Like no other category of men, boxers have a mammoth capacity for self delusion. It’s a necessary requirement for what they are compelled to do, since a truly candid man would probably turn around, mid ring walk, and head back to the safety of the locker room.
Mention a loss to a fighter and he will tell you a story. The chances are it will involve one of the following factors:
1/ AN UNDISCLOSED INJURY:
By far the most oft cited alibi for a loss or sub par performance. The likelihood of incurring an injury during an intense 8 week training camp is reasonably high, particularly when one considers the numbers of years that the average fighter puts his body through the mill of a rigorous training regime.
While boxers frequently pull out of big fights due to injury, there are plenty that prefer to soldier on and ride their luck rather than risk losing a pay day.
Sometimes the alibi is perfectly genuine from a fighter with a bad right hand or a torn rotator cuff. On other occasions, the ‘sick notes’ seem harder to accept. Regardless of veracity , the post fight interview protocol in such cases begins with, “I don’t want to take anything away from him BUT….”
NOTABLE EXAMPLE: David Haye’s dramatic insistence that a visibly disfigured big toe prevented him from giving his best vs Wladimir Klitschko in 2011.
2/ DOMESTIC STRIFE:
Many a good man has been afflicted by the thousand mysteries of the fairer sex, ever since Samson struggled to make a dent in the Philistines Temple. It would seem churlish to be too dismissive of any beaten fighter who cites ‘trouble at home’ as a factor in a ‘bad night at the office.’
A boxer with a ‘love problem’, as Lloyd Honeyghan once referred to the malady, is more likely to be affected during his preparation for a fight than on the actual night itself. If fighting is the easy part then it’s widely acknowledged that titles are often won on the road or in the gym.
Rowing with ‘Er Indoors’ has never been known to aid that process.
Anyone who has ever been through a gut wrenching break up can surely sympathise with a lovesick warrior unable to bring his A game to the squared circle.
One of the stronger alibis on this list.
Herol Graham claimed that a love triangle of which he was unwittingly a part was the dominant factor in his first professional loss to Sumbu Kalambay in 1987.
Not content with citing a specific relationship as a reason for their downfall, various leading lights of the ring have been known to blame the entire female populace.
Boxing is a hard game but a very small minority of fighters do become rich and famous. With those twin commodities comes a brand of fast women who don’t tend to bother the average shelf stacker at Morrison’s.
Old boxing sages and gym rats are generally at odds with modern science on the evils of sexual activity in the weeks leading up to a fight.
Abstention from sex may of may not help a fighter reach his physical peak but womanising in general, and the attendant social activities that inevitably come with it, has never been a recipe for a long championship reign.
NOTABLE EXAMPLE: When reflecting on his stunning upset reversal to James ‘Buster’ Douglas in Tokyo, 1990, Mike Tyson admitted, ‘I was f***ing them Japanese girls like I was eating grapes.’
4/ A CHANGE IN PRE-FIGHT ROUTINE:
Fighters vary from meticulous to downright superstitious when it comes to their pre fight rituals. Disregarding the frippery of ‘lucky’ shorts or lacing up the right glove first many a fighter has claimed a disruption to his normal fight day routine as the central factor in a losing performance.
A friend of mine who used to be British Cruiserweight Champion was convinced that the one off indulgence of a hot bath, hours before a fight, was solely responsible for a 2 round KO loss.
Vinny Pazienza famously blamed his loss to the then untouchable Roy Jones jr. on a caffeine crash, having taken his customary dosage too early.
5/ THE JUDGES:
Why bang on about a sore knuckle or a dodgy elbow of you can blame three arbiters at ringside who are either crooked or blind…?
The history of boxing is laden with questionable decisions, comprising the controversial to the blatantly corrupt.
From Billy Graham (vs Kid Gavilán) to Lennox Lewis’ outrageous ‘tie’ with Evander Holyfield at ‘the Garden’ , there have been a blizzard of fighters who could genuinely claim to have been the victims of a ‘bad call’ but thousands more have simply refused to accept defeat via the scorecards. Since scoring in boxing is subjective, the ‘we wuz robbed’ mantra will continue to ring down the ages.
Examples of fighters who were genuinely shortchanged on the cards are simply too numerous to mention but the most famous case of stubborn denial in this regard is probably Marvin Hagler’s morose insistence that he was robbed vs Sugar Ray Leonard in 1987.
6/ THE REF:
It it wasn’t the judges then perhaps it was the bloke in the bow tie.
There is no doubt that a genuinely biased referee can change the whole anatomy of a fight in favour of one boxer over another.
Many a beaten fighter has had recourse to bemoan how the third man in the ring , ‘Wouldn’t let me work inside’ or perhaps let their stricken opponent off the hook .
Still worse, perhaps the unscrupulous official issued several unwarranted warnings or point deductions.
