Episode 4: Pacquiao Marquez III

The time has come for the third fight…

In this episode, Jarrett and Rudy break down Pacquiao and Marquez’s trilogy bout, taking place November 12, 2011. We revisit the time and place of that night, analyzing each fighter’s journey through the ranks and still meeting each other head to head in the realm of the stacked welterweight division. We break down the back and forth rounds of this third fight, the result, and the controversial judge’s scorecards, capping it off by discussing the interview conducted by Max Kellerman and a naked Marquez in the locker room (???).

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Published by Anchor, we are also available as “The Split Draw” on Breaker, Google Podcasts, RadioPublic, Pocketcasts, and iTunes.

Episode 3: Unfinished Business

The best time of the week! Time for the rematch…

In this episode, Jarrett and Rudy break down “Unfinished Business,” the March 15th, 2008 rematch between Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao. We revisit the time and place of that night, analyzing the sonic choices of each fighter and the deeper cultural meaning surrounding that night. We break down the rounds of the fight, the result, and judges’ scorecards. We debate the true subjectivity of scoring that is ever so present in the (bitter) sweet science.

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Published by Anchor, we are also available as “The Split Draw” on Breaker, Google Podcasts, RadioPublic, Pocketcasts, and iTunes.

Essence Historic: Practice vs. Talent

It always pains me to think about boxing. To practice in boxing’s ways, which is plainly a good healthy practice of life, is about pain. It’s about constant, free movement. It’s about intentionality in all movement from head to toe. It’s about combining your eyes and instinct like calm water in one instant, and then like a strike of lightning in the next. It’s about feeling worldly, human, truth-telling pain, while another voice ignores it to reach for deeper power.  It’s about feeling every source of strength and sending a blow concentrated in human’s most underrated tool, the fist of hand. It’s exhilarating to practice, and it’s even more exciting seeing the best in the world succeed, innovate, and compete at the world level.

But not only in practice, but also in theory it pains me to think about boxing. To me, the health of competition of the sport is how much the greats of the sport regard its competition today. And when you see some of the American greats look to the past instead of towards the future, they lament on how the rules, the players, the organizations, the game… they don’t regard Boxing as the same as it once was. Why hasn’t it caught on? Where are the undisputed world champions of our day?

Some confirmation bias however, as you can expect from the BMB historian. History is always shinier. However, let me introduce to you one of the greatest Lightweight World Champions, US Virgin Islands very first world champion Livingstone Bramble. Fighting at a time of competition where he had beat Ray Mancini twice, he also went on to fight the likes of Tyrone Crawley, Roger Mayweather, and Kostya Tszyu. He was a talented, purposeful, graceful but gritty fighter. He has a very pragmatic reason to why he hasn’t paid attention to recent champions other than the retired champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. He simply says the talent is not there.

We’re not putting amateurs out there. We’re not winning gold medals. And it’s not even just the United States, the whole world. Years ago, when a guy won the gold medal you know he was going to win the world championship.

That’s not happening. We’re not getting that no more…We still searching for that.

As for me, it’s nice to play around and practice my jab, straight right, hooks, and my foot placement. I end up looking at old youtube videos on repeat in hopes of getting a glimpse of understanding of the excellence of Boxing as a martial art from the greats like Livingstone Bramble. Will we continue looking in the past for true talent in boxing? Or is the best yet to come? Whatever happens, I thank Dr. Doo for Livingstone Bramble, and the YouTube boxing community for documenting the greats of the past. Here’s hoping we find them all in the future.

My thanks to Hustle Boss and SweetFights for the great videos.

HANDS OF STONE REVIEW: Watch on Netflix

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Hands of Stone: The Humanity of Roberto Duran & Panamanian Anti-Imperial Politics
Film Review*

By Rudy Mondragon
Twitter: @boxingintellect

Hands of Stone is a movie that should have been made a long time ago. It is an important biographical film about Panamanian professional boxer, Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramirez), directed and written by Jonathan Jakubowicz. What is significant about the film is that it situates Duran as the protagonist. It is rooted within Panama’s political climate and United States manifest destiny imperialism of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, which allows for the unveiling of Duran’s complex humanity.

