By Ted Spoon: It’s a paradox unique to boxing that while it speaks to the layman’s inner fury it delights more distinguished figures. You’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who doesn’t enjoy a tear-up, but although fighting and boxing are linked, they are polarities, and ironically the more boxing there is the less receptive the crowd are.
There can be no other competition which (in terms of its universal appeal) is so specialist.
Football is owner to the largest spectrum of support, but what’s apparent is the degree of knowledge most fans possess. Even the understanding of casuals is strong enough to thrive in various circles of conversation. The mechanics of the game, transfers, manager’s decisions; these trinkets of info are native in all types of person, and when you watch a game you get the feeling the crowd are in tune with the reality of the situation.
With boxing things are different.
In any fight you’ll feel that undercurrent that urges the fencing to degrade into fighting. You’re sure to hear inane classics such as “knock him out!” or “kick his ass!” – Essentially the football equivalent of barking at your team to score. Boxer’s are conscious of giving a good show but securing the win is just as important, and this is where the casuals get lost in translation.
In an alchemical sense, a fighter can reveal a fans nature, and Juan Manuel Marquez is a model of this division between the casual and the enthusiast.
Mexico’s maestro has been one half of numerous exciting bouts, and his fan base is not lacking, but a counter-punching style has stopped him from receiving that unconditional love. He is a fighter who requires a complementary opponent which is why belligerent Manny Pacquiao gets on with him like a house on fire.
He is not one who picks a fight but kindly reciprocates. A daring opponent is what makes the difference between an exciting and a steady Marquez fight. In times when ‘Dinamita’ boxed cagier foe many have failed to value that attention to detail which has brought them 39 knockouts in 54 victories.
Once you learn not to watch Marquez expectantly (aware that he prefers to dismantle rather than shatter his victims) then you can begin to enjoy what’s on offer.
Hardly a dud, when given enough rope Marquez is one of most attractive combination punchers in the business; fond of the 4-6 punch variety. More so than reach it is feet that dictate range and Juan is deviously adept at giving ground. When his adversaries teeter off balance he draws their heads into thumping hooks, uppercuts and crosses.
It’s difficult to name another fighter who can so fluently mix his short punches with his looping ones. Marco Antonio Barrera was a master at the short stuff, Erik Morales was superior at long-shooting, but Juan is never prejudice about where he sparks his rallies, and he can catch you coming in or pulling back.
The one time this specificity was shown up was against Floyd Mayweather Jr. Natural advantages in size and speed helped the defensive American leave Marquez’s counter-punching out to dry. It was something of an exception, and in every other outing his rugged brilliance has been apparent.
With his punch and stubbornness Marquez can at least, if not woo everyone, impress them. Lower down on the popularity radar are fighters who lack not just the shiny coating but those specific features.
Mike McCallum’s tag of the ‘Body Snatcher’ had a nice ring to it, but over the last decade Jamaica’s first world champion has gone down as Mr. Underappreciated.
Despite the personality-infused alias, Mike was cursed with an all-rounder skill set; in the cartoon universe he would undoubtedly be a kid’s least favourite where a flashy Leonard, volcanic Duran and grumpy Hagler do battle.
While these vivid antagonists waged their million-dollar wars McCallum calmly trudged on, and he continued well after they were through. For over ten years he was involved in world title fights. From Julian Jackson to Roy Jones, from Milton McCrory to James Toney, from Michael Watson to Jeff Harding, McCallum fought whoever he could after his medicals.
By any standard you have a great career before you, but a methodical tinge to his work made it difficult to believe in him, even when his hand was raised. Taking out Donald Curry with one swipe was spectacular, but it was the explosive exception in a meticulous campaign.
There was a beautiful evenness about his work; body punches were more of a nice feature than that type of rib-molesting Julio Cesar Chavez provided. The jab was fluid and he pushed forward with it. He kept an eye out for counters and almost looked pretty when slipping. The guard was tight, when breached his chin was solid, and he possessed that unpredictable variety – the hallmark of a top fighter.
As it was with Ezzard Charles before him, Mike was simultaneously blessed and ailed by a perfect symmetry, one that could only be appreciated by trainers and avid fans, like the mathematician who finds uncommon pleasure in geometry.
Having virtually no weaknesses is something you would think to be desirable, but in boxing terms it can deprive the masses of those intriguing vulnerabilities, shunning the theatre for a science exhibition.
You could say McCallum’s career was a little untimely, but in that case you’d have to say Eusebio Pedroza’s was destined to be abused.
The tall Panamanian was the featherweight Larry Holmes, cruising through 19 defences of his WBA title without anyone paying too much attention. Following Salvador Sanchez and preceding Barry McGuigan put Pedroza between a rock and a hard place, but different to McCallum he didn’t have the luxury of being the national hero with Roberto Duran on the prowl.
There was an edge to him as a fighter, quick and tenacious, but as they said a reputation can follow a man around for a long time, and Eusebio’s one as a dirty boxer put a hex on his impressive abilities.
Though the greater percentage of the crowd is persistently calling for blood they are not without a moral code and will sound their disapproval when one tries to take advantage through uncouth means. With Pedroza these ‘means’ were numerous. He moved around excitedly like a springbok, but unlike Africa’s serene herbivore, Pedroza wasn’t so innocent.
Among his choice tactics included launching himself into clinches, which could result in butting. Once close up he was happy to wrestle. Rabbit punches and kidney punches were far down on his taboo list, and on the outside he was a fan of swooping in bolo punches that were not particularly north of the belt.
Of course that’s why there’s a referee in there, and Pedroza received more warnings than Elvis consumed banana and peanut-butter sandwiches. Once you got over his civil shortcomings you could enjoy a professor in the art of late-round ruin.
Eusebio was something of a volatile mover, sharp and unpredictable. He got going with a nervous but solid jab, insisting on a range that only worked for him. On top of the rough tactics he was accustomed to a little bravado to see if he could weed out any inexperience. This was all part of a game plan which preferred to see fights drift into the double figures where he ended 7 title challengers. When the knockout didn’t come a strong finish did its job in claiming the other 12 decisions.
The most decorated occasion Eusebio ever saw was in front of 26,000 when he opposed Irelands Barry McGuigan. For once the long-serving champion was on his best behaviour, but on a memorable night the good deed was swept away along with that title.
It’s refreshing to hear that one of todays least appreciated has just upset the trend. Paulie Malignaggi, the poser who can’t punch, registered his 7th stoppage in 35 fights (his first in nearly ten years) to take Vyacheslav Senchenko’s WBA world welterweight title. Reported to have ‘tweeted’ during the fight, it’s also good to hear he hasn’t lost that shtick which made him one of the least appreciated.