The Essence of Boxing
By Ted Sares
While there are innumerable ways to go after this subject, mine will take a more confluent, albeit less technical path that has different directions coming together in a way that hopefully exposes my visceral affection for this very wonderful pastime. Indeed, for me, boxing is far more than a bout between two combatants in a square circle that is entered with knowledge of deadly risk and anticipation of high reward. Boxing is an experience that includes many different things including the wherewithal for passionate arguments and the witnessing of two men going mano a mano with the hope, but no guarantee, that the third man in the ring knows when the right time comes to save one of them.....and sometimes, with tragic results, he doesn't. Boxing is a loser alone with his thoughts in the dressing room and a winner being hero worshiped by fans as fickle as the weather. It is defeat or victory, nothing more, nothing less, but the difference can break a spirit or generate confidence. In the words of former boxer "Iceman" John Scully, "The wait in the dressing room before a professional boxing match -that last hour- could be enough to strip a man that never boxed before of whatever pride, desire and heart he THOUGHT he had" (April 2002)
For some, it is a left hook to the liver the genesis of which began in Culiacan, Mexico. For others, a sledgehammer straight right originating out of Detroit. Or, in a fight for redemption, a Swede's foot twitching after he is knocked cold by a leaping left hook coming from the Catskills. For me, it's identifying with one of my favorites, particularly an underdog, as he overcomes adversity to snatch surprising victory from certain anticipated defeat. When that happens, that's me in the ring and when victory comes, its my victory as much as it is his and I'm cheering for myself as much as for him. I can't say it any better than that....that's the essence, the very soul of this thing called boxing. Boxing and I become one at that point.
Boxing is also Big Jerry Cooney catching Ken Norton is a corner and pummeling him with frightening left hooks, Ray Mercer catching Tommy Morrison with brutal punches rendering him senseless, Gatti knocking out Gamache with left hook from hell, and Oleg coming back from three ko losses, but it's also slick boxers named Sugar Ray or Sugar Shane showing new and higher levels of defense, foot work, combinations, and hand speed. Boxing is watching a Ward left hook to the body end a fight at any time and a Pretty Boy seemingly work magic tricks in a ring with art and finesse. It's is watching the "Kids".....Parret, Gavilan, Akeem and the "Rocks"......Durando, Graziano, Marciano and Rahman. Boxing is all about Hearns vs Hagler in savage and unmitigated action and Castillo vs Corrales and Indian Yaqui vs Saad in quintessential ebb and flow.....it's steamy Philadelphia gyms and the forum in LA or some fair grounds in West Virginia or Ohio. It's Don Dunphy thrilling listeners to the "Gillette Cavalcade of Sports," and it's both Lennon's, Johnny Addi, Buffer, Ed Derian, Mercante, Clancy, Cus, Manny, Dundee, Bimstein, Goldstein, Futch and it's PAL, CYO, and AAU. The sport is both tender and brutal. Some find Jesus, others find the devil. Boxing is watching a "lonely" Larry Holmes in the middle of the ring taking out a a popular Cooney and a confused John Tate running away from a Trevor Berbick..................boxing is about a warrior mentality that unmistakably demonstrates a willingness to engage in a punch-out.......a willingness to take three to get in one or a hard and tough guy patting his chest and waiving the other guy in as he spits out blood while the crowd rises and roars its approval and chills go down your spine. Boxing is the sum and substance of indelible memories and for those blessed with good recall, it is something to manifest with emotion, passion and conviction.
Look, I've been there and have seen up close the unpredictable excitement that was Bob Satterfield and Johnny Bratton in the 50's, the classics between Marciano-Charles-Louis- Walcott. The emergence of Chuck Davey and Chico Vejar. I saw LaMotta-Robinson, Ward vs Gatti-Green-Augustus-Diaz, Zale-Graziano, tough, ethnic guys from the 50's like Fusari, Demarco, Durando, Basilio, Janiro and Miceli. Who can forget Gene "Silent Hairston on Gillette's Friday night fights? Ali-Fraizer, Patterson-Johansson, Barrera-Morales. I was dumfounded by the illogic of Hearns putting Duran away with a paralyzing straight right, and then Duran beating Barkley who then knocked out Hearns. I watched in disbelief as Martin starched Liston, Bruce Curry and Monroe Brooks went to the edge, McClellan and Benn fought with uncommon fury. Oh, I saw Paret take 17 unanswered shots, and Roach, Kim, Johnny Owens, Jimmy Garcia, Beethoven Scottland. Leavander Johnson and too may others leave their lives in the ring. I witnessed the sudden fury of Mesa-Garza; the shoot outs between Moorer-Cooper and Lyle-Foreman;the big bopping round-robin between Cobb-Shavers-Norton at the end of their careers. I've seen the smashed noses, ridges of scar tissue and deformed ears. I witnessed the slow slide of Jerry and Mike Quarry, Jimmy Ellis, Bobby Chacon, Jimmy Young and far too many others. I can easily detect the early signs......the slurring of speech......the nasal monotone. I can also detect, but not quite so easily, signs of short-term memory loss or difficulty with equilibrium or the inability to take certain directions or perform certain chores. No, we don't much want to talk about Pugilistica Dementia but constant reminders are always there and that's the dark side, the other, horribly irreversible side of the risk reward equation. And most boxers are leery of this darker side as well they should be, for this is the one that can lead to that dreaded place called Palookaville from which there is no return.
