victims fans of the sultry mistress we call boxing, I have a mostly clear memory of the moment she trapped me in her unrelenting clutches.
January 15, 2000.
Roy Jones Jr. fought David Telesco in a one-sided pot-shot affair on HBO, remarkable for the fact that Jones did so with a broken hand — and then later rapped about it on the illustrious hip hop classic, “Ya’ll Must’ve Forgot.”
I sat in the living room of my best friend Daniel’s house, along with his father, Nelson, and older brother, David. Whatever Daniel and David told me was cool was cool, so there I sat.
Jones Jr. walked out with the Rockettes and proceeded to dance like one. He flicked out jabs from his cocksure, hyper-relaxed stance and uncorked hooks and right hands when it suited him.
His three-scorecard 120-108 shutout of Telesco was bookended by Whitney Houston’s rendition of ‘God Bless America’ before the first bell, and a birthday cake to celebrate his 31st birthday after the final one.
I have been hooked for 21 years now.
Yet, as I love the sport and possess a quasi-functioning brain, I find myself in perpetual conflict between two opposing realities — that no sport on this drowning planet delivers more at its best, and that Mahmoud Fucking Charr is a claimant to one of the WBA’s four heavyweight title belts.
Such inanities of this sport make me wonder without sarcasm if the one suffering from pugilistic dementia is me or the guy in the ring.
But thus is boxing. Revealing your fandom is like dropping out of college because you fell in love with Amber from the Klassy Kat. You offer tired proclamations to your disappointed mother that “she’s not a stripper, she’s a dancer.” But as you lay on the futon in your parents’ basement, you know that deep inside your lonely heart you’re full of shit.
‘Normal’ sports fans will never understand our madness. They’re too smart to try.
While they watch routinely scheduled games in a unified league with standardized rules, we search for an illegal stream of an obscure Japanese fighter entering the ring at 3:00am on a Wednesday against a replacement opponent because the original turned in a hot piss test for four different steroids before the weigh-in.
Boxing is this and so much worse.
But instead of ridding ourselves of this anchor as we plunge into the abyss, we defend it against ‘casuals’ like there’s pride in being at the loser table playing ‘Magic the Gathering.’
Because every so often on our Holy Saturday, we’re party to a thrill we’ve failed to duplicate since catching a few seconds of clear screen through the scrambler on the naughty channel.
None but boxing provides that glimmer of hope, that solar eclipse of a moment where the impossible becomes real. Where a blazing hot prospect with punching power can get iced out of his senses by a counter right hand from a 13-loss beloved road warrior who never got his due.
This is the magic of boxing, the opiate hit laced with impurities and shit that takes years off our life but from which we can’t unchain ourselves.
With pride in our puffed chests, we explain to our friends the batshit crazy boxing-isms that even the most devout crackhead wouldn’t dream up. That each weight class has four champions, but maybe a champion in recess, a franchise champion, an interim champion, a regular champion, a gold champion, a silver champion and/or a Mestizo champion.
It’s like if there were four NFLs, we explain, each with a Super Bowl Champion proclaiming to be the real champion, and other claimants who are also champions but not really champions but technically still champions.
Which would be easy enough to explain except that the Bucs refuse to play the Rams to decide the real champion. Which is normal. And NBC only shows games from the AFC East; CBS only shows games from the AFC West. And teams in the AFC East never play teams in the AFC West. Except when they do, which doesn’t make sense either.
Oh, and the best teams only play twice a year. And it’ll cost you $79.99 each time they do.
I wish someone would give me a lobotomy to render my memory of this sport a forgotten one. And yet, I return. Like an addict practically begging for a dirty needle because I know that I am always just a week away from something transcendent that justifies this compulsion.
No sport demands more of its fans and rewards them with less — save for the occasion when it delivers so much more than any sport could.
We suffer the Chavez Jrs. for the Donaires. We endure shit decisions so we can watch a 36-year-old Gabriel Rosado stare down boxing’s equivalent of a four touchdown deficit just to score five of his own in a single, startling shot to win the game.
This sport is a dilapidated one, but it has no rival in its grandeur.
It is a dishonest and disingenuous sport in all but the place it counts most — the ring.
It showcases the human condition in its simplest form, body against body, will against will. Boxing is the height of sanctioned violence, the elegance of dance and the precision of a craftsman, bound together and wrapped in a bow.
And yet, boxing must eat its own to survive. To regale its allegiant few, it demands a toll that cannot be repaid by its combatants. Wilfred Benitez or Gerald McClellan or Meldrick Taylor — some of boxing’s finest champions — will reach life’s final bell in need of care that is perpetually in short supply.
An irony, perhaps, that so many would choose to toil in its ranks and assume the risks just for a chance at glory. Or more often, a way out.
Boxing grew itself not as an act of sport, but of desperation.
It’s home to the only arena where an impoverished 98 pound Filipino teenager could fill his pockets with rocks to meet a 105 pound minimum and become one of the most accomplished fighters on earth. Where his greatest rival could escape gunfire and the drug sentencing of his father in Grand Rapids, Michigan to achieve a mark of 50-0 with untold millions in the bank.
Boxings greatest paradox is that its darkest side produces its brightest stars. It is an alter for the desperate, and perhaps the sport and its combatants would cease to exist without such an axiom.
Indeed, little but necessity could explain the brutality of Gatti and Ward, or the precision of Robinson and Duran. Or with a legacy long-ago cemented, a 38-year-old shell of Muhammad Ali fighting a young Larry Holmes.
Miguel Cotto, one of boxing’s most honest fighters of the past 20 years, articulated it best in a loss in the arms of his crying wife:
“It’s the only thing I know; what else can I do?”
Despite its complexities, the sport’s reason for being and the underpinnings of how it’s waged, are that simple. For the fighters, it is all they know. For the fans, we don’t know better.
If the fighter finds the sport as an act of necessity, perhaps its observers find it just the same. A chance to experience a greater version of ourselves.