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.

Essence Historic: A series on boxing history and consequence

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Probably as strong a tradition as any that I have right now, yours truly and co-founder Rudy Mondragon have long phone conversations to mark the end of years and what to look forward to in the next. I know, it’s practically deep 2017, but Rudy and I actually had our talk in late December, sharing a late afternoon reflecting on life and our shared interest in boxing. His new series is something to marvel, a deep look at the trenches of the life of Jonathan Walley hailing from Tengoose Boxing Gym, Part I and Part II. I say trenches because it’s incredibly enlightening to look at the challenges of our young men and women who’ve decided to dedicate themselves to the sport. In these times, the physical sacrifices are arduous just to participate at the amateur level, but the mental and emotional challenges are heightened.

My goal this year is also to write with purpose. I propose a series, called the Essence Historic: Essays of boxing historic consequences and how they have affected modern boxing. As current boxing media is reactionary, I will concentrate on specific aspects of the sport. Like number of rounds, weights of gloves. The queensberry rules. Gentleman’s agreements, unspoken rules, roles, jobs, referees, and other real things that make the fight. As long as it’s a recurring modern pattern, we’ll work backwards from it.

That’s BMB. Always a different facet, a different angle. It’s a different year already.

BMB

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.

BMB Presents: “Boxing & Beyond”

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Boxing & Beyond is a new installment brought to you by the blood money boxing team. Blood money boxing is committed to bringing you multifaceted commentary that focuses on the sport, individual boxers, politics, and all that comes with the good and bad and in-betweenness of the sweet science.

Boxing & Beyond will consist of 6 articles starting in January 2017. These pieces will look beyond upcoming matches, results, and summaries. This series will explore the intimate lives of boxers, exploring themes of struggle, success, and early beginnings to name a few.

If you have a topic you would like us to cover, please feel free to contact Rudy Mondragón at rudym@ucla.edu.

 

 

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.

A Day With Andre Ward [Pictures]

By Rudy Mondragón
Twitter: @boxingintellect

No better way to spend Halloween than visiting the training grounds of boxing trainer Virgil Hunter and Andre Ward in Hayward, California. It was Ward’s official media work out in anticipation of his November 19th match against pound for pound great, Sergey Kovalev, which will take place at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

I left my friends home in Richmond mid morning to make it on time to Ward’s 12pm scheduled workout. It was a beautiful morning in The Bay. The sun was out and the air was fresher than the stuff we breath in Los Angeles. I hit I-880 going south and exited Industrial Blvd. As I made my way around the neighborhood, I could feel its working class vibrations. It was a Monday morning and the workers were out getting their hustle on, including Andre Ward and his team.

I reached the parking lot of the gym, but the buildings all looked the same. I saw two gentleman talking in the parking lot and thought to ask them for directions. One was dressed in construction attire and the other in a Halloween costume of sorts atop a fork lift. I asked them if they knew where the gym was. With ease they responded, “straight ahead boss.”

Assuming I would hit traffic on the road, I arrived to the gym ahead of schedule. This gave me some extra time to explore the gym, take pictures (see below), talk with media, and engage in conversation with a bright young amateur boxer named Joey Spencer (Click here for his Instagram). Spencer is a 15/16 year old from Linden, Michigan (25 minutes south of Flint). He recently moved to The Bay to train inside Virgil Hunters Boxing Gym where Andre Ward training sessions become a classroom for the young pugilist.

At his young age, Spencer discussed how he intentionally uses his amateur fights to raise funds for good causes. It was refreshing, but not surprising to hear that boxers like Spencer use their platforms to give back to their community. He was also well aware of the Flint water crisis and the relief efforts put forth by the Dirrell brothers (boxers from Flint) and Claressa Shields. It is worth mentioning that Claressa Shields, two time Olympic gold medalist for the US, will make her professional boxing debut on the undercard of #WardKovalev. History will be made on the night of the 19th on multiple levels.

I also had a humbling experience talking with Virgil Hunter. I confused a Nazim Richardson quote (swim without getting wet) for one I thought Virgil had said. Rightfully so, Hunter corrected me, but we continued to talk. We spoke about his intimate relationship with his fighters. He sees them more than bodies, they are like his grown up children. Beyond the bright lights, media events, ShowTime All Access, and overall commodification that takes place in the boxing industry, there are many stories of vulnerability, intimacy, family, love, struggle, and humanity. Hunter’s relationship with his fighters is evident of this on many levels. These are the stories that need more in-depth exposure and sharing. Boxers are trained and disciplined to fight, but they are also sons and daughters, siblings, parents, hustlers, and human in their imperfections.

My interactions with Ward were limited. I did get to ask him which song he wanted to enter the ring to for his fight against Kovalev. I also asked him who made that decision. He said he would be picking the song, but wasn’t sure at the moment. He mentioned the possibility of using a song by Hip Hop artist, Bizzle. The reason for this is because Ward believes the song gets him pumped up and contains a positive message. Him picking his own song due to its content showed me the level of intentionality and agency Ward has.

What touched my heart the most was the fact that Ward spent an extra hour talking with youth from a nearby juvenile institution. Ward talked about his story, family upbringing, struggles, and how his faith helped him stay on track and focused. At one point, Ward used hip hop music to educate the youth. He played “Just Sayin” by Bizzle. The boxing gym turned into a classroom and the lesson was about the downfalls of capitalism and consumerism, nurturing one’s consciousness with knowledge of self, and embracing change.

Ward acted in the spirit of Bizzle’s words: “I don’t care if you signed up to be a role model or not, Kids gon’ follow you regardless, It come wit the fame”

Inside the gym, Ward demonstrated his ability to use his lived experience to become relatable to the youth and share wisdom with them. Granted, the power structures that maintain the juvenile system, school to prison pipeline, and hyper-criminalization of black and brown youths no doubt needs to be changed. What is important is that Ward used his sphere of influence to do something. He started a dialogue and created a space where the youth spoke about their passions, their dreams, and their struggles. It was truly an intimate and vulnerable space where boys and men were speaking freely. Some would even say thats the way to start a process of liberation.

Best of luck to Andre Ward and his team come the night of November 19th.

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

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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.

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/**