Saturday, November 12, 2011

Last And Final Round


Was a bit of a tough week for me with two of my fighting favorites exiting the stage.

First, James Toney, my favorite of favorites, suffered an embarrassing defeat against Denis Lebedev. It was difficult to watch for me, almost physically painful. James lost every round and looked – really for the first time in his amazing career – pitiful.

I mean, we’re talking beyond shot. We’re talking about James Toney, master of the craft, incapable of throwing a punch without toppling over. It was horrifying.

There was a mitigating factor. He damaged his left leg in the second round and was clearly hobbled. Some sick part of me still thinks maybe he could have been competitive without the injury, but I know that’s delusional.

A great fighter, a great champion, and a flawed but captivating character; I intend to one day write a long and fine piece about James Toney. For now, I hope he retires and remains as neurologically intact as possible.

And, of course, Joe Frazier passed this week. He was my favorite heavyweight and I loved that left hook and the personal meanness. I’ve written about it before, but Joe has always been to me one of the key signifiers of what makes boxing different from any other athletic competition. It’s so personal, so real, and so unadulteratedly human.

As Joe said of his losing battle in Manila, “Goddamn it, when’s somebody going to understand? It wasn’t just a fight. It was me and him. Not a fight.”

Most people don’t even try to understand, and if I do it’s only at a very surface level, but no one was a more instructive figure on the stakes behind the “science of bruising,” than Smokin’ Joe Frazier.

* * *

And now, a few words on Pacquiao-Marquez III.

It has been a special series, with two truly great fights leading up to this point.

Pacquiao’s obviously a huge favorite and I agree that he’s highly likely to win. Pacquiao has crushed all of his recent opponents, men much bigger than Marquez.

Despite what some people think Pacquiao’s recent opposition has been very good, quality fighters all. Pacquiao has certainly improved over the years since his first fight with Marquez and his performances of late show that.


The difference though, really, is that Marquez is a great fighter, while the rest of these welterweights are merely very good. Pacquiao struggled with Marquez and Morales – great fighters – he wrecked Ricky Hatton, a very good fighter. True, Marquez looked outmatched against Floyd at this higher weight, but I don't think he was quite as well prepared as he is for this bout. I also think Floyd has a better style for Marquez than Pacquiao does. And, well... I just think Floyd is better.

That being said I still believe Pacquiao will win. He’s just a little too electric at this point to be derailed by even his stylistic bogeyman, Marquez.

My vision of the fight mirrors Manny’s second matche against his other great rival, Erik Morales. In that match Morales gave as good as he got early, before Manny ground him down with relentless aggression and a concerted attack to the body. Morales, brave till the end, gave a rousing performance before succumbing late.

I see Marquez starting well, even winning a few of the early rounds, but I think Pacquiao will be a bit too much, a bit too strong. Marquez is a great fighter, but Manny is greater at this point, a true terror to behold. A great fighting champion.

Manny Pacquiao TKO 9 Juan Manuel Marquez

P.S. I’m excited to say I’ll be writing my first piece for the newly formed Classical in the wake of Pacquiao-Marquez III. I’m pleased to be working with my good friend Bethlehem Shoals again, and many of the fine writers they have on the team. Please check it out Monday!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

End Times


Just a little note on the eve of what is likely James Toney’s last significant fight.

I’ve started half a dozen ways, but really, I’m too nervous to offer much.

James fights Denis Lebedev, an honest bruiser in Russia tomorrow. Lebedev is a good fighter and I thought he beat Marco Huck – Ring’s top ranked cruserweight – when they fought last year. He’s powerful and has pretty quick hands, but he doesn’t move particularly well and has zero, I’m talking none, science too him.

He’s the type of guy James Toney would have eaten up, absolutely cooked to bits, only eight years ago...

Yeah, that’s a long time isn’t it?

I know I should give him up, shouldn’t care a bit, really. James has eaten himself out of a potentially legendary career, and at forty-three there’s really no going back. It’s surprising that they made this fight in the first place, gave the aging champion a shot at a highly ranked opponent. But just seeing him, his face returned after he dumped sixty pounds of fat…

And I can’t help myself, I’m hooked.

Clean punching.

Shoulder roll.

Slip and counter.

Punch to the body, punch to the head.

Uppercut-left hook.

And that glorious counter right.

I can’t help it. If James were in the Marines the drill sergeant would call him a, “disgusting fatbody.”

But, to me, he’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in a boxing ring.

I admire the physical freaks like Roy Jones and Floyd Mayweather. The electric skittering geniuses like Pacquiao and Duran. Love, even, the masters of guile and meanness like Bernard Hopkins.

There’s something special about James Toney, though. To me, he is boxing. The sweet science. The art of bruising.

He’ll go anywhere and fight anyone; faster, bigger, stronger, it doesn’t matter. He’ll stand there in front of you, right there in the pocket. A little shift to the right, a little roll to the left. A step back and a bob of the head.

Those are his powers, those are his gifts. He stands there in front of you – dodge, block and slip - and fire back.

