What Is Boxing’s Most Unforgivable Sin?

By Cheekay Brandon on February 21, 2012
What Is Boxing’s Most Unforgivable Sin?
You can practice the dark arts, bend or break the rules of boxing, but you cannot quit.

Quitting is boxing’s unforgivable sin, the easiest route to the land of boxing purgatory…

What is boxing’s most unforgivable sin?

The rise and fall of Antonio Margarito provides a possible answer: few acts are frowned upon in boxing like cheating. In Margarito’s case, we know that he attempted to load his handwraps with a foreign substance for at least one fight (his Jan. 2009 championship fight against Shane Mosley). After this story broke, suspicion mounted that Margarito (or his corner) had been loading his gloves for several years and was responsible for the vaunted punching power that made Margarito so dangerous.

Margarito’s lopsided loss to Miguel Cotto (Dec. 2011) ended his run as a relevant contender and did nothing to remove the enormous cloud of suspicion over his entire career. 

“Sugar” Shane Mosley’s image took a hit of its own when he admitted to accidentally taking anabolic steroids prior to his 2003 championship fight against Oscar De La Hoya. This admission, combined with back-to-back losses to both Vernon Forrest (2002) and “Winky” Wright (2004), looked to end Mosley’s run as a relevant contender and figure in boxing.

Unlike Margarito, however, Mosley is widely regarded as a class act, gentleman and one of the better personalities in the sport. Also unlike Margarito, very few modern narratives of Mosley’s career make reference to his past transgressions. Margarito, on the other hand, looks to be haunted by the shadow of doubt forever. 

This is partly because of Mosley’s overall standing in the sport, which earned him the benefit of the doubt in the court of public opinion. The more modern rebranding of his image, however, is the result of a Naazim Richardson-engendered boxing resurrection culminating in his spectacular (Jan. 2009) knockout victory over Antonio Margarito. After that fight, discussion of Shane Mosley turned to almost exclusive praise. 

The lesson in the Mosley case: while cheaters may be looked down upon, they are but a single impressive victory away from being forgiven. In this way, cheating might not be boxing’s worst crime; it is certainly lamentable but hardly unforgivable.

Let’s contrast this with another boxing taboo, an act with none of the malicious intent that defines cheating, but an act whose repercussions have farther reach (arguably). 

We can introduce this crime by asking the average boxing fan what image comes to mind when they hear the words: “Roberto Duran.” 

Duran is a Hall of Famer (inducted 2006) and, in the eyes of many experts, one of the 10 best pound-for-pound fighters to ever live, with a career spanning five decades and 119 professional fights.

While Duran’s resume is impressive, when we think of Duran among our first thoughts include the famous “No mas” incident, where Duran quit in the eighth round of his championship rematch with “Sugar” Ray Leonard in June 1980.

The circumstances have been debated and discussed. Excuses have come and gone and time has quelled any universal diminishing of the Roberto Duran legend—he’s one of the best to ever live, “No mas” or not.

There is a reason, however, why the “No mas” event leaves such a unique and lasting bad taste in our mouths and perplexes fight fans to this day. 

It is because Duran violated one of boxing’s fundamentals: you cannot quit. 

You can lose in embarrassing fashion, but you cannot quit.

You can lose because you’re unprepared or out-of-shape, but you cannot quit.

You can lose because you’re injured and can’t compete, but you cannot quit.

And yes—you can practice the dark arts, bend or break the rules of boxing, but you cannot quit.

And so, by some definition, yes—it is better to cheat than to quit.

Quitting is boxing’s unforgivable sin, the easiest route to the land of boxing purgatory.

Other modern exercises in quitting tell a similar story: many predicted that Oscar De La Hoya would lose his welterweight championship fight to Felix Trinidad. Few predicted that De La Hoya would lose in the manner in which he did: thoroughly outclassing Trinidad in rounds one through seven, only to run in rounds eight through 12, abandoning offense altogether en route to a majority decision loss (Sept. 1999). De La Hoya’s approach to the second half of that fight remains one of the more puzzling boxing strategies in recent memory.

Victor Ortiz has authored one of boxing’s best redemption stories, not only because of his rise from orphan to world champion but also his ascent from “quitter” (referring to his June 2009 TKO loss to Marcos Maidana, in which Ortiz gave up) to world champion.

That’s right—in a odd test of the boxing fans’ moral compass, we seem just as proud of Victor Ortiz for rising from the depths of boxing sinner (“quitter”) as we are his rise from an abandoned, impoverished child. 

