The X Factor

10.19.04 – By Ben Cohen: With Roy Jones deposed, the boxing world will search within itself to find a new super star. They must possess the potent mixture of speed, power, talent, and in pop culture terminology, the ‘X factor’. Asides from mind- boggling speed, knockout power, extraordinary talent, the all-important star quality remains the main factor in determining superstar status. In recent years, Ali had it, Tyson had it, and so did Leonard. What exactly is it that allows an individual to be considered the sports main attraction? And who will fill the present void? Let us first look at some of the former greats.

Ali was renown for his phenomenal hand and foot speed and the ability to do everything wrong and get away with it. He signified a new breed of heavy weight; fast, flashy, and unorthodox. Most importantly, he had the ability to stir interest from outside the boxing world. He was bright articulate, and good looking. He could engage audiences with his outrageous bragging and bravado. He would talk and talk, providing fans with continuous entertainment, degrading his opponents in comical fashion, talking politics and play fighting with kids. He was the star of the show and he knew it.

Tyson, although not necessarily star like personality, was so menacing and violent in the ring that his physical attributes more than made up for it. He was the bad boy of boxing. His surly demeanour outside the ring, his simple black shorts, shaven head and enormous musculature gave him a magnetic and awe inspiring appeal. Tyson did not outbox opponents. He destroyed them. He fought with incredible intensity, and his movement in his prime was almost poetic. He was difficult to hit, and could detonate hooks and uppercuts on his opponents with pinpoint accuracy. It was an incredible sight to see an essentially small man cut down large heavy weights, hitting them with such unbelievable force that those who were ringside professed that Tyson’s punches even sounded different.

Sugar Ray Leonard, again, had incredible hand and foot speed. In his prime (and even after it) it was difficult to actually see his punches he threw them so fast. Leonard was actually more technically and physically gifted than Ali. Ali could throw the left right as well as anybody in the history of boxing, but Leonard could hit with a multitude of punches with textbook proficiency. His flashy combinations and cat like reflexes made Leonard a boxing artist. Leonard had a star like smile, and was a pleasure to interview. He also was bright and articulate and would engage people from outside the boxing world.

The latest instalment of a superstar came in the form of the one and only Roy Jones Junior. Roy did everything well in the ring. Commentators would often point out that his opponents (virtually every single one of them) would be out gunned in just about every department. In his prime, if there was a weakness nobody ever found it. Roy’s footwork was sublime, his power and ring general ship exceptional, and his hand speed so fast that you often actually couldn’t see the punches he threw (i.e. some of his knock downs against Reggie Johnson). Roy was an engaging character outside of the ring as well. He would often speak of himself in the third person, as if he were so amazed at his own ability that he had to talk about it as if it were someone else. He was so dominant in the sport that people began to refer to him as ‘Superman’. Again, he attracted people from outside the boxing world who would come to see the latest ‘Roy Jones Fight’. He became such a brand that he was given parts in films such as the Devil’s Advocate, and the Matrix.

The common thread then, the characteristic shared by all the boxing superstars is the ‘X factor’. It is the ‘something’ about the fighter that draws intrigue. It is something that they do that cannot be done by other people. It is a combination of qualities that create the entire package, to the point where the fighter becomes a brand. People do not go just to see a boxing match, but the fighter themselves. Ali, Leonard, Tyson and Jones were enigmas in the sport of boxing. The confidence displayed in their ability, the ways in which they interpreted the physical laws of boxing and the way that they would carry themselves set them apart from the rest. The translation between the characters outside the ring to the one inside creates the X factor; I will tell you how good I am, then, I will show you.

Who can now fill that void? There are many talented boxers in the sport today with some huge egos and personalities. Middleweight Bernard Hopkins is now widely perceived to be the new pound for pound king. Bernard is a tough, skilled fighter of enormous intelligence and an engaging personality. He is not however, flashy. He does everything well, but nothing spectacularly. He cannot pick a round before the fight in which he will knock his opponent out (as Ali could), he does not have amazing hand speed, and he does not win with gusto (as all the fighters above did). Floyd Mayweather, the Light Welter-weight is a more apparent heir to the throne. He is unbeaten, incredibly talented and does win spectacularly. In boxing terms, he is undeniably one of the greats. Floyd is telegenic, and supremely confident. He is, however, not particularly nice. He is arrogant in an aggressive way and is often standoffish with the media. The potential is there, but the indications that he will become the new golden boy of boxing are not. Truth be told, in boxing today there are few candidates that fulfil the requirements for superstar status. Oscar De La Hoya, although being charismatic and a great ambassador for the sport, has been beaten too many times. So has Shane Moseley, and Antonio Tarver, conqueror of Roy Jones is probably too old to be considered the future of boxing. With the recent comeback of Felix Trinidad and his devastating display against Ricardo Mayorga, boxing may have found its answer. However, Trinidad’s systematic beating at the hands of Bernard Hopkins may have permanently damaged his status. If he can defeat Hopkins in a rematch, then we will have our new ambassador. Until then, the field is wide open and a star at some point must arise. Flashy, engaging and unbeaten are the requirements. And most importantly, that crowd drawing, awe inspiring X-Factor.

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