficult to adequately describe what goes on in a fighter's mind, as opposed to any other athlete. The similarities far outweigh the differences, but there is a "uniqueness" with the boxer that fosters this peculiar mental process. It's both irritating and admirable.

The latter is true when you consider someone like Gene Tunney, the Fighting Marine. He took a terrible beating at the slashing gloves of Harry Greb, the Pittsburgh Windmill. Yet while still convalescing in his hospital bed, Tunney was consumed with these peculiar thoughts that he could have and should have won the fight. It was while still nursing his stitched up wounds that he master minded how he would accomplish what he knew to be the "real truth" of the matter. Of course, he went ahead and did it.

You might go so far as to say a normal person's vision and that of a superior fighter are not compatible. But, then the fighter makes believers out of us all. When that happens, boxing fans ultimately begin to see what the fighter saw all along. The boxer's unique mentality allowed him verbalize to anyone within ear shot what he felt all along was the simple truth. This, of course, was in spite of the facts and reality of the situation. When the fighter is successful in demonstrating his version of the truth, fans are apt to deem those experiences as moments of greatness. It is those times that we marvel at their uniqueness.

Article posted on 10.05.2012

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