Thoughts at end of the 2017 year… and BJS wins over Lemieux

I decided to write today because I was able to catch the replay of Billy Joe Saunders’ impressive win over David Lemieux. This was a fight that I am really grateful came the way it it did to close out an impressive year of fights (sorry Naoye, it’s not like your Dec 30 fight was put there for you to lose ūüėŹ) but also highlights some of the repeating sins of boxing. Really makes me reflect on the rebounding health of the sport despite the way boxing industry and audiences wants to ruin things sometimes.

This time of year always makes me want to reflect on boxing’s highlights and this was a big one, a very welcome reflection given a very tough year for America in particular. Boxing’s global platform really helped distract me this year and there’s so much to look back and remember about boxing’s great moments of the year.

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This past April was arguably the best moment to talk about Boxing 2017, when Anthony Joshua took over the throne from Wladmir Klitschko. Bravery, grit, determination was not only on the pay-per-view screen, but bubbling in my soul as the 11th round started and ended with Joshua’s fist raised. The UK’s cup poureth over, and it wasn’t hard for me to bandwagon and look over the pond to enjoy the new heavyweight champ’s coronation. The respect between the two fighters afterward is what the sport is all about, and to me the undisputed fight of the year as we’re still reeling over the greatness of this fight.

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After that in May, Andre Ward put away Kovalev¬†again¬†in a rematch that made me really believe in the spirit of old school boxing. Ward doesn’t fight with anger but with grace. He doesn’t respond in spite, but with determination. He doesn’t doubt his preparation, and fears no man. This is old-school boxing, and the fact that Kovalev, a boxer that at the first fight I was definitely backing, did not recognize or respect these truths really disappointed me. Andre retired after this fight which inflamed Kovalev even more. The actions and words of Andre’s opponent really put a blemish on this fight but can’t deny that the rematch really made a mark on my 2017.

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The last fight that I think made a mark on my 2017 was September 16th’s Gennady Golovkin vs. Saul Alvarez. A true gift to the fans and it didn’t disappoint. Gennady’s trademark focus and grit went to another impossibly high level and Canelo also prepared for us a new level of slickness and art, but could not move the Kazakh Mountain. Bored commentators wanted to see signs of GGG’s aging or tried to unnecessarily elevate Canelo’s slickness, but all they did was ruin the fight. What this fight did to me was firstly, welcome Canelo into the stacked middleweight class, and cement GGG’s growing legacy.

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I want to offer some consolation too for a fight that also left a mark on my 2017 but for a different, more somber reason. Nobody died, but the media certainly made it feel like it was so, because on the same date above, the darling of the super flyweights, Roman Gonzales was stopped by Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. The distance Roman fell because of this fight seemed insurmountable, and I was confused. Why were we ignoring the massive amount of wins this man had given us in previous years? Why can’t we just watch him bounce back in his next fight? He lost one fight, and yet to boxing media, his career is post mortum.

This is what I meant about the repeating sins of boxing industry and the boxing audiences. The boxing sport has two sides, two very different sides that must co-exist peacefully for an audience to truly appreciate the sacrifices our heroes, our fighters must go through to fight in the world stage. Boxing is a sport that is primal and can be rudimentary, sure, but that’s only an easily interpretable gateway to a sport that is rich with history and emotion. It really is like dancing to me, an art that you can just appreciate on the surface and deep in its soul simultaneously. We really shouldn’t turn our back to fighters that have lost, we should celebrate their fights and encourage their return or celebrate whatever else they would want to do.

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Billy Joe Saunders vaulted into the elite of the middleweights last night with 12 rounds of old-school, UK-boxing that sets the end of the year and gives Canelo something to think about. Another sin of Boxing being that the darlings of the sport today treat fight announcements like album releases (Co-founder Rudy Mondragon and I call it the Fuckboi-effect) and consequently their careers like rap-labels. That’s why it was refreshing for BJS to come in the ring with confidence overflowing, disregarding Lemieux’s now tired intimidation tactics to embarrass him for 12 rounds and what could’ve been 15, if they would let Saunders fight it. This fight might be a footnote for a stacked 2017 year but its a fight that really preps me for 2018.

