When you see a fighter removed from his senses and transformed into a bumbling, crazy-legged dope stumbling around the ring, it’s hard not to blow things out of proportion. If a disastrous defeat doesn’t invoke a feeling of doom for the loser, you may not be human.
Predictably, Amir Khan’s TKO 4 loss to Danny Garcia on Saturday set off “He’s done” talk by fans and media. And just as predictable were those too cool for school types who mocked the very idea of such talk.
Fans and “experts” come in all shapes and pay grades– From casual observers with a five or six year frame of reference to those who became experts because they watched their TVs really, really hard for a really, really long time. The fact of the matter is that, sometimes, one big loss does permanently affect a fighter and sometimes a beating is merely a character builder.
It rubs boxing historians and purists the wrong way to suggest that one loss (or two or three) “ruins” a fighter. But what if the loser is a 25-year-old kid, glued to social media, addicted to internet minutiae, padded with millions of dollars, and surrounded by yes men with six months to wait before a shot at redemption?
After a crushing loss, how many of these guys will go back to the drawing board and work on their deficiencies as opposed to taking solace in the promotional spin issued as damage control? Upon their return, how likely is it that their management will gloss over the loss and the underlying causes behind the loss in favor of simple matchmaking sleight of hand for the big comeback?
We’re not in the 1950’s where a loss in a club fight in Chicago becomes just a number on a ring record, easily forgotten with next week’s win in Boston. These days, with major fighters only fighting about twice a year, with millions watching on TV and dozens of reporters churning out reports and analysis after the fact, each fight takes on an exaggerated importance. The effect of a loss is there and, for some, it may mark the beginning of the end.
Arrested development would be the key phrase when describing many of the new age boxing stars. They boast half-baked skill-sets and spend way too much time bogged down in non-fight distractions. Is it any wonder that hard-nosed guys like Josesito Lopez, Danny Garcia, and Carlos Molina are ruining promotional plans left and right? These blue-collar fighters are fighting to pay their bills. They don’t have an entourage and don’t have the luxury of not taking things seriously.
Face it– Prizefighting in the new millennium is a whole new game. It shouldn’t be, but it is. All bets are off when comparing them to past generations.These aren’t your grandfather’s fighters anymore.
Old school boxers only worried themselves with boxing. To the stars of today, boxing is merely part of their 5-year marketing plan. One gets the feeling with some that, if it were possible, the actual fighting would be eliminated from the plan altogether. This isn’t to say that they are inherently lesser pugilists than those who came before them or that, when push comes to shove, they aren’t fighters at heart. It’s just that the actual fighting is no longer their sole priority. The hours upon hours previous generations spent perfecting basic skills have been replaced, to some degree, with oxygen therapies and isometric drills designed by hotshot nutritionists.
All of this has created the greatest group of athletes boxing has ever seen, but quite possibly, the poorest skilled boxers of all-time. Nowadays, we see two and three-time world champions and pound-for-pound sweethearts who lack basic, fundamental skills many old timers would expect from three-year novices.
There are plenty of reasons for this. Blame the amateur scoring system which has all but destroyed the art of infighting. Blame the mix of stifling boxing politics with the overabundance of paper titles that allows easy paths to championships. Blame the business end of the sport that encourages fighters not to test the deep end of the pool until it’s too late to prevent drowning.
Whatever the case, the fact is that these guys are no longer the tough pugs who ate losses like handfuls of candy corn, only to come back even harder. The star of today has a willing heart, but often lacks the skills to evolve and the support system to do what’s in his long-term best interest.
Whether he’s “done” or not, Amir Khan will live to fight again. And if boxing politics play out true to form, in a year’s time he’ll be getting bigger opportunities than Danny Garcia and still making more money.
Is Amir Khan finished as an elite-level fighter? He might be. But not necessarily because he lost. He may be done because the fatal flaws that led to him losing aren’t likely to be corrected. Instead, he’ll be brought back with soft touches and hand-picked challenges until he has no choice but to fight someone who can, once again, exploit his weaknesses. Then the whole process will begin again and again for as long as his name can be sold.
But in 2012, where marketing is king and so many top fighters lack in-ring maturity, it’s not ridiculous to assume that one or two tough losses could signify the end.
You can email Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org or watch in amazement as he Google searches his name and writes mean emails to other writers– All while saving boxing! Paul is a full member of the Burger King Kids’ Club, a born iconoclast, and an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church.