The Lure Of The Ring

08.06.06 - By W. Gregory Guedel: Boxing is a unique endeavor. Few other activities can match its intensity, raw aggression, and uncompromising demands. It is primal in nature, with competitors stripped down to only the essential elements necessary for combat, harkening back to an era that is both primeval and timeless. Without teammates or supporting equipment, the fighter stands alone in the face of destiny. The tolling of a bell signals the commencement of struggle, the onset of pain, the anguish of dreams denied, and the exhilaration of triumph. Those who truly comprehend and love the sport see the ring as a crucible of human experience, and the exertions of the fighters as a poetic representation of life’s capacity to be cruel and magnificent in the same moment.

The magnetism of the sport has long commanded attention from luminaries in many other fields. At every championship match, ringside seats are filled with athletes, entertainers, and politicians. Nothing brings more high-rollers and deep pockets into a casino than a marquee Heavyweight fight. Authors such as Ernest Hemmingway and Norman Mailer have produced tomes in tribute to the savage beauty of pugilism.

Illustrious filmmakers including Martin Scorsese, John Huston, and Clint Eastwood have been inspired by their love of boxing to create cinematic paeans to the sport. At least once each generation, a new artistic masterpiece is created that strives to approximate (but can never equal) the drama and majesty that is boxing.

Occasionally, the fascination boxing holds for certain people moves from the sublime to the ridiculous. Not content to merely appreciate the masters of the art or to train and spar in their local gym, there are some individuals who become set in the belief that they too can become champions of the ring. Of course no one should be discouraged from pursuing dreams, but no other sporting activity has the capacity to bring a person back down to earth – and hard – the way boxing can. Football players seem particularly susceptible to the “I Think I Can Be A Boxer” syndrome, perhaps believing that toughness on the playing field will translate into success in the ring. Rarely does this prove true. Not unlike the dubious performers of a small-town three-ring circus, the notable dreamers who have left their prior callings to lace up the gloves can be separated into three classifications.

The Contender…

Anthony Mundine: The self-anointed “Black Superman” from Australia was one of the finest Rugby League players in the world during the 1990s. In 2000 he shocked Rugby fans by leaving the sport and taking up boxing at the age of 25, declaring his intention to become a world champion. Unlike all the other “transfer” athletes from other sports who have undertaken The Sweet Science, Mundine actually made good on his promise. In 2003, he defeated Antwun Echols for the vacant WBA Super Middleweight title. He lost the title to Mikkel Kessler in 2005, but his unanimous decision win over Danny Green in May of this year has made him a top contender for Kessler’s title.

The Pretenders…

Ed “Too Tall” Jones: As part of the Dallas Cowboys’ famed “Doomsday Defense”, the 6’9” Jones was a feared defensive end and key member of the 1978 Super Bowl champions. Flushed with his success on the gridiron, in 1979 Too Tall decided to seek fame as a Heavyweight boxer. On paper, his performance in the ring seemed promising: 6 wins, no defeats, 5 knockouts. His opposition, however, was limited to say the least. Of his six opponents, only one had a winning record, three had one win or less, and his last opponent Rocky Gonzalez had never entered a professional ring. Perhaps realizing that a Heavyweight title was not in the cards, Jones rejoined the Cowboys in 1980 and was a cornerstone of their defense for the next nine years.

Alonzo Highsmith: A top-level fullback at the University of Miami and the number three pick in the 1987 NFL draft, Highsmith played pro ball for five years before a knee injury ended his career. After taking up boxing as a way to keep in shape, he was soon steered by his trainer into pro fights. His record was a respectable 27-1-2 with 23 knockouts, but again primarily against opposition that either had losing records or no record at all. Highsmith ultimately returned to football as a scout for the Green Bay Packers in 1999. His most notable win in the ring came in 1996 when he scored a 2nd round knockout against the most infamous of the NFL stars-tuned-boxers, and next on the list…

Mark Gastineau: One half of the “New York Sack Exchange” defense, Gastineau set records for quarterback sacks as a defensive end for the Jets in the 1980s. He abruptly retired in the middle of the 1988 season, later admitting that he would have failed the NFL’s new tests for steroids. After an abortive comeback attempt in the Canadian Football League, he took up boxing in 1990. His record of 15 wins, 2 defeats, and one no contest was not nearly as impressive as it sounds. Of his 18 fights, 12 were against opponents who either had no wins or no fights at all. His boxing career ended in 1996 after he was TKO’d by Highsmith in a fight billed as the “NFL Heavyweight Championship”. Several years later, allegations arose that many of Gastineau’s ring victories came in fixed fights, which his promoter had set up to pad Gastineau’s record in hopes of generating bigger purses.

…And The Bizarre

Mickey Rourke: With well-received performances in films such as Diner, Year of the Dragon, and 9 ˝ Weeks, Mickey Rourke was one of Hollywood’s A-list actors in the late 1980s. By the end of the decade, he’d had enough of Tinseltown and decided to return to the sport he had once showed promise in as a youth. As he launched his pro boxing career as a Light-Heavyweight, Rourke retained the services of famed trainer Freddie Roach and even gave himself a nickname: “El Marielito”. Rourke had 6 wins, no losses, 2 draws, and 5 knockouts in his 8 bouts, but he never beat a fighter with a winning record. He did take quite a beating himself, and later underwent four surgeries to rebuild the cartilage in his nose and repair a fractured cheekbone. He quit the ring at the end of 1994, and in recent years has successfully resurrected his film career.

Tonya Harding: With all of the controversy she has created, it is easy to forget that Tonya Harding was once a world-class figure skater who pushed the envelope of the sport with her athleticism. After being banned for life from skating, Harding got her first ring experience against Bill Clinton’s alleged paramour Paula Jones on the television program “Celebrity Boxing”. Having tasted victory in that epic battle, she attempted to pursue a career on the women’s professional circuit. Her record was 3-1 against opponents who had never fought before, 0-2 against those who had. Her final bout was a mixed-gender match in 2005 against a man who had never put on a pair of boxing gloves. The result was a no-contest. In the end, Harding’s most renown clash is still the TKO of Nancy Kerrigan she orchestrated in the ice-rink hallway at the US Olympic Trials.

Article posted on 09.06.2006

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