Wednesday, September 23, 2009

After the After

As much as I found the experience of watching the Mayweather/Marquez fight on Saturday affecting, the only real drama was the post-fight interview. I’ve never understood why the interview in boxing is allowed to be much more confrontational than in any other sport - with notable curmudgeons Jim Gray and Larry Merchant being the preeminent practitioners – but it’s a generally accepted rule that things are allowed to get quite a bit saltier than just about anything else on television.

Still, I couldn’t help being a little sympathetic to Floyd Mayweather Jr. as he tried to accept his bow as the returning hero. I enjoyed the limited mayhem, but couldn’t help wondering what the reaction would have been if it had been Floyd who had pulled a Kanye on Mosley, instead of the way it went down. It’s one thing to agitate in the press-conference afterwards, it’s quite another to take a man’s hard earned shine after two years out of the spotlight.

I know Floyd is supposed to be the natural baddie, while Mosley is noble and righteous, but if the roles were reversed there would be such an overload of vitriol and message-board indignation sent Floyd’s way that the psychic rage would peel flesh from faces. No, I am not weeping for Floyd, it is what it is, but don’t anyone tell me that he is crazy when he talks about a double standard. Floyd has his faults, but he would not have done that to Mosley, and if he had you can be assured he would have taken his lashes.

Mosley has built up a reservoir of good will over the years by being a humble and decent man, but he and Bernard overstepped the moment no matter how much we may like them.

As for Kellerman’s performance, I’m a little hesitant to go after him too hard as I’m generally a fan. He seems to at least love the sport, something some of the other HBO boys don’t always make clear. However, as the instigator of the event he should have let the thing unfold to the natural conclusion. We are boxing fans, a little crazy is what we love about the sport.

I’ll say it gentle, but Max shrunk a bit, looking like a little boy who, late at night, wandered into the neighborhood his mother warned him about. If you know what I mean. That’s alright, I would have been nervous too, sandwiched between a hard crew of roughly twenty title belts between them. What I wished Kellerman would have realized, and Floyd rightly pointed out, is he talks too much and nobody really cares what he has to say. I know he worked all night on his intricate questions, but Floyd isn’t going to say what you want him to, so let the action unfold. Give the man his minute of commercials and self-love, he earned it.

It’s not Kellerman’s fault, particularly, I think the HBO guys often takes themselves a little too seriously. The fights the thing, and whether the gloves are still on or it’s the aftermath, nobody, ultimately, cares about the referees.

* Check out the latest piece I wrote for the Rumble about watching Floyd fight, I think it's good.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Boys and the Band

I have some rather exciting news. Nomas is folding into another site with the sporting news called the rumble and it seems I am going to come along with them. I’m not entirely sure yet what the ramifications of this might be, but I think it means I’m probably going to be posting more frequent and slightly shorter pieces over there. It seems nomas will largely be a feeder site for the rumble. As for Boxiana we’re going to have to see. My hope is to do something of what Bethlehem Shoals has done over at Freedarko, where he keeps the longer, more challenging – and to my mind more interesting stuff – on Freedarko and the straighter stuff on the baseline.

Of course, there is only one Shoals, the high prince of sports blogging and a walking difference engine. I, on the other hand, am but flesh and not particularly toothsome flesh at that. I have tried to keep my promises at a minimum so as to focus the disappointment firmly within myself. As Leonard Cohen wrote in one of my favorite poems:

Out of the thousands

who are known,

or who want to be known

as poets,

maybe one or two

are genuine

and the rest are fakes,

hanging around the sacred


trying to look like the real thing.

Needless to say

I am one of the fakes,

and this is my story

The Rumble should be pretty fun. Large from nomas has put together a beautifully designed site and gotten quite a few talented writers to sign on. It’s a dual boxing/MMA site, which, to be perfectly honest, I’m not overly thrilled with. But, who knows, perhaps we can convert some of the fans of strenuous rubbing into followers of the science of bruising. (Joking, mostly.)

I haven’t been asked to temper my style, and I doubt I will really be able to even if asked. The first piece is already up today, a recap and meditation of Urango/Bailey and the romance of the body shot. There should be another one on Hatton up later today as well. I guess I’ll put a link up in the corner and also specifically point to particularly good pieces for the next few weeks at least. Still, it should be worth checking out daily as there will be a lot of news pieces and some fine writing. For Boxiana I hope to keep producing more edgy and overtly racial or otherwise longer pieces, but again, I'm not one for guarantees.

It should be exciting with a lot of new readers, whether my type of stuff is what they prefer; I guess we’ll see.

Rumble, young man. Rumble!

* * * *

Also wanted to add some quick thoughts on the debut of Mayweather/Marquez 24/7, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s great to have Floyd back on the program, the only truly interesting and engaging personality they have yet found. Roger and Floyd Sr, of course, are much welcomed as well.

My first thought on seeing the program was just how much Floyd’s upper body has grown. Having just rewatched Mayweather/Corrales the difference is striking. And, though I have not recently checked, it seemed to me he was notably larger than even the Hatton and De La Hoya fights. On one level this is obviously good, he will no longer be so clearly outsized against the real welters, Cotto/Mosley and the rest, when he eventually (hopefully) fights them, but I had been hoping that he might get back the more fluid combination punching style he displayed so beautifully in the lower weight classes. I thought perhaps his more cautious, pecking style owed more to dangers of larger opposition and an inherently cautious nature than any physical change.

But with this newly muscled body, impressive as it might be, I have doubts whether he is capable of throwing those multiple short and quick right hands that were so lovely to see. I don’t think it necessarily limits his effectiveness, but the grace and subtlety may have dissipated a little.

I know a lot of people were also skeptical of the slightly more mature and PG Floyd, thinking it a ploy to get back in the good graces of an irate public. I’m somewhat sympathetic to that viewpoint. It’s hard for a normal person to imagine just how much psychic toll it takes to be in the public eye, and even moreso when the larger part of that eye is squinting and narrowed with animus. It is a human impulse to try to correct that, it just take too much energy to be forever kicking against the pricks. Richard III might have said, “And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover. To entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain.” But Floyd, though he has played the part exceptionally well, like most all of us sinners, sees himself as the hero of his own story and on some level must be trying to self-correct.

While that surely is a part, it is an ungenerous heart that leaves it at that. I reserve my true skepticism for politicians and the police. I think the larger piece is the natural progression of a man’s life. Floyd is 32 now, with a growing daughter, and very few are able to keep up the level of narcissism he so long maintained. I hope he keeps his sharper and more biting ring persona and racial edges, but outside the ring finds greater rewards. It’s an unhealthy heart that wishes demons on others.

As for Marquez, it was enjoyable to see the man in peacetime, but not particularly illuminating or otherwise engaging. It simply confirmed what I’ve long thought. Juan Manual Marquez intends to win this fight. He’s as earnest and serious a prizefighter as now exists, and he doesn’t particularly care if we don’t give him a chance, he’ll take a bone from a hungry dog and beat him over the head with it if that is what it takes. Marquez looked a bit more muscular, but what little work we saw him engaged in seemed sharp and focused. He’s a stone sniper, from a culture full of them, and he’s never going to stand down unless compelled to by force.

I had been a little fretful over the match up, not because I saw it as unworthy, but because I want the heat of a true superfight. I want something that will make people stand at attention, and this fight didn’t seem to be it. I think much of it stems from the overarching dislike of Mayweather, a perfemptory defense of giving him credit in the event of a win. He is the clear favorite, but I think he’s the clear favorite against them all.

It may not be the fight they all want to see, but it’s a fight I want to see, and the 24/7 reminded me of that. People always claim that boxing is dead, and I say that’s fine, as long as you don’t tell the modern greats not to show up in the ring I’m more than happy to let people claim as much.

They say this is not a superfight, and that’s fine too, because it is for me, and I can’t wait for the bell to ring.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Random Rules

I have a new piece up on nomas about Malignaggi/Diaz that you should check out. The fight was much more enjoyable than I expected and had the added bonus of the Malignaggi meltdown in the postfight and a memorable press conference afterwards.