The last film that shed light on the life of Duran was ESPN’s No Más documentary, which actually focused on Sugar Ray Leonard. The film explored Duran and Leonard’s heated rivalry, seeking the truth behind Duran’s infamous “quitting” in the 8th round of their 1980 rematch. In the end, the documentary more so served as a healing process for Leonard, who felt he never got his due credit for beating Duran in their rematch.

Hands of Stone is all about Duran, starting in 1971 when he defeated Benny Huertas at the Madison Square Garden. This was a turning point in Duran’s career as he first met Hall of Fame boxing trainer, Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro). The film ends with Duran beating Davey Moore for the World Boxing Association Super Welterweight title in 1983. Although the film does not mention it, Duran would eventually go on to be regarded as one of the best lightweights of all time.

The flashbacks in the film are important because they take us back to Duran’s formative childhood. Through them we are able to better understand Duran’s upbringing and political development. The January 9, 1964 Martyrs’ Day Riot for example, is shown as having a direct impact on Duran. At the time of the conflict, Duran was 12 years old. United States soldiers killed 21 Panamanians, mostly students, who resisted US occupation and protested over sovereignty of the Panama Canal. Not only did Duran grow up poor, but he also had a first hand account of the harsh realities of US manifest destiny and geopolitical imperialism in Panama.

The film also captures heartfelt scenes that illuminate Panamanian moral victories over US power. This is what makes Hands of Stone a politically charged sports film rather than just a watered down movie about a sport. In one scene, Duran yells at a US officer, “You in jail!” With this, Duran was expressing his awareness of the affects of the mental and physical colonization that was taking place in his homeland. In calling out their false sense of power, the future world champion was signaling the need for US military officers to liberate themselves from being used as imperial tools for a greedy, money hungry US government.

The rivalry between Duran and Leonard is more than just sport. It symbolized an opportunity for Panamanian’s to resist US power and colonialism. Duran’s hate for Leonard stemmed from his political disgust with US foreign policy, occupation, and control of the Panama Canal. In order to achieve a victory over the US, Duran would need to beat their idol: The Golden Boy, Sugar Ray Leonard. This is the fascinating part of boxing. Boxing rivalries are not just about two fighters who are pinned against each other in the ring. Boxing rivalries embody nations, political ideologies, power, and enacted identities that are used to spark the emotions and alliances of fans.

Hands of Stone is victorious in providing the necessary context to see beyond the popular narrative that Duran was simply a savage beast that hated Leonard. Their rivalry was deeper than that. Duran, who once said “The poor are born happy,” was not at all thrilled to make acquaintances with the corporate friendly fighter that Leonard once was and represented. For Duran, Leonard was implicated in US power and domination. For a short moment, Duran’s victory over Leonard united the people of Panama because it symbolized a moral victory over the Yankees.

The cinematography beautifully captured and retold the story of what took place in their 1980 matches. At times I was not sure if I was watching a movie or actual fight footage from Duran and Leonard’s fights. From Duran shoving Leonard at the end of the 15th round, to Leonard unleashing two body shots at Duran as he walked away, the ring action truly showed why boxing is a like a sacred choreographed dance. The film showed the intimacy and personal relationship prizefighters share inside the squared circle. Fighters give each other their best efforts and as a result, they develop unique bonds inside and outside the ring.

Beyond the taunts, shoves, insults, and animosity, Hands of Stone demonstrates the unique and intimate relationship that Leonard and Duran will always share, a relationship that people outside of boxing can never fully understand.

