Savages & Gimmicks

by Ted Spoon - There usually comes a time in every fans life when they subscribe to the theory that ‘the old fighters couldn’t fight’, not when compared to their ancestors anyway.

At first there is something irresistible about it; standing in an age of cultured gymnasiums and nutrition we feel dastardly equipped to pop some old geezers bubble. “The world has moved on” we insist with a knowing grin..

The demography of this prejudice has pleasantly altered over the years. ‘Boxers became good in the ‘40s rather than the ‘60s’ is now a common outlook. However, as is the key difference between a builder and an inventor, the members of this clan mainly draw from their memory, not their intuition.

This writer was once a stern advocator of the belief that the older generation were mere shrimp executing moves that discovered their true function decades later. Illustrious men like Bob Fitzsimmons, Joe Gans and Jack Dempsey were no more than the strongest of an amusing group. Whatever people saw in them wasn't registering, but then their conviction could leave you curious.

Respect for the ‘golden oldies’ seems to work in stages. Fans who don't rate Sugar Ray Robinson are few, but there lives a small portion that bows down to modern methods. Joe Louis receives the praises of most with his familiar moves and historical weight; even if there are those who feel he was ‘too small’ to realistically give more recent heavies a good argument.

Anywhere beyond here tends to represent a divide.

The 1920’s, though the peak of boxing in terms of participation is a little too unfamiliar for everyone to assent that its contemporaries fit our present idea of ‘world class’. Verily, a sizeable portion of doubters think they would do well to snatch any part of the fragmented championship, and so sceptical are the fanatics that some claim with the upmost sincerity that muscular journeymen would have discarded of their uncoordinated weak bodies in a flash.

It’s not just a case of people failing to see the good behind that crackly B&W film (disbelieving fans that take out the time to study film are a commendable bunch) rather it is the sect that unquestionably side with the growing presence of sports science.

There can be next to no doubt that the restoration of the warrior has come a long way since chewing mutton and jumping rope. Proteins, vitamins and carbohydrates are supplied in various guises at various times while exercises cleverly enhance what is most essential for the boxer to perform at optimum. At least, this is what these measures promise.

What is proven to work should be honoured. Trying new things is important, both to keep things interesting and for experimental purposes, but when we see the likes of Miguel Cotto receiving a blood sample mid-spar to see how much lactic acid is in his blood, you’ve got to ask whether we’re getting a little carried away with our toys.

There is a basic principle (the main defect of science) that objectively insists the more you zoom in, the more you lose perspective. Karl Von Clausewitz considered one of the most important talents for a general was for him to be able to take an "accurate glance of the whole" over an "anxious study of minute details". Being fastidious was considered something of a weakness by the famed Prussian, and yet some believe these 'minute details' can equip fighters in Kevlar.

Wladmir Klitsckho may be 6,6, 245lbs, athletic, powerful; he may have sound boxing tact and lug with him an intimidating record, but for all these impressive features this writer isn’t so sure the current heavyweight champion would come out the winner against an angry Caveman such as Luis Firpo.

The main defect in Wladimir, namely having trouble suffering tornadoes, Firpo brought with glee, if little else. In the middle of the ring, where reality unfolds, there is a good chance that all this modern-day reasoning is liable to get incinerated by the Argentinean’s blusterous nature.

In the slightest of moments our memories can be refreshed that it is a fight in there, not some form of turn-based strategy in which the combatants utilize health and magic points.

Eight years ago trainer Thell Torrance partially explained the on-going state of the heavyweight division when he insisted that “Fighters aren’t being trained like fighters.” Indeed, upon watching men like Ruslan Chagaev and Jameel McCline you get the sense they figure lively sparring looks much like all-out milling.

At first it seems they are simply having trouble getting air into their lungs, but the problems evidently run deeper when you see fitter men like Alexender Povetkin and Thomas Adamek ailed by that same vexation, curiously stalling as if listening to an anti-boxing conscience.

And it’s not just in the big boys that you may witness this.

Both Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosley regressed as fighters before age made a dent, and it’s probable that avant-garde training regimes were partly accountable. Their first contest was and shall forever be remembered as a gutsy struggle between two finely-tuned welterweights. When they met again they were less wilful, accurate, creative, and generally appeared as men who were having trouble remembering how they used to perform.

Cute ideas like using towels to duck under, or polystyrene tubes to imitate punches are fine, but when the world continues to champion innovative ways to exercise it becomes dangerously alluring to believe that these methods are going to make the difference between victory and defeat.


Fearlessly on the prowl before even speed balls were a common appliance was Boston’s Sam Langford, a fighter who comfortably precedes that popular spectrum of acclaim.

In between morning runs, chopping wood and sparring, it didn’t get much more sophisticated for the black terror; nothing but basic dedication forged him into the plague he became.

Many times did the vertically-challenged slugger face Joe Jeannette who possessed a 200lbs physique that would make a top advertisement for steroids. He also happened to be a stellar boxer. Recently footage surfaced of a 1913 bout with Langford which gave credence to all those remarks claiming Joe to have been a refined, slippery customer.

Actually, detrimental to the modern man’s argument, Jeanette fought very much like many heavyweights would - flicking the jab, using the ring and clinching when the opponent got too close. Had Jeanette never fought Sam, but we were left with some footage of him, there is good reason to believe that a high percentage would propose the fleet-footed bigger man to have been Langford’s master.

When they did fight however, the difference between what looks good and what works was made apparent.

Slowly but purposefully, Langford made his mechanical advances. With low hands and subdued moves a brief snapshot tells of a fighter who either knew little of boxing or was more daft than brave. A few more minutes in and you realise they were simply the traits of a fighter who was so sure of himself that he only burst into action when a razor intuition flashed the green light.

Casually he negated Joe’s left who fought a little nervous, plainly aware of his opponent’s timing. With an effortless parry or dip to the left Langford neatly stopped Jeanette from scoring points with his main weapon. This continued whilst he firmly stalked, making Joe burn energy with each passing round.

Attempts were made to frustrate Sam, crouching down to his height only to remove the target, but it got no reaction. Waiting for that key moment a long right was fired, hard to gauge because his contributions had been so few. It collided solidly with Jeanette’s head to begin a campaign of hitting the canvas until the final bell. When it rung the archaic boxers hand was raised.

Seldom will you find a better performance over a fighter of that calibre, no less over one who looked and performed particularly ‘modern’.


It’s fair to assume that much of the criticism directed at our distant competitors is purely in retaliation to the rose-tinted pugs who armour-plate legend.

The idea of progression is at the crux of virtually everything, though it has a hard time organising boxing which has its own unique pulse. Consequently this renders much of what is said about the older generation as crude opinion; though it is equally crucial to detect those greying schools which uniformly tut whenever Roy Jones Jr is mentioned.

In methodology and preparation it is a test of ever spectator’s objectivity to see that what is practical will blossom in the ring.

And when it may be seen that your finer acumen hath proven the one with whom you quarrel wrong, feel free to condemn their error with the kind of ludicrous comments which spawn articles like this.

Article posted on 20.05.2012

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