Canelo is taking his sweet time as De La Hoya’s darling after the embarrassment of announcing his fight with GGG right after skipping rope with Chavez Jr. who just showed up for a paycheck. He had already called out the winner of BJS and Lemieux unnecessarily so he can wait for GGG’s senility to give him a win late 2018. The way BJS fought last night? I really hope De La Hoya and Canelo’s plans get severely ruined in 2018. As for BJS, I hope his evolution continues as he’s going to need it for his rise in 2018.

This year I want to thank my 2017 Boxing tastemakers who will undoubtedly continue to be the visionaries of boxing for 2018: co-founder Rudolfo Mondragon, BBC Boxing, SundayPuncher, LeeWylie, Reznick, OfficeHanchoBoxing, Sweetfights, Lalosboxing, Boxingego, and the rest of the awesome “You-don’t-know-shit-about-boxing” community. It’s going to be hard to top 2017 but man, you know I can’t wait for it.

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.

Angel Garcia: Boxing in the Era of Trump

By Rudy Mondragón
Twitter: @boxingintellect

The January 18¬†press conference for the highly anticipated March 4 showdown between Keith “One Time” Thurman and Danny “Swift” Garcia showed how¬†Trumpism is seeping into the bloodstream of the sweet science. Politics is indeed not separate from the sporting world.

At the press conference, Angel Garica, father and trainer of Danny Garcia, took over by engaging in trash talking and mental warfare against Thurman. This is part of the game. Danny Garcia is not the trash talking type, he does his talking in the ring and often presents himself as a professional in front of the media. This might be why his father does so much of the trash talking, knowing well that it creates a drama that helps promote the spectacle of boxing.

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What took place at the press conference was Trumpism rearing its disgusting¬†faces of anti-immigration, jingoism (hyper-patriotism), and sexism. Notice I did not use racism, although that is an additional facet of Trumpism. Many media figures are quick to say that Angel’s use of the N-word (See video below) was a disgusting example of racism. I disagree as the media has not substantially explained why it is an example of racism. For them, it is simply a headline.

Angel’s use of the N-word is more so an example of a light skinned Puerto Rican man from North Philly who has more than likely used the N-word within a cultural context of understanding. For many people I have spoken to over the years, the use of the N-word by Latino peoples is used with an understanding that the¬†word holds a great deal of historical weight.¬†The use of that word is directed at people where mutual love exists. Some have even told me that the word is only used towards people they would be willing to die for and kill for. In other words, the N-word, used within a cultural context of mutual love, understanding, and respect, has a totally different meaning than Angel’s use of¬†it at the press conference.

This is not to say that I excuse Angel’s use of it. Using the word outside its cultural context opens up the meaning¬†of the word for many interpretations, racism being one of them. But its more complex than that. The tone and intention of the way Angel used it was not racist. But his use of it in public promotes a¬†misunderstanding and disregard of¬†the historical use of a¬†word that has been used by white men with racial and economic¬†power during slavery for example. A word that has been historically used as a tool to stigmatize and negatively label black people in relation to white people and white supremacy. It also signals to people that the N-word can be used irresponsibly, ignoring the dark legacy of the word.

Angel’s use of the word in public also impacts and offends black people who do not have a personal connection to the user of the word. Though Angel’s use of the word was not intended to hurt anyone, the impact of that word, outside its cultural context, can have offensive affects on people. That is how powerful that word remains today. I would bet money that Angel would not use that word in a completely new setting with black folks he did not know. The reason for this is it is outside of his cultural context, involving new¬†people that he does not know. The use of the N-word in that new context would be a form of disrespect because there is no mutual bond or connection to the people of that¬†cultural space.

Although I say his use of the N-word was not intended to disrespect Keith Thurman (I would argue “Bitch ass” and “My son gonna fuck you up” intended to disrespect and challenge Keith), a question still remains to be answered.¬†As a bi-racial man who is read as black, what impact did Angel’s use of the N-word have on Keith Thurman? This is an important dynamic that has not been explored.

Trumpism reared its nasty faces in the form of¬†anti-immigration, jingoism (hyper-patriotism), and sexism.¬†When I first met Angel back in 2014, he shared his thoughts on immigrants and boxing. This is something that Angel has been¬†passionate about, the idea that Americans should fight Americans only. This echoes Trump’s philosophy that he recently shared¬†in his inauguration speech: “Buy American and hire American.”¬†Angel Garcia embodied this idea when he said that the only respect he has for his son’s opponent is that he is an American fighter. Ironically, Angel Garcia is of Puerto Rican descent, which has a long colonial history with the US as Puerto Rico remains a colony and¬†unincorporated territory of the US. Despite¬†that imperial legacy, Angel presents himself as¬†a staunch supporter of Trump.

