The Curse of Achilles
By Jason Petock (August 20, 2005)  
Last year in definition could be classified as the year of the body punch in boxing. Fighters left and right were getting starched repeatedly from well placed and furious frame benders and going home with unwanted ‘L’s’ on their records. Today in 2005 it appears that the new yearly theme might be aptly titled ‘The Curse of Achilles’. This year has had its fair share of confusing decisions, history defining fights, mind blowing upsets, and yes a few stinkers, and it is this pattern of Achilles tendon injuries that takes center stage. Lately various fighters have had to call significant bouts off due to injured Achilles tendons or perceived ones. This immediately brings to mind a slight curiosity and wonder among legions of devout fans that are always looking forward to scheduled fights on a regular basis, and sometimes end up holding the bag when their idols can’t mix it up.

Injuries are an understandable and common denominator when it comes to professional athletes in general. But these generalities cease when referring to boxing and its participants. This happens mainly because unlike other sports, the competitors in boxing aren’t afforded the luxuries of second string backups, disabled lists and salaries while injured. Basically in boxing if you don’t fight you don’t get paid – it’s that simple. So when a boxer becomes hurt so badly that they cannot enter the ring, this not only hits them harder than any punch in the wallet but also prevents them from making any money until they have fully recuperated. This leaves the questions of: “What is the legitimacy of some fighter’s injuries?” and, “Do these same fighter’s sometimes fake an injury so as to avoid a potentially deadly opponent?”

Those who write are not medical doctors or even fighters for that matter. We are more of a breed of spectators and fact finders, often uncovering several facts which are both true and untrue. Therefore what is the truth when it comes to this year of Achilles’ fated ankle, and how does anyone know what’s actually going on? We don’t, and that is what makes boxing and scribing about it still so enjoyable.

Personally I have been laying in wait to see what Houston, Texas phenomenon Rocky Juarez 23-0 (16) was going to do next in his career, and was thrilled when I discovered that he would be facing off against Injin Chi 30-2-1 (18) on the under card of Fernando Vargas’ 25-2 (22) comeback trail against Javier Castillejo 58-5 (39) at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois. The Juarez vs. Chi bout was to be of great importance because it was going to be a 12 round championship fight for the WBC featherweight title. It was guaranteed to be a barn burner; with Chi ranked #2 by Ring Magazine and Juarez ranked #3 respectively. Why is this being mentioned here? Because Chi called the fight off due to an Achilles tendon injury. Once again the wicked arrow of fate pierces another fighter’s ankle like what happened to the warrior Achilles, only instead of ending so tragically as in history it merely postpones a fight everyone wanted to see.

It was said that Achilles’ ankle became vulnerable (which eventually led to his death due to an arrow in that very spot), because when his mother dipped him in the river Styx she was holding him by that ankle and that part of his body did not become submerged in the water, thus leaving it open to harm’s way. His story is a legendary tale of mythology and heroism, so why then has his weak ankle become so prevalent in boxing?

Christy Martin and Lucia Rijker were scheduled to do battle in the ring on October 30th in an affair cleverly dubbed ‘Million Dollar Ladies’ (clearly hoping to take advantage of F.X. Toole’s short story which translated into a box office hit for the average mainstream audience), and gain some fire in its promotion on the heels of the film. But this fight isn’t going either as planned and there are no talks of re-negotiations or a future date set or place as of late. Rijker’s been hit with an arrow it seems in the ankle as well.

Call it what you like, legitimate injury, avoidance of a feared opponent, or a cruel twist of fate, the frequency of Achilles tendon injuries in boxing this year makes me wonder what’s on the menu for next year? Shoulder and hand injuries are all too common these days, and the tendon thing has run its course. There’s still the back left, which has always helped a few disgruntled workers get out of a jam seeing as back pain is difficult to prove.

This article isn’t questioning the validity of the injuries of either of the fighters here, or any fighter for that matter. This is not its intention or my place. But keep in mind the tale of the great Achilles and his vulnerability the next time you turn on the television to see a prizefight and are subjected to Celebrity Poker in its place. It’s been known to happen.
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