Let’s talk about quitting for a moment, shall we? Boxing fans, writ large, are all but genetically incapable of nuance. When it comes to the dreaded Q word, however, a bit of it is desperately required. Quitting, or the perception thereof, is tantamount to surrender in boxing, and for an industry built almost entirely on the bloodlust of sad weirdos, it is the original sin.
Perverts and serial killers aside, don’t we all seem to agree that the health of these fighters is our greatest concern? So why then do we not allow the fighters to value it as well? It’s like, “Hey, sorry you have to eat all your food in paste form and can only communicate using flashcards when you’re 37 but at least a bunch of strangers thought you were tough that one time.” Doesn’t seem like a fair trade-off.
The temptation to compare different fighters’ reactions to similar injuries is understandable but ultimately disingenuous. Muhammad Ali fought with a broken jaw, why can’t Victor Ortiz? Naoya Inoue went the full 12 with a busted eye socket, why can’t Kell Brook? Butterbean fought with a load of crap in his pants every night, why can’t Six Heads Lewis? And on it goes.
The truth is, every fighter responds differently to physical punishment and the right to do so is 100% theirs. Is it admirable to see a guy with his face hanging off and his elbow where his asshole should be, continue fighting knowing he won’t be able to kiss his wife or hug his kids again? Sure. Is it wise? Probably not.
As fans, we’ve made a silent contract with the fighters we watch. We’ll trade our money for your health. Our admiration for your recklessness. The second that contract gets broken and a fighter decides to value his well-being over our adulation, the deal is voided. We feel cheated and betrayed. We did our part, right? We came for blood and you will give it to us.
It’s all complete and utter bullshit. Only a psychopath thinks this way and trust me, I would know.
We all came to this sport out of some innate desire for violence. I don’t know why and I’m not sure I want to. This sport pulls people in because it allows humans to watch other humans act in very inhuman ways. It’s gross, weird, and beautiful. It’s everything inspiring and disgusting about humanity all wrapped into a neatly packaged product. Never underestimate the time and money people are willing to spend on seeing their revenge fantasies manifested physically.
And that, my friends, finally brings us to Billy Joe Saunders.
Though hailing from the UK, Saunders (30-1, 14 KO) is, by all accounts, a man without a country. Rather, he puts the “cunt” in the word “country” and seems rather proud to do so. Saunders’ well-earned reputation as a shithead has engendered him to practically no one, and even that feels like too many.
As Saunders stepped into the ring on Saturday night against Canelo Alvarez at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on a DAZN televised card, the desire for his comeuppance had practically fueled the entire promotion.
After a fight-week filled with insults, threats, and crying about the size of the ring, Saunders had gone full Saunders for all to see. Canelo (56-1-2, 38 KO), for his part, seemed unfazed by it all.
From the opening bell, it was clear Saunders’ plan was to use every inch on the 22-foot ring to keep Canelo moving and pot shot from the outside. Canelo had success early with his trademark bodywork but couldn’t get Saunders to sit still long enough to land anything of note.
In round 4, Saunders began to find a home for his awkward southpaw jab. Canelo was having trouble countering and for two or three rounds Saunders seemed to be implementing his game plan.
As I understand it though, they fight 12 of these things.
Around the midway point of round 8 Canelo landed an uppercut on the inside that exploded onto the right eye of Saunders. As Canelo sensed blood, so too did the record-breaking crowd in AT&T arena. Another brutal body shot from Canelo put Saunders on the defensive once again as Canelo hulked up and pumped his fists.
Round 9 looked to become the turning point of the fight but before the bell could even ring the fight was over.
The damage to Saunders’ eye was simply too much and his corner made the decision to pull the plug, awarding Canelo an 8th round stoppage victory.
And here’s where the fun starts.
Cries of “quitter!” filled the arena and flooded all the requisite online forums. Again, you can’t fault the impulse. Saunders had done this to himself. The fans wanted to see him take a beating and in their eyes, he got off light. MUST. HAVE. BLOOD.
The injury to Saunders’ eye was later to be a completely shattered orbital bone. It would be insane to expect someone to brush their teeth with an injury of this nature, let alone continue fist fighting against the perceived best fighter in the world.
But that’s what a lifetime of watching superhuman fighters compete in the direst of circumstances has done to our brains. We expect fighters to make impossible choices with potentially disastrous consequences and to do it with a smile. It’s insane.
Billy Joe Saunders is a shitty dude but he’s a shitty dude with a family. I want them to be able to see him again and for him to be able to see them. A plus one in the loss column is a small price to pay for getting to live the rest of your life with your eyesight intact.
Fighters aren’t superheroes. Their bodies are susceptible to the same laws of physics that ours are. A larger reserve of toughness is expected of them, sure, but to ask them to abandon their future prospect for a normal life simply to satisfy our bloodlust is psycho shit.
Quitting isn’t always a bad thing. Quitting a shitty relationship or a dead-end job is admirable. Assessing risk and making a cost-benefit analysis is part of life. Sometimes folding your hand and walking away from the table is the smartest move available.
Everyone has the right to decide what the best decision is for them, their health, and their families.
Even total shitheads.
(Photo by Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing)