25.06.04 – By Chris Acosta: When there’s a big fight upcoming, we as boxing fans can only muse about how one athletes’ speed will match up against another’s power, or defense or similar speed. We measure out all the checks and balances until coming out with something resembling an educated guess. But there’s one aspect of the game that we often overlook, sometimes to the point of naivete: conditioning.
There’s a mass assumption that since boxers know the risk of what they are getting themselves into, that there’s a corresponding loyalty to their training. Yeah, we’ve seen heavyweights who could probably fall through 20 floors of an office building if they jumped up and down hard enough, but on the average, most professional fighters appear to be in good shape.
But boxers, despite the rigors of their chosen vocation, are as human as the rest of us and I’ll bet that even a Bernard Hopkins has decided on more than one occasion to hit the snooze button instead of confront a chilly Philly morning for 5 miles.
But as we know, “The Executioner” can probably count those days on one hand and there’s the rub.
If you look through the annals of boxing’s history, you’ll see that the greatest champions of each era had one thing in common, they all lived the life of a fighter. It’s not easy to do and it’s easier to think you’re in shape when you aren’t in fighting shape. My own experience came about three years ago in a local boxing gym. Being as how I am your basic health nut from the age of 14 ( I am 33 now) and I begin every day with 120 push-ups and a short run and then an afternoon workout, I thought that I could just walk in a gym and spar with someone of my own level with no problem. Wrong was I.
I thought after three rounds that I was going to die and we weren’t talking any break-neck pace rounds here. I suddenly knew why boxers leaned all over one another instead of just throwing punches non-stop. I also vowed sometime during that last round that I’d never yell at another boxer for getting tired so “soon.” Talk about a humbling (and painful) day. I haven’t staggered around like that since my last birthday party.
Larry Holmes, my favorite heavyweight champion ever is what he is because of his dedication. I almost hate to admit it but there were a few opponents of his (namely Tim Witherspoon and Carl Williams) who were just as talented and maybe even better, but lacked that discipline to sustain them through an entire career much less an off-night.
Former middleweight great Carlos Monzon didn’t have the most exciting style (and though this may border on sacrilege, I have questions about his talent as compared to the Haglers and Robinson’s) but he was always physically prepared for what his opponents brought to the table and that has proven to be a much higher percentage of the battle than we previously imagined. If you enter the ring feeling a half-step off, your stamina is a hell of a reassuring thing to be able to fall back on (see Ray Leonard vs. Kevin Howard).
Vitali Klitschko has been ridiculed somewhat unfairly recently because his last three opponents (Corrie Sanders, Kirk Johnson and Lennox Lewis) came into the ring in less than stellar shape. Excuse me but, aren’t you supposed to blame the person who did something wrong? Was Klitschko required to slack of his own training so that the match-ups be fought on a more even keel? You can have a few drinks and still drive a car but you can drive a car a lot better having had none. And speaking of Sander’s, he is the antithesis of what this article is angled at. Can you imagine what he might have been had he devoted himself properly ten years ago? You know what? Who cares. He didn’t and so let’s appreciate the men who give us answers instead of questions.
I have so much respect for a guy like Winky Wright who hasn’t gotten the big pay-days but still kept his focus steady through all those days of scrounging on undercards and fighting Bronco McKart 35 times. Greater talents like those of Hector Camacho, Tony Tucker and a score of others are an unavoidable commodity in this sport. It’s a frustrating fact but the Big Guy (or Girl, Mother Ship or whatever you believe in) upstairs gives us all talents that we should nurture and flaws that we must overcome.
So before that next superfight, you might want to forget about whether fighter X’s left hook will be a factor and wonder if he’ll have enough gas to even throw enough of them.