And still the undisputed, undefeated, heavyweight champion of the world… Father Time
By Krishen Rangi (September 30, 2004) 
Boxing’s only true champion re-emerged Saturday night, better than ever, and he deserves our sincerest congratulations. No, not Glengoffe Johnson, and obviously not Roy Jones.

In the past, years have gone by and dilettantes have been fooled into thinking he has lost a step. But he hasn’t. He never does. He never has. And he never will.

His name is Father Time.

Amongst the dozens of others, he has shown Joe Louis who the boss was, he has shown Muhammad Ali who the boss was, he has shown Mike Tyson who the boss was, and in the past two years he has shown all of the preceding decades greatest champions who the boss still is; quite an accomplishment considering the sublime level the fight game had reached in the mid to late 90’s.

And it’s not just the knowledge that Father Time has no peer, no panacea – it’s his method of attack.

In boxing they say that once the body goes, the head quickly follows. And yet Father Time has an even more effective and insidious mode of attack: he steals away the will to fight; something that gets manifested in ways that we so creatively attempt to explain away. Without the will to fight (and do the things necessary to be champions) as the paradigm, things like speed, movement, and conditioning are academic.

Indeed, watching the protruding part of Roy Jones’s head bounce off the canvas was a disturbing sight. For his part Glengoffe deserves great credit. But to give him the lion’s share is to deny the greatest of all conquerors, the one every fighter will ever eventually succumbs to; the one every person alive eventually succumbs to.

It was funny, after the fight watching the highlights on a sports channel the commentator began mentioning all of the great champions who have fallen by the wayside in such spectacular fashion, in such close succession. He said something to the effect that “a new guard is being summoned.” A new guard? Is 39-going-on-40 year-old Bernard Hopkins new in any way? Is 35 year-old Antonio Tarver new in any way? Is 35 year-old Glengoffe Johnson new in any way?

And that’s just it. When Father Time intervenes, he seems to scramble all of the cables that define our normalcy, short circuiting our comfort zone and sense of order.

Once fighters begin to engage themselves in the 'normal' activities that any non-fighter in their 20’s or 30’s would want to, the clock begins ticking at double speed. To be sure, by its nature and from its outset boxing is not a normal activity. To excel, supreme sacrifice is required, inhuman sacrifice. Just ask Bernard Hopkins, whose date with Father Time’s judgment has been delayed somewhat by his highest degree of deference and subservience to Father Time’s temporary-relief-providing cough syrups – relentless, non-stop training regardless of whether he has an upcoming fight or not, and even more important, self-imposed psychological warfare. For all the silliness of the Rocky series, Rocky’s trainer Mickey put it best when he refused to train him for what was a mugging in the waiting. “The worst thing happened to you that could happen to any fighter,” he growled. “You got civilized.”

In the brutal, kill-or be-killed, world of professional boxing the most fundamental requirement is desire. The kind of desire that can come only from necessity, frightening desperation and a first hand knowledge of destitution.

But fighters – especially the greats – are an insolent bunch, they seldom learn from the mistakes of others. And when Father Time intervenes and lets them know their jig is up, they look him right in the eye and laugh. Their temerity, developed by years of adulation and over-blown confidence (a critical necessity in its own right), tells them that they can overcome anything, that they are special. They say lame things like, “Oh, I didn’t train hard enough”, or, “Oh, I wasn’t motivated that time.” And then people like Glengoffe Johnson, Jesse James Leija, or Felix Sturm come into the picture and prove that a fight is a fight, and promoters, sanctioning bodies, and television companies, as much as they would like to believe otherwise, and as corrupt as they may be, can have no bearing on the outcome if the sport’s most powerful godfather decides it’s his turn to play a role. What the Glencoffe’s, James’s, and Felix’s show (in a manner that none of us really want to see because it is so boring, un-showmanlike in a real-world kind of way) is that once the pomp and pageantry fade away, and things like talent and speed dissipate, anything can happen. And the result is always the hungrier man winning.

For all of the great advances in sports science, and nutrition, and training, hunger has always remained the key to boxing – sometimes literally. Though almost certainly exaggerated, Jack Dempsey once said that before a fight he had not eaten in ten days, and when he got dropped in the second round his motivation was singular: get up, keep fighting, and win or go another indeterminate length of time without food.

Much is said of a great small fighter fighting a good bigger fighter and probably being able to beat him, and a great big fighter being able to beat a great smaller fighter, and on and on. But the one thing that is so rarely mentioned – not surprisingly, since it is impossible for someone else, even those around him constantly, to evaluate – is the fighter’s desire to fight, both the day of the fight and in preparation for battle. And the day that desire slips up is the day everything goes, and the fighter is finished.

And if you don’t believe me ask Roy Jones – when he wakes up.
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