Gluttony Is No Sin

By Ted Spoon on March 24, 2013
Gluttony Is No Sin
Courage is what drives a fighter, but a chin is what protects them during collisions.

LaMotta’s jaw was something of an open challenge, but similar to a fairground game the chance of cracking it was anywhere between slim and none…

Courage is what drives a fighter.

It may not always show itself in its purest form, but just to oppose another man takes guts.

Some of the more rugged individuals give you the sense they’d like nothing more than to duct tape the referee to the ringside doctor and proceed with a bloody tribute to 19th century London. In this instance, fighting hard isn’t merely for the sake of pride; spitting blood and waiting for the mouthpiece help provide a sense of belonging as does tree-climbing for primates.

Nobody falls harder than the truly stubborn fighters. When the ring’s gladiators are performing you’re not going to see anybody making full use of standing eight-counts or switch tactics once they’ve hit a speed bump. These are key factors why superficial fans ditch the pub for the arena, but when one inevitably crumbles the importance of a good chin hits you right on the button. 

If courage is what drives a fighter, then a chin is what protects them during collisions, and a good one can trivialize the most violent kind of impact. 

The ability to take a full-blooded shot seems miraculous. Fighters who are able to generate huge power in the space of a few inches can leave a similar impression, but technique has a lot to do with that; when a boxer shrugs off a homerun swing it’s literally as if they’re made of steel, not flesh and bone.

Explanations aren’t few. Shorter fighters with their low center of gravity and thicker necks are a classic model for durability. There’s probably some truth in there, but then you do get your Carlos Monzon types; tall, slim and reliable in hurricane winds.

One of boxing’s most beloved slogans goes “Tough isn’t enough.” On a technicality no, an apprentice must at least learn how to hold his hands and escape corners if he’s to get anywhere, but through the decades there have been competitors whose toughness was such that it doubled as a weapon. 

Jake LaMotta’s jaw was something of an open challenge, but similar to a fairground game the chance of cracking it was anywhere between slim and none. Bob Satterfield, Bert Lytell, Fritzie Zivic, Lloyd Marshall—LaMotta resisted some of the meanest cats on the circuit, and this wasn’t achieved via running down the clock but marching into their Sunday best, constantly.

As a talent Jake was no caveman, he could lure you in or apply educated pressure depending on the vibe, but there was definitely a tinge of bravado in his gait. When trying to make 160 lbs. sapped his strength the Bronx Bull went from flaunting his capacity for punishment to virtually relying on it.   

In 1950 a now fabled strategy was used against Laurent Dauthuille to prompt one of boxing’s most cherished plot twists, namely, bringing down the roof in the last minute.

Beginning at a snail’s pace by his ferocious standards, LaMotta got a good look at his opponent’s left for eight rounds as it beat out a steady rhythm on his face. Understandably feeling his oats, Dauthuille pressed Jake, but when the latter feigned injury the Frenchman went all-in. 

LaMotta gleefully dragged the fight down to his level and was memorably successful with 13 seconds left on the clock. What isn’t discussed is the fact no fighter would ever attempt this hazardous tactic unless they had absolute belief in their ability to “take it,” not the way Jake fought.

During LaMotta’s steam bath days you’d see vague efforts to roll with the leather but his head was essentially a shield, moving about as freely as they do on cheap action figures. “I thought I had him” exclaimed Laurent, sitting dejected in the dressing room. A similar thought probably flashed through the mind of Bob Satterfield having fought “a remarkable battle” for six rounds. 

Come round seven and Jake peered over another casualty.

In the artless practice of eating knuckle sandwiches, LaMotta was supernatural. As there had been with Mickey Walker and Pascual Perez there remained an unresolved desire to capture the richest prize in sport, but a date with Joe Louis or the Rock would have been plain stupid.

There’s reason to believe Jake could have taken swipes off of some heavyweights, possibly some decent punchers, but a date with…say…Ernie Shavers…now that would be ludicrous. 

For Randall “Tex” Cobb it was the first scene in a black comedy. 

Boxing’s great power punchers suffer from heartache. The relationship they share with their fists is built off the understanding that they’ll always live up expectation. It doesn’t compute to have a plan B, but that is the reason why there are bitter pills to swallow; they live on false hope.

Earnie Shavers was once an unbeaten prospect, crushing all before him with terrible ease. The resourceful Jerry Quarry was the first to put things into perspective. A handful of other men (two great ones in Ali and Holmes) possessed the goods to prevail, but it’s natural to double-take when you see that Cobb turned the trick.

The wise-cracking Texan was a basic fighter, not fast or sophisticated and, despite his early resume, not a damaging hitter. Most worryingly, he was stationary. You could find the trap door against Shavers with good footwork but Cobb was there to be hit.

It was a lethargic start by the man who shook Ali’s ancestors, but occasionally that right hand connected. An audible boom informed those who’d zoned out. As the bout slowly unfolded clean punches were scored against a fighter not known for taking a good shot. Ken Norton was behind one of the microphones and quickly made up his mind that Cobb “has no punching power.”

