“Life is like boxing in many unsettling respects. But boxing is only like boxing.” Joyce Carol Oates, On Boxing, 1987
When I was married I was not a sports widow. My ex-husband is not the type to sit around on the weekend in his recliner, though he has a recliner, surrounded by beer and snacks. Only the playoffs pique his interest: football, basketball, and the Stanley Cup for ice hockey. But, he loves boxing. Or maybe the past tense is more apt as boxing has waned in popularity. My ex’s even-tempered demeanor, and his help an old person across the street niceness, seemed incongruous to me with his enjoyment in watching two men beat the hell out of each other. But that was the thrill. The battle of masculinity in full display
My ex’s voice is deep and sonorous. His imitation of Michael Buffer’s famous pre-boxing match line, “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!” was pitch perfect. In this way, being who he is, and his humorous imitation, he made it pleasurable to watch a violent sport where the goal is to bruise and bloody your opponent to the extent he can no longer stand.
We agreed to disagree on boxing as a rigged game. I say it is. He says it isn’t. He has more at stake. He’s a fan. I’m merely the casual observer. Fans are invested in the match. Why watch if the outcome has been decided before the pugilist throws that first left hook? I don’t care who wins. I merely hope the opponents stay alive, and not suffer permanent brain damage.
The recent bout between Manny Pacquiao versus Timothy Bradley is only the most recent example of why the sport is mired in controversy. Blamed on “mistakes” by the judges Bradley’s win was a stunning rebuke to computer statistics, as well as eye witnesses, all of whom believe Pacquiao won.
Boxing dates to Ancient Greece and Rome where gladiators dueled to the death cheered on by noisy mobs in the Coliseum.
Fast forward to Great Britain and The Queensberry Rules of 1867 ushered in stricter requirements: the measured boxing ring, padded gloves, weight divisions, 10-second count, and 1 minute rest between each 3-minute round.
The first “world” heavyweight champion was crowned in New Orleans in 1892: San Francisco’s “Gentleman” Jim Corbett defeated John L. Sullivan.
Joe Louis became the first African American national hero to whites as well as blacks in 1938 when he knocked out Germany’s Max Schmeling. Later there is little argument that, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” Muhammad Ali occupied that lofty status for many years.
Ironically boxing is known as “the sweet science.” The phrase originated with Pierce Egan in 1812, in his book of essays, Boxiana, when he referred to the sport as “the sweet science of bruising.”
Of course women box too, and may be seen doing just that during this year’s London Summer Olympics. One of the most captivating books written about “the sweet science” is by a woman: On Boxing by Joyce Carol Oates. She writes of boxing as “America’s tragic theater.”
How then could boxing be a route to social change? Israel Nunez has that answer. When Nunez was 15 he was fighting in the streets of Sonoma County. Lucky for him he had a perceptive father who enrolled him in a community boxing program.
Today Nunez owns his own fitness gym, Club X, that focuses on boxing, and mixed martial arts. He has witnessed too many kids swinging steel pipes and beating each other senseless. He has convinced them to fight in safer, controlled areas. No one is turned away. The kids who can’t afford the membership fees clean the gym, or help his sponsors in the community. On any given day you find 35 year old athletes sparring with 8 year olds. By these methods Nunez has been successful in steering kids away from gang violence.
Every couple of months his gym hosts free boxing shows. He matches kids by weight and gives them the chance to demonstrate their skills. By providing a safe haven, teaching them a new skill, and allowing them to hit objects instead of people, it turns a negative situation into positive social change.
When asked by a sportswriter why so many ex-fighters were such modest, quiet, sweet men, Tony DeMarco, a champion boxer of the 1950’s replied, “Because we’ve had all the anger punched out of us.”
Do you ever feel like punching some one?