By Ted Sares
Joey LaMotta once told his brother Jake, “You win, you win. You lose, you still win.” He was alluding to Jake’s next fight against inept Billy Fox. Throwing the fight would get him a shot at the champ, Marcel Cerdan. This was a nod to the dark side of boxing.
The expression can have other meanings as well. When Miguel Cotto lost to Floyd Mayweather Jr., his face reflected the many blows Floyd had landed. However, Cotto walked away with enough money to never have to worry again financially. He lost but he won big, and that scenario has been repeated many times in this modern era of PPV and big payday fights
However, the expression as used below reflects something more soulful—something that touches upon the fighting spirit of boxers.
After Paulie Malignaggi lost a brutal fight to Miguel Cotto in June 2006, Lou DiBella said, "I think everyone knew (Paulie) was flashy and had a big mouth and was a cocky kid. I don't think anyone knew he had that kind of grit and heart….I think in defeat he made the biggest statement of his career -- that 'I am a real fighter and I can stand up to anybody, even a bigger, stronger guy.’ ”
Despite a broken orbital bone that made his cheek look grotesque, he fought to win and in the process won over Cotto’s tough Puerto Rican fans who applauded him after the fight. Paulie lost, but he really won because now everyone knew that in addition to all the flash and bling, there was true grit. Paulie gained more from that loss than Cotto did from the win.
Going back all the way to 1982, Ghana’s Azumah Nelson exploded onto the scene even though he was knocked out in the 15th round by Salvador Sanchez in front of relatively few fans at Madison Square Garden.
The crowd was small (5,575 paid) because few knew who Nelson was. That would never be the case after the fierce and furious war in which Nelson gave the legendary Sanchez all he could handle and then some. After an even battle in the early rounds, “Chava” was able to turn the tide to some extent in the seventh when he floored “The Professor” with a short hook. However, Nelson fought back and even won two late rounds using sheer aggression and grit. By the 14th stanza, the buzz around ringside was that a possible upset was in the making. Nelson had shocked onlookers by his ability to win several fierce exchanges and even shake up Sanchez.
In the 15th round, Nelson again pressed the action but a right and then a left hook rocked the gallant challenger and he was now ripe for the taking. Out on his feet, he continued to punch aimlessly and was put down hard, but incredibly he got up ready to continue until referee Tony Perez stepped in and performed a mercy stoppage.
This would be Sanchez’s last fight before he was fatally injured in a car crash. As for Nelson, his remarkable career then took off and he would eventually join “Chava” in the International Boxing Hall of Fame
As Michael Carbert poignantly writes in Fight City: “The truth remains that a young Azumah Nelson gave an electrifying performance that night, an astonishing exhibition of heart and determination that could only have been withstood and overcome by a boxer of equal courage and even greater talent. Salvador Sanchez had already proved himself a truly great boxer, but on that summer night in New York City he put the finishing, final touch on a Hall of Fame legacy just before it all came to an end. Before the young Salvador….fatally underestimated a risky maneuver on a dusty, narrow Mexican road, and left boxing fans to forever speculate as to what might have been.”
Azumah Nelson lost but he also won on that night in New York City. He had gained the respect of aficionados, writers, and other fighters.
There have been other fights where the loser actually increased his stock, turbo-charging his career. When recently retired George “The Saint” Groves fought fellow Brit Carl “The Cobra” Froch in the first of their two fights in November 2013, he almost upset Froch, dropping him in the first round and then being stopped in a highly controversial and seemingly premature fashion in the ninth round.
Ray Mancini’s late round loss to Alexis Arguello in 1981 and Emanuel Augustus’s losing effort against Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2000 did nothing to hurt their careers.
On January 26, 2019, undefeated welterweight champion Keith “One Time” Thurman defended his WBA title with a majority decision over grizzled veteran Josesito Lopez who has fought extremely stiff opposition over the course of his career. Judges Tom Schreck (117-109) and Steve Weisfeld (115-111) both saw it for Thurman, while judge Don Ackerman somehow had it a 113-113 draw—apparently giving Lopez rounds for stalking.
Thurman was expected to shake off ring rust caused by a two-year hiatus from the ring and halt Lopez in the late rounds, and “One Time” did control matters until the seventh when the stalking Lopez suddenly came to life and almost stopped Thurman. A Lopez left hook, followed by a straight right, hurt Thurman who then went into survival mode. Lopez, however, would not let up, also winning the eighth as he landed more hard shots on a backtracking Thurman. Finally Keith regained control and went on to win.
While Thurman may get a great payday if a fight against Manny Pacquiao is made, it was Lopez who got the cheers from the fans. Rather than be a patsy (i.e. a designated loser), the “Riverside Rocky” left Barclays Center in Brooklyn with his tough guy reputation well intact. He left with more than he came in with and that’s what boxers do when they lose but “win.”
Editor’s note: How many other examples can you think of? We welcome your input.
Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and Strongman competitors and may compete in the Ukraine in 2019. He is a lifetime member of Ring 10, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is an Auxiliary Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA).
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