There is no other contest that man has devised that so embraces truth; no sport, no game, no trial or competition so revels in the black and white of honesty than that of prizefighting.
In boxing the truth is everything.
As a man steps into the ring he is only faced with honesty — honesty to himself and in the judgment of all those eyes upon him. Is he strong enough, fast enough, smart enough, determined enough? Did he train hard enough, is he brave enough? Does his courage falter or flourish when faced with extreme adversity?
Just outside the contest — the men closest ringside — levy truth as they see it too, judging the punishment dished out by the contestants and giving numerical values to the incalculable, unknowable damage being delivered with each blow of the battling combatants.
And while these judges are tabbed to analyze the fight and decide the truth as they see it, some men possess the tools to create their own truth. These truth-touting fighters are prized above all others. They reveal unmistakable answers, with no other interpretation, but the finality of a crumpled body upon the canvas.
A man like Mike Tyson. He was a pure arbiter of honesty. His fists were the gavel of judgement. No higher authority needed to exist.
Fans adored him for the truth he represented. There was no arguing who was bigger, faster, stronger, better… there was simply the man on the ground and the man standing triumphantly above him.
As spectators we prize nothing more than the truth… and there is no escape from honesty in the ring.
What HBO Boxing After Dark proved with its most recent card is that whether you have the biggest names in the sport or men seldom seen across the pond in America, if honesty is held dear, the sport will thrive.
The very foundation of the matches were steeped in honesty. Each of the three televised bouts were crafted to be competitive challenges for all involved. There was no sneaky posturing, or bolstering of a lesser opponent to create the false sense of competition.
No mismatches here, only the ambiguous, mystery-rich excitement of real competition with no obvious predetermined outcomes.
The fact that all three underdogs were able to pull off their respective upsets only underlines the point.
When Sergey Kovalev knocked out previously unbeaten Nathan Cleverly in their light heavyweight bout, he did so with that same harbinger of truth that “Iron Mike” was able to wield: deception-slaying power.
No matter how clever a boxer Cleverly was or how vehement his crowd support, fighting in his hometown of Cardiff, Wales, there was a simple truth to be told — Kovalev’s power was more than Cleverly could withstand.
His withering body attack and a few rounds of honest hard work put the Russian in position to score a major return bout on the big stage of boxing.
A showdown with current division kingpin, Adonis Stevenson, himself a terror-foisting truth teller with devastating power, would be a titanic showdown of terrific proportions.
What boxing fan wouldn’t clamor for a night that saw these two men staring across at one another, ready to tell us the truth of just who the biggest puncher in the light heavyweight division is?
The night’s second fight too gave fight fans reason to admire the purity of a bout decided by punches and not pencils.
Looking and fighting like the less demented brother of the rampaging “Raging Bull” Vic Darchinyan, 122 pounder Kiko Martinez stalked and pounded Jhonatan Romero until only the referee could step in to stop the beating from going further.
Kiko “The Wailer” (a nickname I just coined based off a combination of him “wailing” away on opponents and famed Orca Keiko the Whale of Free Willy fame… hmm perhaps honesty is not the best policy) showed that sometimes truth comes in simple packages.
While Romero possessed height, reach, speed and skill advantages, Martinez was able to overcome these attributes with a simple combination of tenacity, body punching and hard work.
By rounds 5 and 6, in what would end up being the final few of the fight, the left side of Romero’s face could not hide the plain truth. It told anyone watching, explicitly, what had been going on through the fight so far.
His cheek tenderized and pink as though a mallet had pounded his features, had become streaked with scarlet ribbons of blood, emblazoned there like awards of achievement to honor Martinez’s overhand right salvos.
In the final moments of their bout, Romero exhibited his own honesty, fighting on, giving everything he had to stay on his feet and fight back, while taking horrifying punishment in the corner, until referee David Fields stepped between the men.
As Fields whispered something, we must suspect comforting, to the fighter in the moment of the young mans defeat, Romero nodded a few times solemnly acknowledging that he was beaten by the man in the ring with him. Accepting the hard truth that had been delivered to him that night.