As evidence supports the notion that boxing careers might come at the cost irreversible damage to the brain perhaps we should encourage fighters to admit when they are no longer capable of participating in a fight. Such a change wouldn’t undermine the gladiator aspects that we love about boxing, but instead, represent a necessary evolution of the sport, where we redefine the acts that we label as courageous or cowardly.

(Follow Cheekay Brandon on Twitter at @biosophist)

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  1. the thresher 09:13pm, 02/25/2012

    I assume you were inebriated when you made that last post.

  2. "Old Yank" Schneider 05:21am, 02/25/2012

    Suppose all the guys that were a part of your wedding team (from your best man to the ushers), approach you late in training camp and tell you that they placed a monster bet on their favorite man (YOU) to close the show in the 5th round. If you see the opening in the third and the fourth and know its yours for the taking, is it a huge sin to keep you opponent standing until the 5th? I certainly don’t think it kosher, but I can get someone who does.

  3. "Old Yank" Schneider 05:00am, 02/25/2012

    I think a fighter devising a plan to carry a fighter to a specific round and then score a stoppage to pick up a wager at the bookie window is not OK (be it betting himself or doing it for his “family). I think a fighter getting some work in before turning on the gas is perfectly OK. Do you disagree?

  4. the thresher 07:26pm, 02/24/2012

    So you think what Froch did was ok?

  5. "Old Yank" Schneider 01:52pm, 02/24/2012

    Getting some “work in” before closing the show is legit in my book—not a sin.

  6. the thresher 10:46am, 02/24/2012

    What Ray did doesn’t make it right.

  7. Jim Crue 12:45pm, 02/23/2012

    Sugar Ray Robinson carried guys all the time. When he fought Charlie Fusari for the welterweight title in 1946 he claimed it was his hardest fight. When asked why he said “because I had to fight for both of us.” It was a fight for the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund and he wanted the folks to get their money’s worth.

  8. the thresher 12:39pm, 02/23/2012

    Froch claims he could have stopped Ruben Groenewald earlier than he did during a Commonwealth title defence in 2005.
    The Nottingham fighter said he allowed the South African to survive in the fourth round because members of his family had bet on him winning in the fifth.
    Froch told the BBC: “I’ve done it more than one occasion and it was round five but that’s not illegal.

  9. the thresher 12:07pm, 02/23/2012

    And Kostya made Jesse James Leja quit for not the first time. And Manny made Oscar quit on his stool. And Oscar made Julio Sr. quit. And it goes on and on. There are quitters and there are quitters. Benn was like Marg. He would have died first. Erik Morales quit against Manny—oh my.

  10. the thresher 12:04pm, 02/23/2012

    Margo would die in the ring before quitting and that’s why a lot of people loved him. But you have to compartmentalize when it comes to Margo. BTW, he has never admitted to glove loading as far as I know and Campillo swears that he (Margo) was innocent. But they got him with the Captain of the Ship notion which is spurious at best.


  11. Don from Prov 11:22am, 02/23/2012

    And Margarito—the “loader” has already shown that he’d be beaten half to death before he took a knee like Miguel.  We are all different, and complex, mofo’s-

    And THAT is big-time Philiosophy!


  12. Don from Prov 11:19am, 02/23/2012

    the tresher: Good post on “quitting.”

    Ortiz “quit” against—ah!!!!! the Scot
    (that’s my Rick Perry imitation)

    Hatton made Kostya quit.

    I always felt that Foreman quit against Ali. And George learned from that: In his comeback, I think he would have died before quitting.  One thing in the Duran surrender: We should remember that there was NO ONE Duran was less likely to allow himself to look bad against than Sugar Ray who he despised and—at the time—had no respect for: Pretty boy/manufactured fighter, etc.

  13. "Old Yank" Schneider 09:13am, 02/23/2012

    Cheekay—Much like Dempsey/Willard will not end up being remembered as an unforgivable sin of glove-loading (as amply pointed out by posters below—all of them better equipped as historians than I), Margarito’s transgressions will.  And in my opinion you’ve struck a fan nerve in pointing to Duran’s “no mas” bout as likely heading into the indelible memories of fans as a sin of quitting. No matter how amazing Duran’s accomplishment were (and they were), I challenge an informed fan to bring up Duran in a conversation and not have “no mas” be on someone’s mind. Unforgivable? I don’t know! UNFORGETABLE? ABSOLUTELY!

  14. the thresher 08:42am, 02/23/2012

    I have seen many fixed fights, but I’d just as soon not mention the combatants. I saw one that was fought in Denmark and the guy (an American) was not hit but he went down for the count after which he bounced right back up and was smiling. So much for an easy pay day.