He’s had too many tough fights, too many wars, and too much food. It’s a miracle that he made the cruiserweight limit after all this time, and I expect him to be weakened.

Chris Byrd, Roy Jones, Oscar De La Hoya, Antonio Tarver; old fighters don’t have a good record upon dropping weight recently.

But still, part of me can’t help believing he’ll still tear this guy apart. An old fighter with one last fight left in him.

I’d like it so much I can’t really even talk about it. Because I don’t expect I’ll ever see anyone who fights quite like him ever again. And I’ve never quite found a fighter I’ve ever liked to watch so much.

I’ve started half a dozen ways on this, wanted to write my great James Toney piece, but I’ll wait until after. Because, like all fans, particularly boxing fans, I’m a romantic.

And I really just wanted to say, if only one last time.

War James Toney!

War Lights Out!

James Toney UD 115-113 Denis Lebedev

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Master Of Go


I get excited when Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao fight; I get nervous when Bernard Hopkins fights.

A young fighter is allowed a bad night, (or he used to be, now – more often – he was, “exposed,” though that’s a different story) an old fighter has a bad night and he’s shot.

And Bernard Hopkins is an old fighter. They tried to put him out to pasture seven years ago in two fights against Jermain Taylor. They were close bouts, but we all know the story there. If Taylor had been Howard Eastman, or some random African guy Hopkins would have won the decisions.

Instead, Taylor was HBO’s new project, while Hopkins was just a black pensioner with an attitude problem.

But look where we are, seven years later and right back where we started from. Strangely, it’s Taylor who has suffered the deeper hurt in the intervening years, just now getting his boxing license reinstated after the type of brain-rattling toe curlers that make even fans of the hurt business squeamish. Hopkins has gone from an ancient forty to an antediluvian forty-six - still outspoken and still not particularly beloved - and who does he have across from him?

Another HBO product, though this one, I fear, with a little more substance. Chad Dawson is a good boxer and a fine athlete.

And that’s why I hate this fight, always have, ever since Dawson’s people first started agitating for it. Hopkins is a remarkable specimen, a true marvel and historical aberration, but forty-six is forty-six, and there are creaks in those bones and joints that no amount of discipline and ice packs and heat wraps can cure.

If you had to describe a fighter who’d give the elderly Hopkins trouble it would be something quite like Chad Dawson. Fast hands, good footwork, and the ability to throw punches in bunches.

It’s the last that’s the troubling thing. Punch for punch I still don’t think there is a fighter in the sport that can beat Hopkins, but sometimes it’s a numbers game, and again, forty-six is real.

I had Hopkins beating Taylor in both fights, and winning against Calzaghe, but in each fight it was the quick hands and the volume punching that allowed the fight to be taken from him. Hopkins landed the better shots, which is how I score a fight, but he just couldn’t slow the pace to his liking and lost it on the margins.

Chad Dawson has the capacity to snow Hopkins in. He is a fluid combination puncher - I believe the finest north of the welters – and if he lets his hands go Bernard Hopkins doesn’t have enough to keep up with him. That’s it, really, Bernard’s highest level isn’t equal to Chad Dawson if he really lets his hands go.


But we all know that the possible and the actual is the distance between bereavement and grace, and there’s only one high holy going to be in the ring on Saturday night.

Chad Dawson knows how to box, Bernard Hopkins understands boxing. Do you see the distinction? It’s the difference between true art and forgery, the genuine versus the gifted mimic.

Dawson is a head case and doesn’t have a drop of blood running through those veins above room temperature, whereas Hopkins is all bone tough and darkest desire. Hopkins is a genuine BAD MAN and a master of rolling the dirty dice. If the vessel Hopkins rides in is no more than a tugboat, well, he’s still at the helm of it; and there never was a finer captain set forth on dangerous seas.

If there’s a trick or a scam or a game that can get into Dawson’s wandering mind Bernard Hopkins will find it and exploit it. I can see him doing it one last time. The Master Of Go, settled at HIS table, and placing the stones down with a deeper wisdom.


Still, it has to come to an end, and I expect it will on Saturday night. I expect another unsatisfying affair, where Hopkins does the better work but Dawson does more work and the younger man gets the decision.

I can already feel my blood boiling a bit. I’m a true believer in the science of “clean punching,” but we live in a world ruled by the faith of“effective aggression.” I’d burn the tabernacle if I could, but alas.

Still, there’s something about this one that, though, perilous, feels almost beside the point. Bob Dylan could put out another great album, but would it really change your opinion of him? There’s nothing left to prove, really.

Bernard Hopkins has won. He is the Grand Old Champion. In the way old politicians and whores become venerable, Hopkins has run along the outside of the track and pulled ahead in the end. The most respected fighter of his generation.

I felt that when he lifted the light heavyweight crown from the Canadian, Jean Pascal, earlier this year. That was it, that was enough. It was his valediction.

I’d like even more from Bernard, and I never want to see him embarrassed. But if this one is a step too far, a wrong match for an aging bachelor, well that’s fine, too. He proved his point long ago.


