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The Guy Around the Corner
(April 28, 2004) 
So many fans watch the sport of boxing, not ever really giving pause to consider just what it is that the great competitors that they shell out to see are putting on the line. Money, fame, championships, all of that, certainly. It goes deeper than this. If you have been in your share of streetfights, boxing matches, or dozens, even hundreds of brawls with your brother or sister, then chances are that you know what it is like to be on the receiving end of a good ass-kicking.

It is true for anyone that no matter how “bad” you think you are, there is always someone right around the corner who is a little bit “badder.” Imagine now, if you will, having to fight someone with 15,000 people surrounding you, along with countless others watching on television. All this while knowing that the someone that you are facing could be the someone who is a little bit badder than you.

Of course, then again, if you are as bad as you think you are, then this doesn’t bother you, or at the very least, you would never admit to it. Most people are not that sure of themselves, and fighters are no exception. They are human, and while they may be full of outward braggadocio, they might also be full of fear, that most human of emotions.

Some fighters can turn their fear into a weapon. As Cus D’Amato famously said many times, fear is like fire, and it can either burn a fighter up, or it can be used to a fighter’s advantage. Hell, even Sly Stallone ripped this line off for one of his Rocky movies, and the reason being that there is so much truth in the analogy.

The most classic example in recent memory of fear getting the best of a boxer is Michael Spinks and his dreadful performance against then champion, and coincidentally Cus D’Amato protégé, Mike Tyson. This fight came at the height of mighty Mike’s powers, when he could still proclaim himself the “baddest man on the planet” without drawing a chorus of snickers, behind his back of course. Spinks was without question one of the greatest light heavyweight champions of all time, and had moved up to annex the heavyweight crown from Larry Holmes, who was just one fight away from tying Rocky Marciano’s unbeaten streak at 49 straight wins without a loss. Spinks apparently wasn’t thinking of his own “badness” that night, as he meekly succumbed to Tyson’s ferocious onslaught in only a minute and a half of fighting. Spinks, apparently in a moment of absolute terror, forgot how to fight and was consumed by the fire.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, as aforementioned, a fighter can turn fear into an weapon. Think Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) wasn’t afraid of Sonny Liston, that generation’s version of Mike Tyson, only two-fold? Think again. Ali’s well-documented antics at the weigh-in attest to the fact that here was a man who was afraid for his life. Of course, being as bad as he is, Ali would never admit being afraid, but his blood pressure was through the roof and one respected boxing expert close to Ali said, “he was scared to death.” Rather than let Liston’s menacing demeanor get the best of him, however, he danced and jabbed, frustrating Liston and staying out of harm’s way, until Liston ultimately quit, claiming a shoulder injury. Ali overcame his fear, and in fact from that fear came the victory which allowed him to gain even more confidence in his ability. That confidence was increasingly on display in the years to come, as we all know.

The point of all of this is that every boxer must feel some kind of anxiety stepping into the ring, whether he or she is fighting Elton John or King Kong. So much is on the line beyond that which readily meets the eye. When a fighter falters in the face of high expectations, rather than jump the gun and pat each other on the back with “I told you sos,” we should keep in mind that these guys deserve the proper respect for toiling in their chosen profession. For the most part, they put aside their fears for the glory and respect that this game brings them, and, after all, they might just be a little badder than you.

Everyone is talking about Wladimir Klitschko’s collapse against Lamon Brewster, and though it’s a little late, I won’t resist the temptation to do the same. It’s a shame that few are paying any
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attention to the winner of the fight, instead focusing on what went wrong with Klitschko. Klitschko may or may not have had a physiological problem of some nature, but Brewster knew nothing of it, nor can he be held responsible for it. He did what he had to do, and won the fight, period….. You have to love Larry Merchant, although I’ve read enough message board posts to know that some do not. When he told Lamon Brewster’s team to “shut up” or he would end the interview, I have to believe he meant it. Notice how Merchant shut down the interview anyway when Brewster thanked Don King? King could then be heard bellowing, “He don’t wanna hear nothing about Don King!” I’m sure we’ve all heard enough, Don.
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