Sunday, October 7, 2012

On Boxing And Hard Road

Boxing has been a part of my life ever since my grandfather first taught me how to throw a punch.  I grew up listening to stories about fights and the fighters he loved – champions like Dempsey, Joe Louis, Jersey Joe Walcott, Ray Robinson, Willie Pep, Sandy Saddler, and Rocky Marciano.  I used to shuffle around the kitchen like I was Sugar Ray, flicking my jab at an imaginary Jake LaMotta until my mother chased me outside (when I got older I turned into Smoking Joe Frazier or Benny Briscoe – my favorite Philly fighters - but it didn’t matter because she still chased me out of the kitchen).  Saturday mornings were spent at the local barber shop, studying the black and white pictures of fighters tacked to the walls, reading Ring Magazine, and listening to the old guys arguing about who was the best pound for pound fighter they ever saw.  Baseball, football, and hockey were seasonal – boxing and the arguments about it remained constant throughout the year.  When I got older I tried my hand at boxing in the local YMCA, and for years afterwards I worked out on a heavy bag in my basement, still imagining I was Ali, Hagler, Mike Tyson, or Bernard Hopkins.  It was always semi-comical to be sitting in a business meeting, dressed in a suit and tie, with hands that were bruised, swollen, and scabbed over from too many brutal nights pounding the leather.
I owe it all to my grandfather.  He instilled in me a love of the sport and a deep appreciation for boxing that showed me how no other sport offered what boxing did.  It had (and still has) everything you could ever want – at its core it is a simple contest between two opponents matching skill, desire, strength, determination, and sometimes, a little luck. 
But boxing is more than that.  It is about passion and sacrifice - a sport for those who often come from nothing and risk it all for a chance at greatness.  Boxing provides the opportunity to achieve immortality for guys who have no other way to find it. I was always fascinated by the sport.  By its purity.  By the dedication and self-discipline it took to be successful.  By what was needed to rise against the odds.  And by the loneliness of each fighter’s existence - in the end, it was always about the fighter getting in the ring alone.  For a kid who grew up by himself, even though he was surrounded by friends, it struck a chord somewhere deep inside that still resonates today. 
In more concrete terms, boxing is about rising from the canvas when you’re knocked down, holding on when you’re being pummeled in the corner, and surviving to fight another round. It is about fighting with everything you have, all your heart, all your skill, and all your ability, and then embracing your opponent when it’s over because he has done the same thing. In boxing you battle more than your opponent – you battle yourself and the hand you were dealt. You battle adversity.  You battle critics and people who tell you that you’ll never make it. You battle your size, your intelligence, your speed, your age, your character, and most importantly, your will.
            Boxing is just like life.  It takes all that was good, bad, noble, and awful, and puts it in the center of the ring. No other sport demonstrates that the ones who are great in life aren’t always the ones who win, but those who fight the hardest to win. It proves that skill, money, and talent can only go so far, and that the true measure of success is in the size of your heart and the strength of your will. It is the ultimate test of man against man, and man against himself. Greatness, like failure, is always just one punch away.  It is the ultimate in competition. 
Maybe I didn’t get all of that from my grandfather – not in those words, but that’s what it turned into.  For a kid like me, it was about beating the odds when nobody believed in me and everyone told me I could never win, no matter how hard I tried.  Boxing was about proving everybody wrong.

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