Chad Dawson UD 115-113 Bernard Hopkins

Monday, September 19, 2011

That's My Bone


Victor Ortiz is a punk and, as such, got punked.

I’m not going to spend too much time talking about the ending of the fight. Public opinion seems to have converged on the feeling that while what Floyd did was not exactly sportsmanlike, it was entirely legal.

Here’s my recap:

  1. Ortiz gets badly outclassed the first four rounds.
  2. Ortiz tries to use his head on Floyd several times in the second and fourth rounds.
  3. After a fourth round in which he takes a bad beating, Ortiz – frustrated and outclassed – launches forward in one of the most egregious fouls I’ve ever seen. (absolutely could have broken Floyd’s jaw, concussed him) It should have been a two point deduction.
  4. Ortiz, overly conscious of his nice guy image, tries to make up with Floyd. Entirely disingenuous and performative.
  5. The referee resumes the fight.
  6. Ortiz again tries to hug Floyd, whose face shows his anger.
  7. Floyd, engages in the gesture of reconciliation, then takes the knowing cheap shot with the left hand.
  8. Ortiz takes the left, and then – who knows why – stares at Joe Cortez.
  9. Mayweather, whose original intent was merely to give Ortiz a well-deserved cheap shot, takes advantage of Ortiz’ idiocy.

The thing the Floyd haters are overlooking here, I think, is Floyd’s intent, versus the actual result. I don’t believe Floyd thought he was engaging in a fight ending maneuver. Against Shane Mosley or Juan Manuel Marquez, the opponents would have taken the left and then defended themselves. Even if they hadn’t defended themselves, they would have been hurt but survived.

Ortiz, a mediocre fighter, just crumbled. The apologies and pity afterward reminded me of Kermit Cintron’s notable antics. Ortiz seems like he has a bit of Cintron in him. I have very little interest in seeing him on a big stage until I see something new out of him. Quality.


* * *********************************************

Alright, with that out of the way, down to what really matters.

Floyd looked terrific.

Here’s what I liked:

* True, he was fighting an outclassed opponent, but Floyd dominated all four rounds. He would have been up five points on the judges' cards after the fourth, (including the point deduction) and had been landing bombs in the third and fourth rounds. I believe he would have knocked Ortiz out, (or inspired Ortiz to bitch out in some other manner) by the sixth or seventh round. I’ve read some people arguing that the fight was somewhat competitive. Look at the PunchStats; it wasn’t. Yeah the numbers don’t mean everything, but when you’re landing both more and better punches they do.

* Floyd’s accuracy was phenomenal. The lead right was beautiful to watch. It’s really outstanding now, better than ever. He throws it more like Hopkins does, just shooting it out as he comes in. Unlike Hopkins, Floyd’s handspeed is still outrageous. The punch is virtually unstoppable.


* For the first time in years Floyd really let his combination punching fly at the beginning of the fourth round. He only did it once, but it was beautiful to watch. Is he capable of doing it more than once in a fight? I don’t know, but we know he can still let his hands go when facing an outmatched opponent.

* The defense was as good as ever. Floyd got caught a couple times, but even on those he was moving with the punch. When he was up against the ropes Mayweather didn’t get hit cleanly at all. Just outstanding work, it’s the reason Ortiz resorted to fouling.

* Floyd is the master. I just love how he owns the ring. Mayweather has been in so many big fights it just seems like he belongs in there. Floyd hadn’t fought in 16 months, but he looked like he had never left. He is living portrait of control and mastery.

* Floyd was a fighter. All too often Floyd, by his own admission, simply fights for the money, plays the percentages. Here, though, there was a touch of evil to him. You’re gonna do that to me? I’ll pay you back, with interest. I love it. I even loved how he screamed at Merchant after the fight was over.

Hey, I like Larry, but the guy is a hater! Stand up for yourself, Floyd! Show the critics you're the best. Stuff it down their self-satisfied throats and dance on their graves.

Floyd is normally a bloodless operator, content to score points. This time - and there for all to see - was the genuine bad man, the pain doctor. Floyd is a fighter, it’s in him. Show it to us again! And soon.

I’ve said it before, but I’d love to see Mayweather suffer a loss soon. It would be tremendously freeing for him not to have to defend that zero. Like Hopkins after Taylor ended his middleweight title streak or like Roy Jones after his loss to Tarver, I think you’d see a greater willingness to test himself.

* This should cause a bit of a reevaluation of Floyd’s recent opposition. People are quick to dismiss Marquez, Mosley, and De La Hoya as relics, but at least they were great fighters, at least they had quality. Talk all you want about “young guns,” but when you’re talking about guys like Ortiz you’re talking about guns without any bullets in the chamber. I’d rather see Manny and Floyd fight guys like Marquez than jobbers like Ortiz or a Devon Alexander. (saying that, though, I have to admit a Mayweather-Khan and Pacquiao- Bradley future wouldn’t be entirely uninteresting.)

