When The Cub Meets The Lion

By Johnathan Lee Iverson on October 17, 2017
When The Cub Meets The Lion
“Jaw's been broke, been knocked down a couple of times, I'm bad!” (AP/Ed Kolenovsky)

Experience is to one’s vocation what seasoning is to a dish. Like wine, there’s just a bolder taste that only time can conjure…

“I’m experienced now, professional,” barked The Greatest in the buildup to his showdown with the then-invincible George Foreman in Zaire, Africa. What is known now as arguably Muhammad Ali’s most masterful engagement, was the culmination of trial by fire and hard-earned wit that only experience can gift; and he knew it too. He spoke it like a master craftsman cognizant of his own peculiar journey and development, which enabled him to dissect the fearsome George Foreman so precisely: “It is befitting that I leave the game just like I came in, beating a big bad monster who knocks out everybody and no one can whup him. That’s when little Cassius Clay from Louisville, Kentucky, came up to stop Sonny Liston. The man who annihilated Floyd Patterson twice. HE WAS GONNA KILL ME! But he hit harder than George. His reach is longer than George’s. He’s a better boxer than George. And I’m better now than I was when you saw that 22-year-old undeveloped kid running from Sonny Liston. I’m experienced now, professional. Jaw’s been broke, been knocked down a couple of times, I’m bad!” The Rumble In The Jungle was Ali’s doctoral thesis in the art of the Sweet Science.

Experience is to one’s vocation what seasoning is to a dish. Like wine, there’s just a bolder taste that only time can conjure. The very act of doing something and doing it well, over a long period of time—devotion to ones craft, is its own brand of genius, that even the most gifted of talents must yield. It’s what allowed someone as aged as Bernard Hopkins to dazzle in the ring against the likes of Felix Trinidad, Jean Pascal, and Kelly Pavlik in such dominant fashion. It’s what enabled the ageless wonder Archie Moore to rise to his feet, again and again, in his epic slugfest with Yvon Durelle. Experience is what enabled Max Schmeling to shock an undefeated Joe Louis. It was that little bit of seasoning that enabled Joseph Bartlett “Joe” Choynski, to knock out an über talented upstart named Jack Johnson in 1901. Choynski would go on to cultivate the young Johnson during their prison stint, which laid the foundation for Johnson’s otherwise epic career.

Not all cubs are as fortunate as the legendary Jack Johnson. Some in an effort to accelerate or under the illusion of their vaunted gifts by way of ego, poor management or both are rushed into the lion’s den ill prepared and unaware of the consequences. Negligent to the powers one can only glean through the toil of experience. Boxing is littered with once promising careers that were vanquished for such a lack of understanding. Indeed, there are exceptions, but they are few and far between. Some, like Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, as was the case when he fought Floyd Mayweather Jr., are accelerated in defeat.  However, exceptions not withstanding, it is far better to err on the side of the age-old adage, respect your elders.

It remains to be seen what will come of the careers of Julian Williams and Erickson Lubin. Highly touted, mega confident, wonderfully talented contenders, nonetheless cubs in a land of lions; and make no mistake the Charlo brothers are, in fact, lions. Whatever they might lack in the aesthetics of the sweet science is more than accounted for in their seasoned approach to it, as was evidenced in how each brother eviscerated his respective foe. The seasoned lion by virtue of experience always has a deeper well to dig from. By well-honed instincts he’s even able to anticipate the behavior of the cub, no matter how exceptional the young scrapper may be. Such was the case as Jermall Charlo stood in the pocket in anticipation of that vicious counter uppercut that would floor Williams, leading to the conclusion of their encounter moments later. So it was this Saturday, in Jermell Charlo’s hotly anticipated and personal encounter versus Erickson Lubin, when Charlo led the talented, yet, inexperienced Lubin to lean into a disorienting right hook. 

The manner in which Lubin and Williams were defeated must be a cautionary tale for every trainer, manager, and the talented fighters they handle. Talent, no matter how great must be fortified through a careful maturation process in order to know its full potential. This doesn’t mean a loss defines ones legacy. In fact, defeat, even a devastating one may very well produce a more substantial and dynamic fighter, as it did for the great Henry Armstrong, among others. Yet, patience is a virtue indeed. There’s no need to potentially stunt the growth of a cub soon to be a lion anyway.

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The Rumble In The Jungle: Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman (Full Fight, 30th October 1974)

Archie Moore vs Yvon Durelle I (Full fight)

Joe Louis vs Max Schmeling I

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  1. The Barker 01:20pm, 10/18/2017

    Respectfully, I think you need to rewatch the Rumble In The Jungle. Also look for videos on Ali’s prep work for the fight. He designed that victory. What he did to Foreman literally changed the course of George’s life:)

  2. tlig 05:31am, 10/18/2017

    I’m not sure The Rumble qualifies as the cub meeting the lion however lionized we choose to make Muhammad Ali. Yes, Ali’s experience helped him get through the bout and earned him the win but it was a very competitive bout. And Ali took sickening punishment.

    If he’d taken George to school and I’d understand, but he really didn’t. I’m a huge Ali fan but people have too far these days in giving him praise; making him more than he was (as if he wasn’t great already).

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