Bored with Boxing

By Adam Berlin on April 15, 2019
Bored with Boxing
Of five total fights, only one was worthy of watching in full. (Andrew Dobin/The Armory)

Bored is not a term that should ever be connected to boxing. But that’s what I was during this past weekend’s fights—bored…

My interest in boxing has waned, precipitously in the past few years, perhaps symptomatic of the general malaise surrounding this most beautiful, exhilarating sport, perhaps too because of personal reasons: a cowardly New York State Athletic Commission unceremoniously removed my brother from his Executive Director position, I now have a three-year-old son (already 2 and 0 in playground fights), who takes up my non-working time, and, perhaps most important, as a fiction writer I’ve exhausted the subject (one novella about boxing was published, two full-length boxing-novel manuscripts remain unsold). What’s saddest (and most indicative, at least for me) is how boxing no longer gives me that cathartic high. Even when I watch a dramatic fight, I rarely stand, rarely throw punches at the air, as if I too could be champion of the world.

While I used to host pay-per-view parties at my apartment, so a chorus of men could swing their fists at air, these days I refuse to pay 80 or 90 or 100 bucks for fights that almost never live up. My last pay-per-view viewing was for Mayweather/Pacquaio—a disappointing affair that was more about business handshakes than pugilism.

These days, I watch the fights alone and record the fights I intend to watch—not because I want to save them but because I want to save time.

These days, on any given Saturday night, I’ll start watching my recording an hour into the telecast so I can fast-forward through the waste. What am I missing? Pre-fight color commentary which, because each network promotes its own stable of fighters, now sounds like a long and transparent infomercial.

These days I often fast-forward through each minute of rest between rounds, a minute I used to watch carefully, studying a fighter’s body language, listening to cornermen who were sometimes pros, too often apprentices.

And these days, when a match is a clear mismatch, not just on paper but evident on canvas in two or three rounds, something that happens more and more frequently in boxing (since each network’ stable is limited, incestuous mega-matches get sandwiched between shit cards), I fast-forward some more. A night of boxing viewing that used to take 4 or 5 hours now takes about 90 minutes, sometimes less.

This past weekend’s fare was emblematic of how boxing no longer inspires. While my personal bias may account for much of my weariness with pugilism as fodder for art or fodder for that violently cathartic feeling I once felt (or at least pretended to feel—does music truly inspire or do we allow ourselves to be fooled by those heart-thumping bass beats?), I believe the state of boxing is also responsible.

For the record, my weekend’s TV viewing was curtailed because I’ve made the very-conscious choice not to subscribe to the two new pay sites—ESPN+ and DAZN. So that cut out two headline fights: Lomachenko/Crolla, which was a complete mismatch according to all reports (reports that can be read a few seconds after the final bell rings in real time), and Munguia/Hogan, a grossly mis-judged match according to all reports.

That left two fight cards to record.

First this: I do realize that to appreciate a fight’s texture, to recognize the nuances, the ebbs and flows of fistic action, requires careful attention for three minutes of every round and, if there are no commercial breaks, the minute of rest between rounds. I used to care about the subtleties of boxing when boxing had my heart and guts. It no longer does. So, again, part of my waning interest is on me—I’ve moved away from boxing the way we all, inevitably, move away from so much (I’ve moved away from drinking myself to blackouts, I’ve moved away from my brother who, from all reports, is still in the boxing biz, I’ve moved away from writing so frequently for this site). But much of the blame is on boxing. More expensive. Fewer competitive matches. Color commentary that feels like advertising. Color commentators who recite punch stats yet know little about undefinable (non-numerical) subtleties in the ring.

