This Is Not An Ode To Boxing, It Is A Question And Answer About Why We Are So Violent

22.01.07 - By Wray Edwards: I think many are still nostalgic for a super hero like Ali, and that is understandable. It is so much easier to identify with an invincible, undefeated KO artist than a hard-working, flawed journeyman. The Ali syndrome was such an easy ride. Everybody gets on the bandwagon and feeds the boxer's ego until he either self-destructs (ex. Corrales) or, somehow, discovers common sense. "Men occasionally stumble on the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened." - Winston Churchill

Everything in life is timing and location. Clay quit too late and is paying the price for his style after his comeback, which included getting hit a lot more. The three and a half years between Zora Foley and Jerry Quarry were a remarkable sacrifice he paid to principle.

His fight with Chuvalo was one example of the punishment he would absorb in his later career. Toney seems perilously close to a neural meltdown. Morales was totally warned in his recent reality check with Manny. Boxing has reached a crossroads and must now choose.

Boxers Trade Blunt-Force Trauma for a Living. So do the MMA guys, tough men and others. Showtime's pending nod to MMA (Shamrock-Gracie, Feb. 10th) demonstrates a willingness to experiment with a less formal and more brutal form of human combat. Gone, for the most part, is scoring along with limitations on target selection, choke holds, joint threats and hard-knuckled fist strikes. Only eye-gouging, crotch grabbing and a few other no-no's keep this form from being completely violent. The old newsroom axiom "If it bleeds, it leads" applies to all blood sports.

In the 50s, and before, one could not even say the word "pregnant" in movies and on TV. Now, one may hear every word, in any order, in any language. WWF and WWE participants display marvelous acrobatics and quasi-mayhem. It really is amazing to see the skill it takes for a 250 pound "wrestler" to spring into the air from the turnbuckle, do a front flip and land with his thigh on the throat of his "opponent" without out causing serious injury (most of the time). These guys are the heirs to the mostly humorous stylings of Lord Blears, Gorgeous George, Andre The Giant and others. Now, however, things are getting more serious.

Hulk Hogan was the bridge between the old and the new, ushering in a different era of ring rowdies like Bret "Hit Man" Hart, Sting, Rowdy Pieper, (another transitional guy), Goldberg and others. MMA is an attempt to combine striking with grappling in a way which appeals, IMO, to a fan base with a coarser mentality and more brutal expectations. The WWE with cages, octagons, tables, chairs, ladders, and probably the kitchen sink one day (if it hasn't already been done), promoters hope to draw even larger crowds…and it works.

What would the Marquis of Queensberry say to Vince McMahon? Many writers (myself included) have written nostalgic, poetic or formal tributes to the sport of Boxing. It is tempting to do so, as Boxing is at once actual real life drama, while at the same time metaphorical of humanity itself…a microcosm of the conflicts of men and nations. Ali did his best to combine pugilism and poetry, and not just with words, for his style and footwork were often balletic in rhythm and form.

There is a continuum of combat which stretches from the mock violence of French cabaret dancers in Marseilles to full-blown thermonuclear war. Humans love war. "Americans love to fight, traditionally. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle… you are here because you are real men and all real men like to fight. When you, here, every one of you, were kids, you all admired the champion marble player, the fastest runner, the toughest boxer, the big league ball players, and the All-American football players." (George Patton, to his troops in England, June 5 th, 1944)

Some boxers do not get really up to speed until they have been cracked a good one, or see their own blood…Nothing better than that first good hit to get rid of the butterflies. "Sports do not build character. They reveal it." Haywood Hale Broun. It is not strange that when the nation seeks out its finest warriors, "character" is at a premium. In battle it is critical for group survival. In single combat it is the only thing that ensures survival in and out of the ring.

