I fucking love fighting.
Let me clarify that. I love watching fights. Have since forever, really. Actually, I still remember the first fight I ever saw. Well, the first “prize fight”, that is. I was about nine years old when I saw Alexis Arguello, the gritty, multiple time world champion, get stopped in brutal fashion by Aaron Pryor, a terrifyingly un-subtle reminder that nothing is forever in Boxing, where your diminished skills can lead to a fuck of alot more than just losing or whatever. The two things I still remember about that fight were the sense of drama surrounding it, and just how sorry I felt for Arguello, that poor fucker.
See, that first paragraph sums up just what turns me on about Boxing, I think. Many have written about the immediacy and finality of the fight game, the idea that all is laid bare for everyone to witness, a winner and a loser left to their respective fates and all that shit. Either that or the idea that two people are going to have at it and one of them is likely to get his ass handed back to him. I mean, that’s also part of the brilliance: there’s something for everyone, regardless of your level of sophistication.
Of course, it’s not for everyone. First off, on the list of Sports you are likely to get your wife/girlfriend to watch, it’s near the bottom, tucked in somewhere between Nascar and Bullfighting. Even though my girl is gracious enough to let me enjoy the fisticuffs without complaining, I usually end up torturing her with endless slow-motion replays of a brutal knockout, should one happen to occur. I think The Paul Williams/ Sergio Martinez one-punch was her (least) favorite.
Honestly, this reveals more about my nature than I’d like to admit, seeing as how I’m more likely to be focused on the skill, power and timing it takes to knock a man silly with your fist than I am on the fact that the victim of said punch is laying on the canvas unconscious with his eyes wide fucking open. I mean, I had to have it pointed out to me and everything, to which I basically responded, “oh. That sucks.”
That said, it isn’t just about the violence. To watch Sweat Pea Whitaker dance, shuffle and jab his poor opponents into obilvion, or witessinga young Roy Jones square off with many a formidable foe with his lead arm at his fucking waist, supremely consident in the notion that the dude had no chance to do any real harm, is just as compelling. They call it the sweet science for a reason, yo.
What I’m saying is, boxing is my jam. At it’s best, It moves me in ways no other sport can, period. All the corruption, multiple sanctioning bodies (and accompanying multiple “world titles”) , politics and blatant money grubbing may have done a little to dampen my enthusiasm over the years, but nothing or nobody can run me off completely. If Don King couldn’t, I can’t imagine who or what could.
Still, I’d never try to pretend that the sport hasn’t seen better days, and likely will never mean what it once did, for all sorts of reasons. The days of the Heavyweight Champion being the most important man in the sporting world went away with Muhammad Ali, never to return.
These days, the best you’ll get is a blockbuster gate attraction or two, the occasional Manny Pacquio or Floyd Mayweather, but nothing approaching the social or political import of the great scrappers of old. The sport still features a few transcendent talents like Sergio Martinez and Nonito Donaire and incomparable old lions like Bernard Hopkins, but a good deal of the prospective talent pool has long since been lured away by more lucrative athletic endeavors, from Football to Basketball to, ironically, Mixed Martial Arts.
What is interesting is that the same thing that made Boxing so popular from the outset is what keeps it afloat in 2011, at least in the business sense. Beyond just the “My guy can whip your guy” ethos, there has always been a strong ethnic and geographical element. Those people are the ones who still care and likely always will. Never underestimate the power of patriotism, for better or worse.
Facts are facts though, and the truth is plenty of people see boxing as outdated, especially your average MMA fan. To them, it’s at best antiquated and at worst fantastically boring. To these types, MMA is the future, Boxing the past. Believe it or not, there was a time when I might have, too. Not too long ago, I had the notion that maybe MMA was the realistic, proper evolution of the fighting arts: a maturation from the one-discipline combat of the sweet science to a new world where the fighters had to be fluent in several disciplines to thrive.
