Sunday, May 13, 2007

Why Boxing Is Important

By Tom Schreck, author of On the Ropes, A Duffy Dombrowski Mystery

I remember taking my bar stool outside the edge of the Madison Square Garden ring and looking over to see George Foreman five seats away. The same jolly character who sells electric grills and mufflers was sitting with a scowl on his face away from the other TV people. I can still see the fabric of his suit jacket stretching to get around his biceps and something told me he wasn’t quite the grandfatherly guy that Madison Avenue said he was.

Don King was standing above me in the ring waving two flags while Michael Buffer, the Let’s-Get-Ready-to-Rumble announcer was waiting for his cue from Tammy the HBO producer. Sitting behind me to the right was Bob Costas and Dan Marino and on the other side of the ring The Donald and Mike Tyson were both in the front row. The Garden, billed as the most famous arena in the world, was 90% filled. It was a heavyweight title fight and I was assigned to judge it, one of three officials who decides who wins. The fighters were making more than $3 million for the next 36 minutes of work.
Ringside was filled with sharp dressed men and their leggy, super-model dates. The upper decks were filled with beer drinking blue collars dressed in the national colors of their fighter. A big fight is great theater and you could write a psychological doctoral thesis on everything that’s going on in, around and outside the ring. The tension is electric and nearly explosive and the fighters try to harness the energy and channel it a disciplined way. It’s elegant, poetic and barbaric all at the same time.

Lost on many fans and casual observers of the fight game is the undercard, the fights that are opening acts for the main event. While the title fight gets broadcast around the world at 11:00 pm from a nearly full Garden, people have already forgotten that at 6:00 pm the undercard began in front a few hundred people in a cavernous arena.
Those two fighters weren’t getting pain a million and half each. They were making about $400.
You’ll often hear people say “Hey, I’d let Mike Tyson knock me out for ten million!” It’s doubtful that they would though, because that one punch might ruin or end their life. Regardless, I’m pretty confident that those same loudmouths wouldn’t climb in to the ring for $400. Yet, every week in this country that’s what the vast majority of professional fighters are getting paid.

Why do they do it?

Because they love to fight.

I’ve boxed for years and, at the age of 45, I still do. I’m not good but I’ve been a gym rat long enough to know the ins and outs of what happens in the ring. It’s a skill and an art form and it taxes you physically, psychologically and emotionally. It’s scares the hell out of you, infuriates you and leaves you exhausted and exhilarated. It places you right in front of your fears and leaves you alone to face them. For me, it’s nice to win but that’s an aside. It’s important to do something crazy that scares the hell out you just for the good of doing it.

But doesn’t it hurt? Of course it does and it has to. Recently, there’s been a boxing-as-exercise fitness craze and people will often tell me how they “box.” There’s no question that a boxing workout is a challenging cardiovascular exercise but without the fighting element boxing without getting his is as close to boxing as masturbation is to sex with a partner. It might be fun but it really isn’t the same.

People ask me how I’d do in a street fight and the honest answer is I don’t know. The thing that makes me feel most confident (or at least less fearful) about being faced with a street fight is that I know what it’s like to get punched hard in the face by someone who knows how to do it. I know I’ve taken shots and as unpleasant as that can be, I know I took them. As strange as it sounds, that’s important.

It also spills over into your real life. Guys who have spent their lives fighting have less to prove. They may be competitive but you don’t see them getting macho in board meetings trying to prove themselves—because they don’t have to. Some big shot Wall Street rainmaker feels like a tough guy until he’s around a guy who can really fight. Then all the Wall Street metaphors about doing battle really seem silly around someone who knows what battling is. I think there would be a lot less macho bullshit if more people learned to fight and got it out of their systems instead of sublimating it and barfing all over everyone they come in contact with.

My protoganist is a low level fighter who makes his living in the world of social work. He has spent his life fighting in the ring and the book is about how he fights outside the ring. He looks at life as a boxer and a man who understands what it means to take a shot that hurts and that mindset helps him be an effective counselor. He’s also a man who keeps getting up when he gets knocked down and he applies that mentality to his human service career.

The other thing that you should know is that he taps into that crazy side that gets him into the ring in the first place. That sometimes gets him into trouble but it also makes him who he is.

It’s also what makes boxing important.


Bill Cameron said...

With very rare exceptions, getting hit in a street fight is orders of magnitude better than getting hit by a trained fighter. I've never boxed, but I did martial arts for years in a system with a strong street fighting training regimen and lots of tournament fighting. I've been kicked and punchedGenerally speaking, if you can handle yourself against trained fighters, random anybodies aren't a problem. Unless they're armed, of course.

Mark Terry said...

I study Sanchin-Ryu karate and am a 2nd degree brown belt. The Power House gym where I lift weights has a boxing room because the owner is into it and one of the trainers at the gym is a fight trainer. I've watched him train a couple pro boxers (or whatever passes for pro at the lower levels) and as I've commented to my karate instructor, I have no interest in getting in a fight with these guys.

Would I be able to handle myself in a street fight? Maybe. Street fights don't last very long.

Would I be able to handle myself against a trained boxer? F*** no. They hit hard, they hit often and they're in amazing shape. And damn, they can probably outrun me.

I've done just enough sparring in karate to understand how exhausting 3 minutes in a fight can be. I still can't fathom boxers able to go 12 rounds.

Mark Combes said...

I Scuba dive but don't box. But I wonder if some "adventure" sports aren't similar psychologically.

Non-divers ask me, "Don't you get scared?"
"Sometimes," I answer.
"Then why do you do it?"
"Because I'm not scared all the time. And the times I'm not scared, I'm thrilled."

I'd rather die while I'm living that live while I'm dead.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...


I always wondered what guys were thinking when they stepped into the ring. Thanks for the wonderful insiders' view. I especially loved the honesty about the street fight. One of my favorite movies is Four Friends. I think it has a pretty realistic bar fight scene. Our "hero" pukes on his opponent. '

Now that I can do! And I don't even need training.

And as for being scared, shoot, that's part of being human, isn't it? I was riding my bike in a group ride and looked down to see my computer registering 35 mph. Then I saw the truck.

Scared? You betcha. But the rest of the day just felt like a miracle to me!