Maya Angelou dances with the late poet Amiri Baraka at Langston Hughes’ 89th birthday celebration in 1991. Photo by Chester Higgins Jr. for the New York Times.
by Gautham Nagesh
HYDERABAD, India—It has been a while since I last wrote here, my apologies.
I could offer the standard excuses, but there’s really just one reason: I landed my dream job last year, and it has left me no time for anything else. The past month in particular has been an unrelenting stream of news, leaving every other part of my life neglected. This vacation and the chance to rest and recharge couldn’t have come at a better time.
I have always struggled to describe what we do here at Stiff Jab. Put simply, we write about fighting, and try to find beauty in what is clearly an ugly spectacle, designed to appeal to our basest instincts. Whether it’s Sarah documenting the trials of women trying to break into a man’s world, or me simply bearing witness to battles fought by fighters that will never reach the limelight, we try to capture how the heat of battle brings out the best in these men and women, who enter the ring almost naked and depart completely exposed, in victory or defeat.
Fighters are remarkable human beings. Fighters drag themselves from meager conditions with little more than their hands and years of sweat. It is a long, lonely road, and almost none of them find success. Even those that reach the top must spent years toiling anonymously, placing full faith in their discipline and natural gifts and hoping it’s enough to secure their future. And even for the best, their moment is almost always just that; a glorious instant in time, followed by a slow descent back to where they started.
Of course, a few select champions manage to defy all that. They somehow along the way become more than just a sack of meat and bones, but something much larger, a testament to the incredible potential of the human spirit. They inspire us, and expand our vision of what life can hold for all of us. They make us believe in ourselves, and in abilities we never knew we had.
By any measure, Maya Angelou was a fighter and a champion. Her grandness was such that it cannot be encapsulated by mere titles like poet or author. Maya Angelou was much more. She was living proof that no matter how many times a woman has been knocked down to the canvas, no matter how deeply the odds are stacked against her, she retains a puncher’s chance.
Ms. Angelou rose from a background defined by crippling racism, trauma, and displacement, yet somehow managed to spend her life showing all of us just how much life can be jammed into 86 years. She fought proudly in the ring for over five decades, refusing to capitulate no matter what. If the outpouring of grief and love today is any indication, her arms should be raised in victory for eternity.
Photo by Joel Richardson for The Washington Post
by Aaron Tallent special to Stiff Jab
Let’s face it: the Fight Game walks the fine line between goodness and corruption.
The good is that young men have an opportunity to learn discipline they would often not find elsewhere. For that to work, the people providing the chance need to have their heart in the right place. They need to be people like Jim Finley. Sadly, we have already forgotten just how special Finley and his boxing gym truly were.
Finley, who died of congestive heart failure on January 28, ran the legendary Finley’s Boxing Gym from 1960 to 2001. The gym was over his auto repair shop on 518 10th Street, which sat in an alley running between 9th and 10th Streets in Northeast D.C. So low key was the gym that I lived at the entrance of that alley for two years after it closed, yet had no idea it ever existed.
by Anna John
After considerable public outrage, the “celebrity” boxing match between once-relevant hip-hop artist DMX (arf arf arf!) and George Zimmerman was cancelled this weekend.
On Saturday, promoter Damon Feldman announced that beyond the angry outcry against the tasteless spectacle, he personally was receiving threats over the proposed bout— so much so that he has hired a bodyguard for protection.
Our hearts go out to this innocent boxing promoter who was just trying to help Zimmerman earn an…honest paycheck after the acquitted killer of Florida teen Trayvon Martin became too notorious to work at any job. Feldman’s tweets regarding the matter show a promoter who was rattled by the overwhelmingly negative response to his involvement with the infamous “Stand Your Ground”-killer:
by Anna John
Former heavyweight titlist Vitali Klitschko is saying “nee” to Boxing and “tak” to politics—that’s Ukrainian for “no” and “yes”, respectively. According to the Associated Press, the 42-year-old WBC heavyweight titlist vacated his title this week to focus on being an opposition leader in his native Ukraine.
It’s a turbulent time for Ukrainian politics; President Viktor Yanukovych has signaled that he would prefer to strengthen ties with Russia instead of the European Union. Ukrainian citizens who oppose Yanukovych’s decision have been protesting 24 hours a day, despite freezing weather. Klitschko, a lawmaker and chair of opposition party Udar has rallied others to push for democracy while he angles for Yanukovych’s job.
In case politics doesn’t work out, Klitschko’s status as a WBC Champion Emeritus provides an opportunity to return to the Sweet Science with his alphabet title waiting. Whether he would do so is in serious doubt; Klitschko is 42 and has shoulder problems, in addition to the knee injury that forced him to retire from 2005-07.
by Gautham Nagesh
A blog about combat sports might seem like a strange place for a memorial about a pop psychologist and advice columnist, but Dr. Joyce Brothers probably knew more about the Sweet Science than any of us.
Brothers first rose to prominence as a young housewife and boxing expert on the now-infamous gameshow "The $64,000 Question," which was later part of the Quiz Show scandal. It’s important to note that Brothers was not among those accused of cheating, but producers did suggest the telegenic young lady try mastering an unorthodox subject like boxing.
She responded by mastering 20 volumes of a boxing encyclopedia (where can I get one of those??):
According to the testimony, Brothers applied to be a “64,000 Question” contestant as an expert in home economics and psychology. The producers, looking for an audience-pleasing oddity, suggested the pretty young woman try boxing as her specialty. She learned the subject so well, Koplin said, she kept on winning even after the producers “threw the book” at her with tough questions aimed at eliminating her.