In the piece I referenced recent interviews with both Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Bernard Hopkins, which absolutely must be read and listened to in full. I find Floyd’s interviews on Bossip particularly rewarding, as we get to hear him at a comfort level that he never gets reaches with the gatekeepers of white sports purity; Brian Kenny, Larry Merchant, and the rest.

It’s interesting that even when the athlete says something in this context that under more official circumstances would come off as petulant, paranoid, or racist, there seems in these interviews the natural patter of the pugilist at rest. It makes all the difference. Not that I find either Mayweather or especially Hopkins grating, but they are more charming when amongst friends, and I wonder whether it might take the edge off for those who consider Mayweather specifically the exemplar of a world gone wrong.

While I find Stephen A. Smith somewhat odious, he was often the one most able to get worthwhile material from his interview subjects, which is difficult given the restrictions placed on the athletes he normally worked with. Boxing, as I wrote in the piece for nomas, has many fewer restrictions, meaning the athlete needs much less rope to go much further. I hope the trend continues, for Floyd most of all I think there is a personal redemption in his less guarded moments that might allow him to retain his status as villain, but provide the depth to make it a lasting and meaningful role.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Notes from the Edge

Wrote a prediction piece on Diaz/Malignaggi over at nomas, please check it out.

I want to say a quick word on Jones/Lacy, which I haven’t been able to see yet other than the highlights. I’m a bit surprised that Jones has been getting even this limited amount of heat for the win, but not altogether dismissive of the matter. First, let me say that from the looks of it Jones performed quite admirably. He seems to have his speed back and some of the confidence that Tarver jarred loose with that fairytale left he landed.

That being said I find it hard to be too impressed given the opposition. I actually kind of like Jeff Lacy, who seems to me the sort of decent guy who was simply set up with expectations that were beyond his capacity, but the truth is he’s so long gone any proper judgments related to his performance are impossible to make. I was ringside for Taylor/Lacy last year, one of the few who cheered for him, but it was immediately clear he was a lost cause. One of my favorite things about going to a live fight is the slow build in class and speed as the card progresses, like watching a series of basketball games beginning with grade-schoolers and culminating in a playoff game. When Lacy fought it was shocking in the other way, a chiseled man who labored about the ring like a spent thoroughbred. He looked as though he was sparring underwater, using resistance training to increase his speed.

So it was unsurprising to me when even this faded Jones gave him a lesson. It was not Jones’ speed that faltered, rather his stamina and his legs. The hands are still there, it’s just the peripherals that have gone. Still, it did leave me with a bit of intrigue. Roy is a strange character, his caution first style robbed us of potentially seeing one of the most accomplished fighters in history, rather than merely one of the most impressive. While he often displayed such mastery that his fights ceased to be competition and became performance, he seemed to hold back in the ring, letting inferior opponents linger. It left you with the question of what he was really capable of.

So it’s interesting that in his late career Roy Jones seems desperate to give us his finest. I don’t think it’s lack of money, rather some personal axe he has left to grind. I suspect the Calzaghe fight might have been particularly important. Roy never liked taking punches as a young fighter. He was so averse to it that he would stink out the joint rather than close the show; and then when Tarver and Johnson abused him it seemed as though his hesitation had been proved correct; one doesn’t want to take a shot, particularly when there seems to be an inherent vulnerability.

But with the Calzaghe fight there seemed to have been some sort of paradigm shift within him. He got as good a hiding as one is likely to see and survived. It’s almost as if he realized that, contrary to his guiding philosophy, getting whipped isn’t so bad.

It’s a matter of boxing lore that Muhammed Ali, a defensive mastermind, discovered that he could take a shot in his first fight with Frazier, and that liberated him to go beyond pain and into history. I wonder if something similar happened to Roy. he doesn’t have the tools anymore to make an extended run, but he seems to have the outsized sense of self-belief to try to push himself. He might have been better served losing somewhere along the way, (the Montell Griffin fight doesn’t count.) If it would have taken the edge off and allowed him to really let loose. Sometimes that 0 on the record can be more crippling than invigorating. Maybe if Floyd had slipped up things would be different where he is concerned as well.

All that being said, I hope Roy continues on his current path, fighting fringe guys and exhibiting the athletic gifts he alone possesses. While his heart might be in the right place, I don’t want to see him take another beating. It's the same way I feel about Holyfield. Let them keep going, there’s nothing wrong with acting like a still relevant fighter; as long as you don’t use it as your address.

So that’s why, despite the greatness of this interview between Hopkins and Jones Jr., I hope the long awaited rematch remains a fantasy. A win by Hopkins wouldn’t mean anything, and one by Jones would confuse matters too much. I'll be rooting for Jones to get his mini-redemption, not that he even really needs it, but the relevant pages have already been written for Jones, and that's the way it should stay.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The True Vine

*** Update: Please check out the new piece I just did for nomas on Mayweather/Marquez.****

I might be one of the few, but when I heard that negotiations between cruiserweight champion Tomasz Adamek and geriatric wonder Bernard Hopkins had been restarted it sent my mind racing. Behind only Pacquiao/Mayweather it’s the fight I most want to see. Tomasz Adamek is a former light heavyweight champ and in the last couple of years has carved out a place for himself as a can’t miss action fighter and a top figure in the cruiserweight division’s, admittedly short and neglected, history. It would be a big fight for Adamek; if he should win he would really stamp his name as a fine champion, and move beyond a mostly Polish attraction to an HBO headlining fighter.

But, of course, the main focus of my excitement is Bernard Hopkins and his quest for the grail. Part of me wants him to quit, certain as the grave that if he keeps pushing his end will be no more glorious than the others whose time came much earlier. My god, though, what if he does it? What if he managed to, at the age of 46 move up thirty pounds from his last bout, itself a certified miracle, and win another legitimate title from a borderline p4p champion? He is already, to my mind, the greatest “old fighter,” of all time, but this would really bring it home.

I know some think Hopkins should fight the winner of Dawson/Johnson, but to me there’s something special about the audacity of the task in an Adamek fight. It’s also something tangible and bold. It would go right in the opening line of Hopkin’s CV, something like…

“Bernard “The Executioner,” Hopkins was the longest reigning middleweight champion in boxing history and won the light heavyweight and Cruiserweight championships after the age of forty.”

I’m no historian, but I think it would actually lift him above his contemporary Roy Jones Jr. as the greatest fighter of the post Whittaker era. (Holyfield, and Pacquiao or Mayweather, might have some dispute depending on the future)

A lot of people dislike Hopkins because of his cautious style and confrontational black identity, but to me he is a monument to discipline and soul. There is such a righteous fire inside him that it sometimes burns through the screen. He’s an old man, but he’s made of shoe leather and sinew, and the miasma of creation.

The thing that I’ve always loved about him is that he is not particularly physically gifted in any area. He has decent power, good handspeed, prodigious strength for a natural middleweight; but nothing compared to the genetic freaks who share his lofty ranks. What he has is a hardness and completeness of spirit that few can match. He is always on balance, always planning, always has his hands properly positioned and his chin tucked tight as though gently holding an invisible egg. He would have made a fine general in the era of cavalry, or a formidable knight in the age or heroes.

As a man constantly at odds with himself I admire his stalwart discipline. He has physically declined, but the fundamentals remain, the tricks and the insights and wisdom of the ages. I love to watch his feet in the ring, the rhythm gained through decades of shadowboxing and sparring. But even moreso one feels he is the rightful heir to generations of African-American prizefighters who passed through the gymnasiums of Philadelphia and the East coast. A true disciple of the sweet science, he may not have been born from a family of fighters, but it is in his blood.

Mike Seeger died this week, a folk singer and preservationist of roots music, he called his life’s study the “true vine.” It was a sound that came from the mountains, deep and lasting and American. That’s what Bernard Hopkins is; he is the true vine.

