Boxing: It Has Little to do with Cardboard
When the topic of boxing is mentioned, thoughts of men (and quasi-recently, women) pounding each other with gloved fists, swollen eyes and broken noses come to mind (that and Muhammad Ali). Jabs, crosses, hooks and uppercuts create the arsenal, blocks and parries for defense, and footwork, leans, and clinches enhance the strategy. Competitors are broken up into groups by weight, two of them are tossed into a square ring and told that if they beat the shit out of each other, they'll get some money.
That's the basics of the sport, which is the only competition I can watch (unless I'm at the baseball stadium, baseball gets pretty dull on TV). And watch it I do. Anything that's not on pay-per-view (as always, I'm too cheap) and has a decent match-up, I'm there. I'll even watch it on the Spanish channels, even though my Spanish is limited to greetings and insults. But I don't need to know what the commentators are saying, first because I watch boxing for the fight and not the chit-chat, and second because I'm pretty sure they're saying the exact same thing that the English-speaking commentators say over and over: "He's just not using the jab enough".
So when can't I watch boxing? Any light heavyweight or above match that's not professional (and even then, only the top two-thirds of the pro-rankings are any good), because these fighters tend to have lousy stamina. A few rounds of action and then they're both tired as hell. They'll swap a punch or two then clinch until the referee breaks them up, punch again, clinch again. Ugh, boredom city. I also can't watch if one or both fighters are just plain lousy. I remember one fight where one fighter kept leaning two or three feet forward for his jabs (which were weak as hell), leaving his head and body wide open. His opponent kept using the opportunity to land some solid hooks and crosses. I turned the fight off after a round, but checked on it a few days later on the internet: the guy was knocked out in the third round. I'm amazed it took that long.
The first recorded forms of boxing can be traced back to the third century B.C. where an artist carved a relief showing two people fighting. In the event that said artist was only recording a simple high school fight that impressed him, all doubt is cast aside a thousand years later, where a carving in Egypt shows not only a fight, but spectators as well.
However, it seems likely that the sport's origins come from the dawn of mankind, when humans were just leaving the trees and forests (or the alien birth pods, if you're a lunatic who supports that theory), creating the earliest tribes and fighting off the vicious wildlife. Two friends were likely scavenging for food when one says "Hey, Tom, if we got into a fight, who would win?"
"What do you mean, obviously? I think I stand a good chance."
"No way. You're a sissy."
Thusly, two friends become enemies for a few moments, for no reason but to see who was best in a rumble. As spectators started to gather around, and some rules were developed to make the entertainment last longer (a punch to the groin generally makes for a short fight). The Minoan civilization developed gloves, and he Ancient Romans created even more rules. Soon, the sport became so popular that even their emperors started boxing.
And while fighting competitions based upon money are a strictly human trait (unless the various critters on this world start developing currency), fighting for reasons beyond survival and finance exist everywhere. Most notably are wolves and chimpanzees, who use violence as a way to determine who is the alpha male. I'm sure other animals fight for leadership positions, but those are the two that come to mind right now.
I got interested in boxing at a pretty young age. My Grandpa had a tape of Muhammed Ali's greatest fights that he watched over and over again, and I began watching with him. Seeing that man's speed and power was fairly impressive to me, but eventually my interest waned and I would want to watch Sesame Street instead.
As years went on, I would catch a fight here or there if it interested me, like an infamous boxer in a challenging match, or if I was just in the mood for some boxing. After a spell, I really began to recognize some of the talent involved. It wasn't just two people whomping on each other with all their might, there was a real strategy involved. Defending attacks, launching your offensive, taking the fight into further rounds to try to get your opponent tired, staying off of the ropes, getting your opponent stuck in a corner. It may not seem as strategically complex as football or basketball, but the stratagems are certainly there.
So who do I think is the best boxer of all time? While I think that Rocky Marciano stands a good chance of being the greatest, what with being undefeated for his whole career and all, I think that Sugar Ray Robinson has him beat. Sugar Ray lost fights, sure, but his strategies, speed and power never made it an easy win for any opponent. Plus, Robinson is the only boxer that Ali would ever admit was better than him.