My Saturday night viewing started with the Fox Sports preliminaries, part one of Al Haymon’s production that showcased three fights. The first bout featured supposed-knockout-artist Jose Miguel Borrego against nine-time loser Hector Ambriz, who fought tough enough to expose Borrego for what he is, a B-level fighter without a monster punch. That fight, one I fast-forwarded from Rounds 5 to 11, wasn’t the network’s smartest choice for an opener, more soporific than stimulant. The second fight was a complete mismatch. Lightweight Chris Colbert extended his unbeaten streak to 11 with a TKO of now nine-time-loser Mario Briones. This bout did nothing to help gauge the truth of the seemingly quick-handed, quick-footed Colbert. While the FS1 team compared Colbert to Sweet Pea Whitaker, nothing I saw came close to the great Pernell. The bout between Money Powell IV and dirty-but-durable Christian Aguirre was the most interesting of the first three fights, mostly because Money possesses some admirable (perhaps read: throwback) qualities. His demeanor is calm and quiet in the ring, especially impressive for a 21-year-old; Powell never got fazed by Aguirre’s numerous fouls—some so blatant they deserved point deductions. And the young man from Alabama knows how to box and punch. In Round 5, Aguirre hit Powell well after the bell rang. Powell didn’t retaliate, didn’t complain, didn’t even grace Aguirre with an annoyed look. In the next round, Powell landed a full-torque left hook that knocked sense and nonsense out of Aguirre. Powell is someone to watch, so I watched him for all six rounds.

Next up on my recorded roster was Haymon’s Act 2 fare. While Sergiy Derevyanchenko and Jack Culcay brawled hard, these two rugged men fought the same round over and over and over. By the fifth over-again round, I hit fast-forward, watched the brawling in quintuple time, then slowed the recording to real time for the eleventh and twelfth rounds, not because anything new was going to happen but because I felt I owed it to each fighter’s work ethic to watch the last two rounds. From what I saw there was no drama, nothing that pulls people up from their ringside seats, nothing that pulls out that primal (even if it’s silent) scream. The middle bout of this second part of the FS1 telecast was meant to add another highlight moment to undefeated super-welterweight Joey Spencer’s career. Give Ray Mancini credit for parting with the Haymon company line and admonishing Spencer’s people to make tougher fights for their young charge. While opponent Osias Vasquez was hired to act as punching bag for a round or two, the tough guy with a 4-2 record flown in from Texas for this Minneapolis show had enough stuffing to take everything Spencer gave. Spencer may have knocked out his first six opponents, but the take-away from this hack fight is that Spencer will never live up to his hype. On my entertainment scorecard, of five total fights, one was worthy of watching in full (Money Powell’s fight). Finally, I was able to fast-forward to the main event, Peter Quillin vs. Caleb Truax. I’ve been unimpressed with Quillin since early in his career when I saw him get rocked by a journeyman; I wasn’t surprised when Danny Jacobs starched him. As for Truax, he’s a hard-working B-list fighter. The match-up was less than stellar on paper, more disappointing on canvas. In Round 2 an accidental headbutt turned the flesh over Truax’s eye into bloody meat; the fight was over, a No Decision. Had I known how dull, how uninspiring this FS1 card would be, I might not have recorded it.

It was time for my night’s Act 3, the act when a rousing climax should happen, at least in drama. Sadly, the boxing drama of Showtime’s telecast was a valley, not a peak. Showtime’s first fight began the way FS1’s final fight ended—with a cut. Heavyweight Otto Wallin, an undefeated Swede who stands European straight and stiff, clashed heads with Nick Kisner, who sports a tire around the belly and no boxing skill. And that was that, the fight ruled a No Contest. It’s probably unfair to judge a fighter based on a minute in the ring, but I will anyway: Wallin doesn’t have the relaxed fluidity of a boxer and he doesn’t have the power of a puncher. I wonder why Joey Gamache, a fighter whose skill and toughness I admired, a trainer whose acumen and demeanor are well-suited to push worthy fighters upward, has taken on Wallin. To me it’s a pugilistic case of pearls to swine. The second fight, also in the heavyweight division, also promoted by Salita Promotions, exposed up-and-comer Jermaine Franklin as merely pedestrian. Franklin’s opponent was slickster Rydell Booker, whose amateur pedigree has fizzled over the years, thirteen of them away from the ring. By the end of Round 4, Booker was gassed. Even in fast-forward, the plodding Franklin looked plodding. I watched Round 10. I watched Franklin’s hand get raised. I was uninspired.