As for Martinez perhaps he should look towards his spiritual brother Vic Darchinyan, also haunting the weight class, for a showdown of freight trains. Few fights would be more likely to end with a definitive conclusion, that prized absolute that every fight fan hopes to see. Truth by way of knockout.
Finally, in the night’s main event two men waged a spirited war of attrition. Darren Barker and Daniel Geale, two middleweights who had something to prove, each gave honest accounts of themselves battling for 12 hard rounds that had few moments where one or the other wasn’t professing emphatically to the crowd that they belonged among the divisions classiest fighters.
Barker’s rangy barrage counterpointed Geale’s zeal for punching in pockets and left both men fending off withering attacks throughout the night.
The dedication to body punching, a running theme for all these honest men of the evening, saw Barker ripping off four and five punch combinations to both sides of his hapless opponent’s midsection, while the torso torching reached it’s crescendo when Geale landed a whistling hook to Barker’s liver, doubling the Londoner over in the 6th round.
With his feet kicking the canvas in pain and frustration, perhaps he was recalling when former heavyweight titlst Oleg Maskaev once delivered the truth to a TV commentator about body punching.
He told all of us watching, in a thick, cartoonish, Russian accent, what his trainer had always told him… you want to punch the body because, “There are organs in there.”
While Geale tried playing a goodnight lullaby on Barker’s organs the determined Brit demanded his own encore and waltzed to the end of the round with a gritty performance. Later, sitting heavily on his stool he told his corner of the punch, there “wasn’t nothing I could do about it.” Somewhere Maskaev was laughing maniacally like some hulking James Bond villain.
While Barker felt helpless as he collapsed to the canvas, as it turns out Geale had only punched the old truth button. While Barker may have felt there was nothing that could be done, in fact… there was. He found it within himself to fight harder, more determined, outpacing the punching machine Geale for much of the remaining fight.
At the end of their tooth and nail battle neither of them had been able to manufacture undisputed truth with their fists, and so it was left to the sometimes murky judgement of the observers ringside.
On this night they meted out a fair and honest result: a split decision for Barker, while paying homage to Geale’s tenacity with one score of 114-113 in his favor.
Both men should look to go on to other meaningful fights in the division. Honesty in the ring goes far in showing you are a commodity worth investing in.
And so it goes… under the bright lights of prizefighting, no one can hide from reality. The truth has a way of revealing itself no matter the amount of posturing or hyperbole.
The men fought honestly and spoke honestly afterwards too. Each of the losers accepted their defeat with grace and acknowledging their opponents mastery. Each of the winners were gentlemen in congratulating their adversaries’ toughness.
A lesson that the current boxing world has yet to truly learn was born out in the excellent card that played out that night: If you fight hard, make no excuses and simply allow the truth to be, no one loses.
The fans see excellent fights. The television network has exciting, competitive matches free of criticism. The fighters measure their worth against legitimate opponents. And the sport sorts out the best of the best.
While other sports may have definitive outcomes, or a good measure of who was better on a given day, none do so with the potential for the crystal purity of Boxing.
And while that purity is sometimes hard to attain in a sport that is fractured by sanctioning bodies, rival television networks and feuding promotors, sometimes all of that falls by the wayside.
When you have two men, standing across from each other in the night, just 20 feet between them, absolute truth is within reach if they are both willing to give of themselves fully.
If they rise to the occasion, and compete to their fullest, do not wilt, show courage, spill blood if need be, overcome the weakness inside that tries to undermine them…. if they can triumph over that, then the honesty they display is enough for anyone watching.
No contest yet devised is as plaintively honest or singularly conclusive.
Boxing is truth measured out in 12 doses or less.
It’s that truth that has driven the enduring fascination with prizefighting for generations.
Honesty cannot be questioned. Truth cannot be challenged.
In an existence of daily ambiguity and strife, we each spectate at the apron edges of the ring and wish that all things in life could be so purely decided.