Born Joyce Diane Bauer in New York, Brothers earned her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia.
An author and fight scholar, and therefore one of us.
R.I.P. October 20, 1927 – May 13, 2013.
Vijender Singh photo by Reuters
by Gautham Nagesh
India is a country so starved for athletic success, chess players sometimes dominate the sports page. Outside of cricket, India has barely any modern sporting tradition to speak of. The formerly formidable field hockey team is now toothless; the best Indian tennis players are typically specialists in doubles.
Into that vacuum stepped middleweight boxer Vijender Singh, who took the country by storm at the 2008 Olympics. Singh’s bronze medal in Beijing was the country’s first in boxing, and one of the few it has won in any sport recently. Afterward Singh became a national icon, landing lucrative endorsement deals and a cushy job in the police department, which like the Indian Army and rail industry, is a traditional employer of Indian athletes. Singh returned to the Olympics in London last summer, where he won a controversial decision over American Terrell Gausha before succumbing in the quarterfinals.
How far Beijing must seem now to Singh, who is currently the subject of numerous headlines thanks to his suspected involvement in a drug investigation currently underway in Punjab. Indian press reports generally tend to be imprecise if not outright unreliable, but they seem in agreement on one fact: a car registered to Singh’s wife was found outside a home where police found 26 kg of heroin. From IBT:
Photos by Anna John for StiffJab.com
by Gautham Nagesh
It has been a long time since we’ve seen that smile from D.C. junior welterweight Lamont Peterson (right).Since his last fight, a career-defining win over Amir Khan in December 2011, Peterson has been forced to defend himself against allegations of PED use. He has spent over a year of his prime on the shelf, and has watched his name disappear from the rankings due to inactivity.
On Friday night, Peterson will return to the ring looking to re-establish himself as one of the top fighters in the world at 140 lbs. Peterson hopes to duplicate his previous appearance on ESPN, where he dominated lesser opposition to earn the Khan fight. A win over Kendall Holt at D.C. Armory would put Peterson back in the top-5, setting up a premium cable showdown with one of his Golden Boy stablemates. A loss would be a setback that might take years to overcome.
Photos via Mayweather Promotions
by Gautham Nagesh
The world of televised boxing was upended Tuesday morning with the news pound-for-pound champ Floyd Mayweather has signed a six-fight deal with Showtime and parent company CBS. The first fight will pit Mayweather against welterweight contender Robert Guerrero on May 4th.
According to the release, the deal is “a unique revenue-sharing arrangement between Showtime PPV and Mayweather” that will enable Floyd to fight up to six times over a period of 30 months. The release declines to give specific financial details, but claims the deal “is by far the biggest in the sport of boxing.
"At this record-setting PPV performance level, if all six fights contemplated by this deal occur, it will be the richest individual athlete deal in all of sports," states the release.
by Gautham Nagesh
Junior middleweight prospect Omar Henry passed away Friday in Chicago from gall bladder cancer. He was 25.
Born in Chicago and raised in Houston, Henry was a decorated amateur with a promising future in the 154-lb weight class. Henry boasted a record of 12-0-1 with 9 KOs and was slated to be the headliner on ShoBox last November, when his illness was first discovered. He posted a message to his Facebook account on January 9th expressing his hope that he would live to see his 26th birthday on February 8th.
"To all my friends and loyal fans I want to inform you all that I am fighting the fight of my life against a disease known as gallbladder cancer," Henry posted to Facebook on Sunday. "While I’m in this current state I am fighting with my family by my side and I will not go down for the count."
By Anna John
Three-division world champion Hector “Macho” Camacho was shot in the face tonight in a drive-by shooting in his hometown of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, where he is in critical condition. The 50-year-old Camacho was hit when a gunman opened fired on a Ford Mustang the boxer was sitting in with a friend; unfortunately, Camacho’s companion, the driver of the car, did not survive. One suspect is in custody.
As is common in such situations, confusion ensued on Twitter when Carlos Suarez Jr. of BoricuaBoxing tweeted the following information two hours ago:
BREAKING NEWS: I have confirmation that HECTOR “Macho” CAMACHO has indeed passed away from gun shot wounds suffered earlier… R.I.P. #MACHO
Suarez Jr. updated his feed an hour ago:
BREAKING NEWS: Hector “Macho” Camacho is ALIVE and fighting for his life!
Suarez Jr. added that he was in direct contact with Camacho’s family members at Centro Medico, the trauma center in San Juan where the boxer was being treated for his injuries.
Ronda Rousey photo by Tom Casino for Showtime
by Dr. Octagon, J.D.
Strikeforce has finally packed it in and Ronda Rousey is now an employee of the UFC.
While the UFC could use some competition to help boost fighter purses, in practice, Strikeforce was a poorly-run mess. I predicted that it would be dissolved prior to the ill-fated heavyweight Grand Prix that saw Fedor lose quickly and Overeem withdraw. Daniel Cormier, who got to jump in midway through as an alternate, defeated Josh Barnett in the finals.
Strikeforce definitely had its moments, put on some great cards and was the only place you could see females fight (which most recently resulted in the rise of Ronda Rousey’s always entertaining first round armbreaking). However, it was equally maddening to watch the few top fighters they have waste the prime of their careers against less than distinguished fighters. Gilbert Melendez in particular springs to mind as a guy that hasn’t had any quality competition as far back as I can remember.