I became interested in boxing recently for various reasons.
Simple yet complex
There’s just something fascinating about two men in a ring, face-to-face, armed with only their gloved fists. There is no team to help you. No timeouts during the round. You need technique, conditioning, toughness, reaction speed, and strategy to win, and most of these are within your control. So simple.
Yet it isn’t. 3 minutes feels like an eternity, and things change in a blink of an eye. There are also so many other factors that you can’t control. Some say that style wins fights. Sometimes the opponent simply has your number for whatever reason, or the judging and refereeing dictate the result more than it should. Then there are the politics of matchmaking and title fights that often prevent the best boxers from ever meeting each other. Obviously some of this isn’t good, but it keeps things interesting.
Boxing vs. MMA
Many people are increasingly tuning into mixed martial arts (MMA), but MMA just doesn’t hold the same appeal for me. I believe that MMA combatants are more ‘complete’ fighters because of their mastery of so many skills, but it’s this very fact that makes MMA less compelling to me. When so techniques are permitted, style and luck become greater factors. To me, boxing is elegant because there is only one way to beat your opponent: with your fists. It is thrilling to watching masters of the trade do so much despite this limitation. They can feint, duck and dodge, roll and counter punch, and throw combinations and power shots.
A similar argument could be made for soccer. If players were allowed to use their hands, they would no longer need those amazing dribbling, juggling, and heading skills. Passing and scoring might become easier, but then each goal would also be less compelling.
A favorite pastime of sports fans is debating who is the greatest of all time (GOAT). Of course such debate is very subjective with no right or wrong answer, which makes it endlessly fascinating.
Greatness in team sports can be difficult to evaluate fairly because there are different skill positions, and it’s not always easy to determine how much credit belongs to a player versus his supporting cast. In boxing, it’s much simpler because it’s just you. Everyone has the same basic skills, so ignoring politics, the only obstacle separating you from all your fellow boxers is weight class. The pound-for-pound rankings were created to address this problem.
Fans often use statistics in GOAT debates, but the pound-for-pound rankings add a new exciting dimension to such debates. It allows you to reasonably compare a heavyweight like Mohammed Ali to a welterweight/middleweight like Sugar Ray Robinson…or at least gives you the illusion that you can!
I’m not a typical boxing fan. I don’t watch it regularly or lust for violent knockouts. I like the tactical, skillful part of boxing, but I’m not a purist. For example, I appreciate good defense, but I don’t care to see a guy running the whole fight. For me, the most important thing is spirit: the willingness to push yourself to new heights, to continually test yourself against the best. This is something that’s sorely lacking these days and arguably why MMA has surpassed boxing in popularity.
The boxers that have captivated my imagination may not all be GOAT candidates, but they meet all the criteria above. First up was a young Mike Tyson who had an underrated defense in addition to a relentless attacking style, and he took on all comers in his quest for the heavyweight title. Watching him calmly stalk his opponent still gives me chills. Later, he became undisciplined and wildly went for the knockout. More recently, Manny Pacquiao has caught my attention with his whirlwind punching from every angles and his remarkable advancement up the weight classes.
As I write this, RingTV is doing an A-to-Z best of all time list, which is fantastic because I can learn about the older boxers that I never got to see. The one that has caught my eye so far is Charles Burley. There is a great video analyzing his skill, and his story is also interesting.
Indeed, I’m often drawn to boxers by their stories as much as by their skill. We often forget they are human being with hard knock backgrounds and not simply fighting machines. It’s inspiring to see how boxing lifted them from deplorable conditions (Pacquiao, Devon Alexander) and distressing to see their physical and financial declines afterward (Joe Louis, Mohammad Ali). Boxing is a cruel master indeed!