Round five was where Shavers had some nerve-numbing success. A couple of shots landed high, twisting and moving Cobb’s hairy body, all 232 lbs. of it. Earnie could start the wobbles with cuffing shots but decent ones were landed, a few in combination. Cobb carried on as if a jab had fallen short.

Forwards he pressed with his modest arsenal. 

Eventually Shavers got so tired that an “unsophisticated” attack from Cobb convinced the referee to wave it off in the eighth. An iron constitution saw to it that he didn’t contribute to that ominous record of 68 knockouts in 74 fights.

It was a fine win, but it was in trying for the world title that Cobb sealed his legend. 

Save for that blitz of Marvis Frazier, Larry Holmes never fought a more one-sided fight. One-way traffic came in the form of piercing jabs and thudding rights. Tragedy was thick in the air at the time with Duk Koo Kim having departed less than two weeks earlier and Howard Cosell let it be known his scruples with this bout:

“What is achieved by letting this man take this beating for fifteen rounds?” he probed in a purposefully monotone way—even by his standards.

Admittedly, in the closing moments Holmes shelled his man with the kind of flak that made it more preferable to watch the bout through a squint. It probably hurt to do so but it was good to see Cobb grinning after the final bell as he had been prior to the first.

In a post-fight interview the puffy challenger let go with a classic remark about how Holmes’ fists would not be able to take the punishment (in the unlikely event of a rematch). The irony is there was a time when taking punishment could lead to victory like when Tom Cribb’s skull ruined the fists of Jem Belcher.

These men were known as gluttons because they “couldn’t get enough.”

A curious, arguably sinister side of us may enquire, “What if this was a fight to the finish?” A similar thought passed through this writer’s head when Glen Johnson was pulled out against Bernard Hopkins.

In his younger days Hopkins was no light-tapper and he poured it on Johnson. The one-minute rest between rounds must have been worth every millisecond because Hopkins laced his boiling work rate with spite. Terrific uppercuts, short hooks and ab-crunching slugs abused the Jamaican. When they fell into a clinch the IBF middleweight king was no friendlier.

Through sheer volume Hopkins impelled the referee to stop the fight with Johnson’s legs firmly underneath him. In the coming years the loser would use this ability to remain vertical to its fullest; in fact, he still is.

Glen is the archetype of a respectable yet underwhelming fighter. The basics are there—high hands, snappy punches, use of the jab, but he’ll never postpone toilet breaks. Toughness, like some unwelcome guest, has become an unpleasant reality for 99.9% of his opponents as they’re forced to suffer his company for the full 36 minutes.

Sven Ottke, Clinton Woods, Roy Jones, Antonio Tarver, Chad Dawson, Carl Froch; Johnson has been harassing world-class opposition for well over a decade. Recent performances would suggest that the old train is losing momentum, but it’s a strange truth that boxing’s more basic competitors are often more compelling than its brightest stars.

Before Glen’s last bout with George Groves a reporter held an interview with the equable veteran.

The question was put to him, “Has he got anything special, anything you haven’t seen before?”

To which Johnson replied, “No, nothing I haven’t seen before.”

Far from the dismissive backchat of upstarts, you could believe what Glen said. He coolly punched his words into the conversation; there is no image to preserve, no defiant behavior. He continued to talk about the hurt business in the most pedestrian manner. 

The prospect of a rematch with Hopkins altered the atmosphere a touch.

“Do you think that’ll ever happen?”

Glen’s stern expression, partly hidden by his beanie hat, suddenly broke into a smile.

“I don’t think that’ll ever happen ‘cause they have many chances to do it and he always finds a way out of it.” 

The smile remained until he’d said his part. The “Road Warrior” understands he may as well be discussing what the odds are for LaMotta getting his nose straightened. 

Winning is not mandatory, the old pug just needs an opponent. 

Now 44, tomorrow isn’t so full of promise. Hell, even the glory of yesteryear looks a little arm weary, but nothing can stop Glen entering boxing’s shrine of flightless supermen. 

Not even a ten-count.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Jake LaMotta vs. Marcel Cerdan

Jake LaMotta vs Laurent Dauthuille (Highlights)

Mickey Walker Highlights.

Pascual Perez - Sadao Yaoita

Larry Holmes vs Tex Cobb - 1/4

Larry Holmes vs Tex Cobb - 2/4

Larry Holmes vs Tex Cobb - 3/4

Larry Holmes vs Tex Cobb - 4/4

Bernard Hopkins vs Glen Johnson - [1/4]

Bernard Hopkins vs Glen Johnson - [2/4]

Bernard Hopkins vs Glen Johnson - [3/4]

Bernard Hopkins vs Glen Johnson - [4/4]

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  1. Eric 05:57am, 03/24/2013

    Other great “chins” have included Chuvalo, Marciano, and Ali.

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