Towards the end of the presser, Angel had this to say:‚ÄúGod bless America. Where Donald Trump at? Come get him. I want to see Trump. Trump, where are you? Make America great again.‚ÄĚNeed I say more? To my knowledge, this is the first clear example in 2017 that demonstrates Trump politics entering the sphere of boxing. It is ugly and contradictory of boxing as this sport has historically recruited poor black and brown fighters from all over the world. It is a sport that exploits people and denies them of basic employee benefits. Boxing heads who stand for Trump makes little sense to me. It seems more fitting that boxers would stand United Against Trump.

After Angel’s Donald Trump rant, he finished off by¬†directing some harsh words towards boxing publicist, Kelly Swanson. I’m sure Swanson told Angel to knock it off, that is her job after all. I think it would have been better if¬†Angel had¬†simply ignored her plea, but rather than let it go, Angel directed harsh words towards this woman by saying, “I’ll jack you up!” Actions like this should not be normal and accepted. This is not what it means to be a man. Yet, under the new presidential regime, it does not seem like sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny will¬†be challenged or¬†dismantled (the people will continue these efforts despite Trump’s lack of care and conviction on these serious matters). As recently as this morning, Trump disregarded the powerful¬†Women’s Marches that took place across the nation yesterday. Not to mention Trumps history with male entitlement over women’s bodies and their right to choice. Given these disturbing times, the question of what it means to practice healthy forms of masculinity is critical!

As mentioned earlier, the ideas that Angel Garcia has about immigration and his hyper-patriotism is nothing new. The question I leave readers with is to what extent do the beliefs and words of¬†Donald Trump provide a green light for conservative and hate filled ideas to emerge? In response to his dad’s theatrics, Danny Garcia stated “I’ve heard Trump say Worse!” This may be true, but Angel Garcia nonetheless echoes many of the toxic ideas that we see in Trump.

As a boxing expert, fan, and critic, I also question the art of trash talking. Can trash talking¬†manifest within reason, innovation, and creativity? Riding the curtails of hate speech to inform one’s engagement in mental warfare against one’s¬†opponent is a misuse of a¬†high status platform. The boxing world can do better. I believe it can.

Pugilistic Defeat & Struggle: Jonathan Walley’s Fight Experience Part II

By Rudy Mondragón
Twitter: @boxingintellect 

Fight Night 

The night of the fight was finally here. July 30th marked¬†the day that Jonathan Walley would¬†raise his arms in victory. This was the plan. What transpired,¬†however, was the beginning of Walley’s biggest pugilistic struggle.

I drove to¬†Van Nuys early in the afternoon to pick up my tickets for the KO Boxing With The Stars¬†event from Jonathan. Instead of receiving tickets from him, I was greeted at the door by his older brother. From the doorstep, I could hear Walley’s voice and the shower head running. I looked over to the bathroom window and saw an excessive amount of steam exiting. Jonathan was still trying to cut weight.

Unlike¬†professionals, amateurs are expected to make weight the day of the fight. Rather than resting, focusing, and relaxing before his fight, Walley was forcing his body to make¬†weight to¬†remain eligible for his¬†evening contest. Jonathan’s day started¬†with a 6am run¬†in the gym while wearing¬†his sauna suit. After his run, he went into the jacuzzi and steam room¬†to force himself to sweat some¬†more. He then went home for a nap¬†and when he woke up, he went straight to the bathroom to create a steam room like environment in his home (this is when I came to pick up the tickets). Next, Walley showered to freshen¬†up, put his sauna suit back on, and went back to the gym for another run. From the gym, he walked home (3 mile walk) in his sauna suit under the summer sun to sweat off more weight. On top of all this work, Jonathan still had to fight.

I arrived to Los Angeles Valley College and found a seat in the old school wooden bleachers of this community college’s basketball gym. It definitely was a night of stars, as notable figures were in attendance. Obba Babatunde (The Notebook, John Q, and¬†Philadelphia), Laila Ali,¬†and Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav to name a few. Amongst the stars were parents, family members, and friends supporting the many amateurs who were scheduled to fight that night.