*Originally posted September 19, 2016

Essence Historic: 15 rounds for brutal magic


My essence historic series kicks off from being reminded of long discussion about rounds with my uncle and about the fights he looks forward to in 2017. Last weekend’s rematch of LSC and Frampton was one of them. And like a light switch I was violently pulled from staring at the burning dumpster fire that is our American life under Trump, and was reminded of what was cool about boxing. The laser focus of Leo to pull off such a disciplined fight from the veteran instinct Frampton used to sweep the first fight was inspiring. Leo was fast, crisp, purposeful and always in motion. It watching fights like these that makes the rounds fly by, suddenly looking up and realizing that there’s only two more rounds left. You could see Carl finding gaps and Leo momentarily getting caught in the same traps set in the first fight. The rematch ends, a third is instantly paid for, and I’m reminded of my uncle’s parting words of why he’d rather be pleasantly surprised than look forward to any fight in 2017.

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“There isn’t a culture competitive heavyweights, and belts mean less since the change from 15 to 12 rounds”

To my uncle and many folks, the competitive landscape in the 70s and early 80s brought a sense of real urgency when the undisputed champion put his belt on the line for 15 rounds. Not only were matchups tantalizing in unpredictable ways, the flow of the fight has the potential to drastically change when months of preparation is culminated in the first round, the 12th round and the 15th round. A fella can change strategy, emotion, or simply get knocked in the mouth with heavyweight power. Since the time Ali roamed the land we’ve never seen a crop of legends sprout so high, and all on American soil. I guess if you got to enjoy that boxing period you would have to be crazy to compare that to today’s boxing. But was it because of 15 rounds or the period? I’m here to break down the context of the change.

It was November 1982, and the headline above, “Tragedy,” set off a series of events that gave Jose Sulaiman no choice but to buckle against a jerk reaction from mainstream calls to end “barbaric” boxing. Rather risk further mainstream persecution Sulaiman took out his large brush and swept 15 rounds to twelve. Sulaiman actually also proposed 90 seconds between rounds but I presume critics were pleased with his sacrifice.

However, Mancini, from Washington, called the round reduction ”a farce” and said he preferred the 15-round title bouts. ”The W.B.C. has given in to the public and critics who have called boxing barbaric,” he said. ”I hope the W.B.A. does not give in.” – Dec 9, 1982. NY Times

“My reaction is one of happiness that a world organization is moving toward boxing safety by taking a first step,” said Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, the Miami physician who supervises many boxing matches and is a commentator for NBC. “But this (12-round limit) is no cure-all or panacea,” he said. “It will not stop boxing fatalities.” Dec 10, 1982. Washington Post

Fighters like Scott Quigg agree. Fighters like Carl Frampton disagree. – Reddit

After looking back and looking forward, I feel torn. In that moment, boxing sport was being threatened. For leaders in the sport they love, I can understand why taking drastic action seemed so necessary for survival. Not only action, they needed symbolism. It needed a vote of confidence for the safety of boxers. Decreasing the total time boxers are at risk to get hurt was logical. (Of course people will say, “Of course!”) But will simple but sweeping changes address real problems with boxing injuries? Will it bring more attention to needs of the sport? Will it change the hearts of mainstream audiences that already thought boxing was barbaric?

In that sense I say no. The change arguably steals rounds from fighters like Scott Quigg, or Provodnikov (remember him?) which is unfortunate but probably for the better lest they want to be remembered as the one who got brain damage/broken jaw/black piss. What was good to revisit and remember is the context of the extreme mental toughness of fighters that prepared for all 15. That was a glorious time and it will and should be even more revered as so. But let’s not forget that our current amateur boxing’s finest brothers and sisters lace them up and prepare for each and every round as if it’s their last, and we have to recognize the risk and art of of doing it for 8 rounds as much as 4. (Protect yourself at ALL times.) There will be no shortage of golden moments in boxing so long as there is hope in great champions like Leo Santa Cruz and Roman Gonzales (though like our phones, I guess our champions are miniaturizing). Plus, as for boxing reform there are arguably bigger fish to fry (ahem, matchmaking, ahem). What I’ve learned in this segment of Essence Historic is the art of nuance in history. Seems like as we progress graceful nuance always trumps severe, irreversible, thoughtless, ignorant, reactions. Lessons learned from history.

