Posts Tagged ‘muhammad ali’

 
Every fan of a sport has a moment or a personality they can look back upon as a main reason for the love of the respective sport. For football fans that can often be fond childhood memories of bonding moments with their father. For boxing fans it’s often something else. For me it began with a book of all things.

As a child my father worked night shifts and often fell asleep on the couch during the middle of the day on weekends. Being a man with a temper, especially when awoken from his mid-day slumber, my brother and I as small children didn’t want to risk a beating by waking him and often went searching for things to occupy our time. 

Television only managed to take up small portions of time as we couldn’t channel hop because the different sounds or light flickers created by changing channel would wake the man. Board games were too noisy because of dice rolls. Going outside wasn’t an option because the door opening and closing would certainly interrupt sleep.

The answer was usually going upstairs to search out things to do. On one search I found a book about boxing. This book was the authors favorite heavyweight fights throughout history, and it was old. I believe the most recent fight noted in the book was the “Rumble in the Jungle” between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. 

In this book I read about the bout noted above. I read about the battles between Ali and Joe Frazier, Floyd Patterson’s series with Ingemar Johansson. Of all the fights in the book, there were two that captured my attention to the point that every chance I got I would go back to read them again. The first was Jack Dempsey’s rematch with the man who had taken his title, Gene Tunney – the bout forever remembered for the “long count”.

The other bout that forever stayed with me was the undefeated heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano taking on the grizzled veteran Archie Moore in what would ultimately prove to be Marciano’s last fight. Reading about how the challenger had spent years developing his solar plexus counter punch and took his time to wait for Marciano to leave him an opportunity to use it. Reading how the underdog put the champion down face first with a perfect counter, only for Marciano to get back to his feet to stop his challenger gave me a thirst to watch boxing.

  
Since those early days as a child reading that book in an attempt not to wake my father and face the wrath that would bring boxing has been in my blood. I sought out and watched each and every fight written about in the book and was not disappointed with a single one. 

I then moved on to find active boxers to cling to immerse myself in. Growing up in England in the 80’s I was introduced to Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn, two fighters whose paths crossed in two of the most entertaining bouts I’ve ever seen. First at Middleweight when the unfancied Eubank dug deep to dethrone the champion Benn, then a second time when both fighters left everything they had in the ring and fought to a draw in their super middleweight contest – a draw that saved both men from becoming Don King fighters.

  
There have been many more over the years whose careers I’ve watched develop from their first bouts on fuzzy YouTube videos captured on phones from the crowd to their debuts on televised and PPV broadcasts. In spite of all I’ve seen since, that book is where it began for me. What put boxing in your heart?

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I read an interesting article today on the International Business Times website about one Mr. Floyd Mayweather Jr. and his place in discussions about the greatest boxer of all time. Like it or not, Mayweather is firmly entrenched in these discussions and it is a detriment to his achievements in the sport that he is often so flippantly written off – not that the author of this particular article did such a thing.

Mayweather’s achievements in boxing have surpassed many who have ever stepped foot in the ring. He’s won world titles in five different weight classes, with his first coming within two years of his professional debut at just 21 years of age. Across those five weight classes, Mayweather has won 11 world titles. Having never lost in a professional fight, the only loss of title has come from Mayweather moving up in weight class and the short-lived retirement he went into after beating Ricky Hatton in 2007.

Staying with title talk, there’s also one method of world title that some boxing fans hold in higher esteem than others, that’s the “lineal” championship. Going back to the days of each weight having just one belt, analysts have traced that belts journey through history. Of the five weight classes Mayweather has possessed a title within, he has been the lineal champion in 4 of those weight classes.

When you look at achievements like these then Mayweather seems to be in good standing to at least be entered in to discussions for the greatest fighter of all time. Yet for some reason he is discounted time and time again. Could it be the level of opposition he has faced? Lets take a look.

Mayweather won his first world title in 1998 in his 18th professional bout. In the 30 bouts since that initial title victory only six of his fights have not been either in defense of a title or challenging for a new one. So in 17 years and 30 bouts Mayweather has been involved in a title bout every year except for 2004 and 2008, and during the 2008 year without a title bout Mayweather was technically retired.

So, during that incredible run of title bouts, did Mayweather have a “bum of the month club” of the likes of Joe Louis, a fighter who DOES get traction in discussions of being the best of all time? No. In that time, Mayweather fought a string of existing champions, top contenders and recently deposed champion, not to mention a number of future hall of fame boxers – many likely to be first ballot hall of fame fighters.

Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Castillo, Gatti, Judah, Baldomir – all highly capable, respected and quality fighters who themselves have competed against some of the very best of the modern era. Hatton was an undefeated champion, De La Hoya a multi-weight champion (and a guy Mayweather stepped up in weight to face), Marquez and Mosley legends of the sport. Ortiz, Guerrero and Maidana were young, hungry recent or current champions upon stepping in the ring with Mayweather. Cotto was a rejuvenated champion Mayweather stepped up in weight once more to face. Alvarez is seen by many as the future of the sport, and a man naturally much larger than Mayweather. Most recently is another living legend of the sport in Manny Pacquiao.

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In spite of such a glittering resume, and a level of dominance displayed over such high-caliber fighters in one of the deepest talent pools in the boxing weight spectrum, Mayweather is still pushed out of discussions about who is the greatest ever.

For me this instant dismissal of Mayweather is baffling. He has the record in terms of the quality of opponents he’s faced, the stacked competition level he’s dominated, the undefeated record in spite of 17 consecutive years at the top, the defensive excellence he’s displayed. He has titles in multiple weight classes, including the aforementioned lineal title in all but one of the divisions he’s won a strap in.

I think the problem lay in nostalgia. Given that the majority of fighters spoken of in regards to the greatest ever come from a bygone era, and nobody is thrown into the hat as a possible from anything resembling the modern era (save for the fact Ali fought too long and had a couple of bouts in a more modern time) nostalgia for the greatest of all time could go a long way toward providing an explanation.

Muhammad Ali

Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis are three fighters constantly looked upon as the greatest ever. Ali declared himself as the greatest, but over the years he visibly struggled at times against middle-of-the-road fighters. Was he unable to motivate himself to the necessary degree when not facing a high-caliber opponent? If so, why is he still considered the greatest when Mayweather retained focus and dedication even when facing the likes of Victor Ortiz or Robert Guerrero, both of whom are regarded as weaker opponents in spite of coming into the bout as young, hungry fighters who had both achieved world titles.

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Joe Louis, often spoken about as the greatest of all time, held the heavyweight world title for 140 consecutive months (or a little over 11 and a half years) and competed in 26 consecutive title fights. An incredible achievement, however during that reign was the infamous “Bum of the Month Club.” A somewhat derogatory title given to a spell of about two and a half years in which Lous defended his title on 13 occasions. Given the frequency of the fights, and the relative ease with which Louis went through his opponents, the general belief was that he was fighting lesser opponents to pad his resume. Right or wrong, it is a tag that has stuck for all these years, but a tag that has never been placed upon the caliber of opponents Mayweather has faced.

Sugar Ray Robinson Punching Bag at Training

On to Sugar Ray Robinson. Other than a loss to Jake Lamotta in Robinson’s 41st professional fight, Sugar Ray went close to 90 more fights without suffering defeat, including winning 5 bouts out of 6 against Lamotta. Sugar Ray, like Mayweather, faced all styles in the ring and found a way to overcome every one. During a career spanning 200 professional fights there were definitely bouts against poor opponents as well as bouts long after the inevitable decline had set in, but based on the sheer body of work, Robinson does at least stack up better against Mayweather’s record than the two men above him.

This is where the problems lie. These three fighters are seen as so good that all who came after them are automatically discounted as not being as good. This logic, however, is flawed for a very simple reason. Boxing, like all sports, relies upon studying mistakes in technique made by other fighters and finding ways to correct those errors. Be that a different style of fighting, be that adapting on the fly to counter any particular style. Be it learning to create angles to increase the accuracy of your punches while avoiding others the fact of the matter is the same. Modern fighters study those from the past and try to include the good they see with eliminating the bad.

When you put it in such a way, then by default you also have to say that a modern fighter, right, wrong or indifferent, has to essentially be better than a fighter from a bygone era because they’ve learned from their mistakes. I mean, do we not get smarter as we age and encounter a slew of problems to adapt to through the years? Do any of us feel that we get dumber as we age?

To counter that line of thinking, writers love to conjure up theoretical fights pitting one fighters skill sets against common beliefs about how the older fighter would fare with the same knowledge and new training. In that matter we simply don’t know and thus any hypothetical fights are immediately incorrect. We can base assumptions that talented fighters from decades ago could apply their skills, athleticism and understanding of the sport to adapt their style any way required. But we don’t know for sure.

I think I’ve rambled enough, so to pull it all together and bring back around the original point that Mayweather deserves to be considered for the greatest fighter ever I think I’ve drawn my line in the sand. He has the achievements and titles, he has the resume of defeated fighters, he has the longevity at the top, he has a level of dominance over a talented division and stacked era of great fighters. He deserves to at least be in consideration for the discussion rather than discounted simply because there’s no way a modern-day fighter could possibly be as good as those who competed against one another in a different era.

