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.

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