Most nations are founded on the proceeds of war. I would say "Humans love to fight, traditionally." That this planet is generally ruled by the aggressive use of force seems evident. Our national anthem recounts, if not praises war. Our first national document, the "Declaration of Independence" ascribes to our new country first, and most logically, "That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States…and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War…"

So what's the point? The point is an object lesson in the establishment of individual freedom and group safety. When a fighter does things in the ring or a soldier does things in battle that would get them arrested on the street, they often demonstrate courage and stamina which serve as an inspiring example to every man. In the movie "The Magnificent Seven" Charles Bronson tells a little boy that though he and his six companions are showing brief and violent courage, it is men like the little boy's father, who are steadfast for a lifetime, that show real bravery.

There are many fighters who can transpose the lessons they learn in training and the ring to the much longer battles of life in general. Those who cannot do this are either in jail or end up destitute. If we identify with these guys, it is with their victories or their fortitude. And even though losers are often disrespected, many are adulated and applauded for their efforts (Soliman vs Wright, Chuvalo vs Ali and many others). It should go without saying, but some do not realize that for a victorious winner to even exist, some other guy must give his all in a genuine effort to defeat the champ in order for the Champ's victory to be authentic.

International warfare involves conflict over planetary marbles. The proceeds of entertainment pugilism are not so grand or important to the general fan base, but the consequences for the fighters can be just as pronounced as for a soldier in battle. Depression from repeated concussions, post traumatic stress syndrome (called "shell shock" back in the day), immediate death or lingering, progressive debilitations may result. Professional boxing on film, TV and live can be thought of as the first reality shows. As such, these forms of entertainment are, potentially, a step above the mere, fictitious dramas which are the meat of most TV shows and motion pictures.

Human beings are addicted to chaos, and there is nothing more chaotic and random than the fog of war. In the movie "Starman" Jeff Bridges' character opines that, "You humans are at your best when things are worst" (see Corrales-Castillo One, round ten). And if things are getting a little too "Happy Days" we somehow arrange for a serious challenge to pop up…or Mother Earth does it for us. The amplified adagio of WWE is OK pap for those who are willing to suspend disbelief for a couple hours of ersatz combat, but actual war is much better.

How close are we to the modern equivalent of the "entertainments" of the Coliseum and Circus Maximus of Rome? Very! One main problem in the Middle East is that they have virtually no sports outside of tribal, religious and sectarian warfare for the last 5,000 years and they are very good at it. One society's terrorist is another one's champion. The thin veneer of civilization is evident when the lights go out and the sound of windows being smashed ensues almost immediately.

In westernized societies the full contact sports such as American Football, Hokey, Rugby, Aussie Rules Football, MMA and Boxing provide just enough surrogate violence for fan identification to help keep the lid on. In other parts of the world there are no convenient outlets for the ambient pressure on humans to do battle and, not being distracted by a well regulated public spectacle, they turn on each other.

At another level nations and their leaders often express the will of the people to seek empire after they have been seduced by a silver-tongued orator or are conscripted to do the work of tyrants. The "boxing match" between the Allies and Germany may have killed millions, but a relatively small number of American citizens were actually in harm's way during the war. The vast majority stayed home and read about it in the newspapers or listened to the radio with avid interest in the big show… "Compared to war, all other forms of human endeavor pale to insignificance" – George Patton.

When I stand at the apron with blood and sweat raining down on me and my camera, a certain switch seems to be flipped which allows me to witness, photograph and even enjoy the mayhem. In junior hi the thud of fists during schoolyard fights made me sick. Now I accept the same intent with a "professional" demeanor, just because the fighters have agreed to do it for money and fame. From chess and golf to the brain-busting, joint-crushing, choke-holding, sword-wielding, bullet-shooting, bomb-dropping, rocket-firing of contact sports, human beings love to attack each other for fun and profit.


It must be genetic. It might even be divine. After all, without potentially fatal challenges, both natural and contrived, our species would degenerate into a wimpy self-indulgent mass of goo. "Faint heart never won fair maiden." Do they have boxing matches in heaven? They must. If there are seventy-two virgins for the homicide bomber-lovers among us, there must be facilities for the fighters. Come to think of it, competition based on self-interest or group survival is the only dependable road to excellence. Life-forms are only important if they strive and hold their place in the food chain. "He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one"- Jesus Christ Luke 22:36…Sounds good to me. See you at the fights.

Article posted on 23.01.2007

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