These days, I’ve mostly given on up that idea. MMA fights can be interesting, depending on the stylistic match-ups, but for the most part I find it to be a compromised, somewhat-convoluted proposition. In the earliest incarnation of the UFC, it was essentially an everything-goes deal, save a rule or two. Fuck, ask Joe Son about the vagaries of fighting in this type of environment.
That’s just cold-blooded.
So yeah, the wild west era of the early UFC’s had a unique charm, but the progression of the sport and the desire to be more accepted in the mainstream brought about swift changes, not the least of which was the hurdle of getting licensed by the state athletic commissions that were banning it en masse, convinced that what some people were calling a “sport” was nothing more than human cockfighting. What this did, among other things, was create a mess of a rulebook that would be harder to explain to the layman (or your significant other) than the illegal defense rules in the NBA or the Quarterback rating. To wit:
*You can elbow, but only from side to side, not downward.
*You can kick or knee a guy if you’re both down, but not if you are standing and he isn’t.
* You can hold a guy and hug him to your hearts’ content, but you cant hold onto the cage.
And so on, to the point where it starts to feel like the whole “who can kick the most ass” is being buried under a pile of rules and stipulations.
Somewhat more troublesome is the gloves they wear, if you can even call them gloves. Can’t really tell if they are there for any reason beyond protecting the knuckles, but a flush punch from a guy wearing those little mittens likely means the end of the fight, seeing as how you are allowed to jump on a downed fighter and pound him until the referee deems the downed man no longer able to defend himself. Essentially, all of this ensures that a fair amount of fights can end in a sudden, often fluky manner., thus reinforcing my opinion that you aren’t always seeing the best man win. Add the fact that you can win an MMA bout by submission, whether it be by choking the poor fucker unconscious or by streching a limb or bone ’til it snaps, and you’ve got an even more distorted sense of what “winning” really is.
Even more off-putting is what the sport has evolved into, stylistically. From day one, the UFC was sold on the “which fighting style is superior” premise, and the motley crew of combatants resembled something you’d see in one of those old tough man competitions.
Sumo wrestlers and kickboxers and karate fighters, oh my!
Now, it’s turned into a bunch of guys who had to become at least somewhat proficient in all the different fighting elements, from wrestling to kick-boxing to jiu-jistu and beyond. In theory, what you get are indeed Ultimate fighters, if you will.
(Apologies for that pun. Couldn’t help myself).
In reality, what you end up with is a large majority of fighters who are mediocre in several aspects of fighting instead of dominant in one. Thing is, I’d rather watch a Jiu-jitsu or Judo tournament featuring the best in the world at their respective discipline than a bunch of guys who are just good enough at something to not be embarrassed.
Call it personal preference or whatever, but all of this probably best encapsulates my relative disenchantment with a sport I once had high hopes for. Sure, there is plenty more I could say about my distaste for the Alpha-male, tattoo t-shirt culture that has englufed that has become it’s prevailing culture, the inherent flaws in the scoring system and the infuriatingly high injury rate in a sport where the fighters beat themselves to death in training and how their preperation methods need to me drastically modified and all that good shit, but I think I’ve made my point. Do I watch it? Sure. Are the best MMA fights every bit as compelling as the best boxing matches? Sometimes. That said, I can’t help but think this sport has inherent flaws that need correcting, and until then it will remain a distant second in my eyes.
So, that brings me back to Boxing. Flawed as it is, passe as it might be, I still consider it to be the most pure, unfettered version of combat that exists. Two guys head to head throwin’ hands, may the best man win and all that good shit.
You may agree, you may not, but a trip through the exotic, bizarre history of boxing is a trip worth taking. Ali, Sugar Ray (Robinson more than Leonard, of course), the Leonard-Duran-Hagler-Hearns wars of the 80’s. All of it and so much more. Two men, one winner, forever cemented in the history books.
Nothing beats it.
Give it a look. Thank me later.
John Hathwell is fine with being thought of as old-fashioned. You can reach him by telegram at firstname.lastname@example.org.