On some level the fight with Adamek is incidental to Hopkins’ career, he has already been etched into the book of names. For most I would say let it go, the glory of the Pavlik fight is good enough, but I want to see the old master at work again, want to see what tricks and old-tyme music he can play. He isn’t exciting or athletic or even particularly relevant to the sport anymore; but he is something more. He is an ambassador for an age and a philosophy that is largely gone. He did it his way, and I hope he does it one more time.

*I’m going to try to make a list of Hopkin’s ten best moments this week as a way of framing what I think a fight with Adamek might mean.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Thorn of Thorns

Well Saturday’s fights were strangely suited to the month that preceded them; a roiling heartache. Grant me forgiveness for my expectations both of a Campbell victory and an event worth watching.

I spoke of Campbell with high praise, as a sort of mini-Hopkins. I suppose one must learn prudence or be gifted with the sort of perception of the self that even mirrors can't fracture. I, however, doubt I will ever learn and accept my ten lashes with appropriate humility.

I’ve never hid that I have a weak point for the brash and boastful. Campbell speaks my language, defiance mixed with the righteous anger of the oppressed. The sort of smoldering rage given to someone who was born for hard luck and keeps on coming. I still see it in him, just should have tempered the expectation of greatness of spirit with that of the flesh. There’s a reason that Bernard Hopkins is wholly unique in the history of a century old sport. An aberration so outside the margins should merit skepticism over a contemporary traveler, not brook easy comparisons.

Which is not to say that I agree with the official decision. That was as clear a no contest as you’re likely to see, and I’ve been surprised to read so many impassioned calls to the contrary. I suppose it is because judge’s choices are based on personal preference and the ring is the last grimy cave of unadulterated masculinity, but codes of conduct and morality seem to hold sway in boxing as a sort of higher law in ways that are reflected no where else in society.

Which is fine for a fan and specifically a writer, otherwise we should all just cede to the AP; but strange and magical as they are the rules of boxing must be officially respected. Nate Campbell and Timothy Bradley clashed heads in the middle of the third round after which point a cut was opened, along with a further vision problem, prompting the end of the fight before the completion of the fourth round. Following the unified rules of boxing this is a no contest, and really that ends the discussion.

Now the argument has been made that Nate Campbell was dogging it, that if he had been winning at the point of the clash he never would have consented to the stoppage of the fight. Frankly, I agree with this opinion - I also agree with my mother that I am a very handsome boy - neither of which makes either Timothy Bradley the winner of a TKO 3 or got me a date to the prom.

Nearly the exact same circumstances surrounded the second James Toney- Hasim Rahman fight. Following a butt that appeared much less severe than that in the Campbell-Bradley fight, Rahman claimed he couldn’t see and the fight was stopped. Initially ruled a TKO for Toney the California commission eventually changed the result to a no contest. I’m as delusional a fan of James Toney as still exists, but even I knew as the result was being read that it was an improper call. I screamed that James never would have quit if he’d been in the opposite corner, but ultimately it makes no difference.

The rules are there for a reason, to protect fighters from injury. It looks likely that Campbell did indeed suffer trauma beyond that of the cut, some type of bleeding within the eye, but even if he did not it’s of no importance. Those rules are there to protect fighters from going on to sustain injury, to hold them back from the risk of taking a last throw with the dirty diceman. If there are a hundred injustices to save one fighter from the loss of an eye or a brain bleed it is a small price to pay.

But all this is simple bookkeeping. I suspect the result will be overturned, but even if it isn’t the world will move on; the level of injustice will fall somewhere between the death of Socrates and the ticket I recently received for failure to come to a complete stop (a travesty quite personally poignant, if ultimately surmountable.)

Nevertheless an aborted event did take place and it does have meaning. Bradley announced himself as more than a passing beltholder. He was real and serious and earnest in a way I wasn’t expecting. I always thought him below even this later version of Ricky Hatton, but now I’m not so certain. I was struck by the genuineness of feeling he expressed in the ring, the deep personal I’m always looking for. It was more noteworthy than the fast hands and muscular but natural movement. I don’t see much grace or the underlying echo of the profoundly gifted, but he’s a soul rubbing against the best of himself, and it’s going to take a man and a half to sit him down at the children’s table again.

As for Campbell I’m not entirely sure what to think. I don’t believe, as most do, that he was out of the fight entirely. He lost the first two rounds clearly, but he was still searching, still engaged in the act of finding a way to victory. The thing is he just didn’t seem to have the tools even if the mind was still engaged. He looked poor in his last fight as well, but I was hoping it was a product of weight lethargy and an awkward opponent. Here is seemed a touch more than that. I’m not necessarily saying age was the key factor, though every man must fall; I think it’s more likely another case of someone who wasn’t quite what I wanted them to be. It’s a romantic’s folly, but it’s the human problem to hope for the special.

And I think that’s really why the vitriol seems to fall so heavy on Campbell’s shoulders. For the ones who believed in him he wasn’t the burning fire of the mountain we wanted him to be; and for those who were never impressed proof can’t be tarnished by technicalities.

Me? I’m just hoping for better days.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Human Problem

ood little fight between Timothy Bradley and Nate Campbell on Showtime this Saturday. I like both guys and don't have any clear conception about the outcome.

I think Nate Campbell has a little higher ceiling; he's a born menace. At the same time he's pretty old and didn't look all that sharp against Ali Funeka, a fight where he didn't make weight. Though he won, his lightweight belt was stripped and he was forced to move up to junior welter.

Campbell is old, but bone tough.
Campbell has a real inner confidence, bordering on insolence. It's the type of chip on your shoulder that can feed you once old age starts to eat away at the good stuff. He loves to talk and I hope he eventually gets into broadcasting. I like to think of him as a miniature, less talented, Bernard Hopkins. And if you don't know, that's high praise indeed.

Timothy Bradley is slightly less interesting. He seems a nice man, and throws punches with conviction, but to me there doesn't seem much pathos or deep hurt in the way he fights. He's a little muscle-bound and stiff, like he has been taught to fight. He doesn't have the same underlying sense of menace and the dark passenger that seems to gnaw at Nate Campbell and what I call the "natural fighters."

What Bradley does have is a set of moral principles; a kind of code of conduct that allows him to go to the edge and not over. In his last fight against Kendall Holt he took a huge shot in the first round, the kind that if it doesn't put you down for ten will change your way of thinking at the very least. But Bradley pulled it together and outworked Holt to unify the belts. He didn't do anything impressive, except exert everything he had. One felt that Holt might have had the greater tools, but we all know that's just palaver and high talk. What matters is the making it happen. Every single fight Bradley is in great shape. Every single fight he brings it.

Bradley brings it every time.

So what's my prognosis? A pretty good scrap. Part of me thinks that Bradley is just too consistent, but I can't past get the feeling that Campbell has the cold rage. The type that tears mountains and roads and ripped the cosmos to pieces. I think the path to victory is lined with bad intentions. Campbell by decision.

* * *

I hate to do this after lauding him, but if you haven't checked it out this is Nate Campbell's historically boneheaded moment. He drops his hands in a fight he was winning and gets an unfortunate result. I don't like it, but it's a classic.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Unhappy returns

Apologies for my extended absence. I have no good excuse, just an awful itch that needed scratching and a guilty conscience that made it seem irresponsible to do what should have been done.

The fortunate thing is that this was a month worth missing. There were few big fights, cancellations, and of course the overarching sense of the morbid that mired it all down. I’m not really one for moody brooding when it comes to the lives of others; the dead are dead and stay that way. Besides, it’s a rare public figure whose death touches one in a way to make a reaction really worthwhile. I mean this in the sense that if death is the ultimate personal, I find it kind of offensive to turn it into a public contemplation if one’s relationship is only cathode ray deep. I don’t know, it’s all just so damn serious.

