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November 04, 2013

BEN DEAN'S MAILBAG SCENE

Dean, Your use of the term ďanti-intellectualĒ propelled me to write to you. Iíve been screaming the same thing for years and itís good to know there is someone else out there who understands the hypocrisy in boxing. I think the problem is in the promotion of the sport. HBO spends most of its time openly ridiculing any fighter who displays skills over action. Examples are the horrendous way Guillermo Rigondeaux has been treated and almost everything that came out of [HBO commentator] Larry Merchantís mouth. They seem to only want to promote the action aspect of the sport. This is equal to ESPN calling a basketball team that hasnít dunked enough boring. Or Fox saying a baseball game is boring because there arenít enough home runs. If this mentality was repeated over and over again to fans, many of whom donít have a deep understanding of the sport, the sport would eventually crumble in the face of unrealistic expectations.

Many people seem to hate Teddy Atlas, but he is one of the few people in boxing who teaches appreciation of all aspects of the game. If there is a defensive fighter on FNF, he talks for hours about the skill and footwork it takes to be great defensively. If there is an action fighter, he talks about the determination necessary to fight that way. This is the model the NFL has perfected over the years. Their commentators spend time highlighting fullbacks and other non-action/excitement aspects of the game. This helps the fans develop a true appreciation of ALL aspects of the game. When someone is an enlightened fan of a sport, they appreciate all aspects of a sport, and then can make an educated assessment of what they are seeing. They will then be able to see the difference between Wlad/Povetkien and Rigondeaux/Donaire. Currently, the average fight fans labels both ďboringĒ. This is a problem.

To make matter worse, many fight fans today only watch the big fights. Yet their opinions count as much as guys like us who study the game. Thatís why Iím so hard on HBOís, and to a lesser extent Showtimeís commentary. They are the ones who have the responsibility to educate the average fan. If that seed isnít planted there then all has failed because there arenít enough people knowledgeable of boxing like there are people who can tell you everything about football, baseball, or basketball. You canít walk 2 miles without someone being able to explain to you why the offensive line is the most important unit in football. However, youíd have to search the internet for hours in order for someone to explain to you how amazing fighters like Rigondeaux is.

Keep up the good fight. Maybe you should try to work your way into commentary. We need more voices to explain the lesser known aspects of the game to the average fan. I was raised on guys Teddy Atlas and Bread. They always highlighted the finer aspects of the game that significantly increased by knowledge of boxing Ö exponentially more than any point Iíve heard from HBO commentary. Except for the few times Steward and Jones Jr. are allowed to really tell you whatís going on.-- KING from Queens

PS - I have noticed a disturbing trend in MMA. When I first used to watch MMA matches, there was lots of grappling and wrestling. Thatís what a real fight looks like. The commentators used to go into detail the intricacies of the ground game. Now, thatís being abandoned in favor of what is essentially, bad boxing. I hope MMA doesnít lose its uniqueness and soul to the rampant anti-intellectual and brash entertainment addicted masses. If this trend continues, MMA will just be bad boxing with a few kicks and grapple sprinkled in. Because bad boxing equals more action, you would expect even more non-educated fight fans to permanently defect from boxing. This isnít another sky is falling rant, just a logical prediction of where things will go if boxing is promoted in a holistic manner. 

Ben Dean's response: Excellent comment.  How's it going out in Queens?  You touched on something I was actually going to write about, but you summed it up perfectly.  You mentioned something in particular.  An appreciation for ALL ASPECTS OF THE GAME.  Being an enlightened fan.  I don't want to say too much because your comment is excellent and speaks for itself.  

I've actually had discussions with people (that regularly watch fights and have followed boxing for years) who rigorously argued that Juan Manuel Marquez' knockout of Pacquaio was a lucky punch, lightening in a bottle sort of scenario.  I told them that they were too into their feelings.  They were letting bias toward one fighter discredit what another fighter's achievement.  How is something luck when it was done over and over again through 4 fights, and Roach and Pac never adjusted to it.  I touched on it in my article "Manny Pacquaio: A Game Of Chicken With Fate" (which you may still be able to find out there).  In just the previous round (5th), after Marquez was called for a knockdown, Pac rushes in on him and gets caught with a right that sends spray flying.  It was so impacting it literally turned Pacquaio backwards (turn to 1:30 of the 5th rd).  They weren't picking up on the smaller points, like how was Marquez able to find a home for his right hand.  

I agree with you that there is a need and a responsibility for the networks to educate fans, through highlighting the finer aspects of the game.  They say the devils in the details.  Actually the devil and the truth is in the details.  All of these small nuanced variables add up to victory and defeat.  Add up to styles or capabilities within the squared circle.  Timothy Bradley's stab jab was killer in his fight vs Marquez.  Stab jab... why is that important?  Because it was touching Marquez up to the body simultaneously scoring points and knocking JMM off balance, keeping him unable to set his feet and launch an attack.  Also, although many give him crap about his punching technique.. Bradley was in the pocket rolling back (like he was about to retreat), and sitting down on an excellent sneak overhand right that was catching JMM flush across the chin.  This shot got from point A to B extremely fast, & he was able to land this shot and duck under JMM's return shot.  Excellent stuff.  