And then the big fight of the night, a fight billed as the most significant women’s bout in the history of boxing. I didn’t expect much and I didn’t receive much. I can’t spout enthusiastic the way so many writers have about Claressa Shields. Shields deserves kudos (and has received kudos) for winning two Olympic golds, for racking up an undefeated record, and, the way all fighters deserve respect, for stepping into the ring. But the truth is, for all the talk about her skills and levels and dynamism, she’s just not that great. And the only reason she has fooled some fans and some writers that she is great (beyond her self-proclamations) is because her opponents have been so poor. Christina Hammer may have been hyped as Shields’ biggest test, but the middleweight from Germany was merely a quiz.

I’ve covered fight cards where women stole the show—not because they were more skilled than the men, but because they fought the most spirited fight; that is, while the fight may have been a mess, it was a mess full of back-and-forths with the intrinsic drama of quickly-swaying motion. By round 2 of Shields/Hammer, it was clear this “historic” fight would not be competitive, would not be interesting, and, because Shields has so little power (and because women’s bouts consist of two-minute rounds) the fight would not be dangerous. I believe our fascination with boxing rests on one essential truth: boxers can hurt each other, often badly, often fatally. This truth was absent from Shields/Hammer. This truth has been absent from every women’s bout I’ve seen. Christina Hammer was scuffed during Saturday night’s fight but that was all. When she was hit a little too hard, she held. When she was hit a little bit harder, she dropped her mouthpiece and complained to the referee, who repeatedly broke the action and eliminated any possibility of real drama—Sparkle Lee did a piss-poor job. When the fight was over, Hammer was almost blasé, as if the stakes had never been that high. I sat through all ten rounds of this last recorded fight. When it was done, I hit Delete. No need to save what will never be memorable.

Boxing fans and boxing writers, for the ultimate benefit of women’s boxing, should start taking more honest stock of what women’s boxing is in 2019. There are gloves. There are rounds. The object is to hit and not get hit. And women fighters are athletes—they have stamina; they are engaging in competition. But women’s boxing’s baseline is too far below men’s boxing. It’s almost a different contest. To pretend otherwise, to sling compliments where they’re not deserved, seems, to me, a disservice to the sweet science. The baseline of women’s boxing will eventually rise. Claressa Shields is certainly at the top of her sport and will thereby push the boundaries of what women boxers will do in the future. But right now, women’s boxing doesn’t deserve a place at center ring.

Bored is not a term that should ever be connected to boxing. But that’s what I was during this past weekend’s fights—bored. Bored by round after round of uninspiring fighting. Bored by the droning of commentators who say little more than the obvious. Bored by the safe matchmaking. Bored by the transparency of it all, a marching forward of in-house fighters to a “mega-fight” somewhere long down the line broadcast as a pay-per-view or on a pay-for-play network. Predicated mostly on marketing (which is modern boxing’s due), the long-awaited fight will rarely live up. Christina Hammer is the best example of the worst of boxing, though I didn’t have to pay (except for my monthly cable bill) to watch her amateur, sloppy, laughable (if I’m being cruel) moves. I still believe boxing is the sport to which all other sports aspire, which may be the reason I don’t follow any sport except boxing, but these days boxing no longer inspires.

Like I said, a lot of this is on me. We grow and grow away, all part of the inevitable shredding process. I haven’t gone to a live fight in five years—the atmosphere that used to fascinate doesn’t anymore, so I’ve been happy to trade in my press-row seat for a seat in front of the TV. I’ve stopped writing so many boxing articles—there’s no pay in it, and the subject, for me, seems pretty much exhausted. I no longer talk to my brother who’s still involved in boxing—I see him sitting ringside but have no more interest in him. I no longer get lifted out of my chair (or couch) when that rare fight reveals man’s heart of darkness.

I’ll keep recording fights on cable TV. Maybe it’s habit. Like Eugene O’Neill says about writing through his autobiographical character Edmund: “The makings of a poet. No, I’m afraid I’m like the guy who is always panhandling for a smoke. He hasn’t even got the makings. He’s got only the habit.” I’ve been watching boxing for a long time, so I probably won’t stop watching boxing completely. I may write about boxing sometimes. But like a bummed cigarette, that pull won’t get me that buzzed anymore. That cherry (passion-hot) will never glow as intensely red.

Adam Berlin is the author of four novels, including the boxing novel Both Members of the Club (Texas Review Press/winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize) and Belmondo Style (winner of the Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley Award). He teaches writing at John Jay College/CUNY. For more, please visit adamberlin.com.