The Explosive Thin Man had preternatural timing

There is of course the human need to try to take lessons or draw conclusions. And it is a genuine oddity; Arguello, Gatti, and Forrest all in a month and all the result of… violent ends. Really, though, I don’t think it’s anything more than a giant and meaningless awful. Could you argue that people of violence are more likely to end by it? I think that’s valid, people who have lingered on the void might be prone to fall in, no matter where they now stand, but I don’t know that it’s helpful to really think about.

I must say that of the three Vernon Forrest was the most upsetting. Arguello was so monumental and fixed; a boxing icon and statesman so foundational that not even this could shake the image of that long right hand as his valediction. And Gatti, well, no offense but he had ceased to be a man years ago; the Ward fights weren’t boxing they were public masochism. All the plastic surgeries had made him look vaguely Asiatic and his persona and results and the way people viewed him was uncomfortable and ahistorical and vaguely apocryphal.

The boxing phrase, "his face a bloody mask," seemed to suit "Thunder" Gatti, who treated it as such

But Vernon, well he was different. The other two had reached ends that were realized and full in ways that few ever do; they had eaten fully from the tree of life, more than any man could ask. I never loved Vernon Forrest, he wasn’t one of my favorites; he was too familiar and staid, an honest champion. He didn’t have the outsized persona or ring presence to inspire or call to dreamers, but I seemed to know him. Maybe it’s because he was from Atlanta and was always seeming to falter on his rightful journey, but he seemed so human, so touchable and flesh.

I seemed to know the know "The Viper," he was familiar.

He was a fine fighter; I thought he could have beaten contemporaries De La Hoya, Quartey, Carr, and Vargas. Probably would have lost to Trinidad and Wright; but really what difference does that make? Forgive me for even trying, but notice must be paid.

Forrest's finest moment, when he conquered the great Shane Mosley. Hopefully HBO won't pull it down.

* I’m going to try be a little more consistent on upcoming fights. Maybe give some thoughts on the big boys; Floyd-Marquez and Cotto-Pacquiao in the coming weeks. The only fight I really missed out on that I had something to say was Ortiz-Maidana. It was a bit of a shocker to me, but also an eye-opener in terms of the deeper magic that it takes to be a top prizefighter. I might still write about it if the inspiration strikes and I can find the video.

* A highlight of Alexis Arguello.

* My favorite Gatti comeback.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Steelhammer's Labor

Racial and national identity are fundamental parts of boxing; there is a reason the crowd at the Cotto/Clottey fight last week was split roughly ninety-nine to one in favor of Cotto, and it wasn’t just the fighter’s respective sense of the moment. It doesn’t really bother me; boxing is more affecting and true because it’s unfair. What happens among the three men in the ring on fight night might be on the level, but just about nothing leading up to or following the final bell is. It’s dirty and slimy and mercenary and unjust and it’s lovely.

I like it because I’m a racist too: I don’t like robots. Or to be more exact I just have no feeling about them, they leave me empty and unmoved, and really, what else is there?

Wladimir Klitschko won the Ring Magazine heavyweight championship on Saturday, defeating Ruslan Chagaev due to corner stoppage following the ninth round. I read about it on the internet because though I turned on the television in my apartment to ESPN Classic at 4 in the afternoon I dozed off somewhere around the fourth round; it was a dreamless and unsatisfying sleep.

This has been the hardest article I’ve yet had to write, the first time where posting my thoughts actually feels like a labor. I wrote half a preview before I scrapped it, not that I had something better to do but I had nothing really to say. I sort of wish I had posted it, because my pick was, believe it or not, a corner retirement after round ten. But really, even I’m not impressed, it’s like predicting tragedy in a man’s future or that the flesh-eaters will take over the Earth; distasteful and unfulfilling inevitabilities better left unsaid.

It’s not that Wladimir Klitschko is a bad man, and I don’t even blame him for his style or as many do for his lack of killer instinct. It’s a man’s labor in there, and it’s not for me to judge the moral rectitude or character of one who manages to win in convincing fashion. Efficiency and contemplation are virtues and as such should be commended. He does what he needs to win, and even if it’s not captivating or ennobling it might become so over time… Every old boxer someday becomes respectable.

It’s also not that his opposition is so poor. He seems to want to make the best fights he can, and if he’s not facing killers many other heavyweight eras have shared the same malady.

It’s really not anyone’s fault, it’s just that the activity he engages in bears little resemblance to what I recognize as boxing. To me there is romance in the word, there is rhythm and grace and dance. It is the sweet science… what a beautiful phrase.

But with Klitschko it is only science, and that not one of chemical reactions or even high level mathematics; but a science of stress tests and heat indexes and blunt force.

Jab, jab, jab… move, hold, jab, jab, jab, right hand. Jab, jab, jab, step back, hold… jab, jab, jab, evade. Wait, jab, jab, jab, straight right hand. It’s impressive, the discipline and focus and brutal efficiency. Klitschko is a man with no loose ends, the very limit of his capacity reached and made real. There is not a person in the world that could step into the ring and whip him.

And I just don’t care.

There has been talk that his union with legendary trainer Emmanuel Steward, while improving his work in the ring, has robbed him of excitement and aggression. Steward, who excels with tall fighters possessing great jab-right hands, (Tommy Hearns, Lennox Lewis) has managed to improve Wladimir by reducing his options. No more hooking off the jab, and even the straight right has been curtailed, a backup option used only when the risk of a counter is minimal.

An intelligent tactic, right and just considering that Klitschko’s weakness is his ability to absorb a shot, to roll through adversity. He has rarely even lost a round in his career, but when he has the results have been disastrous. Three knockout losses, all the result of exhaustion and panic attacks as much as they were huge punches.

Following his latest and most spectacular flameout to Corrie Sanders - Boxer/ gentleman farmer/ semi-pro golfer – Klitschko has curtailed his aggressiveness and become a fighter with the sensibilities of an insurance agent. It is a brutally effective, rule driven style that his German fan base loves, but viewers with more romantic sensibilities find cold and uninspiring. I mean, I know there is something there to hold on to, a weirdly homo-social relationship with his brother, a knockout artist with a fragile chin, a heavyweight champ with anxiety attacks; it all sounds like an HBO series.

But when the network pulled their coverage from the show following the withdrawal of the original opponent, David Haye, I think most American fans were pleased, hopeful that money can be better spent than with yet another predictable Klitschko match up. And hopefully it will… I’d love to see them go after another Hopkins fight – hell, I’m much more excited for the Darchinyan-Agbeko Bantamweight fight on Showtime, or pump more money into that weird vampire show they’ve got. I just don’t want to see it anymore.

And that’s the great thing about boxing; there are no rules for fandom. I was terribly disappointed with the finals match up in the NBA playoffs, barely even watched it. But as someone who loves the league I still have to confront the reality of what happened, recognize its meaning as the crowning of the one true champ. In boxing it’s more subjective and personal, I can frame things in a way that provides meaning to me, and it’s much easier to work things to conform to your sensibilities/delusions.

So I don’t mind if you tell me that this Klitschko is a great champion, he very well may be. I choose my own realities in the ring; and I’m fine with the cruiserweight division and Thomas Adamek; as far as I’m concerned he’s the one the can whip any man in any room he’s in.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ten lashes

My piece on Clottey is up on Nomas, and reading it over again I was pretty hard on him in ways I generally try not to be. Meaning it takes unbelievable courage and skill to get into that ring at the lowest level, let alone the places Clottey has gone. But there was something about the way he fought that was so galling, disheartening, and unseemly that I still feel myself seething as I type. It’s one thing for a man to think better of it and crack a little once he’s been to the mountaintop – De La Hoya or Barrera– but to carelessly crash into the shoals after a long and arduous journey is true tragedy.

Now I may be giving Clottey too much agency, too much credit for self-knowledge and choice, but I don’t think so. The pain is in the knowing, and I think Clottey did. I wondered on nomas if Clottey had ever read Hamlet, because the contentment he might find in his role as poor soul, as the aggrieved, might be a short lived pleasure. If he might agree with Hamlet that, “I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” I imagine Clottey slept better than I did on Saturday night, but I suspect it won’t be long before the demons come.