This is another case in which the excuse can be perfectly valid or entirely spurious. In a 2003 IBF title challenge to Sven Ottke, Robin Reid was ludicrously impaired by the Belgian referee who all but docked Robin points for hitting Ottke’s head with his gloves.
Conversely, the notion that Joe Cortez prevented Ricky Hatton from beating Floyd Mayweather seems a tad fanciful despite his undeniable favouritism.
Meldrick Taylor will go to his grave believing that Richard Steele cynically deprived him of a memorable victory over Julio Cesar Chavez in their 1990 classic but others feel that the ref made the right call in halting a defenceless fighter with two seconds left on the clock.
7/ MANAGERIAL PROBLEMS:
Professional boxers ply their trade for money and, inevitably, fighters, managers, trainers and promoters fall out over finances more commonly than anything else.
A fighter who believes he is getting screwed is not in the ideal frame of mind with which to go to to war. Indeed, a whole generation of top draw 1980s heavyweights famously blamed Don King’s legendary skullduggery for their failure to reach their respective potentials and the rapid frequency with which the WBA title changed hands
Despite the late Mickey Duff’s insistence that ‘there is nothing in the contact that says we have to like each other’ , a harmonious team is a better one.
NOTABLE EXAMPLE: Two time world heavyweight champion, Tim Witherspoon, claims to have been so eager to escape the managerial clutches of Don King that he took a dive in his 1987 WBA title defence against James ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith. In fact, he took three as he was ruled out in the opening round after hitting the canvas for the third time.
A rerun of the ‘fight’ on YouTube neither proves nor disproves his testimony but, knowing Tim on a personal basis, I’m unwilling to call him a liar.
8/ THE WEIGHT:
Retired fighters might miss the thrill of completion, the lure of the spotlight and the camaraderie of the gym but I have yet to speak to a former boxer who said he missed dieting and making weight.
All fighters outside of the heavyweight division are required to make weight for championship contests and sometimes use some crazily unsafe practices in order to tip the scales at the required poundage.
Back in 1957, Dai Dower later claimed that he was subsisting on ‘one piece of steak and a cup of tea’ per day in the run up to his relatively late notice world title challenge to Pascual Perez in Buenos Aires. Small wonder then that he was summarily dispatched inside a round.
In this era of day before weigh ins, many fighters will step on the scales at a certain limit and come in two or even three divisions heavier on fight night. The purists hate it but this is the inevitable flip side of giving boxers another 36 hours to rehydrate and take more nutrients on board.
A defeated fighter who claims to have been ‘dead at the weight’ is often telling the truth but, ultimately, the responsibility of making the decision to turn up and fight rests with him and his team.
Donald Curry was universally regarded as an all time great in waiting until he was sensationally derailed by Lloyd Honeyghan in Atlantic City, 1986.
The Lone Star Cobra cited his weakness at 147 pounds after years of sacrifice and suffering then immediately moved up to light middleweight.
Weight weakened or not, Donald was never quite the same again.
Sometimes the given reason for not getting that all important ‘W’ is as simple as a common cold or a dose of flu. I know of many a fighter who has ‘fought sick’ rather than pull out of a fight and lose a payday and some have gotten away with it and won but if they do happen to lose then it likely won’t be too long before they mention their pre fight struggle with a virus or similar.
Shannon Briggs attributed his first pro loss (to Darroll Wilson in 1996) to a freak asthma attack, causing him to get stopped in the third round of a scheduled 10 rounder at the Atlantic City Convention Center.
10/ THE TRAINER:
Last but not least on a list with no particular order. If a fighter doesn’t point the finger of recrimination at the ref or the judges when it doesn’t go right on the night then his coach is probably the next person who will get the blame.
One of the most common procedures in boxing is for a high profile fighter to customarily fire his trainer, should he fail to get his hand raised.
Fighters such as Mike Tyson and Oscar De La Hoya were serial practitioners when it came to ‘trainer hopping’ and while Oscar’s respective decisions might be evaluated on merit, the fight fraternity seem unanimous in the collective view that Tyson should have stayed with Kevin Rooney for ever amen.
Sometimes a fighter has good reason to feel aggrieved due to the wrong game plan, a lack of attentiveness during camp or simply the conviction that he has nothing new to learn from his existing coach.
On other occasions, the old axiom that states ‘if it ain’t broke…’ springs prominently to mind. Remaining loyal to Goody and Pat Petronelli never did Marvin Hagler any harm.
Once again, there are numerous examples throughout the pantheon of boxing history but , for a 21st century case in point, Graham Earl blaming trainer, Johnny Eames, for pulling him out of a systematic battering at the hands of Michael Katsidis at Wembley in 2007 seemed especially wide of the mark. Earl even saw fit to relay his dissatisfaction in a letter to Boxing News in which he insisted that ‘My trainer should have known I would recover’ or words to that effect.
But let’s face it , you would hardly expect him to concede defeat at the hands of a better man.
Fighters aren’t made that way.