Calling It a Day

By Ted Spoon on December 19, 2012
Calling It a Day
"I'm a long way from the onion fields," said Carmen Basilio, "and I owe it all to boxing.”

For the select few, though the desire to perform still burns within, logic ultimately prevents them, painfully so, like a tether which stops a bird from flying…

Retirement is a negative concept.

Its most wretched trait involves wiping your identity, leaving you idly perched on a reputation that begins to feel like it belongs to someone else. Unfortunately, this won’t prevent nostalgia from marring your spare time.     

For the boxer, retirement is an emotional mine field.

A classic shift to tutor can help cushion the blow; sweat-soaked floors and the drumming of speed balls helps restore a sense of normality, but the desire to compete causes these friendly sites to taunt you. Back at home memorabilia makes the heart yearn more so than swell. Optimism becomes a lost treasure. 

Even if you were a contender it’s virtually impossible to shut away the poor decisions, the bad officiating, whatever it may be that your mind involuntarily dwells on. Tribute dinners and biographies will do well to balm your grievances. 

In an antiquated sense, the only proper way for a fighter to retire is to be killed.

Contrary to this abyss, Jack Dempsey dropped the snarl to relish his public status, daredevil Mickey Walker went on to exhibit his paintings in distinguished galleries, and Lennox Lewis seems to be handling the ensuing quiet very well. It’s not all bad, but then that’s easy for us to say.

Only recently did we witness the ominous return of Manchester’s Ricky Hatton. Win or lose, the troubled brawler ensured us of redemption, though following defeat there was a dark moment when he bitterly repeated, “I’m not a failure.” A week later, it must have been therapeutic to see his Philippine conqueror get starched.

It’s never pretty when giants fall, and upon eating Juan Manuel Marquez’s crushing right Manny Pacquiao was dropped like hot iron. Horizontal and motionless, the spectacle was briefly tainted by a feeling of unease, but the aftermath pictured a fighter in good spirits with zero excuses.

No doubt, it’s hard to tell what lies beneath.

This month Joe Calzaghe made what have become rare appearances in front of the camera. Divorced and accused of cocaine abuse, it hasn’t been peachy since the Welsh hero retired. Waving adios to the hurt business with his looks, faculties and record intact, you wonder where these problems stem from. Presently Joe seems to be in good knick, though the undercurrent was a familiar one of restlessness.             

Speaking of Brian Magee’s chances against old foe Mikkel Kessler, Calzaghe was reminded about how Magee was once a potential opponent. His narrative was somewhat haughty, as if the current era could do little more than amuse him in times of quiet. “Lucky he didn’t fight me” he quickly surmised. 

Part of us can only sympathize with rhetoric, be it credible or not.

The margin for error in boxing is the cruelest of all. An aged fighter can’t lay the ball off to defense or call for a time out; as soon as they lose that all important edge the ladder they once climbed will suddenly feel like it’s covered in grease. For the select few, though the desire to perform still burns within, logic ultimately prevents them, painfully so, like a tether which stops a bird from flying.

It is every retired fighter’s right to blow his own trumpet (ask Larry Holmes), but this doesn’t stop them from digging themselves deeper. 

Many would do well to fish through the archives for a little wisdom. 

On the 7th November of this year Carmen Basilio passed away. The rugged welterweight who jumped up to defeat Sugar Ray Robinson fit a particular template; tough to the core but rather chipper. At an age when trying to look enthused is a talent Carmen could breathe warmth into his retrospectives. Touching on the highlights of his life was not an acidic but welcome exercise.

And this wasn’t just some old sentimental pug, generous with praise because light at the end of the tunnel was getting dimmer. Till his dying day Carmen had no love for Robinson; he figured him arrogant and was dealt a public injustice by the great man which he never forgot. Stern with his principles but no puritan, Basilio happily conceded how brilliant a fighter Ray was.   

He retired in 1961 and there was no comeback. Two years later he gave a reporter an update. 

“I’m a long way from the onion fields and I owe it all to boxing. The ring has been good to me. I’ve had my share of titles, thrills and making big money. I’m not making that kind of money any more but because of boxing I’m getting along nicely.”

PE teacher, public relations representative, partner in a sausage business; keeping active had been the key. Decades later, now exercising his voice more than his once cobbled physique, Carmen was asked if he looked back with fondness on his boxing career. Quick like a counter he shot back:

“It was my life, I loved it.”

Regarding advice he merrily repeated:

“Keep your hands up, your culo off the floor, and keep moving.”

When asked who his favorite current fighter was he stated in earnest: 

“I don’t have any favorite fighters, but I pull for all of them to do well.

It remains a sad fact that many of them don’t do well, not when the call of “champ!” degenerates into a sign of affection. 

For the men who don’t enjoy a happy ending, perhaps it is a consolation that their sacrifice is often enough to keep us nattering until the beer dries up, teleshopping begins, and the lounge becomes a second bedroom.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Manny Pacquiao's Wife, Mother Asking For Retirement

Ricky Hatton retires after comeback defeat.

Joe Calzaghe plans to retire from the boxing ring

Larry Holmes talks about his comeback fight

Carmen Basilio Tribute R.I.P 1927-2012

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  1. bk don 05:58am, 12/27/2012

    speaking of fighters who need to call it a day. 45 yr old larry donald has announced his return. i guess he could no longer ignore the demand of his fan base to see him back in the ring.

  2. big boss man 12:10pm, 12/24/2012

    Retiring from anything can be difficult especially if it’s abrupt like falling off a clliff. One needs to prepare for the time so that it becomes more like a glide. Easier said than done and that’s why boxers need mentors.

  3. peter 02:44pm, 12/23/2012

    Thank you for this excellent article. I was happy to retire from boxing, but when I did, a huge chunk of me was gone. I needed to reinvent myself, and to a large degree, I had to start all over again and build myself up. It was like learning to play a totally new instrument….Does another know where to find a Mickey Walker painting?

  4. the thresher 04:57pm, 12/20/2012

    Robbie Sims as well.

  5. the thresher 04:54pm, 12/20/2012

    Jimmy Young was another.

  6. the thresher 04:34pm, 12/20/2012

    Tex Cobb was one.

  7. Lindy Lindell 03:13pm, 12/20/2012

    Flash Gordon came up with a quiz for boxing insomniacs that I’ve never been able to answer:  Name ten boxers who were rated (not champions, and who did not retire because of an injury or sickness) who won their last fight?
    I suppose it can be done, but I can’t do it before the sun comes up.
    The moral of the story/question: fighters don’t win their last fights.

  8. bk don 12:36pm, 12/20/2012

    Unlike other sports where organizations and demand dictate when an athlete retires boxing has no such safeguards. As competitive as Jerry Rice is he would still play football if a team would give him a chance. Even at 50! Unfortunately in the sport of boxing promoters don’t care if old men can compete anymore. They just want a name, to sell tickets, or a live body, for their fighter. As long as the system is set up that way you will continue to see fighters fight way past their prime and take unnecessary damage in the ring.

  9. the thresher 09:19am, 12/20/2012

    Really well done, Ted. Keep ‘em coming.

    Boxers never really retire mentally. They always want to come back one more time.

  10. Sean 08:08am, 12/20/2012

    Great article. The malaise of retirement can haunt a boxer to no end. Another reason to believe this sport ain’t just another game.

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