* I’m heartbroken over the delay in the Mayweather/Marquez fight. I was really looking forward to it, two masters at the height of their craft, a rare gift. There has been talk that it’ll be delayed until September, but the details need to be worked out. This obviously makes the likelihood of a Pacquiao/Cotto match increase considerably, as I doubt Pac wants to wait until next year to get into the ring again.
The fight makes sense for Bob Arum, both Pacquiao and Cotto’s promoter - he will not have to share the promotion fee and is guaranteed a winner – but I can’t help feeling a little uneasy about the whole thing. I think Pacquiao will win, I always felt he matched up well with Cotto, but we’re so close to serendipity, Mayweather/Pacquiao, that I don’t want to risk it.

There are certain people with patience, who wait to eat their meal in the proper order; but we have the most delicious desert waiting in the kitchen, and I fear our appetite may be spoiled before it gets to the table.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Coming back to you

I have a long and serious take on the fight which will come out tomorrow, hopefully on Nomas and when it's up I'll link to it. The fight really hit me hard. I just wanted to say a few things about Cotto first, since my thoughts are mainly on Joshua Clottey.

Miguel Cotto is a terrific fighter, but he's not as terrific as I wanted him to be and because of that I find it hard to forgive him. For guys like Arturo Gatti, Ricardo Mayorga, or even to a certain extent the younger Manny Pacquiao there is something enobling about their struggles and great fights, that pushing up to and over the limits of their capacity. But when you were burdened with the initial expectations of greatness that Cotto had, there is an entirely different feeling when the displays of vulnerability are so overt. It feels a little like a betrayal.

I never wanted to see bravery from Miguel Cotto, I wanted to see excellence. And I don't buy for one minute that he was damaged from Margarito, or that his skills have deteriorated, I just think he was never quite what I wanted him to be. It is ultimately my fault but still inextricably defines the ways I see him.

I was happy he won the fight, even though I scored Clottey the winner by a point. Cotto earned the win and he deserves keep his seat at the big boys table. He is an exciting fighter and I even admire the way he cheats to win; you always know it means something to Cotto, that the fight is important to him.

But I can't stop being angry at him for being a supporting actor instead of a lead. There are too few special champions and I so wanted him to be one. To be like Trinidad; fine and moving and a master.

So I think the thing to do is recalibrate, to celebrate him for what he is instead of what I wish him to be. And who knows, maybe he will be more than I now expect and that will add a new dimension, maybe there will be a different profundity to his career that will ultimately be more compelling. I think he will lose to the special ones, Mayweather and Pacquiao, but I've thought that for a while, and in his fragility and nakedness we may come to love a noble champion instead of a great one.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Dress Sexy at my Funeral: part 2

I heard a person who would know say that if you want people to think you’re a genius never smile when being photographed. There’s something about Miguel Cotto’s impassive demeanor that makes me think he must be gifted in some special way, like a cyborg or some ancient tree.

Which is not to say that he’s mechanical, I think he’s a natural fighter. If a guy like Andre Berto always seems like he’s thinking it through, analyzing, Cotto has none of that, the remorseless implementation of the computer age, a CPU over clocking to its maximum capacity. He’s much the opposite of his fiery compatriot, his predecessor on the throne, the quintessential Puerto Rican slugger, Felix Trinidad, who's fighting was a joyous, alcoholic, and celebratory dance. Cotto is as serious as the tomb, and it’s moving and intimidating, but it’s not humanizing.

That’s why it has been hard for me to get a handle on him since the Margarito humiliation. If you build someone up as special they’re bound to disappoint, but with Cotto there was never much to hold onto, just the steely imperturbability, the stately march of commerce across the heartland, how could that break down? It wasn’t that he was thought invincible before then, he’d been seriously hurt against lesser lights like Demarcus Corley, Ricardo Torres - and more understandably Zab Judah and Shane Mosley – but there was always the feeling that he could hold it together, that even if he lost he wouldn’t be broken, that the center would hold.

All that came crashing down against Margarito, and it’s one of the great tragedies of the handwrap disgrace; we don’t know fully if the machine was brought down by an overload of its’ processors handling too difficult a task, or by a virus introduced to the system.

Cotto clearly has the higher ceiling than Clottey; he can do more things well. Cotto is better schooled, more athletic, and a stronger puncher, but it’s hard for me to feel sure about him anymore now that I know he is all too human. Like a boy’s realization that his father is not an unerring oracle, or seeing his idealized woman fray around the edges it is a cruel blow and one there is perhaps no full recovery from.

In his first fight back from the Margarito loss Miguel Cotto faced Michael Jennings, a domestic level British fighter. He crushed Jennings, beating him to the body and landing with the thudding, hurting power that is his hallmark. It was everything one could want in a comeback fight, but the way I watched was totally different than before, like checking to make sure you’re boozy friend doesn’t embarrass himself at the wedding.

We’ll see if he ever gets to be the special someone we all hoped, Josh Clottey will be a good test. I hope Cotto wins the fight on Saturday, it will make the welterweight picture much more interesting in the future, with four genuine articles – Mayweather, Mosley, Pacquiao, and Cotto- within striking distance. I think he will win, Clottey is a fine fighter, but like I said before he has only one speed, and I don’t think it’s enough to smash through Cotto. I’m not even that worried about the sort of insidious wearing down of the circuitry that Margarito managed against him, Clottey doesn’t exert that sort of will and has only scored one stoppage in the last five years.

I see a competitive match, but one in which Cotto lands the more pleasing punches and wins the fight clear. Clottey seems to me one of those people in the world forever fated to be found wanting on the big stage, it’s not a flaw of character but one of destiny. I think Cotto’s got more on his horizon, but I can’t help but feeling it will be one of ultimate disappointment. When results alone are all we see, it is harder to be forgiving to someone so gifted. There didn’t ever seem to be much personal given from Cotto, he was a purely unemotional investment, and as such truly vulnerable.

My German professor used to say, “Mensch ist nicht Machine;” Man is not a machine. That’s very true, but when you’re neither, even great success means you might ultimately be less than both.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Clottey vs. Cotto: Part 1

Ben Tackie, Ike Quartey, and the great Azumah Nelson; I’ve never really gotten a good explanation as to why Ghana seems to produce fighters. It’s not particularly big, prosperous, or fucked up, (at least in relation to it’s neighbors) but it creates tough men, seemingly all from Accra, and all with a similar style. Maybe it just goes back to the professor, Azumah Nelson, and the type of grit that breaks stone.

The fighter currently carrying the baton is Joshua Clottey, who looks to stand and be counted on Saturday on HBO against Miguel Cotto. I’ll look at him later in the week, but Clottey first, because to me he represents a mathematical constant, a fixed value against which to measure the worth of men. Like a cardboard sign at the fair saying “you must be this tall to enter,” Clottey is the fighter you need to be able to beat if you want a seat at the big boys table.

I’m being a little unfair to Clottey, he is a champion in his own right, but there just seems to be something missing when he fights, that little bit extra that captures the imagination and screams special above the roar of the crowd. I have no doubt he would grind the Cintrons, Angulos, and Urangos from last week, but a guy like Berto, well it would be interesting. Part of me always roots for him, African fighters never seem to get a break; with no natural constituency built in they have to wait to become mandatories for titles.

But Clottey doesn’t seem to do himself many favors. Aside from a terrific chin, he simply doesn’t have any superior qualities. He has decent power, a nice defense behind a consistent high guard, applies pressure well, and has a good jab. He also seems to have one speed; he fights in fourth gear, round after round. If he has an opponent hurt, he stays in fourth gear, if he’s behind, he stays in fourth gear, if he’s winning the fight, he stays in fourth gear.