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Do I have a personal opinion? I actually have two. One I mentioned earlier. We age, we learn, we adapt and we develop new methods for stopping things repeating themselves. Therefore our future selves are better than our past selves. With that line of thinking, Mayweather by default is the greatest fighter of all time. However, things are not always as black and white, so I go this way. All the fighters mentioned have merits and demerits for contention, but two stand above all others. Based on the sheer volume of work and the ability to take on all styles and find a way to not only win, but dominate, I have a tie between Robinson and Mayweather – although that’s just when evaluating his place against the 3 fighters mentioned in this dialogue!

Saparena-boxen

The heavyweight boxing division, once the proud flagship division of the sport, has lost its place at the top of the pile in recent years. The announcement through the Ukrin News Agency on October 24th that WBC Heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko plans to run for Ukranian presidency in 2015 has shone a dull light back on the division and brought a question to my mind. What happened to the heavyweight division?

What happened? Well that depends upon your level of belief of what you read, or even what you hear from commentators during other boxing matches. The fall of the heavyweight division could be blamed on a lack of competition behind the dominant Klitschko brothers. This is the most common opinion I hear, and usually comes from commentary being conducted during other boxing bouts.

It could be a sign of the times. Much like changes in fashion, musical taste and art appreciation going in cycles, appreciation of the art of boxing could also be cyclical.

With many fans these days tuning into the lighter weight classes, typically from the Welterweight (147lb) division to the Super Middleweight (168lb) division, it could be that current boxing fans are after fast paced action and see the heavyweight division as too slow and lumbering to hold their attention. As CDC reports have shown a 22% increase in ADHD diagnoses between 2003 and 2007 it is entirely possible that there could be an inability amongst fans to pay attention for long periods of time if there is not constant action. This could go some way to explaining a shift in popularity from the slower heavyweights to the fast paced lighter fighters.

Another explanation could be jealousy. Jealousy of what?

Let’s take a look at October’s heavyweight boxing divisions top 10 challengers, as listed through the International Boxing Organization.

  1. Alexander Povetkin (Russia)
  2. Robert Helenius (Finland)
  3. Tomasz Adamek (Poland)
  4. Kubrat Pulev (Bulgaria)
  5. Tyson Fury (United Kingdom)
  6. Odlanier Solis Fonte (Cuba)
  7. Anthony (Tony) Thompson (U.S.A.)
  8. Vyacheslav Glazkov (Ukraine)
  9. Bermaine Stiverne (Canada)
  10. Chris Arreola (U.S.A.)

Ten fighters lining up to gain a shot at gaining a heavyweight boxing title. Ten fighters and just two American’s on the list, both of whom have lost recent challenges against a Klitschko brother. Could it be possible that a level of jealousy about the heavyweight division having slipped from America’s grasp be behind the continued announcement by boxing commentators that the heavyweight division is lacking in strength.

American does have a long running affinity with the heavyweight division, one that could lead many to feel that the one time flagship division “belonged” to America. In fact, since John L. Sullivan was recognized as the first heavyweight champion toward the end of the 19th century, in spite of there being no official ranking system, each decade since has consisted of American dominance within the heavyweights.

Jack_dempsey_ring_loc_50497v

The early 1900s saw James Jeffries and Jack Johnson creating an American stranglehold on the division. Johnson’s reign as champion would actually continue into the following decade as he held the strap until 1914. From 1919 to the mid 1920s, Jack Dempsey ruled the heavyweights until his countryman and great rival Gene Tunney took over to close out the decade. The 1930s saw the start of a record breaking title run from Joe Louis that would continue into the late 1940s. Enter Rocky Marciano, who took over in the 1950s, followed by Floyd Patterson (1950s-60s) and Muhammad Ali (1960s). Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Ali again would take American dominance of the heavyweight championship into the late 1970s. Larry Holmes continued the American stranglehold to take the title into the 1980s and then passed the torch along to Mike Tyson.

After over 100 years of heavyweight dominance, the American stranglehold began to slip from the mid 1990s on. The titles passed back and forth across the Atlantic and while American’s have held titles at various times since then, there has been no dominant American champion present themselves. That dominance passed to the U.K.’s Lennox Lewis, then to the Klitschko brothers.

For many, America is the home of boxing. Without a dominant heavyweight champion stemming from the United States, it seems the boxing public has slowly begun to forget about the division. It has led to calls that the division is dead as the focus has shifted to the lighter, and predominantly American dominated, weight classes.

Whether you believe that the heavyweight division is dead, sleeping or simply moving along nicely under the radar, it is undeniable that the gloss the giants of boxing once held has dulled significantly. I don’t buy into the belief that the heavyweight division is dead. Inn fact, despite the drop in public opinion, the level of competition within the heavyweight division is high and growing stronger by the day. That, however, is a story for another day.