Is Quitting Still a Taboo Word In Boxing?


30.06.05 – By Andy Meacock: ‘Quitting’ is considered to be a taboo word and a forbidden word in the sport of boxing. Boxing is a sport that prides itself on its toughness, machismo and heart. With this in mind it’s easy to understand why ‘quitting’ is not recognised in the same sentence as boxing.

Probably the most famous example of a boxer deciding to give in during a bout was the legendary Roberto Duran during the 8th round of his second fight against fellow legend Ray Leonard on the 25th November 1980. ‘Sugar’ Ray out-boxed, frustrated and eventually succeeded in breaking Duran’s will and forcing the tough Panamanian to utter those famous words, “No mas, no mas”. Leonard, after taking Duran’s Welterweight Championship was quoted saying, “to make a man quit, to make a Roberto Duran quit, was better than knocking him out.”

Some boxing journalists, history books and fans have mixed opinions of Duran because of this decision to give in that evening. Some feel that it Duran lost his right to be considered an all-time great because a truly great champion would never give up. My personal feeling is that Duran was a great champion and fighter. I still consider Duran an all-time great despite the decision he took on that night and I think most open minded boxing fans do also.

So is the attitude in boxing towards giving up/quitting correct in modern times?

The issue of quitting has become quite prominent in the minds of boxing fans, journalist and enthusiasts of late due to a couple of high profile fights that took place in the month of June.

At 2am on June 4th in Manchester, England we saw a thrilling contest involving the then IBF Light-Welterweight champion Kostya Tszyu take on a highly popular undefeated hometown fighter in Ricky Hatton. It was a rough affair which involved lots of clinching, in-fighting and the occasion low blow from both fighters. The fight was relatively close up until the 9th round when Hatton seemed to begin to dominate Tszyu. The momentum had clearly shifted and Tszyu was struggling in rounds 10 and 11.

Then something amazing and quite unpredictable happened, Tszyu didn’t answer the bell for round 12. The crowd roared, Hatton’s corner went crazy, it was truly amazing. Moments before referee Dave Parris waved his arms to signal the fight was over there was conversation going on between Tszyu and his trainer Jonny Lewis. There are slightly conflicting reports regarding what was said between the two men but it’s widely believed that Lewis advised Tszyu to pack it in for the evening. Tszyu looked a dispirited figure and failed to respond to the bell in agreement with his trainer’s wishes. Deep down I think he knew that he was behind by a few points and that the momentum was in Hatton’s favour. There’s no shame in a great champion like Tszyu’s giving in and I think people should respect him for it.

Some people have been calling Tszyu things like a “coward” or “quitter”. I think this is unfair and a bad way to treat someone who was a highly respected champion. Only Tszyu could know how bad things were, not any of the fans and not any of the journalists. How many of the fans and journalists who called Tszyu a “quitter” have fought a war against Ricky Hatton and 22,000 of his supporters for 11 rounds?, what gives them the right to make such derogatory remarks about the man?.

After the fight, Tszyu and Hatton behaved like true gentlemen and great figures for the sport, which was a true representation of how classy and respectful both men are. It has also been reported that Tszyu had suffered a suspected broken jaw and possible bleeding to the brain. These reports again are not clear and are still to be clarified but if they are true then Jonny Lewis made the right decision in protecting the health of his fighter.

The UK has witnessed serious injuries to high profile fighters like Michael Watson and Gerald McClellan in the past, how quickly some people forget these things. I hope they consider this before being too critical of Lewis and Tszyu.

A week later we saw the return of Mike Tyson. The youngest ever heavyweight champion in history fought a heavy underdog in Kevin McBride. Tyson’s last fight before this was against Danny Williams in which Tyson was knocked out in round 4. Tyson hurt his knee early in that fight and many claimed that Tyson would have knocked out Williams had the injury not occurred. We will never know the answer to that last question but the one thing we knew before the McBride fight was that Tyson had been knocked out twice in his last three fights.

The world found out just how shot of a fighter Tyson was against McBride. He struggled all night long against the taller opponent. His frustrations showed as he tried to head-butt, bite and break the arm of his opponent in desperation. Knowing he had nothing left Tyson slumped against the ropes in round 6 and lay there until the bell rang for the end of the round. He didn’t come out for round 7. He admitted after the fight that he just didn’t have the motivation or desire to box anymore, “I don’t have the stomach for this anymore”, Tyson said.

Tyson embarrassed himself that night but I don’t disagree with his decision to give up in that fight either. Tyson had no desire to box that night or in future, if he had continued he would probably have been knocked out. Why make him endure unnecessary punishment if he’s unable to intelligently defend himself?. Tyson retired immediately after the fight and is unlikely to return.

Now it’s true that Tyson didn’t lose in the dignified way than Tszyu did but he still deserves respect from fans for what he brought to boxing when he began. It’s often forgotten that boxing was in a slump before Tyson came on the scene. The arrival of Tyson is the mid to late 80’s and brought it back to the mainstream, Tyson helped regain the interest in boxing and despite what Tyson has become we shouldn’t forget the contribution to boxing he made at the start of his career.

Are Tszyu and Tyson’s legacies damaged because of June?

Like with Duran, I believe Tszyu and Tyson’s will be viewed favourably over time due to the things that they accomplished when they were in there primes. Despite their losses I still think most boxing fans will look back affectionately at them.

In closing, we must remember that boxing is a sport, a brutal sport but still a sport. It isn’t a game of death. We don’t want to see anymore sad injury stories or corpses to damage this great sport. We don’t want to see similar things like what happened to Michael Watson and Gerald McClellan in the 1990’s.

Personally, all I ever want and expect to see in a boxer is for them to go out there and give it their best but still walk out of there being just as normal as they were when they stepped in the ring.

Whether or not we agree with the choices that Kostya Tszyu, Mike Tyson and Jonny Lewis made, we should respect them and not call them derogatory names like ‘cowards’ or ‘quitters’. Hopefully in time the history books and fans will agree…