The Champ

01.09.05 - By Geoff McKay: I have a confession to make. I love the sport of boxing. That is not my confession however. My confession is that I have struggled to come up with a plausible explanation as to why I love the sport. I have argued with those that believe boxing should be banned as violent and barbaric, and have found my words hollow and unconvincing, even to myself. If somebody simply asks, ďWhy do you like to see someone try and hurt someone elseĒ, I find myself stumped. I try to explain about the exploits of Muhammad Ali, or the magic of Sugar Ray Robinson, but if I am not talking to a boxing fan, it usually falls on deaf ears. The accomplishments of the greatest boxers in history do little to impress those dead set against the sport.

Not too long ago a group of young boxers organized a tournament in a nearby town. Regulations stated that they needed to have a doctor in attendance, and they were able to find one originally, but he cancelled, forcing them to find an alternate. No other doctor in the town agreed to help the youngsters. When asked why, most of them stated that boxing was too violent, and they didnít want to support the sport. The boxers eventually had to cancel there tournament.

I decided I had to do better. I must at least put in an effort to defend the sport I spend so much time watching and writing about. I had to find a way to connect to the ďnon boxing fanĒ, to impart what we feel when we watch a good fight take place. But how to do it? How to put into words an emotion that has absolutely no meaning? Then it came to me, I would tell them about the Champ. Yes, that was it, perhaps if I related the story of the Champ, and the time I watched him defend his title, they would understand.

The first time I saw the Champ was eight years ago. I was 24 years old, and I caught my first glimpse of him from a distance. Even from far away it was clear he was magnificent. He had a huge neck, and incredibly powerful looking shoulder and leg muscles. He carried himself with such confidence that it was obvious he had no peer. He was never in a rush. He would come and go as he pleased and no one dared question his motives. The Champ was already past his prime by then that much was made clear by the fact that he was a little loose around the middle, but if I had to guess, he still weighed in at a fighting 1800 pounds.

You see in my spare time I enjoy wildlife photography, and the Champ was the biggest Bull Moose I had ever laid eyes on. He carried a massive set of antlers on his head that could be seen from miles away. The caught the sunlight and shined like beacons, and once I knew where to find him, I usually had little trouble spotting the Champ. I watched him for four years, and every year his magnificent antlers lost a little bit of their size and luster, until eventually they didnít shine at all anymore. The champ was on the downhill slide but he was still miles above anyone else on the block.

Among moose, he who is the biggest and toughest gets to choose, and keep for himself, as many lady folk and he can handle. I called this fellow the Champ because during the mating season, (and fighting season) he was always surrounded by a large group of female moose. I only saw him actually have to defend his title twice, although it was clear from the many scars he carried from head to flank, he had indeed fought, and often to earn and keep his title.

The first challenge I witnessed came from a youngster who was full of himself, and obviously no match for the Champ. He came barreling up to the Champ and his harem, and let out a challenging call. The Champ responded with a deep grunt that I would have heard if I was sitting in my living room 30 miles away and not in a canoe barely 200 yards from the action. The young challenger had guts, and although in short order he was thoroughly intimidated, he did but heads with the Champ a couple of times before heading for the hills. This is usually the way in these altercations. Intimidation and bravado settles the matter before someone really gets hurt.

As I said before, I observed the Champ for four years, and was lucky enough to be there the day he had his date with greatness. It was late September, the fighting season again, and I had just relocated the Champ. He looked older than I had expected. It almost seemed as if there was a little gray in his hair. His magnificent antlers were blunted and dull, but as usual, he was surrounded by his many girlfriends. It was incredibly peaceful, floating in my canoe, watching the Champ slowly work his way along the shore of the lake, feeding on underwater weeds.

Just as I was reveling in the peace and quiet, the Champ, in his usual patient manner, stopped eating, lifted his massive head to the heavens, and let out the deep throated grunt of his species. The limitations of my human hearing had not allowed me to hear it, but the Champs keen ears had picked up a challenge issued from miles away. He had commenced and completed the negotiations, and signed the contract with that single response. Although I didnít know it, a challenger with brutal knockout power was on his way, as quick as he could come. He had just signed a superfight, yet the Champ simply dipped his head in the lake for another mouthful of weeds.

I hung around the lake for most of the day and got ready to leave for home when the conference call took place, only this time I heard it. The challenger, whoever he was, was coming in fast, and was announcing to whoever was interested that he was on his way. I was surprised by the Champs lackluster, almost timid answer. His voice didnít carry the authority it usually did, and the challenger gained confidence.

A short while later the Champ and his challenger held the press conference. Once again the champ seemed not to have his heart in it. His grunts sounded weak, like he didnít really have it in him anymore. The challenger on the other hand was brimming with confidence. His calls shook the valley. They reminded me of those I once heard from the Champ.

Finally, fight time arrived. The Challenger, grunting the whole way burst his through a small patch of trees and emerged into the same clearing about two hundred yards from the Champ and his harem. The challenger, whom I shall now call Ike, took my breath away. The reason I call him Ike is because his figure reminded me of Ibeaubuchi. Rather than the thick, barrel body and hind end of the Champ, Ike had a massive head, shoulders and upper body, but tapered down to a slim hind end, giving him a fit, athletic look. His coat was jet black and gleamed with youth. His huge antlers, which were every bit as big as the Champs, shone brightly in the sun, just like the Champs used too.

