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What is the True Mark of Greatness in Boxing?

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  • What is the True Mark of Greatness in Boxing?

    Click image for larger version  Name:	donaire.PNG Views:	1 Size:	412.6 KB ID:	17406

    By Darren Martindale

    By Special Correspondent Darren Martindale -- Is it about mesmerising opponents with dazzling displays of defensive genius? Is it reducing them to rubble with devastating punching power? Is it having the guts to overcome adversity - getting off the floor to win, finding a way to triumph against an opponent of equal talent, or landing that last-round haymaker when trailing on the scorecards?

    Greatness can contain any, or all, of the above. But there’s something else. It’s a precious ingredient that can define someone - not only as a fighter, but as a human being. It can either ruin or revitalise a career, especially when the stakes are high, and yet it’s just as critical to a novice amateur as it is to a world champion.

    It is knowing how to lose.

    Very few quality world champions have managed to retire undefeated. Heavyweight icon Rocky Marciano is one oft-cited example. In more recent years, Welshman Joe Calzaghe became another paid-up member of that exclusive club. Sooner or later, however, almost all the greats are beaten.

    How they come back from that defeat often defines the merely ‘good’ from the genuinely ‘great’.

    Can a fighter turn a loss into a learning experience? Are they able to come back stronger, smarter and with a renewed focus, like Lennox Lewis following his upset stoppage by Oliver McCall in 1994? After that shock, Lewis went soul-searching, switched trainers to Manny Steward and returned a better, more mature fighter. He easily dispatched McCall in their rematch.

    Or, are they psychologically damaged, their confidence and aura ruined along with their unbeaten record, as American Jeff 'Left Hook' Lacy seemed to be after Calzaghe outclassed, dominated and destroyed him in ripping away his IBF Super Middleweight title?

    The reaction to a loss can be particularly telling in the early stages - when the fighter's response is instinctive, their emotions raw. It offers a fascinating insight into their character, intelligence and motivation. It can reflect where they’ve been prior to the loss and which way they’re likely to go after it. Here is how the days and weeks that follow a prize fight can be as revealing, and sometimes as entertaining, as what went on between the ropes.

    We’ve seen two big-name boxers taste defeat in recent months, then display fantastically differing reactions to it. One showed us everything that is pure and good about this sport that we love. The other revealed, perhaps, rather too much about what’s wrong with it.

    Nobody would consider Deontay Wilder’s destruction at the hands of Tyson Fury, in February 2020, as anything less than traumatic for the banger from Alabama. Fury out-jabbed him. Then he out-punched him. Then he mauled, manhandled and bludgeoned him until Wilder’s treasured WBC heavyweight title belt fell off his shell-shocked frame. It was a defeat so complete that Wilder must have wondered whether he’d disappeared down a wormhole and then popped back up in some parallel universe where, instead of a feared, undefeated world champion, he was some hapless journeyman getting paid to be crucified by this grinning, taunting, shaven-skulled giant.

    Yet, even with all that considered, the now ex-champ's excuses, following his mugging by the self-styled ‘Gypsy King’, ranged from the ludicrous to the outright embarrassing.

    Wilder couldn’t seem to make up his mind about who, or what, to blame. One moment, it was his cornerman’s fault for pulling him out too early. Then, it was his bicep, which was apparently torn during the bout and had him feeling ‘like a zombie’. At times, Wilder had us wondering whether he’d paid an impersonator to fight Fury for him:

    “He [Fury] knows that wasn’t me. I know that wasn’t me. Everyone knows that wasn’t the real Deontay Wilder...”

    The greatest howler of all, however, was Wilder blaming his defeat on his elaborate ring walk costume. Reportedly weighing about 40 pounds, this crushing burden had drained his legs of all their strength (“my legs were just shot all the way through”). Unfortunately, with its mask, gown, tinselly crown and glowing red eyes, the outfit also made the ‘Bronze Bronzer’ look like a Transformer that had got all dressed up for the Christmas party – and gone way over the top.