"You canít walk 2 miles without someone being able to explain to you why the offensive line is the most important unit in football." You are correct, the same can't explain to you why Rigondeaux is so effective.  Why there is nuance and seasoning all in his game.  As you so eloquently stated, this knowledge and understanding is lacking in regards to boxing.  I had a guy once blast Rigondeaux, and applaud Adonis Stevenson in the same email.. Here is the ironic thing... they employ a similar style.  Rigondeaux of course is the far superior boxer.. but each of their opponents face the same problem.  The dilemma is that both can box effectively from the outside... So it puts their opponents in a position where they feel they have to sell out and rush in on them.  However, because each has a fast hands and good power, not only will their opponent pay for that real estate, they run the risk of being knocked out nastily on the way in.  NOTHING boring about that.  You have cited some excellent minds.  I'll let your comment speak for itself.

Bernard Hopkins actually fought an entertaining fight [against Karo Murat]. He mixed it up quite a bit.  He was actually entertaining. You can box and still entertain. Which was my  main point. I am  from Germantown [section of Philadelphia] and have talked to Bernard on numerous occasions. Iím 6 4íí and 320 and can bench more than my weight (Iím  not a couch potato and use to box at the Lonnie Young Rec) so I donít get punked by anybody on these streets. LOL! You got jokes and they were quite funny. I donít enjoy watching Saul "Canelo" Alvarez for the reasons you stated and thought he lost to Austin Trout.  One thing I beg to differ with you is Boxingís popularity is nowhere what it was like in the 60ís, 70ís and 80ís. Boxing use to get full coverage in the media like football but it no longer does. There used to be boxing magazines all over the newsstands now there in only the Ring. There is nowhere near as many Boxing websites like 10 yrs ago. A few fighter are profiting financially but the majority arenít. In Philly the Blue Horizon is gone and so is Joe Frazierís gym. A lot of neighbor PALs that taught boxing have closed. HBO and Showtime finance the sport but if fighters had to rely on ticket sales instead of site fees there would be a lot of starving fighters. I work in a very diverse atmosphere and after fights no one talks about them and havenít seen them. Whites , Blacks, and even Hispanics in my building who are either office workers, security guards, housekeeping or maintenance follow Boxing. If I bring up the name Lebron James or  football I can get a conversation from anyone. If I bring up Hopkins or Floyd Mayweather, people look at me like Iím from another planet. I talk and laugh and joke with everyone in the building and not one Boxing fan. When I play ball at different gyms and afterwards everyone talks about sports, people are still talking about Mike Tyson and not the latest fights or fighters. I take public transportation into work and after a Hopkins fight in his hometown, no one has seen the fight. There are 300 million people in this country and  the ratings for the a lot of these fights are 1.5 million  and the networks are overjoyed when they get those type of numbers. If you feel that Boxing is popular, then you are in denial. I never met you in my life but I have to read mailbags on the internet to gauge what fight fans are thinking. Boxing seems to still be popular in Europe but in the USA it is dying a slow death. Bernard Hopkins has fought in Philly on numerous occasions and hasnít come close to selling out the arena. Bad decisions and boring stylist have contributed to the sports downfall. Floyd ducking Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao didnít help either. I still love the sport and watch certain fighters but  not to the degree I use too. I hope that Boxing can get back some of its popularity because it is a great sport.-- Blood and Guts from Philly

Ben Dean's Response: Peter, what's up brother?  I hope all is well in Philly.  I almost didn't recognize you not in the shotgun option rant formation LOL.  I don't care what they say about you Peter, you're always welcome in my mailbag.  Your write-in initiated an epic mailbag.  My inbox was actually lit up for days, with some agreeing with you and some in agreement with me.  That dialogue is excellent.  As I have stated to many, I both agreed AND disagree with what you wrote.  

First things first.  I am delighted to hear you're not taking L's on those streets.  At 6"4 and 320 you need a job in the NFL, not in government.  Now that we have the jokes out of the way, lets get to the serious stuff.  I have a question for you.  In any of your conversations with Bernard in Germantown... were you as vehement in your professions that he take himself AND his style to hell with him... as you were when you wrote in to me?  

You had many intelligent things to say in your write-in, but some were done a disservice by going on a tirade which essentially illustrated your style biases.  You essentially said that fighters that weren't employing a style you wished to see them fight in should either go to hell, or were frauds.  Your write-in here is much more clear and concise.  

To address your points... I don't have an issue with Canelo's style, as I think he's young and he will grow into himself.  I couldn't argue with a close decision either way in the Trout fight, as my brother actually thought Trout won, and I have heard many others state the judging was a travesty (they also thought Trout won).  I believe Trout was wronged down in Texas (not necessarily in losing the fight), but in the way he was treated.  They announced the scoring after round 8, and you essentially in a nip and tuck fight.. put the guy that wasn't the puncher, in the position of feeling like he needed to go for a knockout... when that wasn't the reality of what was going on in the ring.  You don't like Canelo's style (for lack of entertainment value), but you also don't deny that he is the second biggest star in the sport. 

