As my boss loves to tell me, everything about me makes sense except for one: my love of boxing. I’m smart (highly educated, at least), passionate (no kidding?), level-headed (erhm, sure), and rational (now I’m blushing) — so how is it that I can delight in watching a sport where two guys strip to their skivvies and beat each other to a bloody pulp with giant, plastic oven mitts?
The answer is simple, really. It’s not that boxing is a violent sport (although it clearly can be), it’s that there’s more to boxing than the pummelling. Boxing is actually a thinking man’s sport, as strategic as chess but far more exciting. In boxing, each boxer is armed with nothing more than his (or her) fists and his wits, and he is charged with disarming his opponents defense’s. The boxer must stick to a pre-determined strategy that minimizes his opponent’s strengths while taking advantage of his opponent’s weaknesses (Stay out of reach? Move in tight to pin him down?) while adapting to minute-by-minute information (for example, determining that the right uppercut has connected most times, so altering the strategy to use that shot as much as possible). Moreover, the fight is more than street brawl; fights go for a pre-determined number of rounds and, in the event that neither boxer is knocked out, the winner is determined by the average score of three judges. These judges award points in each round based on how well each boxer does: this can include how many shots he has landed (vs. how many thrown), how active has he been (how many shots thrown vs. just standing there) and whether or not he looks winded. That means that on top of sticking to a strategy, a boxer must strategically increase activity or conserve energy to ensure that he wins on the score cards but still has the endurance to make it through the entire fight if he needs to.
And on top of having to do all that thinking, you’re getting punched repeatedly on the side of the head by a guy who can probably curl a Backstreet Boy with his biceps. Which means you have to have some serious presence-of-mind to maintain a coherent thought under boxing circumstances, let alone enough intellectual acuity to win a fight. Or let’s put it another way: as smart as I might be, I definitely couldn’t focus on my research if my lab-mates kept running up and hitting me in the jaw between aliquoting.
Another reason to love boxing? Well, it just so happens that this year’s current #1 pound-for-pound best professional boxer in the world (as judged by the sports premier magazine, Ring Magazine) is a Filipino boxer by the name of Manny Pacquiao (pictured above). In what other sport (short of something stereotypical like karate) can you see an Asian guy be unanimously praised to be the most testosterone-fueled, most athletically-built, most hardcore guy there is? Asian Men: 1, Emasculated Asian Man Stereotype: 0.
But, boxing also comes with it’s own kind of drama. Pacquiao, as it turns out, took Ring Magazine‘s pound-for-pound honour from one Floyd Mayweather, Jr., who is probably the best American boxer currently fighting. Mayweather is a flashy fighter, but beneath his over-abundance of personality, he’s amongst the fastest and most skilled boxers the sport has to offer. He boasts an undefeated record, and even wiped the floor with boxing favourite Oscar De La Hoya. Boxing fans and critics have long clamoured for a fight between Mayweather and Pacquiao, and recently they (we?) were gratified with word of a verbal agreement that the fighters would clash on March 13th, 2010.
With any scheduled fight, there comes an expected amount of hype. Fights generate more revenue when the fighters appear to be settling some sort of interpersonal gripe, and it’s not uncommon for boxers to jab verbally (via the press, who eats this stuff up) in the weeks leading up to a fight. This manufactured “beef” can range from one opponent calling the other weak or diminishing his recent victories… although, unlike in WWE, it’s usually not over a beautiful woman dressed in a blue and red sequinned cat-suit. But, in some cases, the pre-fight back-and-forth can cross a line that makes fans question whether there really are interpersonal issues involved, or if it’s all show business.
In the case of Pacquiao vs. Mayweather, the arguments stem from (what I would call) a rather racist charge against Pacquiao by the Mayweather camp. Basically, Mayweather’s father, Floyd Mayweather Sr., accused Manny Pacquiao of taking performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in order to achieve the level of athleticism that has allowed him to be the first boxer to earn seven championship titles in seven different weight classes (no easy feat because you essentially have to re-learn how to box, and chang eyour strategy, every time you change your weight).
The basis for this claim? Well, the Phillipines (apparently) make some of the best PEDs around, and Manny Pacquiao is Filipino.
As if the Phillipines are so swamped in PEDs that Pacquiao was walking down the streets of Manila one day, when he tripped and fell into a vat of human growth hormone.
Let’s be clear: that shit is racist. The accusations being lobbed against Pacquiao have nothing to do with any actual evidence that he’s taking steroids (except that he’s a buff Asian dude — ‘cuz like, what, Asian dudes can’t be buff?). Instead, it is equating the actions of criminals in the Phillipines with Manny Pacquiao’s morality and ethics. If Pacquiao were from Southern California, would Mayweather be accusing Pacquiao of having an addiction to frappucinos and surfer shorts? And by the same logic, my parents are from China, ergo my family must make our money manufacturing mercury-laden toys, right?
The really frustrating part of it all is that Pacquiao is willing to prove he’s not a druggie, but he’s not willing to jeopardize his performance to satisfy what he insists is a bogus charge. Mayweather’s camp has insisted that both fighters submit themselves to random blood and urine testing before and after the scheduled March 13th fight. Pacquiao agreed to random testing, but drew the line at random blood testing leading all the way up to the fight. He was concerned (and rightly so) that he could be woken up in the middle of the night a day or two before the scheduled fight in order to have blood drawn. Instead, Pacquiao wanted Mayweather to agree that testing be stopped a week before the fight to give both boxers a chance to rest and prepare for the big day.
And, that’s where we’re at. The biggest fight that boxing has ever seen — one that could generate obscene amounts of money — is being derailed over a racist accusation and a butt-load of drama.
Personally, I’m normally not one to spend money on HBO pay-per-view boxing (each fight costs something in the ballpark of $50 to watch!) but I would shell out for Pacquiao vs. Mayweather. Why? Mainly because I’m really not sure who would win that fight. Mayweather has a reach advantage (which he always uses to supreme advantage), lots of power behind his punches, an undefeated record, and lightning fast speed. Yet, Pacquiao is also an agile, active, and adaptible fighter who fights southpaw, which can often throw boxers in a conventional stance for a loop.
Which is my long, round-about way of saying that Mayweather and Pacquiao need to quit with the threats, the ultimatums, and the interpersonal drama. Stop with the posturing, and yes, even the racism — and take the fight to the ring, guys!