Boxing is one of my great passions. That is to say I am a fan and a pundit – but not a participant. It is a sport that I find to be so beautifully simple yet unfeasibly complicated all at once – what can be simpler than punching someone and trying not to get punched? But obviously boxing is so much more than that. There is great skill required in learning how to punch and even greater skill in learning how to avoid a fist. There are different types of punch, different defences. For instance, there are six recognized punches. The combinations of those punches are crucial to success. There are thousands of combinations and each require hours of practice. Footwork is also crucially important, lest a boxer prefers to kiss the canvas on a regular basis. The concept of boxing is very simple but it sure ain’t easy to perform.
Boxing is a sport that is pugilistic, not simply in its method of sporting engagement, but how it reminds us (the fans) that we are the baying crowd entertained by savagery. To that end, we are much like the Romans in their colosseums and amphitheatres. We cheer on these modern-day gladiators. We treat them like heroes, but we want blood and thunder. We want winners and losers. We want them to put on a show and dazzle us by vanquishing and brutalising their opponents. We want them to show heart, skill and power in equal measure and when faced with surmounting odds we want them to overcome pain and fear. Or not. We delight when we see these gladiators wobble and struggle to maintain bodily cohesion. We want to see men and women knocked down and out. And for some, that is the reason they are turned off by this most demanding of sports.
Perhaps more than any other sport, boxing polarises opinion. On the one hand, boxing enjoys a fanatical fanbase that crosses all social strata. On the other hand, it perpetrates its own uneasy clichés of poor boys using boxing as their only method of discipline or the only means to escape a bleak future.
Boxing detractors usually fall into two categories – those who have grave concerns about the medical/physical implications of boxing – and those who believe we should be above the base savagery of beasts and against the glorification of violence.
The first argument is undeniably sound. Boxers run the risk of dying every time they enter the ring. Punches rattle their brain and break down their bodies and tragically some are left permanently damaged or die for their sport. But to prohibit boxing is to take away personal freedoms and choice. Boxers choose to participate and every single fighter knows the risks involved. The rewards for such risk is money and glory. But that’s not the whole story. Boxers box to find their limits, to best another fighter, to reach the peak of their physical prowess, to be a champion in the eyes of those who care and love them. Believe me, boxers count each of those things as much a reward for their risk as the money and the chance of titles and glory.
To say we should all be morally against the savagery of pugilism is a finer detailed argument – one that expounds upon philosophy and sociology, libertarianism and politics, psychology and anthropology. And other -ologies, no doubt! The counter-arguments make for an equally detailed debate.
Maybe in another article I can explore this argument in fine detail.
The facts are boxing is performed under rules and guidances. It is strictly monitored and incorporates as much safety legislation as reasonably possible. As much as a boxer is conditioned to knock an opponent cold, so they are conditioned to withstand punches that a non-boxer could not. Yes, the act of punching an opponent is violent and boxing history is stuffed full of legends and remarkable athletes. I suppose the pertinent question is: Is it better to allow people the freedom of choice or to prohibit in the name of a supposed ‘greater wisdom’?
Boxing creates a certain fascination shared by both fans and non-fans. Millionaires and celebrities sit ringside and pay fabulous money to get flicked with sweat and blood, to feel the shudder of heavy blows and hear the faintest cries of pain and desperation. The everyman of the cheap seats takes in the wider view – no less valuable in terms of experience; the arena, the baying crowds, the assault on the senses – it doesn’t matter if it’s a village hall or a stadium. We look at the big Las Vegas fights and see the celebrities in thousand-dollar dinner jackets at ringside, grinning for the cameras. I love boxing but seeing over-privileged celebrities gurning leaves me cold. For some, the dazzling array of star attendees is the only reason why they watch the big fights.
Despite genuine counter-arguments, negative press, nefarious practices, periods of fluctuating popularity, turbulent inner politics and haphazard organization, boxing survives. In fact, boxing has never been more viable, primarily because boxing is a mega money business.
The thought of two men or two women punching each other is a savage form of entertainment. Add millions of dollars to the mix and that savagery takes on a different slant. We, the fans, become emboldened – we demand more of the brutality because we are paying for it. We want the mega money big fights and the showbiz it brings because it puts our sport front and centre of the news or the discussion over morning coffee. We place the supreme athletes in boxing on golden pillars and bestow legendary status upon them for their ability to render an opponent unconscious. And we watch on with no sense of surprise when it transpires that some of those pillars were made of crumbling salt.
Boxing, the noble art of fisticuffs under Queensbury Rules is the ultimate in solo sporting endeavours. I hear the arguments of cycling fans who claim that Tour riders face gruelling schedules both in training and competition and that their sport is the toughest challenge. Tennis fans will point to the hours each match can take at high velocity and high technicality; that travelling from the back end of one tournament to the next is akin to a life spent on the road with training the only ‘respite’. I tip my hat to both sports and their dedicated participants.
I argue for boxing on a number of scores. I love the primality of sport across all disciplines – both solo and team sports. It is our primitive urge to better our fellow man that sport becomes so vital. We compete to beat. And no sport insists on this philosophy more than boxing.
There are a number of areas of excellence that all dedicated sportspeople need to accomplish before they can succeed. While all sports can count fitness, physique, dedication, pain, technique, heart, pride, showmanship, power, enjoyment, intelligence and confidence as requisites for success, so boxers must include an extra component – fear, or rather the conquering of fear. All sportspeople fear losing or not performing well, but boxers must also overcome the fear of being assaulted. Two quotes come to mind – one from the trainer Cus D’Amato and the other from his famous protégé ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson.
“The hero and the coward both feel the same thing, but the hero uses his fear, projects it onto his opponent, while the coward runs. It’s the same thing, fear, but it’s what you do with it that matters.”
– Cus D’Amato
“I’m scared every time I go into the ring, but it’s how you handle it. What you have to do is plant your feet, bite down on your mouthpiece and say, ‘Let’s go’.”
– Mike Tyson
Another quote from Mike Tyson that stuck with me was:
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
And remember, getting punched in the mouth by a heavyweight boxer is something close to being hit with a 16lb log at 35mph. In fact, heavyweight boxers’ punch-power is around four times more powerful than that of an average man!
Boxing often throws up hypothetical arguments more often than not centred on who was the greatest in their weight class or which legends across era’s would have prevailed in fantasy match ups. It was a question posed to me in this vein that really inspired this article:
Would any of the great middleweight boxers of the 80’s have beaten the legendary Carlos Monzon in his prime?
If you want to know BlogMonkeys’ take on that particular debate then follow us and look out for the forthcoming article.
🐵 Terence 🐵