But of course, that doesn't mean that Robinson is my favorite boxer. I considered their to be a considerable difference between opinions of "best" and "favorite" (for instance, my favorite guitarist is Angus Young from AC/DC, but I'm the first to admit that there are plenty who are/were better on the axe than him). No, may favorite is the man who inherited Robinson's title "sugar", Sugar Ray Leonard. Robinson would have taken Leonard down, no problem, but Leonard's speed has always amazed me. I consider him one of the fastest boxers to ever enter the ring, making up for his lack of power (not too lacking, though). His footwork was damn impressive too.
Other boxers I like a lot include Sugar Shane Mosely (he can switch from right-handed fighting to southpaw effortlessly), Jake Lamotta, Evander Holyfield and, of course, Ali.
And then there's Mike Tyson. Of all boxers, he and Ali are certainly the most famous, but was Tyson really a "great' fighter? I personally don't think so. His power is what got him to the top of the sport, and his tolerance for abuse meant he didn't have to concentrate too hard on defense (although his defense was getting pretty decent for a short while). It always seemed to me that Tyson wasn't aiming to be the "scientific" fighter, the master of the strategy, but simply wanted to get close and land his hardest punches to get things over and done with.
That's not to say that Tyson didn't have some great fights. Watching him take down boxers who were better on strategy, simply by brute force, could be pretty damn entertaining, and the first fight he lost against Buster Douglas is truly classic. Douglas won because of a combination of factors: he was the smarter fighter, with better defense and footwork. He could take the abuse that Tyson dished out (no small feat), and finally, Douglas had a jab like a brick through a window. He kept away from as many of Tyson's power punches as he could, kept landing that intense jab, and in the tenth round Tyson went down for the first time, and stayed down.
While it is my favorite sport, boxing has also become one of the most heavily criticized sports in history. First, people say it's dangerous. While this is certainly true, the risks are minimalized (the gloves have more padding then they did fifty years ago, and fight doctors can stop the brawl if they feel that either player is in risk of serious and/or permanent damage), and further more, all sports are dangerous. Think you can't get injured playing football? Permanent damage to the limbs or even the brain occur yearly in football (and according to Wikipedia, more deaths have occurred in football than in boxing, but that's Wikipedia so take it with a grain of salt). How about hockey? The dental bills for hockey players alone must be astronomical, but they slam each other into the rink walls all the time. Can't be good for you.
And lastly, if you want to condemn boxing, you should condemn driving a car first, since that produces more deaths and injuries than any sport.
Another popular criticism is that boxing is brutal and uncivilized. My answer: yes. Yes it is. But why is this such a bad thing? Every generation believes itself to be more civilized than the last, but why can't we humans cling to some of the uncivilized traits of time past, if for no reason than entertainment's sake. The human race rose up from times when we were easily vulnerable to vicious predatory animals, sports where the losers were put to death (like the Roman Gladiators) and wars used to be far more vicious than they are now (that's not to say that war will ever be "civilized", but since the two world wars, plenty of laws of war have been enacted to try to make it more so). We've come a long way, we're likely to keep going further ahead, what's a few unruly sports going to harm things? I think that being uncivilized is a bit of the purpose behind boxing.
A final criticism of note is that boxing is "pointless". Assuming that this criticism doesn't mean that points are not scored in boxing (which there are), but rather there is no purpose to the sport, the immediate question becomes "what point is there to any sport, besides fun for the players and entertainment for the speculators?" Watching two teams of people throw, pass, or kick a ball, in any of its varieties, will likely have little effect towards ending world hunger, housing the homeless or stopping pollution. North Korea has been testing nuclear weapons underground, and I sincerely doubt that a rousing soccer match will convince them to knock it off. So if boxing has no point, where's the reasoning behind baseball or rugby?
All sport is based on one premise: Which person (or team of persons) is better than the other at a specific game? Who can run a touchdown the fastest? Who can clobber a baseball the hardest? Who can flick a tiny rubber puck through the goalie's legs the most? And finally, if these two people got into a fight, who would win? And I think that fighting is the basis for all competition, some are just better at hiding it than others. A bunch of guys want to see who can win a brawl, but they don't feel like throwing any punches because they're all pansies, so they grab some golf clubs and smack balls down a field. They grab a few polished rocks and throw them down a path of ice. They even hurl balls out of weird curvy baskets at walls in some crazy event called jai alai.
June 1st, 2009
In the end, this boils down to "who is the best", but why bother with these silly kids games when they could just settle things with one perfect uppercut?
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