Friday, April 24, 2009

Slow Train

Two fights this weekend worth watching. The first, suprisingly on Showtime, has Jermain Taylor trying to take Carl Froch's recently won super middleweight belt. It’s going to be strange to watch Taylor on a network other than HBO, as their relentless hyping and pushing of him was really, for me, the most consistently defining narrative of his career.

Taylor is normally the type of fighter I would find attractive, but his “yessir, nossir,” respectfulness always left me with a worrying colonial unease. A compact between two parties to create a likeable black “athletic” fighter, which included the HBO teams degraging reminders that, “he has the type of athleticism that could work in any sport!” As though fans of boxing should feel graced to have such a natural specimen and respectful son after being so long weighed down by either limited but likeable progeny or troubled geniuses who forget to call on birthdays. I like my fighters to have defiance and insolence in the ring and out, and while it may be a product of his stutter, his Southern upbringing, or a business choice, Taylor was never that. He seemed a fighter by accident. As though he never took it all that personal.

This, in addition to him winning decisions against my fighting ideal, Bernard Hopkins, under dubious circumstances, cemented my feelings of him as a company man, a flack, an accidental king. He seemed willing to let his persona and status as an HBO product carry him along in matches where he did the bare minimum to scrape through; the Winky Wright fight, and the dreadful match between “the human sleeping pill” Spinks being the prime examples.

When I saw him fight Jeff Lacy last year after his losses to Kelly Pavlik I was virtually the only one in the building cheering for Lacy. And though he battered the shell of Lacy, an even grimmer case of expectations of creation and athleticism turned to disappointment, it felt like a kabuki redemption to me. So why is it that I am excited to see him fight Carl Froch? I’m a little unclear about that, but I think it has to do with the move to Showtime, away from first the rampant boosterism and later searing disappointment that seemed to drip not only from Jim Lampley’s voice but the entire HBO production as well. In Carl Froch he has just the type of brave, hittable, powerful, and blank opponent to finally discover exactly what he is. I wonder if the divorce from HBO, from Manny Stewart’s celebrity training, from expectations, might finally convert him from a robot athlete and into a real boy. I hope so, and so should anyone who desires the grace of redemption.

The other fight, on HBO, is one that I’m more excited for than I should be. Juan Manual Lopez, the precocious Southpaw puncher is looking to cement himself as the next pound for pound Puerto Rican, and is doing so in the oldest and most respected way, challenging an aged but live champion, Gerry Penalosa. It reminds me clearly of one of my favorite coming out parties, Eric Morales unsubtle destruction of the strangely proportioned and cartoon-faced Daniel Zaragoza.

Penalosa, like Zaragoza, is a master of craft, a flim-flam artist and huckster. An old tyme tradition of fighting conmen that meshes perfectly against the athleticism and textbook technique of a young fighting champion like Lopez. Penalosa will never quit until all options and avenues have been explored; as shown by his great triumph over a much classier Jhonny Ghonzalez, in which, hopelessly outgunned, he maneuvered himself into a perfect debilitating liver shot. The type of mentality that comes in handy when you’ve never had the physical advantage and are going into the last desperate throw.

I don’t think he will be successful, but Penalosa touches on the beauty of the sport, the way that guile and greed can overcome the golden gun. Juan Manuel Lopez will win, he reminds me of a faster, southpaw version of the young Fernando Vargas. But in Penalosa there is the spirit and clenched fist of defiance, and that’s why it will be worth watching. When the beautiful gets into the muck magic can sometimes happen.

-Stay tuned for next week where I am going to explode with Hatton-Pacquiao excitement. I’m going to turn you sleepless with anticipation or your money back.

- Check out The Freedarko presents Disciples of Clyde podcast I was graciously allowed on. It’s about basketball and great. Don’t listen to my voice though, it makes me sound like science.


jim in austin said...

Taylor leaves me cold. He seemingly always fights down to the level of his competition. If he's in a position where a little more aggression or activity would put the fight away you can be sure he won't deliver. For me a fighter starts between the ears and all the athleticism in the world won't make up for a deficit there.

And I'm always up for a wily veteran vs the promising young stud type of match up, assuming the veteran isn't totally shot. I'll definitely be watching Lopez/Penalosa...

jim in austin said...

Couldn't find the Lopez fight but reluctantly watched Taylor. He didn't disappoint. True to form he didn't finish when he had Froch hurt and he went to sleep half way through the fight. When Froch began to out-work him around round six or seven it was over. Seemingly anyone who can drag Taylor into the late rounds can beat him. And in this case, knock him out.

shoefly said...

Yeah, sometimes a guy is what he is, and Taylor just isn't the champ everyone wanted him to be.

You must watch the Lopez-Penalosa fight, it was every bit as great at Morales/Zaragoza. Truly inspirational. If Taylor only had 1/10th of what Penalosa does he could have been what people hoped he was.

jim in austin said...

If you don't have enough slow twitch muscle fiber to last more than four or five rounds then Prize Fighter probably isn't your optimal career choice.

The Other Van Gundy said...

Keep. This. Up.

All I know about boxing is what I learned watching an episode of 24/7, talking about Hatton and Mayweather(?), but these are great reads. Maybe throw in some posts for we uninitiated? Either way, I look forward to what you've got coming up.