Weigh-In from London: Business as Usual

By Michael Klimes on June 11, 2012
Weigh-In from London: Business as Usual
Those who hold the keys to reform don’t like crusaders who challenge the status quo

The appalling corruption, exploitation, greed and double dealing in boxing are all adroitly evoked in Budd Schulberg’s “The Harder They Fall”...

“As much as I love boxing, I hate it. And as much as I hate it, I love it.”—Budd Schulberg

The controversy brewing from the Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley fracas in Las Vegas made me pick up Budd Schulberg’s classic novel from 1947, The Harder They Fall. I read a few of its pages and was reminded that its portrayal of the disturbing underbelly of prize fighting has never been bettered. The appalling corruption, exploitation, greed and double dealing of its protagonists are all adroitly evoked in a tale that reveals the cynical policies of those who pull the strings in boxing.

By the final pages, the reader has been given the full exposé: there are few heroes in the ring and even if there are, they are deeply flawed individuals, who rarely retire with their health intact or their winnings safely in the bank. As Margaret Thatcher one infamously told an interviewer on television towards the end of her reign, “I will go on, on and on and on.” Many fighters share the same determined stubbornness as the Iron Lady and end their careers in very ugly ways, just as she did hers. 

However, what Schulberg captures in the novel is something more subtle and sinister than the errors and vanity of its characters. It is the institutional and systemic malpractice at the core of boxing; the process of deliberate mismatches, propaganda-like marketing, under the table match fixing and charlatans that are invested in keeping the machine running, which is most disheartening and disturbing theme of the tale. The implication seems to be, that even if there were upstanding characters in The Harder They Fall, the system would be rigged against them.

Teddy Atlas made such a point in a post-fight analysis for ESPN. He said that boxing has no national commission in the United States while judges are old and incompetent. Similarly, none are held accountable or up to scrutiny if their judgements on fights are controversial. In such an environment, how can decisions like the one fans saw against Manny Pacquiao be avoided? Conversations on the endemic corruption in boxing will continue unless there are fundamental reforms. And those who hold the keys to the door of reform, e.g. those in power, are unlikely to change the status quo as most of those who wield power are inherently conservative. They don’t like crusading radicals who challenge the status quo since changing nothing usually benefits them or is perceived to benefit the elites by the elites.

They also won’t change their attitudes or behavior from some pang of guilt or sense of injustice. They have to be forced to make reforms by a group of people who are large enough, intelligent enough and courageous enough to make them feel the urge to alter their ways. I have to admit a negative view of people, even groups of people, when it comes to questions of political commitment and engagement. The words fickle and indifferent come to mind.

Nonetheless, the other interpretation of this latest controversy is to take a long-term perspective which Kevin Iole at Yahoo Sports does. He says the bad press is good publicity, Bradley survived twelve rounds with a terrific puncher, it cements his reputation as one of the best young fighters out there by making him into a superstar and sets up a potential rematch with Pacquaio that could make everyone involved, except the fans, a lot of money. Iole’s opinion does have merit but it is a view that comes at the expense of consumers paying exorbitant prices for mediocre pay-per-view cards, which always seems to be the case these days.

Speaking of which, Antonio Margarito has retired. It seems apt that Margarito hung up his gloves just before the Pacquiao-Bradley bout. The decision was so controversial that some members of the boxing press have called for an investigation. Margarito is one of the most controversial fighters of recent years with the “Plaster Gate” issue still in many peoples’ minds. After his loss to Shane Mosley in 2009, he lost that aura of wild swinging savagery and toughness. Strangely, his punches did not seem to have the same venom in his remaining bouts against Miguel Cotto and Manny Pacquaio, who gave him beatings some thought he deserved. Cotto will be happy that he will be seen as the man who retired Margarito. 

Margarito was once, lest we forget, the most avoided man in the sport and also was considered one of the most slept on good things in the game. Four to five years ago, some even called him the best welterweight in the world. He was a true street fighter, encapsulated by his brawling style and Mexican bloodline. He was of the same lineage as Julio Caesar Chavez and Lupe Pintor, notorious brawlers, who mutilated their opponents with unforgiving uppercuts, hooks and body punches. Margarito was never a refined technician like Salvador Sanchez or Erik Morales.

His legacy is hard to discern. On the one hand, he took on all comers and was undeniably brave and took any punishment which was given to him. Other fighters have been attacked for having a hit and run strategy. Margarito never suffered from that problem.

He also engaged in a classic bout with Miguel Cotto in 2008. The anticipation running up to that fight was special and rekindled memories of great Mexican-Puerto Rican rivalries from the past. It bore comparison in certain quarters to the Sugar Ray Leonard versus Tommy Hearns bout in 1981. It was a magnificent blend of styles that produced tremendous action from both boxers.

However, Cotto’s bloodied face and the subsequent gloves fiasco made people question Margarito’s vaunted punching power. It had always been cumulative like George Foreman’s but effective. Suddenly, it seemed ineffectual.

It was also true that once Margarito finally got the recognition his cheerleaders thought that he deserved after beating Cotto, he immediately lost it by being mauled by Mosley.

Fortunately for Margarito, he at least got the big fights, paydays and exposure he always craved for. Not all fighters can say they were rewarded for what they worked so hard for and his wins and losses ratio is hardly bad. He is also a multiple world champion and was involved in some entertaining fights.

Although his reputation will be forever tarnished, he surely deserves a degree of credibility for his achievements. How much is very contentious, a sensitive matter and could generate fierce debate for years to come.

Weigh-In from London: Business as Usual
Weigh-In from London: Chris Eubank Was a Shrewd Realist
Weigh-In from London: Carl Froch—“The Professional”

Michael Klimes is a journalist and writer based in the United Kingdom. He works for Japan’s leading news agency, JIJI Press, at the London bureau. He writes about a variety of topics. You can visit his website at: www.michaelklimes.com to see his interests. His twitter page is here: http://twitter.com/#!/misaklimes.

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Max Baer in «The Harder They Fall»

Clip from The Harder They Fall

«The Harder They Fall»

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  1. Pete The Sneak 04:56am, 06/12/2012

    Margarito was indeed on his way to becoming another one of the more legendary Mexican Boxers of recent history, carving his own niche with his whirlwind, tough, agressive take no prisoners style. A banger and a bruiser who was relentless. Was always great to watch and wouldn’t miss any fight he was involved in. That is, until after the Mosley debacle. His credibility, regardless of how good he was before ‘Plastergate’ will forever be questioned. Still amazes me how it was that this guy was able to be licensed in the US after the discovery of the wraps in what basically was an attempted assault with a deadly weapon. Oh yeah, I forgot, he had Bob Arum. But, what the heck, the guy did end up getting ‘Paid.’ But legacy wise, he will forever be a tarnished product. Peace.

  2. McGrain 01:35am, 06/12/2012

    I’m afraid Margarito has no legacy of any meaning.  He will be remembered as the worst kind of cheat.  This was a refreshing read.

  3. Bob 06:47pm, 06/11/2012

    Margarito forfeited any degree of credibility with the Mosley fight. It is very likely he cheated in all of his big fights. How can you forget a bewildered Kermit Cintron saying he couldn’t believe how hard Margarito hit? Margarito and his cohorts perpetrated boxing’s cardinal sin because their actions could have led to serious injury or even death. The actions of the judges in the Pacquiao-Bradley fight only led to cynicism, disappointment and despair. Why should there even be a Pacquiao-Bradley rematch. There is no reason to have one because the outcome of the fight was so obvious. Pacquiao should just fight who he wants, title belts be damned.

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