Hey, I witnessed the epiphany of Foreman and the"what if," and terrible disappointment that was Tyson. I've seen it all and have been dazzled by the magic, felt the emotional highs, heard the music and seen the dance. I pray for Michael Watson, Willie Pep. Jimmy Ellis, Gerald McClellan and Greg Page and remember the courage of Robert Wangila and Pedro Alcazar. I have seen very good things, some not so good, and some downright ugly. I've talked to humble and decent guys like Saad, Haugen, Scully, Ward, Cuevas, Laporte, Galaxy and Chuvalo and have been snubbed by others.....but not many others, for most boxers are uncommon in their decency, respect and humility and that too is part of the mix.
Boxing for me is also a sensual confluence......of sweat, fear, testosterone, perfume, cigar smoke, stale beer, cheap after-shave lotion....it is a the sweet smell of success and sour odor of failure. Greasy and heavily mustard hot dogs, cheese steak hoagies, onions, buttered popcorn and warm beer at the Blue Horizon and frothy mixed drinks and expensive after shave lotion at the MGM in Las Vegas or at Foxwoods. Boxing is cheering, taunting, chanting, whistling, screaming, and clapping......and leering at scantily clad card girls against a backdrop of the periodic screams of winners at a Black Jack table or the mindless and never ending sound of slot machines simultaneously providing hope and presenting odds that will prevents that hope from ever being fulfilled. The ambience includes pretty blondes, voluptuous Latinos and beautiful black women dressed to the nines; guys with chains worth the price of a new car and clothes and hair styles to match. Vanity, conceit, egotism are words that come to mind as one looks over the occupants of the ringside seats, but why not? Narcissism is an essential part of this mix as well.
There is no political correctness here or "right" way to behave and that is another great thing about boxing. You either love it or hate it, but if you hate it, you had best tread with caution here. Boxing try's to be color blind, but those behind the scenes use issues of color and ethnicity to generate more cash. It is never about hate; it is always about cash....it is what it is....and in this regard should not be taken as seriously as it is. The "Russians Have Arrived," will likely be replaced by something else, maybe 'The Cubans Are Coming" or the "Americans are Back" or "Here Comes the British," but that's just the way it is and it won't change any time soon.
Boxing is camaraderie with macho banter and, at times, not-so-friendly betting. It is drinks and maybe a great steak after the fight, or perhaps a hotel room with TV, friends, champaign, shrimp cocktails, maybe some poker, all the right ingredients for another indelible memory. Sure, the fight is the linchpin, but the entire experience is often just as much fun...it all goes together and blends in the mix. And the mix is the essence.
Boxing has a love affair with the world: from Japan to the UK, Germany to Australia, Canada to the countries from the former Soviet Union, and everywhere in between. Most of all, boxing is a safe place for me to be without having to worry about how I behave or what I say. Boxing thankfully is not a meeting of the Rotary and it certainly does not shackle me with corporate handcuffs. There is no phoney artifice, no plastic smiles or soft and clammy hand shakes; Boxing is a genuine, if sometimes harsh place. But hell, boxing is my sanctuary and I love it so.
"It is wonderful. It truly is. It is the only thing that is real! It's you against me, it's challenging another guy's manhood. With gloves. Words cannot describe that feeling - of being a man, of being a gladiator, of being a warrior. It's irreplaceable." - Sugar Ray Leonard
"Boxing survives – and always will -- because its values are as old school as black-‘n’-white trunks: character and pain -- as heroic as a man taking care of his family – just not too sexy." Joe Rein
Ted Sares is a syndicated writer who can be reached at [email protected]