Damaged Goods

We’ve all seen a fight or two in which the corner or the referee failed to stop the fight early enough, based on the amount of punishment one combatant received.  These infamous confrontations make even the most loyal boxing fan painfully aware of the primitive savagery of the sport that so many criticize.  Sometimes, though, it doesn’t take a lot of “unnecessary” punches to turn a once agile, sharp athlete into a subtly slower, slightly less capable fighter.  Unfortunately, I think we see these fights more often than we realize.  Ring magazine in its October issue features an article on irritating fighters and situations in boxing, ironically titled “Nerve Damage” by author Jeff Ryan. One of its listed irritations is represented by “Roy Jones, Shane Mosley and Zab Judah.” The objection in the article is to these fighters’ status of being “shot, yet too greedy/stubborn/delusional to quit.”  Many people still clung to the idea that Judah was an old, wise fighter who had been the victim of rotten luck in past bouts, until he faced Amir Khan.  Khan used to be an exciting attraction, with growth potential and evident progress, but has recently appeared more careless and willing to sacrifice precision for flash.  This was never more conspicuous than in the Judah fight, which he easily dominated but actually won by holding behind the head and throwing a low blow, which Ring acknowledges as a “double foul.”  Khan is a good distinguishing element in this concept–a fighter whose skills appear to be deteriorating due to laziness and misguided training rather than physical breakdown.  In reverse order:

Judah often performs with a cripplingly defensive style against upper-level opponents and demonstrated this behavior to the extreme against the sloppy but overwhelming Khan.  This gradual degradation in successive bouts is the hallmark of the damaged goods syndrome that affects fighters when their reflexes begin to decay and natural athleticism can no longer compensate for lacking fundamentals.

Shane Mosley has performed disappointingly since his scintillating last second one-punch knockout of Ricardo Mayorga.  Then again, Mayorga is stylistically built for Mosley whereas Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. are stylistic problems for everyone.  I’m not sure his performances or “stubbornness” confounds me half as much as with other fighters.  Nobody looks good against Mayweather, and at least he had us going for a round or two.  We just have to hope Mosley doesn’t stick around too much longer.

Heading the list, Roy Jones might be the best example of this concept, once an athletic phenomenon and a pugilistic sensation, now, at a younger age than other successful boxers, has atrophied into a feeble version of his former self.  Unable to pull off the “tricks” his natural ability once afforded him, Jones now has glaring faults in his technique that result in fights like his embarrassingly quick defeat by Danny Green.  Of course, Jones never had a great chin, but with the way he gets hit these days, anyone would have trouble staying on their feet.  Losing by knockout in four of his recent fights, he’s suddenly become so vulnerable as to be actually knocked unconscious, it seemed, in a couple fights.  In a moment of bitter irony that I remember vividly, Jones commented during the Williams-Lara atrocity that “this is the type of punishment that causes bad problems once he’s done with the game,” referring to Paul Williams.

That being said, bringing up the Paul Williams-Erislandy Lara fiasco makes commenting on this injustice irresistible.  Williams probably shouldn’t have been stopped early by the referee because he took so much punishment, but certainly he should have been stopped from winning by the judges, for losing all but three or four rounds.  As many have commented, Williams actually looked surprised that he had won when the result was announced.  Again, we’ve all heard of bad decisions, but this one was too obvious to go unpunished as so many of them do.  For the first time in boxing history, upon review of this decision, all three judges were suspended and directed to participate in additional training before returning to the profession.

‎”Simply put, this decision has been derided as one of the worst boxing has seen in years. It was incomprehensible. This was not just one of those close fights that could have gone either way. No, this was a clear-as-day win for Lara. Even if you gave every possible benefit of the doubt to Williams, maybe you could score it 115-113 for Lara. Not a draw. And certainly there is no reasonable way to actually have Williams winning.” – Dan Rafael

This frustrating result was partially redeemed by the swift and effective action of the governing body.  Boxing fans should be relieved that the past tolerance for the unprofessional conduct of judges and referees can draw a penalty.  They do have reason to be worried, with Williams’ increasingly obstinate approach to his technique, most startling against Sergio Martinez, but even against Lara we could see that he’s still a top level fighter.  At the same time, HBO viewers could hardly help but dwell on the disturbingly apparent faults in the structure of the sport.  Between, Jones Jr. unknowingly self-analyzing, projecting his own decline on another fighter and Paul Williams forcing himself forward ineffectively against a sharper, more fundamentally sound onslaught, the whole event makes boxing a little bit more tragic.

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