After a couple of exciting matches, it was time for Jonathan to fight. Originally scheduled as the co-main event attraction, there were some last minute schedule changes that moved up Walley’s fight sooner than expected. Obba Babatunde, the emcee for the night, announced Jonathan, prompting his entrance to the ring. Nothing happened. The crowd looked towards the locker room entrance, but Jonathan was not walking out. After a second announcement by Babatunde, Walley finally appeared. He seemed to be in a rush, still trying to put on his head gear for the fight. From my perspective, it seemed like something was off. Walley looked physically¬†ready to fight, but looked flustered and mentally ¬†uncomfortable.

Jonathan fought three hard rounds. At times it seemed like his mind was working faster than his body, not being able to execute his game plan, falling short of his abilities and skills as a counter-puncher with power. Maybe the hard work to make weight over-fatigued him, or the schedule change threw him off mentally. Whatever it was, Walley was not performing like his usual athletic, skilled, and intellectual self. Something definitely wasn’t right.

The final bell rang and it was time to hear the judge’s decision. It was a close fight. Judge’s scorecards called for a split decision, in favor of his opponent, Ivan Beltran. This wasn’t what Jonathan envisioned. He came to win, yet the reality, on this night,¬†was Jonathan experiencing his first career¬†defeat.

Post-Fight Rollercoaster 

Boxing is not like any team sport. Boxers don’t compete in three-game series or on a weekly basis. On a sports team, you have a collective community you compete with and a shorter amount of time to think of defeat as you are expected to get back on the court/field to¬†perform. For Jonathan, athletes in¬†team sports have “shorter memories of defeat.” He states that in boxing, you are alone and therefore, “you hold on to that shit.” This is what I call the¬†arc of redemption* in boxing,¬†which is the traumatic time a boxer experiences between defeat and their¬†next match.¬†For boxers, the arc of redemption can last months, even years, before they are able to step back in the ring to¬†correct their career paths.

I sat down with Jonathan five months after his first career defeat. For the most part, he was in high spirits and energized every room we walked into. As we began our conversation, the first thing Jonathan shared with me about his defeat was that going into the fight, he felt he was better than his opponent and that he did not expect to lose. He went from being a confident fighter to all of a sudden feeling emotionally drained and alone.

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He originally had plans to hang¬†out with friends after¬†his fight. He felt¬†that things changed as a result of losing.¬†“I lost and then there was no party… there was no party… everyone went out to eat and my phone was dry as fuck.” At one point, Walley questioned whether his friends would have given him love had he won. Maybe his friends just didn’t know how to support him at this crucial moment in his life. Either way, Jonathan’s mind, the mind of a fighter, went towards a dark space where loneliness sank in, and feelings of¬†abandonment felt¬†real. Jonathan occupied a mental space at the extremes of sadness and anger.

The days that followed were extremely difficult on his overall wellbeing. He had a hard time¬†sleeping, didn’t want to talk to anyone, and despite draining himself to make weight for his fight, Walley did not have an appetite. Jonathan explained to me that, being the food lover that he is, it was especially difficult feeling hungry and not having a desire for a meal.

In an effort to turn his struggles into a positive, Jonathan decided to leave the state of California to get away. At this stage, Walley was avoiding people and wanted to process defeat in isolation. When people asked where he was, he would tell them he was in Las Vegas, including me. The reality however, was that he was in Arizona reflecting on his defeat and life.

Even though he wanted to be alone to¬†process, Jonathan realized that he needed words of affirmation and validation from his loved ones to help him overcome this vulnerable period of his life. Although he did receive some, he¬†also recalls the negative energy he felt¬†from his critics and the silent voices around him. “It wasn’t about the things they could’ve told me,” Jonathan said, “it was more the things that was said not to me, and then, the things that wasn’t¬†said at all.” In other words, Jonathan found out people turned on him and spoke negatively about him behind his back. He also wished people would have been more vocal and attentive about his struggle instead of remaining silent.

Although Walley feels like he has learned from his first defeat, he doesn’t feel like he will ever fully recover from it. When it comes to experiencing his first defeat, Jonathan feels that “you can’t play it off and say you don’t care.” Defeat in a boxing context is still a new thing for him and a day doesn’t go by that he doesn’t think about it. He had¬†a tentative match scheduled for the end of January, but with the unstable nature of amateur boxing, that fight was called off, further prolonging Walley’s opportunity at redemption.

