As a line manager, sandwiched in a culture of coaching and the constant development of an organisation’s people, I’ve been privvy to many different techniques or approaches to performance management. Sure, we can assess tangible results, but many businesses have distanced themselves from target-based environments.
Often, the culture becomes focused on ‘what’ and ‘how’, but let me explain that further…
What a person achieves is fairly concise. Okay, you were a world champion, outstanding. You lost five fights, but won seventy? Fair play. It’s raw, it’s factual and it’s as close to hitting a nail on the head as you’re likely to see, in boxing, at least. ‘What’ is numbers, data, achievements and headlines. It’s clear and authentic, but as the years pass us by, it becomes less impactful.
How a person cements themselves triumphantly into the sport’s history is often more respected. So, you never won a major title, but you fought six top contenders and stopped a few former Olympians? Wow, impressive. You pursued a career on the road, taking on challenges, almost unwinnable? We all have to respect that. It’s done the hard way. It’s done the right way. ‘How’, in boxing, is paramount. It’s important because often it’s unachievable as a result of politics or protection.
Boxing is a sport for the fickle. I’m not sure if it’s always been that way – maybe. But the constant switching I experience from flicking aimlessly through social media is mind boggling. You love Anthony Joshua. He’s a musclebound mess. Okay, cool, opinions are the beauty of democracy. It’s a constant pendulum of praise and punishment. But hear me now, shit is shit, even packaged in glitter.
Take Tyson Fury, for example. The Gypsy King swaggered into Las Vegas draped in the American Dream, singing, dancing and destructively beating Tom Schwarz. The German, though, should never have been in the venue. Assessing the ‘what’ doesn’t teach us anything. But decorate that fateful debut in Sin City with plenty of press and highlight-reels of the Matrix and you find yourself saluting the ‘how’. The opponent was almost irrelevant. Fury’s Vegas bow stood for something more significant. He grasped the opportunity.
If we switch our attention to British world champion, Kal Yafai, then the ‘what’ becomes painfully unconvincing. What is he doing? What has happened to a burgeoning career amongst one of boxing’s most exciting divisions? What comes next, if Chocolatito, Donnie Nietes and Jerwin Ancajas are seemingly unreachable? Unlike Tyson Fury, the ‘how’ has matched the ‘what’ in this instance. No glitz, no glamour. If there had been ribbons and a red carpet, we could have perhaps forgiven the poor opposition. But no, he lingers, clutching a belt hard earned, but now only decorating the talented fighter’s mantelpiece.
Is the blame for either of those situations laid at the door of the fighters? Or are promoters, tasked with selling a product and satisfying the consumer, at fault? In watching interviews or reading press releases, there seems to be some confusion over what takes priority. Some will chat about how happy they were with their performance, the changes they’ve made and how fight week has unfolded. Notice the ‘how’ – twice. Others will list their previous conquests, titles and achievements, clamouring for the respect of their peers. This is ‘what’ they have accomplished – all factual.
Different strokes for different folks, I suppose. If you prefer arguing over alphabet titles and dragging up the beaten-former-champions-way-past-their-best to bolster a fighter’s career, then crack on. It’s measurable. There’s no debating it. Some would prefer ranting and raving about the importance of marketability or how a boxer has conducted himself in the media, perhaps retelling a Coldplay-inspired sob story.
The truth is that surely both are achievable, no? Can’t we enjoy a fighter singing Aerosmith after beating an excellent, respected opponent? Is it not possible to have a champion defending his belt, but adding some flair to proceedings (although not everyone’s reason d’aitre)? One or the other, in isolation, leads to the gaping hole boxing continuously papers over. We struggle to breed stars. The biggest names in boxing are; Canelo Alvarez, who refuses to engage in English or make any attempt to win the hearts of fans outside of Mexico; Anthony Joshua, who repeats dull, political scripting about “staying h…” You know the rest. Sadly, the characters of the sport are handled with kid-gloves for the most part. They talk, they sing, they dance, but most importantly, they sell. Why risk losing that?
Maybe I’m expecting too much. Training for months, separating yourself from friends and family and dedicating yourself physically to a punishing sport like boxing should be enough, I suppose. But there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of fighters who’ve captured titles or beaten decent names in robotic fashion. They’re not all remembered as fondly as Prince Naseem Hamed or Muhammad Ali – true characters who embraced both the ‘whats’ and ‘hows’.
Nas floated into the ring on a magic carpet, or danced a full routine before knocking opponents out cold. Ali organised a photoshoot under water for publicity, claiming that’s how he always trained for speed and agility, before frantically trying to hire out a swimming pool. They were innovators, as were others. They’re cemented in the mind of the boxing public.
In years to come we may cast an eye over the résumé of certain champions, but when asked to rhyme off our top ten – would they make the cut? The Sefer Seferis of the world won’t stand the test of time, but would we be satisfied when thinking back on Tyson Fury’s moonwalk or body-popping?
A combination of both facts and behaviours would ensure legacy in a world of names often fast forgotten. We’ve become complacent when accepting successful boxers, based on either measure. The army of fans for either Tyson Fury or Anthony Joshua remain firm in their support for the British duo. They couldn’t be more different. A combination of both would probably be perfect. But let’s think a little more about what we’re watching, because when it’s all said and done, we’re paying.
Feature written by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209