So here’s to the future. I’m at peace with 12 rounds but we need more fights like Leo Santa Cruz V. Carl Frampton. Shit give Scott Quig a swing at it.

Reviving Modern Day Boxing Rivalries

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By: Rudy Mondragon
Twitter: @boxingintellect

Does boxing need new boxing rivalries for its revival? Personally, boxing does not need to be revived. It is not dead, but the content provided to fans is malnourished and underfed.

This article stems from three things: The recent Nate Diaz versus Conor McGregor rematch that was fueled by a theatrical script of mutual animosity, Robert Garcia’s thoughts on this UFC rivalry and how boxing needs one like it, and reflections from a conversation I had with my colleague and best friend, Edgar Villeda.

The Diaz/McGregor rematch was so intriguing for fans because of the pre-fight hype both men provided. Bottles were thrown at a press-conference, middle fingers were pointed, and each fighter’s camp almost participated in an improvised, yet very real, rumble. These are the elements that casual fans buy into, leaving actual talks about the competitiveness of the fight to UFC freaks and some experts.

Robert Garcia weighed in on this rivalry. He said this kind of rivalry is what boxing needs. Boxing these days is missing the entertaining villain roles that Ricardo Mayorga and Fernando Vargas developed so well. For Garcia, “boxing becoming a business” (PPV matches mainly) is what is hurting the sport, leaving little room for exciting boxing narratives to be developed.

I mostly agree with Garcia, but I will say that boxing did not just become a business, it has always been that. What is hurting the sport today is the underdevelopment of characters and trash talking that lacks creativity. Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating for WWE theatrics. I am saying that fighters using stereotypes to trash talk is not prolific but more so unambitious. McGregor calling Diaz a “crackhead ese” is nothing special. It is simply a racially charged trope used by a white dude to get fan and media reactions.

During my worthwhile conversation with my colleague and best friend, we discussed the great boxing rivalries of our time. Edgar and I were left thinking, “when was the last real boxing rivalry ?” We briefly looked to Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. However, this was the type of fight that Robert Garcia was speaking of. A big money event that fans had demanded for years. Knowing that, there was no need for Floyd or Manny to engage in any pre-fight hype to get fans interested. It was already sold.

We talked about the Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto rivalry. However, this event was fueled by the already established legacies of the Mexico versus Puerto Rico rivalry. The anticipation of the fight itself was all fans needed to get hyped. It was competitive and both men fought at the height of their respective careers. Great rivalry, but the pre-fight theatrics and spectacle were missing.

Sergio Martinez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr was an entertaining rivalry full of pre-fight trash talking. But lets be real, fans knew Martinez was the superior athlete and boxer who was only vulnerable to the power of the under-disciplined silver spoon. Fun rivalry, but four years later, does anyone really reminisce on the excitement this rivalry produced?

If I had to pick, I would say the most exciting boxing rivalry in recent time has to be between Floyd Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya. In 2007, Floyd was looking to establish himself as an independent man in boxing. This fight was his opportunity to graduate from being “Pretty Boy” to “Money May.” Floyd did not hold back throughout the promotional tour. From imitating the “Golden Boy” to bringing a chicken with a gold medal to the stage.

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Floyd presented himself as a confident black man who honestly accepted the challenge to assume the role of the new infamous modern day boxing villain. It was a well developed role that he made his own. Sure, most of his trash talking consisted of emasculating Oscar and challenging his manhood. As problematic as that is, I focus on the new and creative ways that Floyd presented his trash talking. It was an art that flipped the script on the culture of trash talking in sports. As a result, the boxing world stood still and watched. Floyd became public enemy number one in the eyes of Mexican boxing fans. Mexican fans who typically questioned Oscar’s career, were now in solidarity with the East LA native.