    Then there was the run of Mark Gastineua where his opponentys were “being KOd in spectaular fashion.” Ugh puke.

    Many more where the judges were compromised back in the day.

    My point is that fixes can lead to a wrestling-like aura and that would ruin boxing faster than you can say Don King.

    Quitting is a part of boxing. It’s done all the time in diffrent variations. Cotto quit against Margo, but no one could ever call Cotto a quitter. Ortiz quit, but only after he was rocked. Popo really quit as did Duran, but I cannot see them as quiiters. Nor can Vitali be considered a quitter.

    To me, a quiiter is a guy who has a history of quiiting on the stool. Courage Tshababala comes to mind. Quitting in one fight does not make a quitter in my mind. There must be a pattern.

    That is all.

  15. Jim Crue 08:35am, 02/23/2012

    Ha, Irish Frankie , you are correct. Oscar is a good businessman. He got millions for taking one shot from Hopkins and now they are business partners in GBP!!!

  16. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 08:12am, 02/23/2012

    Jim Crue-You missed one….De La Hoya/Hopkins as the first stage of their GBP “business” relationship. It wasn’t a solar plexis or liver shot but it sure put Oscar in a pillow biting position….the only things missing were the wig, garter belt, fishnets and heels. Great article by Cheekay but I beg to differ on the number of people that have to be dirty to fix a fight…..really all that’s needed is one judge to be agenda driven….all things being equal that makes for pretty good odds for a fight that looks to be competitive going in.

  17. the thresher 07:36am, 02/23/2012

    Thanks Jim

  18. Jim Crue 06:40am, 02/23/2012

    To end the Dempsey loaded glove theory read Roger Kahn’s great bio of Dempsey, ” Flame of Pure Fire” written a few years ago. Doc Kerns was a FIRST class scoundrel and liar until he died. There is no evidence that Dempsey’s gloves were loaded.

  19. "Old Yank" Schneider 05:11am, 02/23/2012

    Glove loading for Dempsey/Willard was most probably scandalous speculation and hearsay. But when in a war-zone, expect to see acts of war. When in an era where boxing was controlled by organized crime, expect criminal acts. When looking at a criminal enterprise, expect to see very little crime. But you will be no fool to expect that it is happening out of your sight.

  20. "Old Yank" Schneider 04:56am, 02/23/2012

    I guess it is just “speculation and hearsay” that organized crime has ever been involved in boxing. And any “speculation and hearsay” that they ever committed any “sins” is an outrage. He, he, he…

  21. m schmidt 02:45am, 02/23/2012

    You got it Retech, perfectly. Besides, at that point in the fight, for all the revisionist types, the scores were 4-2, hardly a blow out. They were both in shape the first fight, with Leonard fighting a guy stepping up from lightweight, 29 years old, with 73 fights and a lot of title fights under his belt- AND DURAN WAS THE MAN AND DURAN IS THE MAN AND THAT IS ONE OF MANY REASONS HE IS A CONSESUS ALL TIME POUND FOR POUND TOP TEN -END OF STORY

  22. retech son 01:36am, 02/23/2012

    Duran’s famed “no mas” was not meant a surrender for me. It is caused by his realization of what he is into during that rematch.

    After the first fight, Ray already have a sweet plan for his revenge even before both of them step in the ring for the rematch.

    Ray, knows very well Duran’s lifestyle every after a fight (to have some fun) especially there fight’s magnitude.

    Ray stays in shape, even after the fight and demanded an immediate rematch.

    Duran having problem losing weight in a fast phase hence, he came to the rematch not in shape or at least at the same shape during the first fight.

    Ray realize this only during the fight. So whats the point of fighting on and for sure he knows he will lose, thats how frustrated he was.

    remember just my two cents after reading/watching a documentary regarding them.

  23. the thresher 04:30pm, 02/22/2012

    Here we go again on speculation and hearsay.

  24. mikecasey 02:21pm, 02/22/2012

    Thank you, but I was simply commenting on Dempsey-Willard, not an entire era. I’m going to my favourite golf website now.

  25. "Old Yank" Schneider 02:15pm, 02/22/2012

    Mike—I am aware that most folks think Dempsey was clean. But hell man, there was a lot of odiferous stuff that went on when only one “organization” was in control of boxing—or should I say when a family of “organizations” were in control of boxing in the USA. As an old “family” saying goes, “Silence is your best friend, she will never betray you”. What was done and never spoken of would likely fill an encyclopedia.