There’s certainly something to be said for consistency, for bringing the fight round after round and staying within oneself and the things you do well. But there is more to be said for inspiration, for explosion, and the testing of limits. This is where Clottey falls short for me; in a division of specialists he is an allaroundman. Now it is not necessarily a fighters purpose to inspire by actions, winning can do the trick just as well, but I wonder if Clottey, who if he was in a video game would have stats of 7.5 in each statistical category, will have what it takes to join the table with the rest of the welterweight killers. He's at the precipice, a win announces him as a player in the hottest division in the sport. He probably won't get a fight against Pacquiao, Mosley, or Mayweather, but he'll get a high perch from which to shout insults as they swing above him, and all it takes is a win.

A look back at some of his notable fights.

Josh Clottey DQ 11 Carlos Baldomir 1999: I’ve never seen the fight, but from all reports Clottey was winning comfortably against the future (briefly) welterweight king. Clottey was DQ’d for head butting, and from what I’ve seen in later fights it is not that surprising. He’s not a dirty fighter, but he’s rough.

Josh Clottey UD L Antonio Margarito 2006: The fight in which he was introduced to the public and seemed to fix his standing in my mind. Margarito was starting to get a little buzz as something special, and was expected to roll over Clottey, but dominated the first four rounds, making Margarito look slow and awkward. Fans of his point to those first four rounds as the example of the fighter he could be.

Then something happened, Clottey began complaining about his hands and seemed to stop fighting. I would never question a fighter’s courage, but Clottey seemed content with his performance, with lasting the distance. Margarito amped up the pressure and Clottey withstood it admirably, taking punches which later opponents (namely Cotto) would crumble under, but there never seemed any desperation, any fierce urgency from Clottey. Margarito was tough, but so crude, and Clottey had all the tools; he just somehow couldn’t seem to do it, to make it happen. He was comfortable just passing through, lasting with his high guard. Again, his hands were hurt, I’m sure it was serious, but there didn’t seem to be any contingency plan, and that was a disappointment.

Josh Clottey UD 12 Diego Corrales 2007: In hindsight it’s unbelievable Corrales’ promoters made this fight. Chico was coming off his two apocalyptic fights with Castillo and a beating from Joel Cassamayor and moved up two divisions to fight Clottey. Clottey came into the ring at 170 and muscled the fragile but brave Corrales around. Clottey dominated the fight, scoring two knockdowns, but again he seemed content to pass through. Corrales was a chipped window and Clottey had the hammer but he refused to throw it. Again we saw consistent pressure, he was in total control, but he seemed unwilling or unable to push that extra bit. Corrales brought all he had to the fight, landing some big punches, but he was badly outgunned. It was his last fight as he died in a motorcycle accident soon afterwards.

Josh Clottey UD 12 Shamone Alvarez 2007: Another example of Clottey’s limitations. He was fighting Alvarez, a good ESPN level fighter, but never tried to stretch to make something happen. He lost a few rounds, but he won most, and he never seemed particularly invested either way. To me it was a disappointment.

Josh Clottey TD 9 Zab Judah 2008: Clottey’s last fight, nearly a year ago, against the rapidly fading Zab Judah. Judah started off strong, using his superior speed to land some serious punches on Clottey, but he ate them without visible difficulties. After that is was a matter of time and pressure. Judah wore down against Clottey's onslaught. He never really pressed or risked anything, almost seemed to take joy in the stalking of the rapidly deteriorating Judah. When a cut opened over his eye Judah used the opportunity to go to the scorecards in hopes that he had won enough of the early rounds to squeeze out the decision. He didn’t, and Clottey got the technical decision win.

Clottey often claims he is disrespected and underappreciated, and he’s probably right. If he was fated to be born in different geography he likely would have had more fans and gotten the big fights sooner, but it’s hard to feel for a guy who doesn’t seem to be willing to push for the moment himself.

It’s not necessarily a flaw in character, maybe he simply can’t push himself further because that’s all he’s got, but whatever the cause like Popeye always said, “I‘am whatI’am.” Clottey is what he is; we’ll look at what Cotto is later in the week.

Monday, June 1, 2009

I want it too

**** Update **** Check out my guest post on the excellent boxing blog nomas. It's a real pleasure to be writing there as I've long been a fan of their stuff. I'd like to particularly thank Large for inviting me to participate. I think the piece is pretty good, it's a call to get a little bit of perspective in regards to Floyd Mayweather, a subject I intend on returning to frequently as we aproach his fight with Juan Marquez. ****

Although I watch virtually every fight televised on the major American networks and try to catch the big ones overseas online, it’s tough to get too excited by the mediocrities. Even though two evenly matched fighters can engage in entertaining theater it’s hard to place too much investment into an event without the highest stakes.

That said a few thoughts on HBO’s fights this weekend which featured three honest pros and one maybe will be.

* The undercard saw Kermit Cintron, former welterweight strapholder moving up to junior middleweight to take on HBO prospect Alfredo Angulo. I find there is an element of bad conscious now in watching Kermit Cintron fight. It’s a little uncomfortable and wrenching, like walking through the pound and seeing dogs half-mad from hunger and abuse.

Kermit was the house fighter a few years ago, the guy they were pushing as a potential something, but then he got his guts ripped out by Antonio Margarito, twice. The fights were brutal, debilitating, and unmanning. Margarito, one of the few fighters I find constitutionally unsympathetic, mowed Kermit down. He ate punches like they were nothing and left Cintron in a heap; there was no science or craft or strategy, just pure pressure till the pipe broke. And Cintron really shattered, curling up and literally crying in the ring, the kind of assault that makes a man rethink his choice of work.

And nothing he had done since indicated Cintron had been duly rehabilitated. I saw him fight on the undercard of a live show last year and though he won he was uninspired and lifeless. He challenged for a Junior Middleweight belt against the average Sergio Martinez and was both knocked out (which the ref blew) and decisioned. (which the judges blew with a draw)

Damaged goods; that’s what most, myself included, thought. And that’s where the bad conscious comes in; I can’t help but think about Margarito and those gloves when he fights now. He was never the most fluid or natural guy to begin with, the announcers always point out that he didn’t start boxing till he was nineteen, and maybe it’s just projection but it sure looks like it. I doubt he ever had much of a chance to be something special, but maybe he would have had a chance without the plaster. I don’t like talking about Margarito and the hand wraps, boxing is hard enough to rationalize without the unthinkable, but something in the retreating, panicked way he fights, like a dog flinching at a raised hand, really flavors the tragedy of the thing, like some far-fetched Hollywood script. I still can’t believe it happened, still can’t believe they loaded his gloves; it’s the worst thing a person can do in sport. What compares, putting a banana in the tailpipe of a racecar? There’s nothing.

So though the fight was scratch and sniff, a forgettable affair, there was something of the beauty of redemption in Cintron hanging on against the Margarito-light Angulo. Cintron didn’t fight that well, he used his superior speed to pepper the stuck-in-mud Angulo for the early rounds and in the late rounds he seemed to just barely be holding on, one blow thrown in anger away from crumbling. But he didn’t crumble, he survived, his face and style that of a desperate man, to the final bell, and earned his win.

Would he have held up better against the similarly limited Margarito without the perhaps illegal hand wraps? To be honest, I don’t think so. But there is no way to know, and that’s got to be galling to him. It’s a brave man who steps into the ring, particularly one who is already seemingly cracked and unwhole. I don’t think Cintron will ever beat a world-class fighter - I don’t think he did Saturday – but there was something a little touching to know that while the broken may not fully heal, it can be mended.

* It wasn't only the studded dog collar that made Angulo look like a Mexican sex freak. It was the dog collar plus the thin porn moustache. Not a good look, Alfredo. And no, I certainly wouldn't say it to his face.

* In the main event rising Welterweight titlist Andre Berto fought junior welterweight belt holder Juan Urango. I try not to be too negative on guys who beat adequate opposition by clear margins, but there wasn’t much to get excited about here. Berto has some of best handspeed in the sport, and it was very apparent against the strong but slow Urango.

