A “coward”? It was probably the wisest decision the fighter or his corner made if we consider his health, family and future after his ring days are over. Hundreds fighters we’ve all admired, the kind that sometimes had to be saved from themselves, have passed away in conditions that would make the most hardened hearts cry. Many more barely exist in nursing homes, shelters, asylums… nobody visits nor offers them any help. Their once “loyal” & “faithful” fans no longer care. Warriors who were once led to believe that they owed their last breath or final drop of blood to the fans are disappointingly hit with the cold reality of boxing’s definition of what ‘fan loyalty’ IS and ISN’T. Fortunately, not all fans are alike.
Is a fighter, who has already absorbed MORE punishment in ONE night than any human body should receive in a lifetime, supposed to die in the ring for the delight of the fans? What shame is it to KNOW and ADMIT when “I’m whipped” and decide to fight another day? Fighters like Julio Cesar Chavez, Miguel Cotto, Oscar De La Hoya, Kostya Tszyu and many past and future HOF’ers like them have decided to stay on their stools or bow out as well. Are they “cowards” too?
I go to plenty of fights cards, at home and occasionally abroad. I’ve seen many once good/great fighters, in their 40s, 50s & 60s, virtually handicapped, their once nimble legs have little mobility, sharp minds practically ‘inactive’ and their once lightning fast hands reduced to a feeble tremble. And, sadly and even WORST… forgotten by the fans he once entertained and thrilled. Gone are the accolades, the applauds, the cheers and the recognition. It’s all about “What has he done lately” “He’s old news” “He fought too long and became a bum”…. or basically, “That’s his problem, not mine” Boxing can be a cruel with their own, the fans even more so, more cruel than the managers and promoters they themselves often criticize. Fans that probably have never been in true “do-or-die” fist fight nor ever received a school yard bloody nose, yet dare to cynically label a fighter a ‘coward’ for “cheating” them out of witnessing a “thirst quenching” brain scrambling knockout, for not taking ONE punch too many. Has it ever dawned on them that ONE punch too many can make the difference between a fighter looking back on his ring career or… becoming a ‘vegetable’ and not remembering much of his career at all? No, I guess not. Pugilistic Dementia can be quite frightening, especially when the fighter happened to have been one of your favorites, heroes or family, like my cousin Felix. I was a frequent visitor when his mind and health began to fail. I’d sit and tell him about the times I went to see him fight in places like Madison Square Garden, Sunnyside Gardens and the Felt Forum. He’d occasionally interrupt to ask, “Did I win?” Some days he’d vaguely remember, sometimes not. No, he wasn’t a great fighter but while I was growing up he was one of my heroes, still is. He’s gone now, but not forgotten.
Please allow me to take the recent case of Mike Alvarado as an example. Before his fight with Ruslan Provodnikov he was praised for his ‘puro cojones’ battles with Brandon Rios. Many “lazy-boy warriors” then said he quit with “ONLY TWO ROUNDS” more to go. hmmm.. “Only” two more rounds?? Maybe we should ask Benny “Kid” Paret, Johnny Owen, Davey Moore, Jimmy Garcia, Jimmy Doyle, Willie Classen, Pedro Alcazar or Frankie Leal about “only two more rounds”. We can’t, can we? But… we can ask their families. I’m sure they would’ve preferred two rounds LESS than two rounds more.
NO fighter wants to die in the ring, no matter how “macho” it sounds or he expresses and repeats it. Yes, they fight fiercely, like their lives depended on it. “Don’t stop it”, they plead with their chief second or ringside Doctor. But no, in all reality, he doesn’t want to die, he wants to FIGHT, but not actually die. They just don’t think it can happen to them.
While attending a fight card a couple of years ago I noticed a familiar face, an ex-fighter, shuffling slowly while attempting to find his seat. He looked a bit ‘lost’ and confused. I rushed to help him locate and settle him into his seat. He nodded a ‘thank you’ with a faraway look in his eyes. He didn’t recognize me like I did him. How can I forget him, we faced each other twice, once as amateurs and as pros. I sat next to him and slowly “brought him back” over 40 years, when we were “enemies” and served as sparring partners for former and future world champs like Carlos “Teo” Cruz and Angel Espada, Esteban DeJesus and other contenders. I decided to sit with him during the card, he fell asleep before the main event, occasionally waking to ask, “Quien ganó?”, or in English, “Who won?” After the fight card was over he asked me if I could get him to a phone, he needed to call his sister to come pick him up. “No way!” I said, and had the honor of giving my old “nemesis” a ride home. After all, he was once WARRIOR, never a coward.