  26. mikecasey 02:05pm, 02/22/2012

    This is a very old chestnut about Dempsey and the conclusion of all articles I have read on the subject - including this one by Cox - is that Jack’s gloves weren’t loaded. He and Kearns split very acrimoniously when Jack married Estelle Taylor and it was a good while later when Kearns decided to ‘remember’ that he had loaded Jack’s gloves for the Willard fight.

  27. "Old Yank" Schneider 02:01pm, 02/22/2012

    Glove loading is RARE, very rare. Post WW-II glove tampering in the ring has only been proven once—exactly as stated by The Thresher. And like most sins, those committed with extreme rarity are often the worst.

  28. "Old Yank" Schneider 01:42pm, 02/22/2012

    There was huge speculation and even a cornerman’s confession that Dempsey’s gloves were loadeed against Willard. http://coxscorner.tripod.com/dempsey_gloves.html

  29. the thresher 01:11pm, 02/22/2012

    Attempting to kill a man with loaded glloves has only happened once as far as I know. Collins-Resto. Margo never got the chance. So one time is one time.

    Fixes can involve a fighter.

    Quitting is way down on my totem pole on the list of bad things a fighter can do. How about rabbit punches, butts, bitting, etc?

  30. Cheekay Brandon 12:25pm, 02/22/2012


    Thanks for highlighting the other bad deeds: fixing a fight is on a different plane…probably worse than quitting even….my argument would be that fixes involve a lot of different people (usually both fighters, promoters, organizers, etc) whereas quitting is usually authored by a fighter, so its easier to blame one person.

    So maybe by “sins,” I meant: “sins of boxers” rather than “sins in the sport of boxing.”

    Let me think about this.

    The mismatches point is another one….agreed….I think it’s different than quitting for the same reasons, though: that’s more of a sin on part of the promoters, rather than the fighters.

    But these are interesting points.

    There are “sins” of individual fighters and then there are sins of promoters/organizing bodies, etc.

  31. "Old Yank" Schneider 11:44am, 02/22/2012

    Cheekay – First and awkwardly, I’m genuinely flattered with the “guru” comment. Peace on you and your entire existence from now until eternity. Respectfully I will continue to take umbrage. What I do agree with is a tradition of forgiving a lot in boxing and quitting just does not fit into the spirit and traditions of the sport like a good old fashioned cheat does—part of the underbelly that makes boxing boxing. However, in my book there is one form of cheating that is unforgivable – it stands out—and that is attempting to kill a man in the ring by crossing the line from legalized assault to criminal assault. It is a form of cheating that is so unsavory that it has no place in the “normal” cheat-minded traditional underbelly of the sport. Just an opinion. And man you opened up a can of whoop-azz with this article! Way to go!!! Well done!!

  32. the thresher 10:14am, 02/22/2012

    Gee, thanks

  33. Cheekay Brandon 09:33am, 02/22/2012

    Thanks everyone for the comments. I’ll try to get to the other comments soon. For now, I’ll just focus on the comments from the guru himself, “Old Yank” :

    His comments:
    “I will however take umbrage, serious umbrage with one aspect of this article: There is cheating and then there is glove-loading. In my view there is nothing more loathsome and vile as glove-loading—it is in a class by itself. Quitting is spilt milk compared to glove-loading.”

    My response:
    That’s hard to disagree with and I was definitely more disgusted from the Margarito glove loading than….say….the Victor Ortiz quitting. 

    No doubt about that.

    I guess I’d argue that, in boxing, it’s still easier to be *forgiven* for cheating than it is for quitting: the former is an indictment of personal ethics; the latter is an indictment of boxing character. 

    In most situations/paradigms, quitting is perfectly okay and not nearly as bad as cheating.

    Something about boxing, however, makes us particularly unforgiving of quitters.  We look to them to be the authors of irrational displays of courage.

    I was going to write about the flip side of this argument: the easiest way to boxing purgatory is quitting and the easiest way to boxing immortality is to fight with unrelenting courage in the face of fire (“Anti-quitting”).

    Take Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward: By championship fighter standards, neither had particularly noteworthy careers (emphasis on “championship fighters” because both had fantastic pro careers in the pure sense).

    They are, however, immortalized forever (and deservedly so) for NOT quitting when everyone would have pardoned them for quitting.  Not a single fan of the sport would have blamed either for simply throwing in the towel; through 30 rounds fighting, neither did. 

