It’s thought by some that the fist bump originated with boxing, you know. A handshake isn’t much of an option when you have 10 ounces of leather on your paws, so boxers touch gloves at the beginning of fights in a display of sportsmanship.
But there’s a school of thought that touching gloves in a fight — outside of that initial introduction — is a sign of lacking toughness. That school of thought exists for similar displays, like nodding at an opponent or giving him some kind of pat. Showtime analyst Antonio Tarver uttered this last weekend after super middleweight Allan Green gave his opponent a tap with his glove: “I didn’t like the fact that he tapped Andre Ward before the end of the round to congratulate him for a good job well done. You can never become champion with that attitude.”
This orthodoxy, spoken commonly by boxing commentators of all stripes, bothers me. The reason is because by itself, that kind of gesture means nothing about whether a boxer has the right attitude to win a fight. And the reason that’s true is because boxers who do it all the time still somehow manage to win bouts.
Take Ward-Green. On at least two occasions after Green landed nice punches, Ward nodded at him. In the Oscar De La Hoya-Steve Forbes junior middleweight fight in 2008, Forbes’ nods at De La Hoya prompted HBO’s commentators to criticize Forbes for behaving like a “sparring partner.” Forbes lost that fight. Ward won his, and he certainly didn’t behave like a sparring partner in that bout, unless blanking your opponent for 12 straight rounds is what sparring partners do. So which is it? Does nodding at your opponent after a landed blow mean you’re not intent on winning? I think Ward’s case proves it doesn’t.
Or take welterweight Shane Mosley. He often touches gloves with his opponent at the end of rounds. He took fire for doing so repeatedly in May against Floyd Mayweather, with some critics alleging Mosley had conceded victory to Mayweather with the gesture. But I wonder if Antonio Margarito thinks the same of Mosley’s fist bumps, since Mosley touched gloves with him repeatedly… mid-assassination.
The list goes on and on. The best fighter in the world, welterweight Manny Pacquiao, touches gloves frequently with his opponents and nods at them incessantly when they land a good shot. Somehow, he’s still the best fighter in the world with that loser’s attitude.
Now, I think we can all agree that there are some occasions where being a bit too congratulatory toward your opponent can be a bad idea. Mosley extended his glove for a fist bump one too many times against Mayweather, who decided not to oblige the gesture of sportsmanship the final time and popped Mosley one while he held his glove out. And maybe if a boxer’s never shown a predilection of friendly pats suddenly starts doing it in a fight, we can infer that he’s somehow off his game. But those occasions are rare.
So can we stop harping on this please? Sometimes, touching gloves is just touching gloves. There are plenty of “champions” who do it, and it doesn’t seem to keep them from being champs.