Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Perverse Allure of Boxing

When I was a kid, boxing was the only sport that interested me. This was the '80s, so Muhammad Ali, and most of the great heavyweights were gone, but it was the era of the middleweights. Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler... these were the big names for me. I don't watch boxing anymore, until recently, and it made me think about it.

I am quite the pacifist. I don't approve of violence, yet something about boxing always pulls me back. I have plenty of reasons to know it is not good. I remember watching the fight where Ray Mancini killed Duk Koo Kim in the ring. I saw enough of The Contender to know that many boxers have nothing going for them except the slim chance boxing provides. Lastly, when I see the state of boxing's heroes in their old age, even the cleverest of which are punchy and suffering from brain trauma. Easily the saddest of these cases was Muhammad Ali, who was a brilliant personality, but now crippled by too many years of bludgeoning.

Yet, as the sports fans at work started talking about the recent fights of boxers I have never heard of, I became nostalgic for the boxing of my youth, much of which is on YouTube these days. The savagery is almost too much at times. I recently watched the first meeting between Tommy Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard, which is a wonderful fight by two masters (Leonard won). I then watched Hearns fight Roberto Duran. Duran was the only boxer who had beaten Sugar Ray Leonard at that point, and Leonard had been the only one to beat Hearns. This fight was brutal. Hearns knocked Duran out in the second round, almost as though he were making a point. It was less a fight, and more of a grudge fuck.

I still don't know why I keep coming back. Boxing is one of those things that are horrific, and barbaric, but these is something... I don't want to say beautiful, but something akin to that. Perhaps it is the contrast of incredible skill and the pointlessness of bludgeoning your fellow man to near death? I revel in the performance, but it always makes me sad. That is likely the answer.


BHB said...

I grew up a boxing fan in the 70s when the heavyweights were by far the top billing. I had no idea how lucky I was to watch Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Norton, and other “lower tier” fighters (Shavers, Young, Lyle, etc.) who would make a mockery of those in the top of the weight division today.
Thanks for the Hearns-Duran clip…If you want to feed more of your inexplicable thirst for the savagery, try find clips of Hearns vs. Hagler (1985) and Foreman vs. Lyle (1976).

Darius Whiteplume said...

I think Hagler must have become prominent after the Mancini v Kim fight? I have seen some highlights, and he was remarkably talented. I think Foreman gets a bad rap, skill-wise. He had the big right hand, but was talented otherwise. I'll have to look for those other fights. Everything is on YouTube these days.

Gene Phillips said...

I have the same basic response. No interest at all in the rules of baseball, football, etc-- the rules of superhero comics seemed far more involving! But boxing does have a visceral quality that comes across even when one has no investment in or knowledge of two fighters.

Darius Whiteplume said...

I am starting to like boxing again, but I don't really follow anyone. It bothers me still, but I think that main thing is that there is not a pool of famous boxers, from a non-fan perspective.

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