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.


Anonymous said...

It's Steward, not Stewart.

shoefly said...

Thank you.

Mark said...

Arguello, Gatti, Marco Nazareth, and now Vernon Forrest. Maybe one of these things is not like the other, and maybe they all stand uniquely. But what an odd and bewildering summer it has been.