Before this fight was the 2002 match between Fernando Vargas and De La Hoya. I would say Floyd studied this rivalry well because Vargas performed a classic villain role. Rooted in his attempt to escape from the shadows of De La Hoya, Vargas’s dislike of De La Hoya was motivated by Vargas’s desire to uplift his own identity. His own humanity.

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This fight took place a year after the 9/11 attacks and Vargas had no plans in promoting US Nationalism and Patriotism. Instead, he presented himself as a proud Mexican fighter who embraced his Aztec past and was proud to enter the ring to live music by Vicente Fernandez. He questioned De La Hoya’s manhood and racial, ethnic, and cultural integrity. Again, we can have a conversation about this and how problematic that is, but Vargas did these things having full confidence of himself. That is pretty American if you ask me.

The modern day boxing rivalry is missing what Fernando and Floyd once brought to the table. Organic creativity that stems from each man’s identities. These two men fueled two of the most classic boxing rivalries of the past 2 decades. How did they do this? Both men knew they would assume the B-Side politic of villain in relation to the “Good Mexican,” De La Hoya. They embraced this role, but on their terms. Through creativity, honesty, and vulnerability, both men forced the public to consume them as they were.

Today’s boxing rivalries need just that. Boxers who stay true to themselves and commit to their own theatrical scripts to put on exciting pre-fight events. We don’t want puppets, we want honest fighters who put themselves and their politics on the line.

Knowing that the social structures of the boxing industry continue to be ultra-traditional and neoliberal, we have a long way to go before we can expect boxers to step away from racially charged, homophobic, and emasculating trash talking. To step away from these structures, boxers being true to themselves and taking on the challenge to find creative approaches to building up fights is a start to reviving modern day boxing rivalries.

**Special thanks to David Martinez for sharing his archives with me. You can find his work at http://dmboxing.com/**

AJ Liebling: The Sweet Scientist

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I’ve been reading one of the most revered boxing writers, New Yorker contributor AJ Liebling.  He was a writer that would have felt just as home behind the mic providing color commentary like Max Kellerman or Paulie Malignaggi, but he instead provided meditative essays most unexpected for such a brutal sport, especially in his time. He was still the perennial professional, but weaved inside the report of the biggest fights in New York was this extra human dimension; 24/7 but in writing if you will. But more than just sharing deep realism, Liebling cared about the fighter’s dreams and motivations. In a time when boxing media required physical attendance, and were gatherings that were probably as dangerous as the risks the fighters took inside the ring, Liebling was there in the front row and in the locker rooms and in the gym. He penned the name “The Sweet Science” but only to punctuate the depths of boxing story Liebling brings forward. He decomposes a picture of the entire boxing experience, from the hard work in the gym for novices, to the champion weigh-ins and the seething anticipation of the crowd in the seconds between rounds.

The primary collection of Liebling’s stories was self-titled The Sweet Science, and his other collection named The Neutral Corner. I’ve been picking up one story at a time from each book, and am noticing the supreme passion AJ Liebling has for boxing and how startly different the sport was in his time. AJ Liebling was a gym rat that absorbed boxing as an observer. He would keep his mind in the moment and pursue the story in the boxers, and be concise on actual events but lean on his paragraphs explaining how much compassion and emotion he would recall of the boxers, the team, the gym, the difficult weeks of work in between the NY lights.

AJ Liebling wrote alot about the fighters in and around Stillman‘s Gym, a legendary gym that housed the likes of Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, and Rocky Marciano, but Liebling actually wrote a lot about the challengers, the no-names and what their lives were like outside the gym. He wrote about transient fighters looking to make more money in the big city. He wrote about the drunks in the nosebleed seats bullying richer people in the expensive seats. What was interesting was him writing about what I would’ve called today as gatekeepers, like Tommy “Hurricane” Jackson.

