Fistic Anachronism

Boxing as a sport has always cultivated its perception as classical and traditional. This has resulted in several developments, one of which is the sport’s lingo, which simultaneously implies sophistication and brutality: people who really know boxing are aficionados, not just hardcore fans. This reputation may also have contributed, however, to some of the less desirable aspects of the sport with which fans find so much frustration. The scoring system as a structural element, for example, is one of the greatest sources of controversy in the sport, almost an honor system of determining who wins and who loses in an athletic competition with very high stakes.  Though the fans have protested the scoring system as well as other regulatory boxing protocols, not much has changed in the landscape of the sport in the past two decades.  The latest concession to modern-day sensitivities came in 1982, when boxer Duk Koo Kim died of injuries suffered during 15 rounds of boxing with Ray Mancini.  Kim was dangerously dehydrated going into the fight, which is why the fight had such a profound effect on his brain.  With regard for this tragedy, the WBC released a statement announcing that the sanctioning body would change its rules, even though it was not the sanctioning body for the Mancini-Kim fight, and would reduce title fights from 15 to 12 rounds.

A large percentage of spectators have been outraged at almost every fight ending in close decision that I’ve seen in the past few months.  Ever since Tim Bradley Jr. got a decision over the sport’s top cash cow Manny Pacquiao, commentators and analysts alike have been calling the fans to arms to criticize the judges.  Somehow, I don’t think tweets and Facebook status updates are going to reform the sport.  To put an even finer point on the sport’s ineptitude, last week’s ESPN Friday Night Fights featured two boring decisions and an incompetently scored match between a staple fighter, Kermit Cintron, and a relative unknown, Adrian Granados.  Granados battered Cintron around the ring for all 10 rounds, who struggled to maintain activity and land shots against a smaller fighter, but the ruling was a split draw.   It’s starting to seem, however, that the patina of age is being gradually lifted from the sport’s visage.  In some fights, but not many, referees are even being given the privilege of using the miraculous new technology of instant replays to determine significant rulings in a fight.  In fact, the upcoming Martinez-Murray fight will take advantage of this tool.   This is, at least, a step in the right direction.

If we can’t hope for objective, or even competent, scoring in the coming months, maybe we can at least hope for some great fights, like this Saturday’s rematch between Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado.  The first fight between the two previously unbeaten fighters was more than epic.  Neither one can withstand many more battles like the first, but the action was so consistently exceptional that I don’t think the second will disappoint.  ESPN’s Brian Campbell contends that the history of the sport shows us that a rematch usually doesn’t feature the same explosive action as the first fight because the better boxer finds a way to adjust to the less-refined fighter’s style, citing the rematch between Pawel Wolak and Delvin Rodriguez.  In that fight, Rodriguez knew enough not to trade shots with Wolak as often, and not to stay in one place to let Wolak get a rhythm going.  While their first fight was sensational, the rematch, admittedly, was not.  Fortunately, I expect much bigger things for this weekend’s headliner.  In fact, I still maintain the first Rios-Alvarado was the 2012 fight of the year, as Pacquiao-Marquez IV was decided on a single punch and Martinez-Chavez Jr. was only really competitive for the final thirty seconds.  I’d have to say, even as a rematch, this Saturday’s bout is a heavy favorite for me even this early in the year.  I’m even hopeful that the fighters will show us a glimpse of the past, in the days when Micky Ward gave his all in three unforgettable clashes with Arturo Gatti, or even further back, when Sugar Ray Robinson battled Jake Lamotta in six grueling contests.  Maybe we’ll see real greatness, a thing rarely seen in any sport.  Maybe we’ll see courage personified.

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