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.