When he caught sight of the Champ, Ike bellowed again, and upon hearing the Champs weak response, he began swaying back and forth. He was drunk with adrenaline and testosterone. The thought of defeat did not exist within him. He slowly approached the Champ, who reluctantly matched his swaying motion, and resigned himself to the battle he was now committed too.

Ike was only able to contain himself until the two were about 20 feet apart. Once they reached this distance he rushed the Champ with everything he had. The resulting crash of antlers sounded like a thunderclap, and the battle was on. Immediately the Champs age began to show itself. Ike shoved him all around the meadow. The champ looked slow, tired, and lethargic.

The strategy that moose generally use is to try and turn their opponent to attack his vulnerable side, perhaps breaking ribs, incapacitating the opponent. This is what Ike was trying to do, but the Champ was cagey. Although Ike was clearly stronger and having his way, he couldnít get at the Champs side, until about 45 minutes into the fight. Finally, Ike turned the Champ, buried his antler in the Champs side and shoved him into a small patch of trees. Ike pushed with all his massive strength into the Champs ribs, and I heard a series of dry snaps, which could have been branches, or the Champs ribs. I grabbed my rifle and got ready to fire a shot over the two. I didnít want to see my old friend the Champ lose his title. Maybe I could scare Ike away and give the Champ a reprieve? No! I decided if the Champ was going to lose, it was going to be clean.

The Champ sat pinned against the trees, and didnít make a sound. Ike pushed and pushed, until something strange happened. Ike seemed to get tired. He backed off and heaved his huge body trying to draw a massive breath into his lungs. It was just the chance the Champ was looking for. He flashed around beside Ike and dug an antler under his belly. I couldnít believe what I was seeing. The Champ strained upward and nearly lifted Ike completely off the ground. Then he began to shove mercilessly. It was Zaire all over again. The Champ had gotten Ike with the rope a dope!!! The Champ continued to push on Ike broadside until Ikeís legís got tangled up on a small log, and he crashed to the ground on his side. I leapt to my feet and shouted my delight, nearly tipping myself out of the canoe. None of the animals noticed my antics.

Once he had Ike on the ground, the Champ was merciless. He pushed his antler into Ikeís exposed flank with all his might. Ike thrashed, squealed, and bellowed, until, after a full minute of struggling, foaming with sweat, Ike lay still. When Ike stopped struggling, the Champ backed off. Exhausted and beaten, Ike slowly got to his feat. He wore a huge red gash from the tip of his back to his underbelly. The first real battle scar in his perfect black hide, and it would stay with him for life. Ike got his feat under him and jogged away. The time would come when he would hold the title, but not today. To my surprise the Champ didnít chase him, as was customary. I would soon discover why.

It was clear that the Champ had suffered a lot of damage during his title defense. I watched him until it was almost dark, but he didnít move at all, he just stood there. Just before it became to dark for me to see, I saw the Champ fold his huge legs underneath him and lay down. I had no choice but to leave and return the next day.

I checked on the Champ for the next three days, and always found him lying in the same place I had left him the day before. He was alive, and awake. He swung his massive head around when I approached, but made no move to rise. Always, his harem was close by.

On the fourth day I arrived at the lake just before dawn. I lifted the canoe off the back of my truck and pushed it into the water. There was frost on the ground, and the cold air nipped at my face as I paddled down the lake to check on the champ. I was about halfway down the lake when the sun burst over the mountains into a clear blue sky. It sprayed its golden rays over the red and yellow leaves that marked the approaching winter. There was something different about this morning. I had a good idea what I was going to find.

When I arrive at my usual spot I was surprised to find the Champ gone. I put ashore, and followed his trail a short distance into the tall grass. I had only gone about 50 yards when I came upon the Champ. He was laying on his right side, his body covered with a thin veneer of frost. I couldnít help but feel a great deal of grief as I knelt beside him. He carried even more scars than I had thought. Just as every scar on a boxer represents a story, I wondered what untold story each one of the Champs scars represented.

I ran my hand along his left side. Most of his ribs had been broken. He also had a massive gash on his left foreleg. I couldnít see what damage was on his right side, although it was probably substantial. The Champ had fought so hard, with so much skill, guile, and determination, only to succumb to his injuries. It was then that I noticed something strange. Where was his harem? I scanned the area and was immediately overjoyed to see a shallow pit dug a short distance from where the Champ now lay.

When moose breed they dig what is called a rut pit. Sometime during the night before he expired, probably in tremendous pain, the champ had summoned one final effort, and written himself into history by passing on his genes one last time. Like a true champion, he had gone out on top.

By relating the story of the Champ I have done my best to convey the anticipation of a big match up, the excitement of the fight, the sacrifices fighters often make to achieve victory, and the qualities of a true champion. I put forth an honest effort to deal with the violence issue. The champ was not violent by nature, but violence was part of what made him special.

Violence is hardwired into us as human beings, just as jealousy, lust, greed, anger, and joy are hardwired into our psyche, and we would be foolish to deny that. They no longer serve any real survival purpose, like they did for the Champ, but they remain present nonetheless. I believe by participating in, or watching boxing, we provide ourselves with a structured, controlled outlet for our intrinsic violence, and that this is preferable to some of the other outlets that seem to be gaining popularity these days.

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Article posted on 01.09.2005

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