    I like Wilder. Although his comments, in the past, have swerved in tone from pure class to the totally crass, you instinctively feel that he’s a good guy. I’d like to think he’s a great father to his many children, and that’s a far more important job than being a boxer.

    What really stuck in the craw of the boxing establishment, however, was that this man – who had once slammed an opponent, Bermane Stiverne, for making excuses after Wilder had beaten him (“nobody wants to hear an excuse once you lose. When you lose, you lose. Deal with it.”) – refused to recognise the legitimacy of Fury’s win and his status as a unified champion. It was as if this reversal was entirely unconnected with the shovel-sized fists of Fury, and had everything to do with everything else.

    Dumb move, Deontay.

    According to the Swiss psychologist Kubler-Ross, there are 5 stages in the process of coping with grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. While it’s not a bereavement, it is reasonable to see the removal of Wilder’s hard-earned champion status and unbeaten record as a crushing loss for him. Parallels might be drawn with George Foreman’s reaction after his 1973 knockout at the hallowed hands of Muhammad Ali, in the iconic ‘Rumble in the Jungle’. Foreman has since reflected that he felt he’d lost, not only his unbeaten record and world heavyweight title, but also part of himself as a man. It took Big George years to recover.

    Wilder is clearly stuck at the same stage of anger and denial. How he moves toward ‘acceptance’, what he learns about himself and how he rebuilds, is likely to determine his ultimate place in history.

    In stark contrast, let’s look again at the World Boxing Super Series final, in November 2019, when Naoya Inoue and Nonito Donaire staged 12 rounds of beautiful brutality to determine who was the best bantamweight on the planet.

    Inoue’s nickname is terrifyingly simple - and simply terrifying: ‘The Monster’. A rising star in the ‘pound for pound’ rankings, the unbeaten Japanese knockout artist had dispatched his quarter and semi-final opponents in a grand total of five minutes and 29 seconds. Donaire, while a former ‘pound-for-pounder’ himself, now had several losses to his name. Ten years Inoue’s senior at 36, the 'Filipino Flash' was generally considered lucky to have reached the final. The scene was set for a classic ‘passing of the torch’ finale, with Donaire swept aside and Inoue assuming his rightful place as WBA and IBF kingpin and the division’s undisputed leading man.

    The players opened the drama as might be expected, with Donaire pressing forward behind a high guard, targeting Inoue’s body with sweeping hooks. The seasoned veteran was playing the long game; looking to patiently wear down the young pretender. Inoue played his part with a more swashbuckling style; flashing jabs with his low-held left, then slamming in hooks or dropping right hand bombs over the top.

    If Inoue hadn’t realised he was in for a tough night by the end of the first round, it certainly registered in the second. Donaire decided he’d dispense with the script and crashed in a left hook which ripped open the flesh over Inoue’s right eye. Inoue later reported that the punch had fractured his orbital bone and that he suffered double vision for the remainder of the fight. One can only imagine what it looks like to be attacked by two Nonito Donaires.

    An orbital fracture is a serious injury – it has led to stoppages, retirements, and fighters losing their eyesight in the past. Inoue simply shrugged it off and battled on for 10 more gruelling rounds.

    Indeed, he controlled most of them, but every minute was a dour struggle for both men. Hurt in the fifth, Donaire clawed his way back then rocked Inoue with a booming right in the ninth. Yet, the pendulum would swing again as Inoue floored his opponent with a perfectly-placed left hook to the liver in the penultimate round. Somehow, the ‘Filipino Flash’ survived both this and the furious onslaught that followed.

    When the bell finally rang to end a torrid twelfth, the pair fell into each other’s arms, drained but jubilant.

    The post-fight hug is surely one of the most beautiful, bizarre, mystifying and life-affirming factors in the crazy sport of boxing. It is a moment of tacit recognition, between exhausted rivals, that they have found, bared and shared parts of themselves that very few people will ever need - or wish - to explore.

