(Editor’s note: this should have been published last week, but it took us this long to get over the shame. Photo by flickr user Koko Krispy)
There is no next year in boxing. Well there is, but not in the clean-slate, first-pick-in-the-draft, salary cap sort of way. Every missed opportunity is a chance that may never be recovered. Another shot at glory is never guaranteed. Failing once is often enough.
That, in short, is what we try to convey to people when they ask why boxing, with its shady promoters stalling the big fights and arcane sanctioning bodies distributing trinkets. Why spend all that time and money and effort documenting a dying sport?
Those people have never been in the gym. They’ve never seen what boxers go through or what it takes to stand in the ring trading blows with another man (or woman) intent on your injury for even one round. Boxing in its truest form is a lifestyle, not an occupation.
Quite possibly they think the idea of watching one person systematically demolish another is sadistic, not a spectacle. The question of morality is a fair one. The scientific evidence of the longterm damage from professional fighting is undeniable.
Like professional football, the men in the ring are clearly putting themselves at risk. Those financing the action either in person or via Pay Per View are undoubtedly complicit. It is something we must examine at greater length in a future post.
But men fight for each other’s benefit every day without needing millions of dollars in purse money or golden belts to strap around their waists. In almost every American town of a certain size there are dozens or even hundreds crowded in a field, a warehouse, a basement watching two combatants try to end each other with little promised reward beyond a bit of fleeting glory.
A well-known journalist and fight fan once said privately that glory is a thoroughly illiberal concept, meaning the more evolved among us should be able to overcome our fixation on winning and heroism. But then in the next breath he confessed that he could not get enough of it. I suppose it was that same baser part of my nature that first drove me to cover the fights, and then to the gym myself.
But once there my goal of working back into shape and learning the technical merits of the sport was not enough. What is the point of learning to drive if you are never planning to hit the open road? And so we discussed sparring, and if perhaps a year would be long enough to reach that point.
A year? I’ll have you there a couple months, Rodriguez promised. And so we started preparing in earnest, for something more perilous than the heavy bag or a slap upside the head with the pads. But a decade of inactivity and an ill-advised late lunch from the neighborhood taqueria soon voiced their objections.
Dejection. Failure. Shame.
But, unlike many times before, the determination to continue. And so we were back this week, first Monday then this evening. Back on the pads, back on the rope, roadwork on the weekend with the dog and the heavy bag as often as possible.
Because most fights are small and in front of no witnesses. Often there is no opponent, only our own limits that we must always be willing to challenge, or risk watching our talent languish like a prospect left on the shelf.