Entertainment is relative to the watcher.  You will have those that enjoy watching a highly skilled level of combat.  You will have those that watch two club C-level fighters because they know both guys will throw caution to the wind and go for the KO.  Just as a KO takes skill, avoiding a KO and slipping punches takes skill.  See, boxing is not just a one-dimensional sport (offense only) and it isn't scored and evaluated solely on that criteria.  Neither is football or basketball.  Offense AND defense factor into the equation.  What you just stated actually reinforces my point on the appreciation (or lack thereof) of all-around boxing skill.  Clean punching, effective aggressiveness, ring generalship and defense.  Every style is not going to be EVERY persons cup of tea.  But, the accomplishments in the ring have to be respected.  

I agree with you about the coverage on boxing.  My oldest brother pointed out to me that after Bradley defeated Marquez, there was not one mention of that victory on ESPN First Take.  Bradley's decision over Pacquaio was covered to no end due to the controversy.  Marquez KO win over Pacquaio was covered.  However, Bradley's CLEAR win over the guy riding high off of that ko was not even mentioned.  At least SportsCenter carried highlights and showed Bradley's left hook send Marquez across the ring.  I genuinely miss hearing Howard Cosell's voice when big fights were happening.  You couldn't hear his voice and feel as if you were not watching a huge event.  I agree with you that there are far less boxing gyms in today's age.  

Here in Chicago, with violence at staggering levels, it would be my dream to open a series of boxing gyms throughout the city. So many of our youth are quick to pick up a gun because they're sissified, afraid to throw those dukes in the first place.  Let them learn how to fight... the right way.  Obviously, the problem is more complex than that, but possibly some of our youth could benefit by having additional experiences.  Exposing them to the importance of developing a strong work ethic, while instilling discipline and structure.  

You gave excellent insight into there being far fewer boxing gyms in the present day.  We agree that mainstream media has largely done boxing a disservice (but disagree on the reasons why).  At one time boxing was among the biggest sports in America.  There was baseball, horse racing and boxing.  While it may not be AS mainstream as it once was, i disagree that it isn't in the mainstream consciousness.  Anytime there is a huge fight made in boxing, EVERY star and a who's who of every major walk of American life is present.  Scan the crowd.  Every single time.  I know I cited Floyd Mayweather's record-breaking 41.5 million dollar guarantee (not counting the PPV upside), but there are a lot more fighters than just Floyd making good cheese in boxing.  Consider that each Malignaggi and Broner (at 1.15 & 1.25 mil) each made more than than UFC's biggest superstar Anderson Silva in his last fight ($600,000).  In fact, so did Mike Alvarado (1 mil) & the the Siberian Ruslan Provodnikov (a relative newcomer as a star to boxing fans) had equal to Silva's $600,000.  Wlad Klitschko vs Povetkin went to purse bid at 23.1 million.  There are too many other examples to share so I'll leave it at that.  

You are CORRECT in that the media coverage has changed, but WRONG in what the reason for it is.  You think the reason is that  Floyd Mayweather and Bernard Hopkins exist, and there fighting styles are the reason boxing is no longer a mainstream sport.  How could this be possible when the two largest grossing PPV fights in boxing history featured Mayweather as one of the contestants.  There sure are A LOT of people tuning in... considering he's such a boring fighter according to you (who doesn't entertain).  That's a lot of folks, paying a lot of $$$, for a lot of ENTERTAINMENT.  12,000 people at the weigh in.  You mentioned in a previous email that Sergio Martinez is your favorite fighter in the world.  Well, I felt a 43 year old Bernard beat Pavlik far easier than Martinez did.  Didn't move much, gave him angles and put combinations on him (staggering Pavlik multiple times).  I remember the Martinez fight being a far more contentious affair, with Sergio down in the fight.. and eventually catching a second wind and pulling away late.  Bernard was in full control throughout his bout.  But, once again you prefer the style of Sergio as you find it aesthetic to watch.  As we covered in the last mailbag, what's aesthetic and what is effective are entirely two different things.  One is subjective based upon personal preference.  The other is based upon fact or truth.  To many (judges included) let the former cloud the latter.  

There are a lot of excellent boxing historians, commentators and writers who have passed on (RIP).  Others haven't necessarily risen up in their footsteps.  This has something to do with today's current coverage.  Frankly, there are a lot of individuals covering boxing today that just don't know what the hell they're talking about.  Don't let the sub-par coverage of the sport (which leaves some to be desired) confuse the fact that boxing still has a very large and loyal fan base.  It is neither dead nor is it dying.  Regardless of the casual fans "Style Bias," fighting styles are not hurting the sport.  For as long as boxing has been around there have been a myriad of fighting styles within the game.  Bad decisions and promotional cold wars hurt the sport far greater than any particular style.  You are correct about that aspect.  What is hurting the sport is the anti-intellectualism I referred to in the last mailbag.  I won't go in-depth on it here, because someone actually wrote in and summed it up masterfully.  Thanks for writing in.  I can tell you care deeply about the sport. Excellent comment.  

Send questions and comments to: deanb9@hotmail.com



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