In the mean time,¬†Walley has to sit with the thought of his first defeat for six months, maybe more, before he can step back in the ring for his chance at redemption. What does a boxer do during that long time frame to physically, mentally, and spiritually heal? Talking about it with people is a good start. Talking about defeat and the emotional rollercoaster one goes through is not a sign of weakness. If anything, it is a sign of strength. Strength because Jonathan displayed vulnerability in¬†sharing this experience of struggle with me. Opening up to one person¬†about hardship¬†is a brave act, but a willingness to share one’s¬†story of defeat with the rest of the world is a manifestation¬†of courage.

Jonathan’s road to recovery is embodied in stic.man’s hip hop track titled, Joe Louis¬†from The Workout album. This track is about the famous black boxer, Joe Louis, who is considered one of the best heavyweights of all-time. One of the bars in this song states, “If you stay ready, you ain’t got to get ready,” which is what I see Walley doing as he¬†waits for his next scheduled match. That is what he knows best. Staying in the gym keeps him feeling alive, ready, and prepared in case he is asked to fight on short notice. At this point, to overcome this difficult phase in his career, Jonathan manifests stic.man’s¬†lyrical hook in Joe Louis: “I train to live, I live to train. It’s go hard or go home, no pain, no gain.” There is no quit in this young man. Healing through boxing and training is a¬†one day at a time process.

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As difficult as it was for Walley to open up, what I admired the most was that he made no excuses of his defeat nor belittled his opponent. He respects the decision. He respects Ivan Beltran. He accepts defeat and welcomes the ups and downs that come with it. One things for sure, Walley is eager and ready to rise up again.

*Special thanks to Dr. Samantha Sheppard for helping me think through this idea of temporal struggle in boxing to construct the concept of boxing’s arc of redemption.

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The photos below are of Jonathan Walley training at the Roy Jones Jr. Fight Academy in Las Vegas, Nevada the morning before our conversation 

Boxing & Beyond: Jonathan Walley’s Pre & Post-Fight Experience Part I

By Rudy Mondragón
Twitter: @boxingintellect 

In This Corner…

Jonathan Walley is a 22 year old amateur boxer. Prior to boxing, Walley was a standout basketball player who had athletic scholarship offers to well known institutions of higher education. During his high school career, however, Walley got into trouble and found himself serving time in a juvenile center known for functioning like an adult state prison.

As a result of his detainment, Jonathan lost his scholarship offers. He tried community college, but it wasn’t fulfilling for¬†him. Then, one of his closest friends introduced him to the sport of boxing. Walley described this moment as, all of a sudden, finding himself in the “best situation possible.” ¬†It was at that time that he¬†met¬†reputable trainer, Joe Goossen, from the Ten Goose Boxing Gym in Van Nuys. For Walley, Goossen has since¬†become a fatherlike figure who teaches¬†him lessons about¬†life, principles, and morals.

It was at Ten Goose Boxing Gym where I first met Jonathan in the summer of 2015. Though he is a great athlete, it wasn’t his boxing skills that caught my attention at the time. It was the¬†Black Lives Matter¬†t-shirt he unapologetically wore that drew me in. In the Post-Ali era of boxing, where politically charged boxer-activists are hard to find (they exist though, trust me), it was refreshing to see Walley openly demonstrate his¬†politics via his¬†choice of fashion.

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During our interview, Walley made sense of¬†Black Lives Matter with a medical analogy to critique the idea of “All Lives Matter.” He stated, “it is like going to the doctors office with a broken arm and having a¬†doctor suggest¬†examining your leg instead…¬†all bones matter, right, they do, but if this one’s broke, lets focus on this one.” In other words, Walley understands the importance of getting to the root issue of systemic problems. Without a functioning bone, the body cannot continue. Without addressing racism and power, this country cannot fully heal from the traumas of the past.

This two-part¬†article focuses on Jonathan Walley’s experience as an amateur boxer who was dealt¬†his first career defeat. I had the honor and privilege of sitting down with Jonathan before and after his July 30th, 2016 152¬†pound amateur match in the Elite Male division against¬†Ivan Beltran. Jonathan displayed the¬†excitement and confidence of a young man who was ready to enter the ring only to then hear him speak his truth about the sadness and loneliness he experienced after defeat. Below is Part I, which explores¬†Jonathan’s¬†pre-fight moments¬†where his mind, body, and spirit were¬†in tip top shape. Part II (forthcoming) will focus on the vulnerability and struggles he experienced¬†after defeat.