What interested Liebling to Jackson was not only his Tommy Hearns-like physical gifts (his reach was always longer) and his unlimited endurance as a heavyweight (something nonexistent today) but how Tommy was squarely between boxing art and boxing capability. Looking up Jackson on boxrec was like a looking at Brandon Rios’ record. If your name wasn’t Floyd Patterson, you simply cannot beat Hurricane Jackson. [Jackson even beat Ezzard Charles, twice!] He was an illiterate fighter that could run for days and fought on instinct, but was slow to start and just too simple, too uncoordinated, ill-managed, or just simply unlucky. While brighter lights rewarded Floyd Patterson, Liebling instead sheds his light to Tommy Jackson. “On the night of the [Nino Valdez] fight, I was more excited than I had been before any match for years, and for purely subjective reasons. If the animal [Tommy Jackson] won, it meant that the Sweet Science was mere guess-work…” He went on to understand the difference between the boxer that can paint with his tools, and the boxer that well, simply has tools. It’s wafer thin, and makes a mystery again of what was supposed to be the Sweet Science. But thankfully the simple art of Tommy Jackson was remembered and shared by Liebling, and I came away elevating Floyd Patterson to greater heights but also respecting the immense legacy of the top men he beat, most especially the Hurricane.

AJ Lieblings stories are pregnant of these spaces in between headlines; full of riches from boxing events in the past, and I will continue to recall them here in short specials. Liebling reminds me of what we started Blood Money Boxing about, critical commentary with depth. We don’t talk only about the star fighter, but also the strong fighters that those fighters overcome. If boxing is a representation of a truly democratic sport that I love, we’d do well  by following the lead of AJ Liebling and cover the Hurricane’s and the Bam Bams.

Credit of the photos of Stillman’s gym goes to the venerable Magnum Photos.

 

The Boxing X Factor

Maybe I’m just amazed at why Trump is frighteningly a front runner, but somethings making me want to wonder what is different about today’s boxing.

I’ve been reflecting deeply on what characteristics and/or behavior patterns a boxer needs to demonstrate to profit from the sport, and in turn have the sport grow in stature from the boxer. It’s almost March of the year 2016, and I feel almost convinced that some stars of the sport are gladly or reluctantly passing the torch to the next generation; however, no one has really stepped up and seized their own stake in the sport of boxing. Not to say that there’s a void left behind from previous stars, but typically by now feel like I could find fighters to get behind fully rather than pulling out the boxing history books and stargazing towards the past. There is a lack of charisma and intelligence in today’s best in Professional Boxing and it’s showing.

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I was reminiscing on fighters like “Prince” Naseem Hamed, the last star that brought a lot of attention to the lighter weights due to his explosive in and off-ring offense, and young Floyd Mayweather Jr. who brought attention to lighter weights due to his unshakeable confidence and water-tight ring defense. These particular fighters greatly profited from the sport, and were rewarded in retirement with respect and riches (well in Naseem’s case he’s just goddamn happy). Was charisma and smarts a quality that made fighters like these profit from the sport? Where are the other fighters that are reaping the rewards?

The lighter weight classes are an especially harder conversation, as I’ve read by legendary boxing writer A. J. Liebling. In his book of boxing essays, I read a heartbreaking story of a featherweight fighter risking his life every week serving as “cannon-fodder” or “record-padding” to welterweights and middleweights in 1950s Brooklyn because of the lack of profit available to make a mark in his own weight classes. If there weren’t any fans coming to his fight, it wasn’t even worth trying to act up his role in winning it. This was a time where if you weren’t a heavyweight, you were nothing to pay for. Arguably still a truth that most boxing heads still preach, with one or two champions that blip up every 5 years that make you want to anticipate title defenses.