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  1. Koolz 11:54am, 04/19/2019

    https://ok.ru/video/1427151129141

    Salamov vs Dabrowski

  2. Koolz 03:19pm, 04/18/2019

    Let’s admit that this generation that is watching boxing is well, low intelligent, low attention span, and basically like a collective zombie.
    I giant gloop of stupidity on the internet and off.

    Perhaps those Low Astral Forces are making good on locking humanity into a low evolution of spirituality.
    And yes training for a fight learning to fight is spiritual, learning , doing, the mind the body are working.

    So we watch boxing…I dare you to go on any boxing forum and read people insights into a fight or a boxer, try not to throw up…

  3. Your Name 01:00pm, 04/18/2019

    Advice. Berlin should not write about boxing any more. Too stressful.

  4. Joe G. 03:47am, 04/18/2019

    Thank you very much for your time on this article Mr. Berlin. Much appreciation! Boxing is literally tearing me to pieces and this was certainly a necessary read for me. Ten years this coming July, following my favorite fighter OAT in Alexis Argüello’s suicide (alledgedly) and I was in the SAME SPOT. A big part of “stepping off the ledge” over time came from returning to my passion. All of the sudden, some 9 years later, and I find that passion now giving me pain and it fuuking sucks.

    don from prov - Would love to have a conversation some day brother.  If you are still in Prov the first one is on me lol. Very few adults in my life that understand boxing and the rest are gym affiliated, fighter affiliated, biased, and will not admit the truth about the state of our sport.

    Good to see a positive comment section. Bruce you are so on point. Likewise Koolz and Lucas McCain as always.

  5. Koolz 04:19pm, 04/17/2019

    Lucas McCain
    I’ll look it up!

  6. Lucas McCain 03:00pm, 04/17/2019

    Koolz, we may have talked about this a couple of years ago, but if not—you would enjoy the YouTubes by “The Modern Martial Artist,” who has several segments “reading” classic fighters like Robinson, Archie Moore, and others in slow motion, analyzing their techniques, angles, etc.  He also has a nice discussion of Loma.

  7. Koolz 01:54pm, 04/17/2019

    ever watch bare knuckle boxing.  I decided to check that out.

    All I can say is if you have zero skill then you shouldn’t be putting yourself into the position to get the crap beat out of you with someone’s fist (knuckles break skin, knock out teeth, or get scraped on teeth, break noses, and even if your teeth don’t get knocked out your tooth might have to be pulled after the fight for the nerve dying)

    if you can’t even stop a punch, move out of range, etc you have no business doing that sport.

    Enter these two no hopers!  Lobov vs Knight!
    zero skill.

  8. Koolz 01:46pm, 04/17/2019

    I watched five Loma Legend fights! 
    and some Duran fights.  I often go back and watch old fights to see just how much we are blinded by the past.  I still see no one who does what Loma Legend does.  Or the Movement of Ali.  Still amazing how Ali moved as a heavyweight.
     

  9. J 01:39pm, 04/17/2019

    This article is so true it’s scary.

  10. Bruce Kielty 04:52pm, 04/16/2019

    I suspect that this was not an easy article for Mr. Berlin to write.  He probably feels like the guy who was deeply in love with a woman, putting her on a pedestal, only to find out later that she was a tramp.  By the way, I have also become increasingly aware of the shilling that commentators are doing, instead of even-handed journalism.  I was never a real fan of Cosell, but now I miss him.  These telecasts have 6 on-air staff, while Howard did it alone.  If the TV budgets allow for 6 on-air staff, I would rather have 1-2 commentators and use the savings for the boxers’ purses.

  11. don from prov 10:45am, 04/16/2019

    I think that you wrote this article about/for me because you are spot on.

    I still look at this site, sometimes post.
    I can also think of fights I’d be excited about watching—

    But I too am not a subscriber to DAZN or ESPN+ and the fewer fights/fighters I see, the farther away from the sport I move.  Oh well, loved it a long time.

  12. Lucas McCain 11:57am, 04/15/2019

    “I’m worn out by it,” I think Cosell said.  Also “you can’t wash dirt.”  Always good to walk away (like Jersey Joe Walcott), but chances are it won’t be forever.

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