What I didn’t like

* Ortiz just doesn’t belong in the ring with a top fighter. He doesn’t behave like a fighter, he behaves like a child. The only thing I found more disgusting than his egregious butting was his apologetic demeanor and smiling face after the fight. Be a man! Curse and scream and kick. It meant enough for you to cheat, act like it! Unfortunately, this is by far the best result he could have gotten, and he will receive residual sympathy and future good fights. What he deserved was a Gatti like whipping, and a seat at the back of the line.

* As such, it was a waste of time for Mayweather. This was the first truly wasteful fight either Floyd or Manny has fought since Pacquiao met Joshua Clottey. (and, as context, I think Clottey beats Ortiz) Floyd fights so rarely this seems to me a minor tragedy. I love seeing Floyd squash an outmatched foe, as long as I get to see him in two real fights a year.

* With Floyd’s lack of activity in mind, and again, noting that I don’t think Floyd intended the fight to end there, I sure do wish we would have seen the fight go on a bit. I would have loved to see Floyd go in for the exacting finish.

* Now here’s the big one: does Mayweather still have his legs left? Roach mentioned it a few fights ago, but Floyd doesn’t move with the same fluidity he used to. It certainly hasn’t hurt his performances, but can you imagine Floyd putting on the type of dancing master class he did against Chico Corrales?

I can’t, which is perfectly understandable; that was ten years ago. But what can he do? Floyd simply doesn’t move anymore. He’ll give you a little angle here or there, but most of the time he simply walks forward behind his Philly shell, or retreats backward behind it.

It’s the retreating that I’m interested, and slightly concerned with. He goes back in straight lines and snuggles against the ropes. I'd love to see him use his angles a bit when he's going in reverse. It's a dangerous game the way he's doing it.

Floyd doesn’t get hit often, not against a guy like Ortiz, but what if he were fighting someone with especially quick feet? Somebody with a terrific straight left hand? Someone who knows what to do when he gets an opponent against the ropes?

I’m speaking here of the little Pacman, of course. I still think Mayweather would be the favorite, but Manny’s path to victory has never been so clear in my mind’s eye. Every time an opponent gets Floyd against the ropes and flails the crowd goes wild; even when they don’t land punches. Can’t you see Pac doing that, and actually landing a couple? Couldn’t he sneak a few controversial rounds that way, even if Floyd is landing the better shots? I know, it’s not the most lovely or inspiring vision, but it’s one that has come to me over the last few years.

Like all of us, I just hope I get to see it – or any other imagined outcome - in waking life.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Lonesome And Quarrelsome Hero

I’ll speak about the fight proper in a moment – frankly, I think most know the score on that bit – but first, a little about atmosphere.

Floyd is the best on 24/7. He rightly crows about inventing the show. He gives the people what they want, just the right amount of braggadocio and easily digestible hate nuggets; those moments of self-reverence that our moral side abhors.

I like it, usually. I love seeing the boasts and the sillyness, and for the most part it’s all in fun.

Something strange happened this time, though, for me at least; genuine sadness kicked in. I can’t watch the grim reality shows, the ones like Intervention. It’s too sad and raw and voyeuristic and troubling. Floyd wasn’t like that on this episode of 24/7. His persona is too strong. There’s no way to really break through.

But even more frightening, this was the first time it felt to me that there wasn’t anything beneath the persona; there is only this desperate artifice. Like an actor playing a part for so long that he begins to lose his own character.

Or like every man who ever tried to sally forth inviolate from his father’s shadow, and inevitably - and by his own will to separate - became that same figure.

Of course, the most dramatic moment was the confrontation with Floyd Sr. Even for those of us with complicated relationships with our own parents it was a little troubling. The way they look so similar, their personality so similar. The haunting screeching voice of Sr, almost inhuman, as he lost face before the more powerful man. So cruel and raw. Floyd Sr. isn’t the most estimable person, not really deserving of all that much sympathy, but still, to see the fractures and fragility in a proud man’s construct is hurtful.

Almost sadder, though, was the rote poetry of consumerism. The cash phone, the new car, and the celebrity friends. In the earlier incarnations of the show it almost felt performative, the self-aware stylings of a music video, but now, it seems that is the only language Floyd is capable of speaking.

It just seems so terrible lonesome to me; so deeply sad. The man who got everything he ever wanted but lays down to sleep each night dissatisfied, and not even knowing why.

I’m not making a moral judgment here. To be young, rich, and spectacularly famous is an impossible situation. I don’t know how any of these people don’t turn into Martians. What a strange existence to be surrounded by people on your payroll. I don’t know how relationships are possible at that point.

People are always shocked to find how far from reality a dictator is, but really, aren’t they the only logical product of their reality.

Maybe that’s how it has to be, for the truly gifted, the ones loosed from tethers by talent. I’m not fit to judge him, nor are you.

But strangely, this time, and for the first time, I found my complicated feelings for Floyd had moved beyond admiration, amusement, and contempt. This time, what I felt, really, was pity.

* * *

If this were the picture business Floyd would lose against the young and hungry Ortiz. The lost soul that is Mayweather would learn humility, and the painful lessons of the human condition. He would be humbled, and from that experience, would grow.

But this is the hurt business. This is the sweet science. The only judgment here is that of blood and bone.