Berto landed at will but held just as much, and it was unclear exactly why. Berto had no problem fighting at distance, and his superior speed made it easy to stay there, but he frequently and seemingly purposefully dove in and held, making the fight virtually unwatchable.

My fighting hero James Toney says something like, (insert virtually unintelligible guttural mutterings) “All these chumps was taught to fight, I was born to fight.” I can’t help feeling a little like that about Berto, he’s got all the gifts, all the tools, but something seems missing, that special inspiration separating a good fighter from a great one. Like Cintron there seems to be a hitch in the proceedings that keeps him in the atmosphere, slightly, but definitively below the sainted heroes; Mayweathers, and Marquezes and Pacquiaos and Mosleys. I may be wrong, a curmudgeon unwilling to acknowledge the new; Berto is young, strong, and fast, but I wonder if what James is talking about can ever be learned.

*Not to kill the guys, because it's borderline entertaining, but the announcing on the B.A.D. crew has entered into car-wreck territory. Starting next time I’m beginning a new feature tentatively called, “The Wisdom of Lennox Lewis.” And don’t worry, Max Kellerman will get his due as well.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Too Much

I’ll move on eventually, but I still have more to say. Check out the last post on Pacquiao if you didn’t already, I think it’s my best piece so far. I promised a friend I’d do a close reading of the fight and though it’s late I’m going to go through with it. Here is a poor link to the fight if you want to follow along, you can probably find better. I’ll be using the time stamp from the HBO counter.

1st round

3:00-2:45: First thing we see is the size. Pacquiao may be smaller in the upper body, but he doesn’t seem disadvantaged otherwise. Next, Hatton’s clumsy footwork as opposed to Manny’s superfast darting balance. Against a normal fighter Hatton is faster and finds it relatively easy to close distance, in the first few seconds one can already see that’s not so.

2:30 The first landed blow is a sneaky right hook. Hatton comes forward with a tepid jab, looking to apply pressure, but Manny’s timing and precision shows immediately. We could almost stop here, as this first blow is basically the story of the fight. Hatton and Mayweather Sr. knew this punch was coming, had made fun of it on 24/7, but there was nothing he could do about it. If you look at 5:34 they talk about the move, prepare for it, but were instantly unable to respond. There has been a lot of revisionist history since the fight, blaming Hatton for leaving himself unprotected as he lunged in, but it’s the story of his career. Against most fighters he is fast enough to close the distance, against Pacquiao he was crushed every time. It's not that he didn't do this right, or he made that mistake, it's that Ricky Hatton just isn't as good at boxing as Manny Pacquiao.

2:10 After a few seconds of trying to mug Pacquiao on the inside, the fighters gain separation. Hatton is again forced to wade through Pacquiao’s punching zone and eats another solid right hook. A good fighter will be able to time shots like this a few times a fight. Lazcano landed a good one on Hatton in their fight. Malignaggi landed a couple. Pacquiao landed two in the first fifty seconds. Not with full power, but with incredible accuracy.

1:55 Here we see where Hatton is really doomed. He had just managed to slip the Pacquiao right for the first time, and at center ring throws his first earnest right at distance, but Pacquiao easily slips the punch and lands his first left hand. I think Hatton felt okay, as though he could eat the right, but that first left was thrown with force. The difference in speed, accuracy, and class is already clear. Hatton is a fast fighter, but he looks in poor shape already. He can’t close the distance safely, and at range his inferior handspeed and amateurish form gives him no chance.

1:46 Hatton manages to slip a left, but Pacquiao again lands the right hook at half speed and ducks away.

1:30 Pacquiao lands another right hook, and this one he has thrown for keeps. It is a perfect shot, comes from underneath, and Hatton goes stiff legged. Lampley misses it, calling a Hatton shot, but you can hear the sound of the impact. When watching it live I was already jumping up and down screaming. I truly felt the fight was over. Hatton has a very particular way of looking hurt. He stands upright and lurches with stiff, tin-man movements. Floyd had him this way multiple time before he put him down, Manny is not so merciful.

1:00 Again we see Hatton’s problem. Taking some time to regather himself he waits at distance, throwing a few jabs and exhibiting his version of “boxing.” This is what Teddy Atlas claims he should have done from the beginning, but it was really no sort of option. Manny easily manages to slip everything that Hatton throws at distance and lands two straight lefts before Hatton can even manage to raise his hands. In the David Diaz fight we saw much the same predicament, but while Diaz was slower, he managed to last with his high guard. Though marginally quicker, Hatton could in no way slip the straight left at distance. Floyd managed to nail him with dozens of his equivalent straight rights, but he didn’t throw with the same conviction and power that Manny did.

:56 The knockdown. Pacquiao throws the same right hook he had landed three times before, but Hatton, already buzzed from the previous straight lefts crumples to the floor. It’s a beautiful rhythm shot, perfectly balanced and thrown while dodging the counter. Again, people claim that Hatton did something wrong, which is true, but ultimately meaningless. This is the way he fights. It is flawed, but works against even very good fighters. Only a special few have the ability to take advantage of it. Tszyu, Castillo, Urango, Collazo, Malignaggi; they could all see the opening, and they could even find it occasionally, but not the way Pacquiao did. Floyd Mayweather waited the whole fight for the left hook; in fact he landed the exact blow in the exact spot in the ring in the 8th round of his fight against Hatton, two rounds before he achieved the knockdown. He had what it takes to execute. The flaw is much easier to see when someone with speed, force, and accuracy is able to lay it bare.
Manny Pacquiao Drops Rick Hatton in First Round

:26 Hatton tries to regain his composure, but there is nowhere for him to go. He can’t risk taking the lunge to get inside, and at distance Pac’s handspeed is almost comical. Hatton careens into the ropes, a look of pure haplessness on his face.

:08 Pacquiao scores the second knockdown on a straight left that connects through the glove to Hatton’s face. The only question after the first knockdown was if he could last the round, and he does an admirable job of taking a few punches, slipping a few, and is ultimately fortunate he goes down here. If he had managed to stay up a few more seconds Pac likely would have scored the killing blow. As the bell rings he tries for one more right hook but it comes up short.
Manny Pacquiao vs. Rick Hatton Second Knockdown

Round 2:

2:37 Hatton comes out aggressively and Pacquiao responds in kind. He seems to be pressing a little bit. At 2:37 he loads up on a huge left that overshoots the target and opens himself to a ragged counter shot by Hatton. He wanted to end it with this shot but started from a little too far away. This is the same shot that he uses later to finish the fight. He threw it with full force, but mistimed it slightly.

2:31 Pac throws a 1-2, the jab followed by the straight left. This is his money combination, the one that he used to wipe out Barrera and batter Marquez. It lands flush on Hatton’s nose. It’s the first time in the fight he leads with it, and it’s still as effective as ever.

1:45 Pacquiao throws a hard and brutal combination, a left uppercut beneath the ribcage and then a straight left to the face that partially lands. Hatton almost seemed as if he was getting back into the fight, but the way he immediately drops his right hand to cover up his side shows that the shot hurt him. Manny’s body punching has gotten much better over the years. Though he didn’t land many here, this one was a good one.

1:03 This is an important moment. Pacquiao again throws that supercharged overhand left, and this time he gets even closer. Manny throws it with full power and it lands on Hatton’s upper chest. It is the exact same sequence as the final blow. Hatton lunges with a weak jab to close the distance and Pacquiao slings it like a baseball pitch, just a few inches too low. You can hear the loud smack as Manny’s fist hits the collarbone. The first one at the beginning of the round missed by a good distance, this one was closer, it’s like he’s honing in, timing the target. One gets the feeling he could have more easily continued landing the right hook, but he knows there is little danger, and the more powerful left will end the show.

:33 Manny throws another left to the body, left to the head combination that badly wobbles Hatton. He is throwing with full power, no fear. He seems to want to end it in one shot, not the lighter, quicker combination punching he used to force the stoppage against De La Hoya.

