|Blinded By The Light
By Johnny Raspanti, DoghouseBoxing.com (Jan 2, 2009)
So, for the second time, [the Pharisees]
summoned the man who had been blind and said:
"Speak the truth before God.
We know this fellow is a sinner."
"Whether or not, he is a sinner, I don't know."
The man replied.
"All I know is this:
once I was blind and now I can see."
The New English Bible, John 9, 24:26
As I watched Roy Jones get outworked by Joe Calzaghe and Oscar De La Hoya get pummeled by Manny Pacquiao a feeling of déjà vu filtered through me like a spirit from the past.
I had seen this all before. I had seen the older athlete still believing in his mind that he’s young, tussle with a younger opponent who at times probably reminds him of someone he once knew very well.
I had seen the befuddled look on his face as he gets hit with punches that only a few years earlier he would have avoided with ease. He feels good, he looks good, everything’s good. But no…it’s not. For most boxing seems to rob a man of his skill faster than other sports. Examples from the past linger…
Muhammad Ali against Larry Holmes…Ali enters the ring looking physically better then he has in years, his body in top shape his mouth working overtime. Heck, it’s 1964 all over again. But again...it’s not. The minute the bell rings the reality sets in for all who are watching. The Greatest is not…that…anymore. He sees things but can’t react, he knows what he’s got to do but can’t do it. He moves but can’t get away. We watch him take a beating with one eye closed, looking away when we can but mostly unable to…a train wreck ready to implode. Ali is thirty-eight years old but moves like he’s closer to fifty. He sits on his stool at the end a dazed and beaten soul, his eyes glassy and his spirit gone.
It’s beyond sad.
The year is 1965 and forty-five year old Sugar Ray Robinson is still fighting. Like Ali who said he wouldn’t end up like Sugar, he looks good at least physically. If he’s shadow of what he once was, the shadow is pretty darn fleeting. Money or the lack there of is also a big time factor. Typically Robinson still feels like he can fight a little and his numerous hangers on whole heartily agree. He can still fight if he takes on guys with names like…Jimmy Beecham who has a record of forty wins and 30 losses. One more win and he might get a title shot. One more win…doesn’t it always seem like it comes down to one more…something? Well Sugar Ray doesn’t win…he takes a nine count in the fourth round his face a mask of humiliation and pain. There’s pain all over Madison Square Garden that night.
At times there’s a variation on this theme, the older fighter who has maintained some of the skill from his prime…
Joe Louis taking on Rocky Marciano comes to mind…like Robinson money was the driving force but Louis actually gave the fabled Brockton Blockbuster a good fight for a few rounds. His jab was still pretty fast and stinging and he nailed the rock with some good punches. But…these moments were a mere glimpse of his past greatness, and sadly the Rock finally caught him and knocked him out. As Louis lay sprawled out on the ring apron some of the most hardened news reporters at ringside openly wept. Louis his eyes closed, never saw them, all he knew later was it was over…and in a way so was his life.
That line “it was over and in a way so was his life”…reminds me of another reality that seems to hit older athletes like a baseball bat to the backside. There time as it was is over, and that time can’t be brought back. A realization has arrived. They actually love what they do. When they were younger…it ALL came so easy, EVERYTHING was so easy…money, fame you name it. They didn’t know about the love when they were younger, they did it because they could and always had and always would.
But always isn’t that simple. Always in sports equals short…the career span of a boxer is brief…at least the greatness part of it. They hang on too long…unable to see because as we know love is blind and doing what you love makes you happy, and sometimes destroys you.
I thought of all this as I watched Roy Jones and Oscar De La Hoya train. Jones never looked happier, a former dominant fighter who has found his inner peace. De La Hoya never a great fighter but in the nineties a very good one looked content and at ease, that old familiar feeling returning. Jones talked redemption; De La Hoya talked of the past. But no…
They were both blinded by the light. The light had dimmed but they didn’t want to see it. Would they ever? Boxing had made them and in a way it was now breaking them. They had made millions, were beyond famous and now…as older fighters they were getting something they never thought they would get.
An old-fashioned butt kicking.
Love works in mysterious ways...
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