It’s about quality. Floyd may be an empty vessel, but he’s got quality.

And really that’s all that needs to be said. Ortiz is strong, young, and a lefty, but we’re talking about levels here. With fighters on the same level some analysis is needed, some thought and imagination, Mayweather and Ortiz don’t overlap.

In Ortiz’ three biggest fights he is 1-1-1. Maidana, Berto, and Peterson are all good fighters, probably top-five in their division. Ortiz, I think, is a guy who goes 1-1-1 against that level of opponent. As context, if this were a few years ago and Ortiz had fought say… Collazo, Clottey, and Cotto, I’d expect him to post similar results.

That’s pretty good, in fact, that’s excellent. I expect Ortiz to be a title contender for quite a few years. He’ll win several belts, defend them a few times, and lose. A really good fighter.

But Mayweather, he has quality. Mayweather wins all those fights, he wins them without much drama. Ortiz has a lot of things going for him, he’s got some real strengths; Mayweather, he has talent, he has ability, he is quality.

A great fighter beats a good fighter. This isn’t about morality, it’s about justice; it’s the better man What Wins in this sport. And that, to me, is the only form of righteous I’ve ever seen.

I expect there to be some excitement early, exacerbated by the HBO team who are desperate for Floyd to be challenged. I see Ortiz as a slightly slower - but more compact version of - Ricky Hatton, and I expect the fight to progress in that way. Ortiz landing a few and causing excitement with forward motion; all while Floyd is doing the quality work.

Lampley will scream, “He’s making Floyd fight his fight!” but that’s not really what will be happening. The man whose gloves touch the other man’s flesh is fighting his fight; and Floyd always fights his fight.

I see Ortiz winning a round or two early, but once he slows a bit and gets tagged a few times I expect Floyd to give him a scientific and fine whipping. I think it’ll be lovely, I think you will see real quality, the gulf in class.

I hear some belittling Floyd’s wins over Marquez, Mosley, and Hatton, (and there were some mitigating factors) but those were great fighters. Ortiz is younger, in his prime, but he’s not a great fighter. Floyd eats those guys alive, could beat one a month for a decade. Floyd’s gonna chop him up, nice and proper.

I’m not quite sure if we’ll see a stoppage. I envision Ortiz’ corner, or the ref, pulling him out late, but that’ll largely depend on Floyd’s mood.

It’s cruel to say, but I’m looking forward to this one. I don’t feel the anxiety of a big event, more the anticipation of a long awaited performance.

Quality made flesh. Maybe there’s nothing else there, but the quality, that’s enough.

Floyd Mayweather UD 12 119-107 Victor Ortiz.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sing, Rage

Just a quick word on Pascal-Hopkins, which takes place tomorrow. I feel a deep and abiding guilt for not writing a piece deserving of the event.

Because every time Bernard Hopkins fights now it is an event. The Last Angry Man. And he’ll tell you as much.

It’s not just that Hopkins is 46. It’s who he is, with the righteous indignation of the abused and ill treated. Is part of his self-construct fiction? Likely, but I’ve never met a man who does not build a life of lies. Leave me my false definitions and watch me carry on.

Bernard has built a career on rage and will and discipline. We all know his criminal past and a life of triumph and redemption, but just look at the man’s career.

He took it by force, one fight at a time. Without flash, but refinement and a seriousness of purpose. “Upon this rock I will stand. And no man shall move me!”

Defiance. A sacred vow.

And Bernard has held distant the very forces of time, by sheer orneriness and guile. They’ve tried to bury him but he won’t have it.

Most don’t find him fun to watch, but to me he’s moving in his desires. Because though the body fails the spirit never wavers. You always know it’s serious with Bernard, he wants it, and if there’s the capacity in that body and mind he’ll give it to you.

He took it by force last December. Despite being knocked down twice, his first legitimate ones in decades he stood up and took it from Pascal. It showed a deeper virtue beyond blood and bone.

“Mine is a will to overcoming, and you’re not the man to take it from me,” said Bernard, as he trudged stiffly forward and pushed through.

They stole it from him, of course. I wasn’t in the least surprised. An elderly black man getting his pocket picked under the bright lights is a matter of course.

But still, it hurt. Bernard Hopkins is a great fighter, one of the greatest who has ever lived, and they never gave him one break. I’m talking about a man who has been in exactly six close (and some not-so-close) fights in his legendary career.

The judges gave him four losses and two draws. Can you recall a great fighter who never got a break. Fight after fight, year after year? And the guy isn’t even from Africa!

He’ll lose soon. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe the next fight. He has never been beat up, but he will be. These things rarely end well.

But I do hope it’s not tomorrow. I hope it’s not to Pascal, a forgettable champion who doesn’t deserve to be the one to take a pick to a monument. He’s not the man for the job.

A snaggle-toothed statue will get into the ring on Saturday night, he’s creaky, but he’s bone tough. Melt down that Rocky atrocity they have in Philadelphia and mint a new one.

And then...