Fight Week

It is Tuesday night during¬†fight week and Jonathan’s demeanor is serious and focused. He is mindful of his food and liquid intake as anything too heavy can jeopardize his goal of making¬†the 152¬†pound weight limit. We sit down for the interview during the dinner hour. I ordered a sandwich and offered Walley a meal. He respectfully declined the meal offer, but took me up on a glass of lemonade. He is the type of fighter who stays in the gym in order to be¬†ready to fight at any moment. It is also a way for him to maintain his weight given his love¬†for¬†food. I asked him if the sacrifice of limiting his food intake the week of the fight was¬†worth it. His response was¬†one of optimism and positivity. He doesn’t see it as a sacrifice but more so part of the process. With less than 5 days till fight night, Walley is on a strict meal plan, no longer¬†eating whole meals in order to make weight.

As a boxer, Jonathan describes himself as a “non-violent person.” He doesn’t limit the conceptualization of¬†boxing as simply¬†being¬†a violent sport. Instead, he describes it as a “dangerous sport” that is no different than the dangers we experience on a daily basis in life. Walley engages in this dangerous sport because of his family, friends, and followers. He thrives on the aura he absorbs from them when they¬†watch his¬†fights. It keeps him motivated and energized. He¬†loves to put on a show for them because he believes they¬†provide him with the necessary validation and recognition to grow as a person.

Walley emphasizes that an¬†amateur career is an important time for one¬†to¬†find themselves. By this, Walley means finding his fighting style and the right weight to compete in when he turns professional. Yet, this idea of finding himself also deals with identifying the necessary coping strategies to deal with the high pressures that come with the grimy boxing industry. The coping mechanisms necessary to deal with the struggles that come with defeat or career setbacks. Jonathan is finding out what he is made of. As quickly as one’s confidence sores in boxing, it can quickly be taken from them. Jonathan is learning how to embrace the idea of struggle to become¬†a better man.

Jonathan feels he has done the excruciating work in the gym necessary to come out on top. He describes his training environment similar to a hot sauna. At the Ten Goose Boxing Gym, it feels as if the heater is¬†turned up, the body heat of other boxers training increases the temperature¬†in the gym, and on top of that, it is the peak of the summer season. These are not the most comfortable of training conditions. Yet, Jonathan smiles the entire time he paints this picture for me. The hard work has been done in the gym with Joe. He doesn’t fear the possibility of losing. He doesn’t believe in such a thing.

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The remainder of Jonathan’s prep work for the fight consists of watching his weight, light workouts, and intellectual engagement. The intellectual side of boxing consists of strategy, deconstructing an opponent’s style, and learning from boxings greatest stars. Walley’s intellectual engagement comes in the form of studying fights on YouTube. For fight week, Jonathan’s video line up consists of the 1993 match between Pernell Whitaker and James “Buddy” McGirt, the 2004 match between Floyd Mayweather Jr and DeMarcus Corley, and the 2013 fight between Mayweather and¬†Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero. He does this is to study Whitaker, Guerrero and Corley, who are southpaw fighters (left-handed) just like his July 30th opponent. Walley is a student of the boxing game who does the physical and mental work in and outside the gym.

Closing Thoughts 

Going into this fight, Jonathan¬†knows his family supports him. He also knows that they¬†do not like the fact that he boxes. It is the dangerous¬†nature of the sport and¬†the aftermath of a fighter’s career¬†that worries them. Many times, boxing is all boxers have and as a result, they struggle once their careers are over¬†because they do not have¬†a back up plan. Jonathan believes he is¬†different in this regard.

Walley’s back up plan involves food. Jonathan loves to eat¬†and feels like a career in the food industry is in his future. He wants to open¬†his own restaurant one day. The idea of a “back up plan” for boxers is an important topic of conversation that should be discussed with both amateur and professional fighters.¬†It is a topic that deals with their present lives as fighters and the future they envision for themselves once their careers are¬†over.

Boxing is a brutal sport that requires a back up plan. The reality, as Jonathan explains, is that majority of boxers do not have college degrees or come from homes where parents hold middle class jobs or have their own businesses they can pass on to their children. So what does a boxer do once their boxing career is over?