Is this what professional boxing have come to? Countries breeding big men to bring attention to their best in the sport (ahem Anthony Joshua ahem), and letting the lighter weights basically be “Professional Boxing, Jr.” as they grow into a more comfortable weight? Cultivating a media mouth and an imagination as big as confidence to succeed in attracting fans to every fight? I shudder to think about the potentially lucrative alternate timeline of the great champion Alexis Arguello if he wasn’t a gentleman, or was a huge potty mouth. Nice guy, 8 title defenses, 4 different weight classes, died early vs. Media brat, 49-0, retired before 40 in peak physical health.

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Fans and modern professionals forget the mental maturity needed at the highest level demonstrated by all the great champions in history. However, little has been said about the new kind of savvy and intelligence that is now needed to succeed and profit at today’s highest level. Maybe we should anticipate the “shrewd” move of Amir Khan challenging Canelo Alvarez. (Who could arguably maybe need 1-2 fights before retiring with enough money). Seems like Floyd is still schooling in retirement because this strategy was perfectly orchestrated in his career resume. Andre SOG Ward might also be playing this game with his economical style making him still as sharp as ever even with long layoffs. Finally, El Chacal Rigondeaux. Now that I think about it, his style and physique could keep him fighting past 50 at the same weight, which he should if he could. He could greatly profit by fighting all these young bucks trying to swipe a belt while growing in physique.

Sorry for this rambling thesis, but I’m calling this here. Boxing in today’s world is evolving towards the individual franchise, where longevity-supporting boxing style plus media smarts equals not only legacy (which was always the promise for our dear sweet science) but also a rewarding retirement.

The question isn’t at what age I want to retire, it’s at what income.” – George Foreman at age 45, on his fight with Michael Moorer

 

The best that ever wasn’t: Charley Burley and the hidden knights of the Black Murderer’s Row

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I’m coming to the realization on exactly why boxing is truly one of the greatest human achievements, but also one of the most wicked in sports history. Boxing is one of the most revered individual sport and is a competition so purely distilled in skill and ambition; however, even racehorses are treated with more dignity in retirement. Legends of the past are kept alive orally but legends of the present are stifled by money, their own management, or even the media. That’s why its even more of a responsibility to stay critical of the sport as fans, because sometimes the impact of a single boxing match has world-changing implications, and would unfairly sway conversations on who was the best and who wasn’t the best. I guess what I’m trying to say is that we fans should honor all fighters who step in the ring, and give due to legends of the past, but recognize that the history of the sport largely stands undocumented, unless we all accept that boxing is as diverse and multifaceted as society itself, where for every rock, there’s paper, and for every scissor, there’s rock.

Conversations of TBE in the today’s world is as disconcerting to the present state of boxing. Sure, Floyd Mayweather Jr. calls himself TBE. Why not? He retired at the top of boxing world on his terms. We might still be coming into grips of that in the next 10 years, but why all incessant debate, and why muddle the economics of matchups with legacy. Just a quick trip to frequent tropes of TBE debates grinds to a halt with Sugar Ray Robinson, where I went even further and hunted down information beyond that. I found that the art and science of boxing shouldn’t be judged only on performances on the big stage but also what was forged in the backrooms of gyms at dusk, where the thudding of heavy bags would stop, the rattle of speedbags pause for all to check out who was sparring in the middle of the ring. Where the science was debated and the state of the art was pushed even further. This is where legends are made, but also where the sport bloomed into the sweet science fans today are still being deprived from. This type of understanding of the sport is direly needed, and the only way to achieve it is through the spirit of competition.