:08 The knockout. Not much description needed. It was the same moment as 1:03. Hatton tries to jab his way in, in fact does land the jab, but he can’t close the distance and Manny connects with full power. Hatton drops his right hand, a silly mistake, but again, one that he always makes. Manny seemed to use those two earlier misses as measuring shots, coming closer and closer before he finally timed it right. This was no lucky shot. It was thrown with full force and bad intentions. You can hear Manny grunt as he throws it, the only time he did so the whole fight. It’s an amazing shot, the kind one dreams about.

Manny Pacquiao Knockouts Rick Hatton

People view Pacquiao as a kind of naïf, but nothing about this performance was thoughtless, he enacted a game plan with brutal and scientific efficiency. It reminded me of the Floyd Mayweather fight with Phillip Ndou. In that match Roger Mayweather told Floyd on the ringwalk that Ndou was open to the pull-counter, meaning a drawing back to avoid the jab followed by a counter right hand. Mayweather proceeded to execute the move with frightening precision. It’s one thing to see the flaw, to know the opening, it’s quite another to be able to make it flesh.

What does this tell us about future fights? There will obviously be time for this later, but in my mind Manny has two potential opponents. If Cotto beats Clottey next month the fight is possible, as they are both represented by Arum. Cotto was the one big welter I always thought Manny could beat, because he’s not huge, and he’s somewhat fragile. While we can save a closer analysis for this later, take a look at what happened the last time Cotto fought a left handed 140 pounder. This is poor quality, but check out the punch that lands at the 4:55 mark.

Yes, Cotto has clearly improved, but that punch sure looks familiar.

And the other fight, obviously, is Floyd Money Mayweather Jr. It’s almost too big to talk about yet, like cancer or all you can eat bananas. A year ago I wouldn’t have believed it, but who’s to say Pacquiao couldn’t do it. Look at this.

And this, at 1:05.

Another blatantly unfair video. I’m picking out a couple of moments over the course of a career, incidental contacts in rounds that Floyd probably didn’t even lose. I could find dozens where Manny was similarly vulnerable. And yet, a man that can execute with such precision… who’s to say it’s not possible? All it takes is a fist, in motion, at a specific point and time in a specific spot, and you have… word made flesh.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Everybody wants you to be just like them

While the rest of the world has moved on I’m still fixated on that explosive left. I’ve probably watched the fight two dozen times now and one starts to notice different things. For example that Pacquiao missed the exact same punch thirty seconds earlier by mere inches, landing hard on Hatton’s upper chest. For another, the sound. Not only at the moment of impact, but right before, a little grunt that Pacquiao makes as he loads up, planting his feet and swiveling his hips and exhaling just so, the sound that a man gives when he’s hard at work, straining, but in the moment.

I’ve been thinking about Angela’s post recently. What Pacquiao means to Filipino’s, they way he is of them, and conversely the ways he is foreign to us. Thinking back to my own infatuation with him I wonder how I truly saw him at the start; a potential great, or an amusing curiosity? He is different, and it’s hard to accept that.

Boxing has its’ familiar tropes; the old versus the young, the boxer versus the puncher, the physical versus the scientific, the matador versus the bull, and the boxer as extension of racial/national identity. We expect certain things from certain fighters; African American’s are athletic, slick, and cautious; Mexicans are body-punchers, destroyers, and unbreakable. Eastern Europeans are powerful, robotic, and deliberate; African’s are rough, crude, and super-tough. It’s profiling but it’s ingrained. The fans expect it and need it; it creates frameworks and narrative arcs. A fighter comes from a tradition, and that tradition turns mere tribalism into a kind of generational inheritance.

And that’s the thing about Pacquiao that made it so hard for him to reach this point; not only a superstar, an athletic hero and pugilistic curiosity, but a recognized and real-deal ring genius. We lack cultural antecedents. Excepting those from the distant past; Fighting Harada, Pancho Villa, Flash Elorde; there has been a certain kind of Asian fighter we’ve come to know recently. I’m talking about In Jin Chi, Duk Koo Kim, and the fighters we hear about in the midget divisions. They share a tradition of dour fearlessness, limited athleticism, and grim determination. Is it unfair to group a multiregional group of several billion people? Clearly it is, but boxing is all about comparisons and fantasy judgments, and it’s hard to break from the old guard.

And that’s why I feel it has been difficult for Pacquiao to get to that last step of greatness. The money is one thing, and his effervescent style and militant good-nature meant he would never have a hard time building a fan base; but hell, Ricky Hatton has legions but that didn’t get for him even the limited respect which he earned with results in the ring. The casual fan he has convinced, the ones who should know better are those he’s had the most trouble with. He simply doesn’t fit the right profile for a pound for pound king.

Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Julio Ceasar Chavez, Pernell Whitaker, Evander Holyfield, Roy Jones, Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, Bernard Hopkins, and Floyd Mayweather. Over the past 25 years these were, for the most part, the pound for pound kings. I see two clear profiles; one is racial- black or Mexican- and the other is career paths-amateur great or long slow slog to acceptance. Pacquiao fits none of these categories, he is racially distinct and his explosive entrance to the mainstream following his first Barrera fight, wholly unexpected, didn’t follow the characteristic path. He was neither a pre-packaged superstar like Leonard, or Jones, or De La Hoya, or an underappreciated professional who could no longer be ignored, like Hopkins or Hagler.

Pacquiao burst onto the scene; deeply flawed but triumphant, like the romantic notion of the rural physicist, whom, outside the confines of the academy, uncovers a new theory, all ragged around the edges and unartful, but holding some new but deep and abiding universal truth. And the keepers of the flame snarl and scoff and point to the frays and failures, but the thing holds firm, and with work and patience and polish turns into something even more powerful and true. That was Pacquiao’s path, and I think it explains much of the hesitation. He came from outside the establishment. He broke the rules. People kept putting more and higher thresholds for him to cross and when he did it still wasn’t enough.

Much of it is the nature of things. I recently read a piece referencing thoughts of contemporary writers on Duran’s place as a lightweight. While universally recognized today as one of the three greatest ever, most experts hesitated to put him in the top ten. People are conservative, and those that know the most are often the last to see the obvious. A thing is what it is, they say.

And Pacquiao was that. All he had was the straight left and an excess of fight. They saw the leaky defense and the lunges: and in an amateur great - an ordained hero - they would have seen the potential for improvement, they would have marveled at the manifest gifts and made way for the polish of the years. True, he didn’t have the economy of motion that marked the greats, all flailing and flopping and raising of the arms as he rumbled back into the scrum. But since he popped out so unexpectedly, with no framework, there was no empathy, only conditions as he mowed down the greats. And they waited for the fall.

And many wait still, his flaws will tell. Hatton was made for him, De La Hoya was too old, and Diaz too limited. But all it is now is saving face. He might lose his next fight, they want to send him in with the lions, but he already stands atop a mountain of ordinary heroes, from where he stands there is no going back.

I exchanged emails with Graydon Gordian from the excellent Spurs blog a few weeks back. He told me that; “I have never been able to give myself over wholly to the Pac-man. Something about his personality, in particular his prolific smile, gives me pause.” That same smile which Angela found so charming, so personal and of her tradition was so foreign to him. In others a smile in the ring walk is cold, confident, intimidating. But Pacquiao’s is different, that of a child’s long awaited satisfaction, or of a simple man’s simple pleasure. I would say he had the temperament of a sociopath, the joy in battle and seemingly genuine fatalistic worldview, but I think it would be taking something from him. He is a revolutionary, but he is of something, a living worldview that I can’t place but is nonetheless profound and strong.

Usually the flash judgments and Johnny-Walker wisdom are deeply flawed, but Pacquiao is the exception. He’s a different special something, one that fades and is obscured by close analysis, easy to pick apart and dismiss; but that’s the difference between science and inspiration, or at least it’s the distance that connects them. There are times to look away from the telescope and at the stars. That’s Pacquiao.