Boxing, 2017: Grading Greatness on a Curve

By Paul Magno on December 29, 2017
Boxing, 2017: Grading Greatness on a Curve
The boxing media is currently made up of half-volunteer super fans and industry stooges.

People are not seeking truth anymore, as much as they are looking to affirm their own personal prejudices. Boxing may be caught up in that same mentality…

There was a time in boxing when a clearly gifted and outstanding fighter was called a “prospect” until he had actually faced competition with at least an even-money chance of beating him. No boxing person worth his salt would go gaga over any boxer who hadn’t yet passed a “for real” test.

Sugar Ray Leonard, before Wilfred Benitez, was the same multi-talented elite-level fighter that he was AFTER Wilfred Benitez, but nobody was proclaiming him an all-time great before he had actually earned it.

Nowadays, though, real, honest-to-goodness “boxing people” seem to be dying off and, in their place, doe-eyed, mega-fan cheerleaders have sprung up. And the boxing media, which is currently made up almost entirely of half-volunteer super fans and industry stooges, is no more discerning than the average fan.

So, we get silly “is he an all-time great” talk every time someone comes along with extreme talent and a string of dominant wins over tailor-made opposition.

Gennady Golovkin was ranked among the all-time greats at middleweight by some fans and prominent “experts” well before he had ever even faced someone rated as high as a 5-to-1 underdog against him. Let that sink in for a second. And now these same guys who were stacking him up against guys like Monzon and Hagler are walking back their naïve enthusiasm after seeing Golovkin look human against Daniel Jacobs and Saul Alvarez, who could actually box a little and put up some sort of resistance.

Vasyl Lomachenko is the latest fighter being sold as an all-time great talent, well before having actual proof of just how good he is. Drawing comparisons to everyone from a prime Hank Armstrong to a “better, more offense-minded” Pernell Whitaker, he’s been rushed to the front of the line by those who can’t help obsess over silly pound-for-pound lists. But, like Golovkin, Lomachenko has never really beaten anyone he wasn’t heavily favored to beat.

There are other examples of this almost child-like rush to put fighters on false pedestals. Lots of examples, actually. Just look at Ring Magazine’s pound-for-pound list and you’ll see that, really, only four of their top 10 current “best” fighters in the world have ever won a main stage fight they weren’t heavily favored to win. And, oddly enough, those fighters take up the last four spots on their list—no. 7, Naoya Inoue (who beat Ryoichi Taguchi, Adrian Hernandez, and Omar Narvaez very early on in his career), no. 8, Errol Spence Jr. (who beat Kell Brook), no. 9 Guillermo Rigondeaux (who beat Nonito Donaire), and no. 10, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (who twice beat Roman Gonzalez). That leaves the front six—Golovkin, Terence Crawford, Lomachenko, Sergey Kovalev, Alvarez, and Mikey Garcia—without a win against someone who could validate their greatness or, at the very least, legitimately justify the mighty praise they receive.

Maybe all of this says as much about the current state of boxing as it does about the lack of acumen among fans and media.

Network vs. network conflicts and promoter vs. promoter squabbles have made it increasingly difficult to put together high end fights among elite boxers. Toss in, also, the fact that, overall, the talent pool has shrunk, at least at the very top levels of the sport.

Realistically, because of the way things are, a guy like Lomachenko may not get a career-defining win against even-money competition in his own weight class. He’ll just have to move up in weight until he finds that match—or gets so far out of his comfort zone that a lesser fighter will present a greater risk. Great fighters who find themselves without great wins have historically gone up in weight in search of quality challenges and the money that comes along with the risk.

What’s different now is that fans and media who have fallen in love tend not to make those demands of “their” guys.

Golovkin and his team spent years complaining about not finding a quality challenge at 160, while simultaneously pursuing big money bouts with 154 lb. imports, Alvarez and Miguel Cotto. A real “boxing person” would’ve told them to quit whining and move on up to 168 if challenges were lacking at 160 and then to 175 if nothing was happening at 168, either.

Instead, fans got numerous Triple G showcase squashes against tailor-made opposition while actually arguing FOR him to stay put and “clean out the division” against fighters not favored to beat him (or even be competitive). And that parade of squashes somehow earned him pound-for-pound honors as well as straight-faced comparisons with Marvin Hagler.

Same deal for Lomachenko, whose talent is unquestioned, but whose pro résumé is filled with guys ill-suited to do much against him and his talents. Of his marquee bouts, Lomachenko’s high-water mark performances are a solid decision over Gary Russell Jr., a competitive loss to Orlando Salido, and a victory over a severely handicapped Rigondeaux who bailed on the fight before it even became a fight. Hardly the stuff of legends.

Maybe this is just the way the fight game is these days. Maybe people are happy with virtuoso performances if real, competitive bouts either won’t or can’t be made at the elite level. Maybe it’s easier for modern boxing fans to love a fighter who ALWAYS looks like the beast they imagine him to be and not someone who looks human and vulnerable while having to overcome a difficult match-up.

It sure as hell is easier to make a steady income as a promoter if your guy is propped up by a mega-loyal fan base that tosses flowers at his feet and never holds him accountable for his level of opposition. Don’t expect any smart boxing businessman to err on the side of possibly getting his guy beat if he doesn’t have to.