Between 1936-1950, Charley Burley was the uncrowned king of The Black Murderer’s Row, the most avoided fraternity of black boxers who fought each other 61 times in search of quiet in their own frustrated ambition. No one of fame, including Sugar Ray Robinson, would fight them because of their fearsome durability and sublime skill. Sugar Ray was already avoided in the height of his reign, but these guys had to settle for the “Colored” middleweight title or other similar lower titles. In the height of the Golden Age of boxing, there were 9 extremely talented and feared boxers (Holman Williams, Lloyd Marshall, Cocoa Kid, Eddie Booker, Elmer Ray, Jack Chase, Aaron Wade, & Bert Lytell) that fought each other and became even better. Compared to the 2008 achievement of Manny Pacquiao disposing of 3 hall of famers in one year, The Black Murderers’ Row would fight that many times in a month. 

Reading deep into Charley Burley is exciting, but also deeply depressing because of the possibility of forgetting some of the legends of today that thrived in competition, cared about improving their game, and stood toe-to-toe on wars every second of every round of the fights they were able to arrange on their professional record. Sure, it’s nice to have debates on who’s the best and have thought experiments on who they would have beaten but why? Why can’t we have tournaments that mandated the spirit of competition inspired by the Black Murderers’ Row?

I find I may have to just do my part in preserving and honoring current fighters who hold up that spirit of competition. Here’s to the unofficial rounds of Robert Guerrero in Gilroy, Brandon Rios in Oxnard, Manny Pacquiao in Manila, Roman Gonzales in Panama, and many many others currently carving their legacies. Here’s to the unofficial rounds going on in gyms everywhere, may they never be forgotten and may that add to the future of boxing.

The Legacy of Heavyweight Boxing

Heavyweights

The most recent heavyweight belt bout was defended in fantastic fashion by Deontay Wilder from the top challenger Artur Szpilka in a stunning 9th round knockout. Wilder’s latest defense of the belt is now his most impressive, demonstrating great maturity in the ring and in his words of respect afterwards, where he commended his Polish opponent and wished his safe return home. It’s easy then to get excited about an American return to the heavyweight boxing prominence of the glorious years past, gilded with the resumes of all-time American greats like Foreman, Holyfield, Tyson, Ali, Frazier…

But is it that time already to feel like we’re in the 90’s? Where we could get amazed with IQ,  footwork and hand speed of Ali, or the sheer torque generated from the hips all the way to the teeth from Tyson? Where we could witness emotional and even political fight nights that would move nations in anticipation? I would say no, and even with Wilder’s latest defense we are only seeing a slight glimmer towards a positive direction that has arguably been slipping away from the limelight since the 90’s.

It’s easy to watch the highlights and the physicality of Wilder or even Anthony Joshua of England and say, “Yea, in 2016 heavyweights look like heavyweights.” This general media sentiment is like saying “Good, the heavyweight division is back because they’re not overweight and they use punches to win.” Where is the IQ, where is the dimensionality of heavyweights using actual boxing skills to enhance their physical gifts? According to boxing fans in 2016, that only exists in the lighter weight classes. How feeble our memories, and maybe that’s why the golden age of heavyweights will always look grander from our present point of view.

It’s important to realize that the it’s the media’s job to sell this division and I won’t ignore that Wilder is certainly taking it in a positive direction. His rededication to the sport is honorable, and his new maturity outside the ring is impressive. But at 31, he’s only beginning to scratch the boxing discipline of a 19 year old Mike Tyson. Anthony Joshua is only 26 but the overall lack of talent at the top is not showing any signs of change compared to years past. If we weren’t myopic about the boatloads of attention we’re giving to Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua, we could arguably be wondering about how genetics have changed since the early 90’s to have such little talent at the top weights. In the era of Ali and Frazier, we also had Ken Norton and Larry Holmes biting at their heels. This era had gyms of giants, where their practice blows packed the full power of a Roman Gonzalez vs. Brian Viloria.

My treatise ends with me asking to wake me up when we have a real heavyweight with wings on his feet and stones in his hands. He doesn’t even have to be a poet but that would help. Maybe heavyweights do have an impossible legacy to fulfill given the rich history of boxing. Hopefully that’s not the case, because we at BMB might end up as historians, not passionate enthusiasts.