    But I definitely see you point: certainly there are individual instances of cheating which are so awful that they take the cake. I won’t deny that.  I guess I’d argue that *overall*, quitting still reigns supreme on the list of boxing sins.

  34. the thresher 09:33am, 02/22/2012

    Oscar ran the last half of the fight and Tito failed to chase. They both stunk out the place. But Oscar DID get stiffed IMO

  35. the thresher 09:31am, 02/22/2012

    Obvious and gross mismatches in remote states are not only dangerous, they should be illegal.

    So, quiting, fixes, glove loading, mismatches all add up to bad things, but thankfully they do not ocurr all that often.

  36. the thresher 09:29am, 02/22/2012

    Duran was indeed frustrated but a quit is a quit. SRL would have embrassed the hell out of him and Duran knew it.

  37. the thresher 09:27am, 02/22/2012

    I think maybe a fix is pretty bad. When the fix is in, then all trust is lost. Glove loading is very very bad, but very rare. I can think of maybe two or three incidents of it. The fix, however, can move boxing to wrestling overnight. I have seen plenty in my day.

    Popo quit against Chico a few years back and he didn’t get nealy the grief Duran got. I saw that one and it was hard to believe. There is quiting and there is quiting. Some guys quit ion the stool; others take a knee.

  38. "Old Yank" Schneider 08:11am, 02/22/2012

    Cheekay—Love your writing. I will however take umbrage, serious umbrage with one aspect of this article: There is cheating and then there is glove-loading. In my view there is nothing more loathsome and vile as glove-loading—it is in a class by itself. Quitting is spilt milk compared to glove-loading.

  39. Jim Crue 06:58am, 02/22/2012

    in my haste I forgot to include that in my opinion those 2 fights were not only about money but mostly that Oscar did not want to engage and get hit and pay the price later in life as the result of those hits.

  40. Jim Crue 06:38am, 02/22/2012

    Dear Mr. Gajjers,

    I won’t argue with you on this forum but to say he has a truckload of money and that’s enough is very naive. Some folks never have enough money. The Wall Street robbers for example, or A Hole Donald Trump.

    Watch those fights closely. Oscar is not a dumb guy.

  41. Gajjers 06:17am, 02/22/2012

    Come on Jim Crue, are you saying that Oscar ‘sold’ those fights? For what? More glory? Please don’t say bucks - he already had a truckload…

  42. Pete The Sneak 06:05am, 02/22/2012

    Duran, a macho type dude who only wants to rip your head off was totally frustrated and embarassed by Sugar that night (who can forget Ray, in the middle of the Ring, windmilling one hand and striking Duran with the other). He knew this fight was going to be different and that Ray was not going to engage him as he did the first fight, but instead box circles around him. Roberto said “Que se Joda” with this ( a more animated version of No Mas) and walked away. I too feel Duran more than made up for No Mas, his redemption coming full circle in the destruction of Davey Moore in 1983. I was at the Garden that night and the place was electric. When Duran won, No Mas was, well, No Mas. Peace.

  43. Jim Crue 05:59am, 02/22/2012

    I disagree about first thoughts on Duran.  When I think of him I think of the beauty of his subtle moves to slip or avoid a punch, his beautiful counter punching, and his hands of stone. I really wonder if the guys who are legends in their own mind, think Floyd Mayweather, have seen films of Duran and other great fighters.

    As far as the Trinidad- De La Hoya fight goes the entire affair was fishy to me as was the Mayweather- De La Hoya fight. It is very clear that like his GBP company Oscar is not to be trusted. In my opinion both fights were fought under an agreement. Just my personal opinion.

  44. Gajjers 05:34am, 02/22/2012

    I agree with you there, Joe - Hands of Stone was most definitely teak-tough, & highly skilled to boot. His ‘surrender’ was more an expression of disgust for Leonard’s tactics than submission. Cotto has also more than made up for his ‘loss’ (no conspiracy theories here, but I, like many, smell a rat, in the light of subsequent events) in my mind - a true warrior, with tons of dignity. I admire him a lot…

  45. Joe 05:08am, 02/22/2012

    Manos de Piedra is an all-time great.  Funny, he did quit against Ray and I guess because I think so much of him I took it more like he wanted to FIGHT not box on that particular night.  He more than made up for it.  Ortiz is just soft and a quitter, Miguel’s Uncle should have stopped it for him; once he started “dancing” it was over that night.

  46. Gajjers 03:23am, 02/22/2012

    Would Cotto’s capitulation in the face of Margarito’s steady pummeling the 1st time around be called quitting or self-preservation (live to fight another day)?

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