Sing to me O Goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus,

The man of twists and turns

Driven time and again off course,

Which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians,

Hurled in their multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls of heroes, but gave their bodies to be the delicate feastings of dog and birds!

Bernard Hopkins UD 114-110 Jean Pascal

War X!

PS. Sorry all the comments on the previous post were lost. Hope it won’t happen again.

Monday, May 9, 2011

I Never Was That Type Of Man

The thing about a man is that you just never really know, do you? Or even if you do know about a man it’s only at a certain moment in time, a certain period of his life. Because people aren’t fixed, they’re not comic book characters, even if we’d like them to be.

Shane Mosley punked out Saturday night, but I’d never call him a punk. At one time the bastard would have cast the world in flames to get the win but that was long gone on Saturday night. It wasn’t just that he turtled and cringed, it was that he didn’t throw a punch in anger; that was the genuine disappointment. I could have dealt with the backpeddle and the cloying hand touches if I felt like there was at least an element of hope and guile behind it.

To throw yourself at Manny was perhaps too much to ask -he clearly didn’t want the deeper hurt – but I still could have been contented if I saw him throw a few in anger. Just one a round, even, and it would have changed the tenor. Because even an outmatched hero needs only a fist/chin connection in time/space to reach inspiration.

Even a blind man might’ve had more of a chance, because a fist in space CAN find it’s mark purely by accident. It can, if it’s thrown with purpose. You don't have to be a romantic or deranged to know that much is true.

But Shane wouldn’t do it. Refused to. I don’t even know that I’d say he was in it before the knockdown, but after the third round it was done. I know his legs were gone and he was tired and there wasn’t much left, but even old lions have teeth, and there’s always enough hunger to close your jaws if you were once king of the jungle, isn’t there?

Not in Shane’s case. It doesn’t fill me with special contempt, or cause me to reevaluate his career. Mosley’s honest to a fault, and that’s what we saw on Saturday night. Perhaps it is a deeper courage to know one’s limits and behave as such, but that’s not what moves us. It is, perhaps, why although Shane was a great champion he was never a particular popular or inspiring one.

I’ve argued before that fighters can be either religious – like Evander Holyfield’s madness – or secular – like Floyd and Bernard Hopkin’s scientific perfection – but I don’t think Mosley was ever quite either. You either have to tell yourself that your body and limits are a lie or you have to have someone from above tell you. When you’re honest is when you’re lost.

And Shane’s lost. I wish him well, that fine fighting champion.

And now to Manny. I know the people are angry, but I just can’t get with it. He was fighting a friendly ghost in there, and he won every second. Was he his beautiful, electric self? Absolutely not, but Mosley wasn’t going to let him perform. There is pride, to the last, and even in the muck.

If Manny had some genuine venom toward Mosley I do believe he could have got the stoppage. But he’s been a merciful God of late and I won’t really blame him. It must be dreadful lonesome atop Olympus and it’s hard to conjure inspiration from discount heroes.

So, no, I’m not particularly angry with him, or with Bob Arum either. There is no good fight out there other than Floyd. You have to know that. Berto, Bradley, Judah… c’mon. We know what Manny would have done to them. I’m still intrigued by Marquez as an unfinished narrative, but the result there is clear.

Manny’s too good for the rest, but he’s a fighter, and so he fights.

I know people want to say he showed some vulnerability, I guess so. He’s not at his best against a retreating foe, but then again, who is? This fight reminded me most of his second bout with Barrera, where Manny looked similarly uninspired against another great but unwilling champion.

That fight didn’t tell us much about Manny, and neither did this one. If Manny loses it’ll be to a great fighter (you know who I’m talking about,) not a style, he’s beyond the level of styles make fights. It’s demeaning, just stop it.

So we wait, and that’s all we can do. Every last mother will be chopped down until we get to the big boss. I don’t know when that’ll happen, but I still have hope. Until then…

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Book Of Names

I haven’t given Pacquiao-Mosley all too much thought. Haven’t gone through my usual tradition of rewatching all the relevant video and playing it out in my mind. Not only because of my self-proclaimed crisis of faith, but because it seems even the rubes know the score this time, doesn’t it?

Manny’s just too good.

He’s a thing of fire right now and it’s going to take an S-class hero to slay that dragon. Shane Mosley is a hero, but his armor is dented and you’ve got to think that – even if he won’t admit it even to himself – there’s some Obi-Wan vs. Vader resignation floating around his undermind.

Because Shane is an honest fighter, too honest, really for this world of flesh-eaters and zealots we live in. Shane’s come up against it three times before – the insurmountable and unconquerable; Vernon Forrest, Winky Wright, and – most profoundly and humbling – Floyd Mayweather.

He has come up against it, that most cruel realization that though you are very fine and special and a thing glorious and well-trained there are certain bad-men out there whom you just can’t top. They’ve a certain type of venom and meanness you can’t push through.

That’s what Shane does, he pushes through and fights harder. People see the complexion and think he’s a boxer, but the guy is a Rumbler at heart, the type of man who kicks against the pricks just for a laugh, but when he’s stuck his only move is to rumble harder.