The world, in general, seems plagued by this kind of mindset. People are not seeking truth anymore, as much as they are looking to affirm their own personal prejudices. Boxing may be caught up in that same mentality.

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  1. jim 02:37pm, 02/13/2018

    I suppose it is true that everyone likes their own brand.  Marciano will always be a God to Italians even though his record had more padding than a mattress factory.  He was undefeated and tough as nails.  Maybe he could have beaten anyone.  Maybe not.  We’ll never know. 

    Everyone likes to see a bit of themselves in their favorite athletes and heroes.  The look for similarities with their favorite fighters (nationality, hometown, appearance, philosophy, whatever) because people like to affiliate with greatness. See the New England Patriots fans for illustration.

    It is said that faith is usually the death of reason.  Religion is a good illustrator of this.  We don’t like to think about death, so we either seek the fountain of youth, or cryogenic suspension, or religion (heaven everlasting) or breed and try to be famous. 

    Most religion is absurd.  We have faith that if we donate money to old men in dresses, the invisible man in the sky who controls everything will give us everlasting life. 

    That strikes me as more silly than having faith in a hometown fighter who hasn’t really beaten a great opponent.

    No, GGG isn’t Hagler or Greb or Ray Robinson - but these days, who the heck is?  A half-century ago, everybody boxed and the champions were champions.  Now, anyone with athletic talent does anything else and the boxer doesn’t decide whom to fight - managers out to make max money for minimal risk decide.

    I’d be fine with headgear, bigger gloves, and Olympic rules.  I’ve boxed.  I don’t like seeing anyone injured or killed.  For most guys, it is about building and showcasing skill - not killing someone.  Fans love blood.  Most fighters just want to get paid and have a clear conscience that they didn’t kill one of their friends for a buck.

  2. nicolas 11:39am, 01/02/2018

    eastern european owning the sport of boxing now is an absurd comment, or eastern europeans being just stronger physically is also the same. make no mistake though, there contribution to european boxing has been immense. Boxing in Europe has been so much better since the 1990’s then it was from the 60’s to the 80’s. european fighters have gotten a lot better because the competiotn has been better in that area. Right now though, boxing in Europe is dominated by what would have been former Soviet fighters, and fighters from the British Isles. Personally though, if there would be head to head completion from heavyweight to flyweight, I would give the edge to those fighters from he British Isles.

  3. Johnny 06:18am, 01/02/2018

    Andre Roussimoff: Wrong, wrong and wrong again. “The Eastern Europeans are physically stronger than white Western Europeans….it’s not that they try harder or that they come out of better boxing programs or that they’ve had harder lives growing up…” No, they aren’t naturally stronger than Western Europeans. Yes, they generally have harder lives growing up. And definitely yes, they have better boxing programs. And the programs, paired with the fact that boxing - with wrestling and weight-lifting - is the foremost sport in many of those countries, make up for a larger pool of talented fighters that forge themselves versus each other, before entering the international arena. I’ve trained with guys from different parts of Eastern Europe, as well as met with, talked to and studied their trainers. They do nothing by accident. They have a purpose with every exercise. And it starts from the very first moment a young kid enters the gym.

  4. raxman 05:02pm, 12/30/2017

    Bravo Paul Magno - reading this was like you read my mind. Lomo has nothing but upside talent wise but we don’t know if any of the stuff he does will hold up against honest to goodness top level talent.
    And GGG has a few good challengers at the weight now but he spent valuables years fighting guys that were never going to beat him, when at least fighting bigger guys at168 would’ve made the contest interesting despite the talent there being only marginally better than at 160, and done much more toward giving him a legit rep
    The sad fact is that even those who really do know the sport get caught up in the hype; they grade these guys on how they win rather than who they are winning against.

  5. Andre Roussimoff 07:59am, 12/30/2017

    If not for that Evil Empire….the Iron Curtain…..the Cold War…boxing history post WWII would be anything but what it is. The simple Goddamned truth which is overlooked/ignored by all the asshat experts including the writer of this article is that physicality is the predominant reason why certain individuals and groups excel in this brutal/brain bashing “sport”. The Eastern Europeans are physically stronger than white Western Europeans….it’s not that they try harder or that they come out of better boxing programs or that they’ve had harder lives growing up…..they are just stronger physically and mentally and that’s why the fukers can actually compete in the NBA if anyone is even paying attention to that shit!

  6. Your Name 06:26am, 12/30/2017 sees the European push in boxing as always been there. The above article is spot on but seems to have mysteriously skipped over the selected pickings of the sports self proclaimed “Best Ever”.

  7. Paul Magno 08:23pm, 12/29/2017

    Your Name—Not sure why it’s considered a “bad attitude” to hold fighters to a reasonable standard…seems to me, more discerning eyes (and voices) would force all-around better fights…and as for Eastern Europeans “owning” boxing—are you referring to the two guys the media fawns over and the third who just garbage-picked the WBO light heavyweight belt? There are some very good fighters from out East, but let’s be realistic about this “invasion”’s just a handful of guys…haha…and a gaggle of idiot media voices singing their praises so loudly that it seems there’s an army at the door…

  8. Your Name 06:43pm, 12/29/2017

    You really have a bad attitude, specifically with Eastern Euro fighters WHO OWN THE SPORT OF BOXING. They speak better English than American fighters. are more humble and fight a whole lot better. You sound like a writer for Boxing News 24/7

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