Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Could Boxing Take A Lesson From The Maria Sharapova Story?

Perhaps you've heard by now - tennis star Maria Sharapova has been banned from playing professional tennis for two years - that's a hell of a long time - for doping. Funny how boxers who get caught doping don't seem to receive those types of punishments, even though boxers - unlike tennis players - can literally kill one another in the practice of their trade.

Nope. What we get in boxing is TUEs and arguments of "mistakes" and "small amounts." Best of all, we get arguments of "who even cares?" or "if you had a clue about this or that drug then you'd know it's no big deal." Again, we're talking about a sport where people concuss one another. That makes it a big deal to me.

Look, I'm not saying that every fighter who ever tested positive for a banned substance is a juicer. Nor am I saying that draconian punishments should be the law of the land. Is it wrong to ask, though, if those who handed Sharapova down her punishment got it right? Or if the UFC gets it right for it's supposed "no excuses" policy?

As Gennady Golovkin makes clear, boxing isn't a sport to be taken lightly. It's serious, serious, business...sometimes of the life and death variety. Are we so open minded that we're laissez faire about individual fighter's well being? If we are, then I argue we're not open minded at all. Rather, we're sociopathic.

Fortunately, I don't think we are. At least not the vast majority of us.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Muhammad Ali - A Complex Man Who Died In A Way-Too-Simple Time

I've been upset at the passing of Muhammad Ali this week. In a nation where celebrities come and go, this was a man who was timeless. Not only that, he was the single greatest representative of the sport I love. What's more, he was a social icon who fought against injustice. Lastly, I'll never forget the guy literally rescuing American prisoners from Iraq (Google it if you have to). How could such a person not be missed?

Here's the thing, though: Ali wasn't perfect. Not by a long shot. Piers Morgan is in trouble for pointing out controversial things Ali said. Well, if Ali said those things, why should Morgan be in trouble? Why should he be essentially accused of racism by hipster celebrities? The answer, sadly, is obvious. We live in simplistic times where nuance is most certainly not allowed. Scared?You should be.

My favorite movie of all time is Patton. Starring George C Scott, it deals with one of Americas' greatest heroes - while actually showing his flaws. The point of the film, though, is that Patton is/was a great man, despite his defects. See, the script by Francis Ford Coppola showcased the fact that heroes are human. And we mere mortals have shortcomings, some of them quite pronounced. End of story. 

The bottom line is that Muhammad Ali was indeed a great man, one that will rightfully be sorely missed, particularly among fight fans. That doesn't mean his flaws should be glossed over, however. For to elevate the man to something beyond human is to actually diminish his achievements. We succeed in spite of our shortcomings, after all, not because those shortcomings don't exist. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Vargas And Salido Show Why Boxing Is Awesome

As an English professor in my other life I like to be somewhat academic, or at least mature in my word choice. In other words, I don't want to come across as a sophomoric fanboy on my blog. Sometimes, though, you just have to say screw it. And this is one of those times. Last night's Vargas-Salido fight showed why boxing is awesome. Period.

Balls. Balls, I tell you, are what these two fighters showed in the ring. Yeah, it was a draw, but I was okay with it. In fact, it was one of those rare instances, where I felt any decision could be justified. The last time I felt that was after the first Mayweather-Maidana fight. Yup, bouts that close are a rarity.

And seriously, how can you not admire these two fighters?Truth be told, Salido's  been such a dirty bastard, that I haven't much cared for him. Until, of course, last night. After last night I admire the hell out of him. Here's a guy who grew up poor, struggles to earn a living without having incredible talent (though he's more talented than some might think), and who BRINGS IT. Sure, he's got his short comings, but he's a true warrior, not ifs, ands or buts about it.

Huge props for Vargas, as well. He didn't shrink, not for a minute. from Salido's bravura assaults. In fact, he was frequently the attacker. Long story short, whatever they paid Vargas last night ain't enough. He deserves another home cooked meal at his mom's - so long as he's careful with the beef.

People look at me like I'm dressed in dated clothing when I tell them I'm a boxing writer. They just don't get it. Perhaps if they had tuned into HBO last night, they would have.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Larry Holmes' Famous Act Of Respect For Muhammad Ali

"Howard Cosell," the man said as he looked at the camera with a puzzled face, "who's he?"

The man on camera was, of course, Muhammad Ali. And anyone who knew anything knew that Ali was perfectly aware of who Howard Cosell was. Of course, at the time, I didn't know anything. How could I? I was just a kid. Yet even I knew the colorful Ali, despite the fact his days of ring glory were well behind him.

Funny, famous and literally "the greatest" during his heyday, that's what I knew Ali to be when I was young. Oh, the man was still fighting, but everyone - even I - knew his best days had passed. Still, I remember pulling for Ali when he tried for one last shot at glory against the great Larry Holmes. It was Ali, after all. He was someone special, advancing age be damned.

"See that moon?" me grandfather asked, pointing to a moon which was visible in the midday sky. "That guy's going to send your buddy over it." That was my grandfather's prediction for the impending Ali-Holmes showdown. I remember my father and I being amused. Grandpa, who knew his stuff, was simply saying what everyone else was. But we knew better. We had faith.

But faith in worldly matters too often proves fallible. Holmes ended up breaking his own heart through his utter dominance of Ali. Indeed, had he wanted, Holmes may well have been able to send Ali over the moon that night, fulfilling Grandpa's prediction. Holmes didn't want that, though. He was too decent a guy.

He was also a guy who knew this wasn't the Ali of yore. In fact, he probably knew it better than anyone, as Holmes had been Ali's sparring partner when he was younger. Now, though, it was Holmes who was champ. But champions, if they're worth a damn, respect their own. And just as a younger Ali had spoken flatteringly of  Rocky Marciano, Holmes held back from doing what he essentially had every right in the world to do that evening - utterly destroy his opponent.

It wasn't that Holmes couldn't do it. It's that he wouldn't do it.

Some adversaries simply earn that kind of respect.

RIP Muhammad Ali.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Is This Ruslan Provodnikov's Last Chance?

I admit to being a solid Chris Algieri fan, but to this day I still stick by my initial impression that Ruslan Provodnikov beat the man when they met a few years ago. The judges of that fight clearly disagreed, however, and it's been pretty much downhill from there for the man known as the Siberian Rocky.

Until, perhaps, now.

Having teamed up with the esteemed Joel Diaz - who used to train rival Tim Bradley - Provodnikov may benefit from having a fresh pair of eyes. The first true test will, of course, come next week when the Russian faces John Molina in a televised bout. This is a gritty, fan friendly sort of affair, but if Provodnikov wants to be more than a gritty, fan friendly fighter who struggles for diminishing paydays, he's going to have to look good here.

Should Molina win next weekend, it will be hard to see where Provodnikov will go from there. The loss he took last year after an all out war with Lucas Matthysse diminished his appearance as a high end fighter (as did his less than stellar performance against Algieri). There are serious junior welters out there like Crawford and Postol, after all. People will only pay serious attention for so long.

With that in mind, a Provodnikov who is at the top of his game will not only thrill fans, he will impress critics if he shows the teaming with Diaz  is particularly beneficial. Everyone knows Provodnikov is exciting. Now let's see if he can be more than that.