And he knows when he’s beat. You can see it in his face – frustration and limits – “If I was half-the-man-I used-to-be…”

He’s a great great, fighter, and an honest man, but it’s not enough against Manny Pacquiao. And you know, I don’t think it ever would have been. Not against this monster Manny we’ve been seeing.

I know all the smart kids want to tell you that Manny’s great, but also a star blessed by circumstances. Boxing’s version of “Being There’s” Chauncey Gardner, who lucked into his destiny. But I’ve become a true-believer and I don’t know that I can hold with that anymore.

I mean look at his list: Barrera, Morales, Marquez, Margarito, Hatton, De La Hoya, Cotto, we’re talking about half of the relevant fighters of the decade. When the book of names is written, Manny’s will be penned in gilt lettering.

And now, Shane Mosley join the names. True, Shane has looked ragged his last two fights, but he’s a proud man and he’ll be there. He’ll take it and I expect him to give a few back.

But it won’t be enough, not for Manny. I expect we’ll see the Mosley face make its first appearance around the fourth round. The look where he squinches up his cheeks, pronounced dimples becoming more pronounced, dark eyes pained with frustration, and just the faintest hint of a head-shake. The type of look a man might give after several futile attempts to tighten a just out of reach screw.

Because Manny’s at that level just out of reach, the water too high and rising.

Can he put Shane down and keep him there? I’m not sure. Mosley rose from an impossible uppercut against Vernon Forrest, the type of shot that if he didn’t have such a strong boxer’s neck might have ripped the very sinews of his throat and sent his head spinning into the expensive seats. Mosley stood up and he finished - though greatly diminished - ten more rounds.

Exhausted and outclassed against Mayweather he made it to the finish line. I think he’ll make it again, but perhaps in the way Margarito saw the final bell against Manny, as a kind of act of cruel kindness to an outmatched foe. Pacquiao is all master now, and his whims tend toward mercy these days.

I see it as a worthwhile end for the noble Shane Mosley, a guy who was never quite what we thought he was.

And for Manny, the book of names grows longer still.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Lowly And The Invincible Of The Earth

Bethlehem Shoals did me the great honor of leading the farewell to Freedarko piece on Monday. In it, I wrote, as I often do, of finding meaning in sportsmen beyond the final score, “You can touch on the genuine, and even if your impressions may not be Truth, they are honest and meaningful to you, and that is ultimately fulfilling enough to care about losing battles and defiant last stands that are, still, play.”

I was thinking, largely, of Erik Morales’ performance on Saturday night, though to call such a thing play is borderline heresy.

Because did you see him on Saturday night? Did you see the old warrior? My, but wasn’t he something up there? All sinew and pride and meanness and an ancient soldier stripped raw. Wasn’t he a holy terror? For certain men there is the impossible, but for others, the rare and special and profoundly moving, there’s something beyond that, where results are impractical, beside the point.

Could you really define what happened on Saturday by 10s and 9s? If you could, well, you’re no friend of mine. Because what we saw was a Ronin loosing his blade at the last, a defiant prince from the age of heroes, a last-chance gunfighter smiling as he loaded his final rounds.

And goodness, but it was moving. Because I’ve known Erik Morales for so long, and I know what it meant to him. I watched him when he was the master. A man skilled enough to coast to easy victories but incapable of stepping away from a challenge. “Yes,” he might say, “I can whip you my way, but I’ll whip you your way as well. I’ll do it for the sheer joy of being a master and a man and fully in control of my faculties.”

Though I’ve never hidden my love for Pacquiao, Morales’ victory over him in their first fight was one of the most profoundly moving sporting events I’ve ever witnessed. The man just seeps machismo and desire and contempt and superiority.

“I come,” he says, “from a culture of fighters.” And that’s who he is to the last. A fighter. Look at his face here and you can see a man in full. Because it was lunacy to take that fight against Marcos Maidana. Lunacy to face a bigger stronger man. But he did it anyway. And he sang as he slew and hewed and he did it for the simple reason that there wasn’t anything else that he could ever have done, because it was the only thing he could do with a face like that –the stonevisaged pride of the Captain of the Guard from the Age of Bronze.

He did it for love. Yes, love, which is pride, which is love of the self.

I was recently sent spinning by a passage from Faulkner, from the story Tomorrow. It reads, “I knowed he would be honest for the same reason: that there wasn’t nothing in his country a man could want bad enough to learn how to steal it. What I seem to have underestimated was his capacity for love. I reckon I figured that, coming from where he come from, he never had none a-tall, and for that same previous reason – that even the comprehension of love had done been lost out of him back down the generations where the first one of them had had to take his final choice between the pursuit of love and the pursuit of keeping on breathing.”

I, somehow, after all we had been through together, underestimated Morales’ capacity for love. Because on Saturday night I left before the main event. I got into my car and put my foot on the gas and went to see an indie rock band that I mildly like, because I didn’t believe that the warrior king’s heart could still swell.

And I almost made it to the show. I almost made it, but then I thought about him, that stonevisaged king and his pride and I turned around and I came home.

