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