    Yet there were, at first, interesting differences in the body language of the conqueror and the conquered. Donaire gripped his rival tightly around the shoulders and held him to his chest, like a loving father welcoming a prodigal son, while Inoue’s grip was slightly looser, and he was the first to break away. He knew he’d won, and he was the star with the glittering future. He had one eye on the ring that he stood in, but the other was peering toward the horizon where future rings, battles and conquests awaited.

    The nuances told us that this episode had meant more to Donaire, in a sense, than it had to his opponent. It could have been his last hurrah, after all, and he’d made his statement - he’d gone down proudly and with all guns blazing. He would not be brushed aside. The titles were Inoue’s, but the night belonged to Donaire.

    Moments later, the victor walked over to Donaire’s corner to, again, offer his commiserations and thanks for the broken eye. This time he knelt before Nonito, who slid off his stool to meet him, and they embraced again. The now ex-champion almost seemed to be consoling Inoue, tenderly cradling his head, as if it were the younger fighter who had lost.

    The image of two proud, unbelievably tough warriors embracing on their knees, in a palpable expression of gratitude and respect, will live long in the memories of anyone privileged enough to witness it.

    Later, there was one final scene to this heroic drama. Inoue loaned his former foe the WBSS trophy so that Donaire could fulfil a promise to his sons – that they would see it in the morning (Donaire: “And with tears in my eyes, I humbly asked Inoue to borrow it for a night, not for me but for my word”). A video of the hooded ex-champ, consoling his distraught sons with the huge golden trophy, is another memorable image in a story that’s studded with them.

    Indeed, Donaire framed his defeat as a ‘life lesson’ for his boys (take note, Mr Wilder): “You will win. You will lose. But in either aspect you will do so graciously.”

    This was a fighter showing his class. This was how to accept a defeat and grow from it. This was a true mark of greatness.

    About the Author: Darren Martindale is a senior manager in education in the UK, and an ex-teacher, and moonlights as a freelance writer. When he's not writing about education, he indulges his passion as a lifelong boxing fanatic. Once the world returns to a semblance of normality, he will resume training for a White Collar boxing bout, which he's also writing a story this space!

    Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

  • #2

    Welcome to the world of fight writing!

    I enjoyed this piece very much. You are absolutely right about Wilder. He’s an atrocious loser. He fits right in with the anger presently sweeping up the streets and raging against the system. Honestly, he has the emotions and mind-state of a woman and thus he’s really a Beta Male. Tyson Fury, now that’s an Alpha Male. But if you think Wilder is a bad loser, just imagine what a bad winner he would’ve been if somehow he’d gotten past Fury to stake his claim as undefeated heavyweight champion of a world gone mad with BLM terrorism, cancel culture tyranny and a communist lockdown of sports that threatens to be permanent. Wilder as “forever Black champion” of that world? No thank you. He’d still be claiming injustice even if he’d won so THANK GOD & CHRIST that TYSON FURY made Wilder quit as Fury represents everything they hate: literal White Power personified in a Gypsy King who nobody feels bad about insulting and/or discriminating against. You’re absolutely right, the most important quality in any true champion is the ability to lose with grace and come back from it. By comparison when AJ lost to Ruiz, he was pure class in defeat and then won the rematch. Wilder is exposed as a front runner, a would-be race hustler (to this day!!!!) so it’s better that during this “unprecedented time” the heavyweight titles are home in the U.K. being respected, protected and in time, unified. That could never happen now in the US, at least not for a long time. Good job Darren! 👍


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  • #3
    Nice insights ...even without the contrast of personalities the story on Inoue / Donaire stands by itself ...X2 on the good job and looking forward to hearing more from you


    • #4
      Thanks for the article. I enjoyed the fight, and the show of sportsmanship was up there with Usyk vs Bellew.