And I saw it, right there in front of me. The capacity of a man at the last throw, the final throw of the dirty diceman. And what a gift it was.

Because it’s not about 10’s, and it’s certainly not about 9’s. Is it?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Killing Time

Last Saturday Vitali Klitschko defended his heavyweight belt with an absurd first round stoppage of Odlanier Solis. It was ridiculous, a simultaneous punch and knee injury saw Solis toppling over like some stricken beast of the plains. A great or notable event? Of course not, but normally I would have taken some cruel enjoyment from the spectacle.

Two Saturdays ago Sergio Martinez stopped Sergei Dzinziruk and managed to retain his middleweight title. It was a stunning and beautiful performance. The defining punch – a short and sneaky straight left– was set up by a lowered hands/clowning moment. It was a machismo display of physical superiority and personal disdain that is my athletic ideal. It was lovely.

But I was left empty.

I’ve been trying to understand why. I watch all the fights, always. I am aware and I watch, but still, it’s somehow, so… preamble. I feel like it’s all preliminary.

That’s the thing about boxing, it’s not really supposed to be like that. Every fight is important, each moment a potential answer. It doesn’t require the highest levels as long as the participants are game and the deeply personal is there. The fighter’s insides are visible when it’s great, and a body doesn’t always need to be elite to be capable of communicating meaning and courage.

But something has been missing to me, that feeling of presence and life and importance in the ring. I think I know what it is.

I’m tired of it, too, but hear me out.

Have you ever had a thing so big in your life that nothing feels (and here I mean that engrossing fullness of a life in the present) without the resolution of that thing? I’m sure you have. Perhaps it was the fate of a loved one, the birth of a child, or the tangled pain of a relationship at loose ends; but you must know what I’m talking about?

I’m speaking of that huge mewling hole in the heart that makes every other relationship/event/activity that happens seem unimportant and pale in comparison to the big thing.

She is/was meant for me, you understand? It’s something one knows or feels and all the rest is distraction or palaver and filler in between the moment when I will realize my final destiny of being with or not being with her. A resolution is needed whether it be through actual physical flame and irrevocable end or final and complete commingling. But it’s that in-between that’s so deadly perilous.

Because everything else is less bright in the present. Every kiss is replacement, every joy a distraction from the real thing, the ultimate irreconcilable which casts a pall over a man’s life.

A soldier waiting to be recalled to war, an ill man seeking doctor's verdict, or a lover separated but not unfettered from his true belief. During that period even beauty and grace and joy itself are rendered tasteless and unfulfilling. Every meal a man might have is turned to dust and ash because the mouth is awaiting that one taste alone.

Entire religions and philosophies have been built around overcoming this irreconcilable, but I’ve never had the gift of distance. It gets to me, like an infection, and it’s a cruel thief of life.

And I’m afraid that’s what Mayweather/Pacquiao has become. That ultimate must happen/must resolve that renders everything else shadow and play.

Manny will fight Shane Mosley, and he will probably win. Perhaps after that he will fight Andre Berto, or Juan Manuel Marquez. These will be great battles, potentially rich victories, but they won’t be answers.

Sergio Martinez will continue his remarkable ascent. Amir Khan and Timothy Bradley will fight for a real title at junior welterweight.

But I’m afraid Mayweather/Pacquiao will always be there in the background, a presence and haunting that says to me, “Why yes, she is a very attractive and commendable lady you are kissing at the moment, she even smells of loveliness, but we all know that the great SHE is still out there. This - though pleasant - is just killing time.”

So unfair, so unhealthy, but even if you try to argue with the voices in your head they have the advantage of always having the last word. Floyd Mayweather’s refusal to fight, their inability to fight each other is inflecting everything else with a feeling of not the real.

And it’s one thing if we know it will never happen. The Klitschko brothers' fantasy meeting differs not only because they aren’t as compelling, but because we know the score and can look and move on.

But the great Mayweather/Pacquiao has no such qualifiers, all we have to keep it from us is politics, money, and the impossibility of compromise.

I’m going to try to be better and enjoy the meals and the kisses and all the intervening activities which are life, or in this case, is boxing as a sport. But I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to quiet that part of my head that will know that the big unresolved still exists, the biggest unanswerable from which I must have resolution but don’t. It’s why cruelty and honesty are often blessings.

Because truth or blame isn’t the thing. Does anyone anymore really care about whether the excuse is money, steroids, or just a willful indifference to a cultural need? I don’t. Pacquiao is not fighting Mayweather – right now – and it throws everything else out of balance.

Because we’re waiting for not just a fight, but an answer, something to tell us where what we are watching fits on the big lists. It’s the one that needs to happen and doesn’t, and it’s turning everything else to gray.

I still expect the fight to happen. It might take place too late and provide an unsatisfying conclusion, but I still expect the two to meet. Money almost always speaks.

It’s just this intervening time that’s the victim. All the other heroes out there shadowed by the big thing. Time will heal it, or perhaps another compelling champion will rise, but I’ll remember this time in boxing as the missing years. When Pacquiao and Mayweather not only sabotaged one another, but the rest of the sport as well.