A great performance is like a promise; a promise from the boxer to the fans stating in clear terms the particular skillset and degree of talent that will be, from that moment on, demonstrated in the ring. The punching power, the speed, the confidence, the grit…these are the attributes we seek out in our modern day warriors. String a few great performances together and the promise intensifies, growing brighter and hotter like a giant sun until it inevitably implodes.
As a boxing fan I invest my full emotions into a fight. There are no teams, just individuals; specific personalities that I grow to either love or hate. And in life the things we love, for better or worse, become extensions of ourselves. They are reflections of who we are or who we want to be. So when the result of a fight does not reflect my own expectations, and at the very least my own predictions, it is my fragile set of emotions that are sent spiraling out of control.
In those situations I am lost in the futility of trying to piece together some sort of rational explanation (and more often than not an excuse) as to how the fighter, who I was so sure would win, actually lost. I felt that way when Tyson lost to Douglas. I felt that way when Cotto lost to Margarito and I felt that way last Saturday when Martinez lost to Cotto. It is the agonizing sensation that occurs when someone you love fails to follow through on their promise of being all the things you wanted them to be, all the things you needed them to be, and all the things you thought they were. The landscape of boxing, much to my dismay, is littered with these types of broken promises. In fact, all sports are, but due to the dangers inherent in boxing the stakes are higher and the slopes that much steeper.
For whatever reason, I have attached a sort of 1950’s, hard luck mystique to boxing. When I think of the sport that I love so dearly, my mind is flooded with images of black and white photographs of malnourished relics. I think of the romanticized tragedy of a life spent toiling in obscurity, fighting in some smoky den filled with drunkards and scoundrels. And I think of books like The Professional and The Harder They Fall and the hulking masses who have sacrificed their bodies for public amusement. In recent years boxing (with the exception of a handful of superstars) has fallen out of the mainstream’s viewfinder. It is rarely referred to on ESPN or written about in newspapers and exists like some dusty, old book in a library silently waiting for some waif to accidentally stumble upon it. But these troubled images clarify certain realities of boxing: that hardships, suffering and broken promises are simply part of the sport. And the visceral emotions of those realities have always kept my ego in check, but my heart clamoring for more.
Sergio Martinez lost last Saturday and, given his past performances against the likes of Willams, Pavlik and Chavez, I am still trying to figure out how. He should have won. He should have been too big, too fast and too strong, but in the end was none of those things. Cotto was the victor and in beating Martinez, made a promise of his own. For not only did he win, but he did so in spectacular fashion submitting another in a series of great career performances.
So now we look to the future. I don’t know how much longer Cotto plans to fight or who he will fight next, but here’s to hoping that he can keep his promise just a few more times.