Editors note: This post is in correspondence to a boxing writing contest held by the http://www.thesweetscience.com/. I don’t care if I win. I only hope to open some eyes. The essay topic is “Why We Accept Our Boxing Broken.” Here is what I have to say.
By Alexis Terrazas
Boxing has never pretended to be something it isn’t.
The fight game, since the days of the brutish bare-knuckler, has unashamedly basked in its flaws. It robs, cheats, lies and sometimes kills the very pugilists who spill the sport’s lifeblood. But we, the true fans of the fight, would never have it any other way.
There is much about professional fist fighting that is wrong or — for the apt sake of this essay — broken. Boxing, to sporting purists, can be infuriating by way of it making little to no sense. But Larry Merchant — the game’s finest monologist — phrased it best. Boxing is the “theater of the unexpected.”
In no other sport can a combatant so comprehensibly validate his physical superiority over a lesser man and still be declared the loser by a trio of judges. Robbing a man of a rightful win is one of boxing’s mortal sins. But likewise, in no other sport can a man be bested per every minute of every round and still emerge victorious by landing one devastating clout. To the game’s loyal fanatic, that is one of boxing’s greatest gifts.
Those who unconditionally support boxing love her despite all of her warts.
Boxing, as the headline of this work suggests, is broken. But there’s a reason for it. Many of the game’s celebrated heroes enter the sport as broken men. And these broken men sometimes exit boxing in better shape than they entered, and sometimes not.
Without this fistic fray, Matthew Saad Muhammad would have never risen above being a broken Philadelphia orphan, abandoned on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway by his older child brother. Without the mayhem of the ring, Johnny Tapia would have been preordained to a destitute life of drugs, prison, and nothing else.
Yes, both Saad Muhammad and Tapia have since squandered the fortunes they earned in the prize ring. But both, despite the steep odds of failure, exited the sport better than which they entered it. And it that regard, our broken sport works.
Today, it matters not that the two most celebrated fist fighters of our era refuse to engage in a prizefight. Because for every spoiled diva in the fight game, there is a broken man somewhere fighting to make himself whole again.
When we attempt to “fix” boxing, we kill the spirit of what it’s supposed to embody. “Fixing” a fight means declaring the winner before the contest is fought out. But in fighting, anyone with a pulse and a pair of mitts deserves a chance.
We accept boxing — the most archaic of contests — because though it be broken, it provides the unique fistic avenue to reclamation.
And no other conventional sport does that.