Engaging in this type of conversation is one of taking a fighter’s humanity into consideration. It deals with the well-being of the fighter after their¬†bodes are no longer able to entertain boxing fans. Do managers talk with their fighters about life after boxing? How about promoters? Is there a system in place that supports fighters in this regard? I would say no as it does nothing for the movers and shakers of the boxing industry¬†who are concerned with the bottom line: making money.

As¬†Jonathan’s amateur fight on Saturday loomed, it was uplifting to know that he was¬†thinking about his life after boxing. In a sporting industry that denies its employees minimum salaries, pension plans,* or health care, it is critical that boxers take control of their careers, their minds, their bodies, and their spirits. Jonathan is an agent of his own future and we should take note of it.

Stay tuned for Part II of “Boxing & Beyond: Jonathan Walley’s Pre & Post-Fight Experience.”

* California Professional Boxer’s Pension Fund has existed since 1983 and holds $5.3 million dollars for retired boxers¬†over the age of 50 who¬†meet certain criteria. Pension funds for boxers¬†varies by state and is not currently a federal issue. Many boxing agents have advocated for the regulation of boxing¬†in order to address issues of minimum salary, pension plans, and health care to name a few.

The Setup and the Punchline

A lot of emotion had been backed up in my life because of the US election, the Vargas-Pacquiao fight, and the Kovalev-Ward fight. But, as Bruce Lee said, “Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.” Therefore I’m pushing through.

Pours one out for the nation

After the election, I fell deep into an inner hole. I might still be in that hole but I’m learning to deal with myself and my faith slowly through the sport of boxing. I read more about the heroes of the sport with a perspective of the times they fought, and revered their courage even more as I imagined their lives outside their actions inside the ring. I have to move on, as they did, but now more than ever will inner courage matter. Boxing heroes like Jack Johnson, Roberto Duran, and yes, Floyd Mayweather Jr. are more than inspiring when courage is concerned. I felt resolved. My eyes furrowed, and my posture steeled, we must stay vigilant.

Vargas vs. Pacquiao

My uncle and I had a spirited discussion of this fight the Monday after, where he persuaded me that religion was negatively affecting Manny’s career as a fighter. As a witness of Manny’s rise since Barrera-Pacquiao, I would agree that his raw instincts in this bloodsport were dulled as his attentions were increasingly directed towards religion, the service to his country, and I would add, money. I would probably change the order of that. Manny is and forever will be one in a million. What we’ve seen in his career is how he was really born to box, and I was satisfied with what I saw as Manny simply having fun in there after finding no threat in what seemed to me was a star-struck Vargas looking forward to the padding of his resume.

Manny seemed to have carried over some defensive techniques learned from Freddie Roach in the Mayweather fight, but blended with that an increased focus to hit Jessie Vargas hard with the best tool he has, the straight left. It’s something new, which basically makes him a more one dimensional fighter if it weren’t for his classic footwork that his opponents can never really train for.

What I’m sad about though is where Manny goes from here. Him taking Jessie’s fight was an OK comeback, but basically has the rest of the welterweight or lightweight class to look forward to. At this point, Manny doesn’t even look forward to anything. He’s probably taking a call from Bob Arum at 8AM Philippines time, “Hey Bob. Oh yea? How much? Ok I’ll take the fight.” This just makes his real retirement in the future all the more bleak if he’s just a puppet to take fights and reap whatever rewards are left for him. I for one will try to keep his legacy intact in my mind.

Kovalev vs. Ward

I’m still shook from this fight, I can’t think of anything else. Full disclosure, I put $60 down on a -160 line for Kovalev this past September in Vegas as simply a vote of confidence in my favorite active fighter in the sport right now. I really believed that we were yet to see the full potential of “Krusher” Kovalev and I could not be happier about the fight Saturday night.

As we might all know by now Ward scored a close but unanimous decision in a brave performance for the S.O.G. As shook as he was from the hard jabs from the twitchy Kovalev (I saw a little of the Tyson Fury in this match, as the nerves and anticipation elevated Sergey’s game when it came to timing and using his length and an awesome gameplan against Andre) Ward came back valiantly by staying 1000% percent disciplined on his style and finishing the fight.

The Virgil Hunter and Andre Ward team was inspiring. From the knockdown in the second round, I genuinely had an internal panic about my pre-fight allegiance, but couldn’t help but cheer on Andre as I saw him steel himself before my eyes. It’s like he was saying “His punches don’t hurt, I can hurt him too.” And he did. Andre’s veteran moves on the inside that had benefited him all his life were in genius display as he painted Sergey crimson with savage combinations to the Russian’s breadbasket. It was really a sight to see, and I wasn’t mad at the decision because I, too was enthralled by the change in flow of the fight.

