My undergraduate mentor always starts a piece of advice with, “My boy…” I’m 35 and he still does it. He spoke to me that way when I was a precocious 18 year old hell bent on fucking up his own life. He said it to me when I was a driven, if utterly directionless, 23 year old who’d just returned to school from Iraq. He said it to me when I was a nominally successful researcher. He says it to me now. “My boy…” is the precursor to being reminded that I am human, frail, and just as prone to mistakes as anyone. That’s not lost on me, but being the egoist that I am, I always wrinkle my nose. I wrinkle my nose because despite it coming from a place of avuncular guidance, I know deep down that on some level I’m being spoken down to, and that sometimes that is exactly what I need.
The vast majority of the time, however, I don’t need it. Last Friday night on ESPN, I didn’t need cloying and incessant reminders that Ray Beltran needed a win to finally secure his green card, a tale we’ve been hearing for quite some time. I didn’t need to know that he’d made ends meet by working as a sparring partner for years. I didn’t need his tale of adversity. I didn’t need to hear that Paulus Moses was attempting to become “the oldest lightweight champion in history.” The general sports fan may find background stories about fighters compelling, they may even tune in to see a few moments. That doesn’t hold their attention.
When you’ve got a damn good fight on your hands, that ends with the right decision no less, it’s time to psychoanalyze less and appreciate more. A fight doesn’t become more compelling because of the emotional/financial/citizenship state of the fighters. The action inside the ring is what matters. That’s what keeps viewers coming back. ESPN was quick to throw up a tweet from NBA player Damian Lillard. Do you think he was interested in the action, or Mark Kriegel’s gushing attempts to be a lobotomized Larry Merchant on an oxytocin drip? If that’s the audience you’re after, shut the fuck up about your feelings and show some highlights with a little technical analysis thrown in.
ESPN has gone whole hog into the narrative market. I always figured it was Teddy Atlas being unwilling to let go of his pre-fight ‘ideas’ and Joe Tessitore being too goddamn terrified to disagree with him, but I was wrong. If you follow any sport coverage on the worldwide leader, it’s the same thing. Performance with a bit of context is meaningless. Now, performance is the context to serve the narratives around petty squabbles and the execrable “legacy” discussions. I’m aware that ESPN and Top Rank are partners on the boxing coverage, but sitting through an infomercial disguised as a broadcast is about as down as you can be spoken to. I’m an adult, I don’t need a soliloquy on the myriad types of dog shit to know they all smell bad.
Which leads me to this upcoming weekend. Superfly 2 on HBO is a stacked card full of action fights. As HBO led the way in the ‘narrative above all else’ parade, I’m not hopeful for the announce team, but goddamn am I ready for the fights. Great fights belong to the fighters and the fans. Their performances become our memories. The performances are what lead us to their stories as people. That’s why we want to know who they are and where they came from. When announcers talk over that and try to bend the action to their script, they’re stealing the moment from the only two groups that matter.
Since I’ll be unable to watch the fights live on Saturday, I guess my only question is: who’s going to warn me if I should mute the TV?
- Naseem Hamed obesely & (I assume) drunkenly insisting that Chris Eubank Jr. should retire following his pantsing by George Groves was marvelous. In fact, his entire series of comments are fantastic
- I alternated between horrified by Brandon Rios slurring his words, laughing at Showtime’s Jim Gray acting tough, and enjoying Shawn Porter’s antics after Danny Garcia churned Rios’s brains into Maraca pebbles last Saturday. Of the PBC fighters near his weight, Porter has had by far the toughest schedule, and he’s ambitious. Can’t blame a guy for being angry that he can’t get a big fight within the same stable when his contemporaries are busy congratulating themselves for taking vacations and knocking out the husks of former lightweights who were on the decline five years ago.
- Speaking of Rios, he actually looked pretty good until Garcia turned him into a human lawn dart. Needless to say though, that cast iron chin of his is gone for good.
- The judges score cards that gave Victor Ortiz a majority draw against Devon Alexander on the PBC on Fox broadcast were fucking criminal. Alexander won at least 9 rounds. The fight was a prolapsed colon to watch, so my outrage is metered by indifference, but christ on a cracker those were bad.
- For what was basically a shutout on the cards, David Benavidez decision win over Ronald Gavril was a lot of fun. That’s about as competitive a fight as I’ve ever seen in which I was confident that one guy had won every round. Benavidez is a helluva young fighter.
- On a related cloying and incessant note, big ups to Robert Guerrero and the rest of the PBC on Fox team for making it through a broadcast without mentioning that Robert’s wife Casey is a cancer survivor.