BOXING’S DOUBLE STANDARD SIDELINES RIGONDEAUX
By Ben Dean
“Skills pay the bills.” Chances are all of us that follow boxing have heard that phrase before. It was popularized by Floyd Mayweather Jr., but uttered by many a fighter that had a supreme belief in their fistic talents. Sadly, there has been a shift in what is truly valued and respected in boxing lately. The sweet science has always been the art of hitting and not getting hit. But now it seems like the term "boxer" has become a dirty word. In this perceived changing of the guard, we have a shifting paradigm on what is deemed aesthetically desirable. In remembering another old adage, we know that perception becomes reality, even when that perception is misguided.
Frequently in boxing, there is a tendency to favor brawler verses a boxer. This sentiment is the reason fighters such as the late Arturo Gatti (may he Rest In Peace) are so revered. They were willing to wade in face first and take unspeakable amounts of punishment, getting hit by two punches just to land one. Action fighters such as Gatti are lauded so much that they are considered Hall of Fame worthy, even if they are just C- or B+ fighters skills-wise. We cling to this favortism even when it is glaringly apparent that inserting the brawler into the ring with a world-class boxer (see Mayweather-Gatti), results in ruthless destruction. Is there a time when too good actually becomes bad?
For some time now writers, networks and fans have been very dismissive of practitioners of the slick African-American or Afro-Cuban style. When a slick boxer outclasses and outlands an ineffective aggressor, you frequently hear comments like “boring,” or “he has on roller skates” “dancing shoes” or "is on his bicycle." If the whole art form and purpose of boxing is to hit and not be hit, why is this unfair characterization of the slick urban style frequently put forth? The combatants are not on a football field, and one is not allowed to dance around the arena. They are both in a square. It is the job of one to go find the other man. You can chase or run after him all night, but if you’re not landing or making him uncomfortable, it is ineffective aggression at best.
It’s become the “in” thing to be dismissive of fighters that aren’t taking punishment, are fighting intelligently, and aren’t simply serving their chin up for a game of what amounts to Russian roulette. Let’s see who blinks first. It’s very unfortunate because this same group of pundits once adored Muhammad Ali, who in his prime was as pure of a boxer and mover as there was. At times the slick fighter is held to a different standard. They not only have to win, but beat you in the manner in which you want them to beat you to receive full credit.
Consider the following example. Timothy Bradley (regardless of what you felt about his controversial decision win over Manny Pacquaio) while seriously compromised with foot and ankle injuries, attempted to box his tail off. He was maligned as running because he chose to box and not trade with the stronger Pacquaio. He then fights the much stronger Ruslan Provodnikov, stands toe-to-toe with a much more powerful man, while clearly demonstrating inferior firepower. Yet, he displayed an iron will and some major cojones in blessing us with a fight-of-the-year candidate. However, he actually got booed when the camera panned to him during the HBO feed the following weekend. He fought as a true warrior, what was there to boo? It's a double standard for the skilled boxer: he’s darned if he does, darned if he doesn’t.
Another case in point: the current treatment of world 122-pound champion Guillermo Rigondeaux is absolutely despicable. Is there such a thing as being too good, so good it actually becomes bad? Rigondeaux now finds himself in that precarious position. After the thorough boxing display he put on in removing Nonito Donaire from his top-three pound-for-pound perch, his career appears stalled if not shelved. There are reports he can't even land an HBO date. Donaire, as fine a talent as there was in boxing, was thoroughly befuddled by Rigondeaux earlier this year. He appeared baffled at how to deal with the angles, pivots or ring generalship of the Cuban. Donaire is a man who in a span of just four seconds once switched stances from orthodox to southpaw multiple times, throwing a lead uppercut each time culminating in a knockout. I actually had to blink and rewind to make sure I saw it correctly, as I had never before seen that particular move in a boxing ring.
Rigondeaux actually made Donaire appear to have slow feet (words I never thought I would write) when Donaire has always been known as having good speed of hand and foot. Rigondeaux was just on an entirely different level. It was a master-class performance, the sort that launches a career into a new trajectory. This was his Roy Jones Jr. vs James Toney moment, his Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran II. Rigondeaux was simply that good. Just after his first signature career-defining victory, he was greeted with a lukewarm response and some questionable comments made by Bob Arum, his own promoter. Arum openly questioned whether he would be able to market and sell him, or whether anyone wanted to see a defensive fighter.
HBO has allegedly given word to Arum that they have no interest in having Rigondeaux on the network at all, while unfairly, the fighter Rigondeaux spanked has been assured he has an HBO date upcoming. What did Rigondeaux do wrong, aside from being too good, too slick, elusive and putting a boxing clinic on HBO’s “house fighter”? HBO’s new stance, if true, is particularly troubling. In the past they have followed events sequentially, when the apple cart was upturned.
When Hopkins lost two razor thin decisions to Jermain Taylor, they carried Taylor’s upcoming fights on the network. After his subsequent draw with Winky Wright, they continued to follow him fight by fight. They even went so far as to carry showcase fights a week apart in December of 2006 (one in Wright’s hometown, one in Taylor’s) with each of them fighting smaller opponents. Wright faced off with Ike Quartey (a 154 pounder), while Taylor faced off with Kassim Ouma (a 154 pounder). This was a curious proposition considering both contracted weights were at 160 lbs.
It seemed logical that the fights to be made were Taylor-Wright II at 160, and Quartey vs Ouma at 154. Instead HBO aired two size mismatches, instead of what likely would have been two evenly matched bouts.
HBO even carried the showcase bout of Taylor vs. former welterweight champion Cory Spinks. I had Spinks outpointing Taylor for the lineal middleweight title (officially a split decision for Taylor). As we all know Taylor’s path led to Pavlik, who after shaky moments in round two, would come back to knock out Taylor. HBO then followed Pavlik through his rematch with Taylor, a non-descript defense vs Gary Lockett, untilPavlik's 170 pound catchweight destruction at the hands of Bernard Hopkins. Even once he descended back to 160, HBO stuck with Pavlik until he lost his title at the hands of Sergio Martinez.
They have followed Martinez from then until now, even with Martinez fighting some weaker opposition of late. You get the drift. Aside from giving the benefit of the doubt and following boxing events as they sequentially play out, HBO has given a number of slots to up and coming fighters in various weight classes. While supposedly having no slots for Rigondeaux (one of the top five boxers in the world), they’ve previously found slots for Chris Arreola, Calvin Brock, Michael Katsidis, Seth Mitchell, Jonathan Banks, and Paulie Malignaggi. Respect to the aforementioned, but I don’t recall any of them being on most pound-for-pound lists.
Sugar Ray Leonard once fought Roberto Duran (the first time) in an epic close fight with high action, where both men stood toe to toe for stretches. Leonard would lose a close decision to Duran, and was handed his first professional loss. In the rematch, Leonard fought “his fight,” and put on one of the more masterful pure boxing performances ever displayed. Can you imagine Leonard being maligned for that performance? Many of the pundits, networks and writers of today just might. There is an overemphasis placed upon blood and guts, while they underemphasize the correct implementation of the sweet science. To have witnessed Leonard in the infamous “no mas” bout is to have realized poetry in motion. There was geometrical brilliance, high speed chess, intellectual warfare, and supreme in-ring intelligence.
Andre Ward recently said in response to comments made by Carl Froch (of him having a boring style), that it is easy to knock a style when you can’t beat it. From what I remember Ward didn’t even move or stay away much vs Froch. He came forward and was very aggressive. Froch just had no answer for Ward’s boxing IQ. Froch mused similar sentiments in reference to the style of Andre Dirrell, an american fighter many feel Froch was the beneficiary of a hometown decision against (youtube robbery in Nottingham). Froch’s diss of Dirrell’s style is a familiar one. That he ran, that he boxed and moved and was afraid of the stronger man. If boxing is about hitting and not being hit, Dirrell clearly hit Froch way more times than Froch hit Dirrell. As far as strength, if any fighter was hurt in that fight it was Froch who was badly staggered in the 10th round by a 3 punch Dirrell combination with about 12 seconds left in the round.
Too good is never bad. Rigondeaux deserves to be applauded. Any objective observer knows what they witnessed was special. Did it upset the apple-cart, and the plans HBO had for their heavy investment in Donaire? Perhaps it altered it slightly. But, don’t hate the playa hate the game. We used to marvel at skills, now we turn our noses up. We used to have appreciation for the nuances a Ray Robinson, Archie Moore, or Jersey Joe Walcott brought into the ring. We were in awe of the defensive nuances of Willie Pep. Reveled at how Roberto Duran and Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. could box coming forward so effectively with great result. Now we say he’s “boxing,” as if (a) the sport is not called boxing; and (b) as if that’s some sort of insult. Calling someone a “boxer” in boxing should be the sincerest form of flattery and the ultimate compliment... Guillermo Rigondeaux, hold your head high. You are absolutely a boxer in the best sense of that word! There are those of us that understand what we saw when you beat Donaire. That sir was rarefied air, and it was a pleasure to watch your performance “live on HBO” in Radio City Hall.
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