Although Kovalev lost, I believe Sergey learned a lot about himself and the sport that night. The Krusher’s team was extremely studious in their preparation for Andre Ward, and it really showed. Sergey showed Andre early that his head-leading techniques weren’t going to work on him, but unfortunately Sergey let Andre get tangled up when he could’ve stole back rounds by showing more activity. Maybe he was tired, but I saw it as allowing himself to slowly get entangled with Ward’s web. Kovalev awoke on the 10th, but by then he let Ward get away with half of the fight, and a palpable shift in energy. He can do well in learning how he can similarly stay disciplined and focused in every round. He should watch Pacquio tapes with his team, lol.

Andre and Team Ward deserves all the credit in winning this fight, as it really does cement his legacy and his talent. He embodied the phrase “boxing pedigree” when he stood right in front of Sergey and educated all fans about the style, the fundamentals, and faith in courage. He put Oakland on the map, and if he fights like this again, the rematch might be the same story. Unfortunately for my favorite fighter, it’s all on Sergey to show us what else he’s got. But he’s surprised me already. Did you guys see him speak so easily in English after feeling so exasperated after the fight? For me that’s a good sign. Whenever fighters make that transition to communicate in English, it’s all but certain for that championship lifestyle. Onwards.

GGG vs. Brook: Prediction

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By Rudy Mondragón
Twitter: @boxingintellect 

Gennady Golovkin versus Kell Brook is another match up where one man jumps two weight classes to challenge the other. First, we had Amir Khan jump up to 155lbs to take on Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. That fight ended with Canelo knocking out Khan in the 6th round. Will Golovkin, also known as GGG, knock out Brook, to grow¬†his KO streak to¬†23?

Kell Brook shared with The Guardian that he was killing himself, mentally and physically, to make 147lbs. Moving up to 154lbs would make the most sense for Kell, yet he decided to take on the most feared man at 160lbs. For Brook, this is an opportunity to claim the biggest win in his career. There is more to lose for GGG and everything to gain for Brook.

Brook has a cosmetically impressive record of 36-0 (25 KOs). His biggest win (majority decision) was over Shawn Porter back in 2014. This was his biggest test, but at the welterweight limit. He has not been tested at 154 or 160. What makes GGG versus Brook different from Canelo versus Khan, is that Brook is undefeated and his chin has never been questioned. Tomorrow night’s fight will reveal many truths about Brook.

GGG should win this fight. It is a stepping stone to setting up his fight with Canelo Alvarez. GGG is stronger and has proven that his chin is made of concrete. However, a close examination of their weigh-in revealed that GGG might be drained for tomorrow’s contest. His spirit at the weigh in can be described as low, exhausted, and mentally fatigued. This depends on who you speak to however, as some will say¬†his demeanor at the weigh-in was calm and collected, ready for tomorrow night’s match.

Brook is the faster man. His media workout showed that he has not lost any speed despite putting on the extra 11 or so pounds. His speed, elusiveness, boxing skills, and mental strategy can prove to be the difference maker tomorrow if in fact GGG is not close to 100 percent (Let’s be real, no fighter is ever in tip top shape come fight night).

Brook will go 10 rounds and have early success. The extra weight will take some time to adjust to, so Brook will fade in the later rounds, giving GGG the opportunity he will need to score his 23rd straight (T)KO victory.

When you take a step back and look at GGG versus Brook, you will realize that this is part of the promotional tour for the eventual GGG versus Canelo mega-fight. Of course, GGG needs to beat Brook first, but when he does, it will place Gennady and Alvarez one step closer to giving the fans what they want: a true middleweight mega-fight spectacle.

All that said, being a fan of the underdog, I do hope that Brook upsets GGG and disrupts the¬†master script of boxing. I love it when promoter’s behind the scenes plans are made void by the boxers they have positioned to be¬†pawns in their chess match. Rise up Brook, don’t be their pawn.

 

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/**

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.

‚ÄúThe question isn‚Äôt at what age I want to retire, it‚Äôs at what income.‚ÄĚ ‚Äď George Foreman at age 45, on his fight with Michael Moorer