By Chris Acosta: This was a golden opportunity for boxing. And has been the case the last few years, the sport blew it big –time. As the early rounds flew by during the Timothy Bradley- Devon Alexander 140lb. unification match, I felt the nagging sense that it wasn’t going to get any better. And unfortunately I was right. The problems began when fellow nincompoops Gary Shaw and Don King decided to hold the event at the cavernous Pontiac Silverdome, a venue past its relevant prime and located in a city that was entrenched in economic straits long before the housing bubble was anywhere near bursting. We all knew that it wasn’t going to sell and that the promoters were driven by the financial gain of site fees and not the success of the event itself. But the politics of boxing were never controllable by the people anyway and so the best we could hope for was that we’d get a great fight that might rejuvenate some interest in boxing here in America.
Two, undefeated fighters with an equal desire for greatness has been a winning combination in the past so naturally, it made sense to apply that logic here. But it was evident from the outset that Alexander wasn’t willing to commit to an attack and that Bradley just can’t seem to understand that a three-punch combination doesn’t include his head.. The constant clinching and slow pace was excruciating, like being trampled by a mob of senior citizens. The HBO team tried their best to analyze the non-goings-on and it was comically ironic that a silent Larry Merchant was suddenly not a good thing. Like many fans, I screamed for something to happen and didn’t even bother to watch the decision being announced. It was that bad.
There’s a rule in novel writing about showing versus telling. It’s one thing to say that someone is sad and quite another to describe the flow of a tear or quiver of a lip. In these days of Twitter and all other media, expression is to be taken with a grain of salt. Boxers use these outlets to promote themselves, hurling insults at future opponents and demanding our attention. But when it comes down to carrying out their claims in the ring, in other words, showing us, the bravado hasn’t made a corresponding translation. HBO commentator and Hall of Fame trainer Emmanuel Steward has noted in the networks last few broadcasts that the art of punching through a target has been replaced by “pretty” pad work and over-reliance on technical nuance. I don’t doubt that one bit but it also seems to be the mentalities of modern boxers which has changed.
The “Sweet Science” has become “not be hit and then not be hit some more” and now every boxer you see wants to work on his business acumen as much as his left hook. The primitive side of our combatants has reached a level of domestication that’s too easy for us non-fighters to relate to. Money has outweighed impression. Reward can be achieved without risk. The lauding of the fighters’ fortitude has been mistakenly held too high in the essence of mortal faculty. Look to soldiers at war in hostile lands or those battling terminal sickness for a better indicator of merit.
We all appreciate the grueling conditions fighters must endure to make such a tough living. Most of us will never understand the vulnerability one must feel when left alone in a ring with another person, to partake in the closest of combat against someone with whom we have no emotional or vindictive grudge. Sports writers love to lace the brutality of fighting with florid language as if trying to draw attention away from the obvious violence and we all love to compare our favorite fighters as modern-day gladiators. There’s just two problems with that.
1. Gladiators didn’t get paid millions of dollars and 2. They didn’t have a choice.
In fact, the life of a gladiator to put it eloquently, sucked. They were usually of the lowest class, marginalized and not afforded any real acclaim. Their accomplishments were meant to display the spirit of the Roman Republic- namely, all the cowards in the stands who gripped the bravery of their coattails (sounds an awful lot like boxing promoters doesn’t it?).
Modern hand to hand- paid- combat is totally voluntary and gives those coming out of the most impoverished conditions imaginable a chance to break away from nightmarish upbringings. The key word here is VOLUNTARY. There are countless occupations to choose from in this life and most of us don’t even end up in the one that suits us best. When one decides to become a fighter, the assumption is that they ENJOY fighting every bit as much as they HAVE to. For those who point to poverty as the impetus for replacing choice with necessity in pursuing a fighting career, consider the millions that grow up in the exact same conditions and DON’T engage in punching for pay.
As a volunteer, you pretty much waive your rights to argue your position (as any former member of the military, including yours truly, can attest). When fighters take safety-first positions in their occupation, it dilutes the very meaning of what they have chosen to do. It’s like Emeril ordering take-out and expecting his audience to admire his resourcefulness. Boxing has fallen victim to our overestimation of those involved in the physical aspect of it. I’ll never forget former middleweight champion Michael Nunn, lambasting the press after his overly cautious defense against Iran Barkley.
“The fans don’t take the punches” He said. Sorry Mike, in that case, allow us to humbly stand by and toss flower petals at you while you unashamedly cash all of our combined PPV money.
Nunn wasn’t the problem on his own of course; he was the trend of what was to come and what we see today. Fighters taking the least amount of risk for the most money, like their promoters do but instead of screwing said promoters, it’s us fans who get the shaft. There’s a term going around the internet to describe the rabid fan base of Manny Pacquiao, an affectionate little term known as a “Pactard”. It’s a hideous term to be sure, not because of it poking fun at the “Pacman’s” maniacal fans but because of its underlying dig at challenged persons. There’s a reason why people love (and should love) the Filipino icon: he never disappoints. There’s always the possibility that his fights will end by knockout and that is the key ingredient that brings in casual fans for a closer look. Forget whether you think he’s overrated or that he’ll be counter-punched into bits by Floyd Mayweather if they ever meet. Manny fights as though his life depends on it and too few world-class boxers today, follow his example.
And while there are more talented fighters, give me Chris Arreola, Alfredo Angulo, Paul Williams, Daniel Ponce De Leon and the like, who give us their best in the ring every time out yet are somehow still grilled by fans as being “exposed” when they lose. What do fans want? A bunch of twelve-round decisions devoid of any drama? This is an entertainment industry folks and right now it’s being outdone by that damn MMA thorn in that department.
Believe me when I say that I’m not a sadist and there’s nothing worse than seeing a once-fearsome Gerald McClellan confined to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life, blind and barely able to communicate after ten hellish rounds with Nigel Benn. Unfortunately, it’s a by- product of repeatedly punching another human being in the head: our bodies are as fragile as they are capable of exposing those frailties. But I’d bet if you were to ask Gerald whether he’d rather have done something else with his life, his answer might surprise you.
I still hold a wisp of hope that boxing can resurrect its once proud and gloried tradition. It is officially at the lowest point it has ever been so it really has nowhere to go but up. But I truly feel that for it to regain its health that the answer lies in the boxers themselves. Their performances are their promotion and the only element of the business that cannot be affected by politics and such. They must realize that losses aren’t as bad as overcritical fans make them out to be (see Glen Johnson, for example) and that creating excitement leaves a far more lasting impression than any pound for pound status ever could.