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Mon Apr 23, 2012, 10:06 AM

Boxing: How vs Why

My son Darren is currently working on Long Island, doing construction. Hence, although we are unable to watch televised boxing from the same room, we get together by telephone during the fights. And that is more than fun -- although we both absolutely each other's company and love watching fights together -- because it provides the Old Man with an opportunity to teach the Young Lion some of the finer points of the Great Sport.

Last weekend, during an exciting undercard bout, one fighter was attempting to get inside of his significantly taller and longer-armed opponent. Although he appeared physically stronger, this fellow was getting pasted with fast, hard jabs and right-crosses by the oppenent. If the taller man was able to continue dictate the physical setting in the ring, he would surely win every round of the fight.

The shorter man began to attempt to create openings to move inside, by moving his upper-body, especially his head, to make the opponent miss with his jab .... thus creating the chance needed to get inside. However, in these attempts, my son noted a fundamental flaw: the shorter man kept his head straight up, making his face (including his chin) a fairly easy target. How could it be, my son asked, that he would make this serious a mistake?

I told him that it could best be summed up by something that Rubin "Hurricane" Carter had told me in 1974, when I was an amateur boxer learning from a master. It was a variation of a Nietzsche quote: "He who knows 'why' will always master he who knows 'how'." It was if a light had been suddenly turned on .... while I believe that I had told him this simple law of the ring before, it definitely "clicked" in D's mind, as it applied to this fight. Indeed, it defined the outcome of the contest we were watching.

More, D began applying it to fights from the past: the greats from ring history are always those with the firmest grasp of "why." It separates them from those near-greats more than any physical skill or advantage. Indeed, it is why ESPN's Teddy Atlas frequently notes on the Friday Night Fights that the sport of boxing is 75% mental.

There are, of course, mis-matches in boxing. For but a simple, but extreme example of how that can apply, my knowledge of both "how" and "why" is far superior to Darren's .... yet age, size, etc, would prevent me from being able to execute those advantages in the ring. But in my prime -- although D doesn't believe it -- his 65-pound weight advantage, and his height and reach advantages, would have been neutralized by my advantages in knowing "why."

D was like a dog with a new bone. He began applying the "how vs why" to some of the best fights that can be made in boxing today. Two of this era's greatest fighters, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, have uncanny grasps of both "how" and "why" .... and both have masters of these as their trainers. Floyd has yet to meet anyone on his level mentally and physically; Manny has only met one opponent, Juan Manuel Marquez, who is his equal. (Both fought Oscar de la Hoya, who was not quite on their level mentally, and who was physically "old."

People can make a strong case for either fighter, should Mayweather and PacMan ever meet in the ring. I favor Floyd, precisely because of "how" vs "why." Manny is definitely an all-time great boxer, but he makes four mistakes in every fight that goes more than six rounds. Floyd has made less than four mistakes in his professional career.

Recently, ShowTime promoted a "Super Six" tournament in the Super Middleweight division. It featured some of the most talented active fighters in one of the most competitive weight classes. During the promotional programs, while focusing on the lowest-ranked of of six, Andre Ward noted that his goal in every fight is to mentally impose his will -- to force his opponent into fighting in the manner that favored Ward. Based entirely upon that, I favored Ward to win the tournament. And he did, in a most impressive fashion.

In his first bout, Ward faced the tournament favorite, Mickel Kessler. In each and every area of "how," Kessler was considered superior. Even is the areas of speed -- of both hand and feet -- Kessler matched up well with Ward. Yet, in virtually every round, Ward's grasp of "why" separated him from his more experienced opponent. It made for one of the most one-sided upsets in many years.

In May, Mayweather challenges Miguel Cotto for his junior middleweight title; and in June, Pacquiao fights undefeated Timothy Bradley. Both are really good fights -- at least on paper -- although the sports world wants to see Floyd vs Manny. Cotto is a great fighter, and Bradley seems well on his way to becoming one. Cotto and Bradley are both trained by outstanding veterans of the craft. And both have had plenty of time to learn "why" they and their opponents do the things they do in that ring. The determining factor will be if that level of understanding allows them to do what Andre Ward identified as essential: force their favored opposition to fight in a manner that favors them.

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Reply Boxing: How vs Why (Original post)
H2O Man Apr 2012 OP
Auggie Apr 2012 #1
H2O Man Apr 2012 #2
Auggie Apr 2012 #3
JonLP24 Apr 2012 #4
H2O Man Apr 2012 #5

Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Mon Apr 23, 2012, 12:02 PM

1. Like the Rope-a-Dope?

Controversial at the time (Rumble in the Jungle, 1974) ... but it worked.

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Response to Auggie (Reply #1)

Mon Apr 23, 2012, 01:00 PM

2. Exactly!

No one but Ali would have thought of that .... much less attempted it. Big George was viewed as the "second coming" of Sonny Liston. Now, Cassius Clay could not have done this in Miami, nor could Muhammad Ali have done it in Lewiston; Sonny Liston was a different opponent than Foreman. More, Ali could not have danced around George, as he had Liston. So: what to do?

"Rope-a-Dope" displayed Muhammad's physical strength, but even more, his absolute understanding of "how" George fought, and "why" he flatten most people (including Frazier and Norton in brutal fashion). He figured out -- both how and why -- he could defeat the most devastating fighter of the era. .... in the absolutely most unexpected manner.

When can even apply the part about "moving your head" to this (and other) Ali fights. When Cassius Clay fought, and bent back at the waist to avoid punches, people thought he was crazy. But, if you look back, even in doing so, he tucked his chin. One of the few times he failed to tuck that chin, England's Henry Cooper landed that vicious left hook. Luckily, it was at the end of the round; young Cassius got up and destroyed Cooper in the next round.

The reason to move your head in a fight is to avoid getting hit on your chin. A punch may still land -- though your chances of blocking it are increased, and even better, having it miss, so that you can counter. The young fighter that my son and I knew most of "how," as he had pretty good moves. But that darned chin was up, and so his movement wasn't just wasted, but it put him in a position where he was easier to hit with a punch which was far more likely to knock him off balance -- or hurt him, because you can't roll with it then, meaning you can't avoid absorbing its impact.

The crazy thing was that Floyd Mayweather, Sr., was in the guy's corner. Now, he knows. Why let your fighter do something that way?

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Response to H2O Man (Reply #2)

Mon Apr 23, 2012, 01:38 PM

3. Thanks for the insight,

i.e., moving the head / chin tuck / rolling with the hit. Seems we don't hear enough about the mental aspect from broadcast sports, but maybe I'm not watching enough nor the right broadcasts.

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Response to Auggie (Reply #3)

Mon Apr 23, 2012, 02:32 PM

4. Teddy Atlas is good in that area

I don't have cable so I can't catch FNF but I remember one fight he was discussing the mental aspect of a father as the main guy in a boxer's corner. It impacts the strategy he gives out between rounds.

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Response to JonLP24 (Reply #4)

Tue Apr 24, 2012, 08:49 AM

5. Teddy is the best!

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