THE reference of hindsight is probably greater in boxing than any other sport.
It’s so easy to see hot favourites unravel after the event, to see upsets the morning after and maybe even claim that you always had a gut feeling that what actually happened would actually happen.
In some sections of the boxing media, notably by the BBC’s Mike Costello and Steve Bunce, those who are wise only after what has gone before are heralded as after-timers.
But boxing is not always cut and dried. Favourites have often been unseated. They’ve still been favoured if they haven’t been 100 per cent, if they’ve been injured in camp or if they have been in turmoil behind closed doors for one reason or another.
When Sugar Ray Robinson lost in a shock to Randolph Turpin he’d been on enjoying his tour in Europe and he – as many others had – had taken a predicted victory for granted. The excellent Turpin had other ideas, though the sweet smell of success left his nostrils when Robinson avenged the loss 64 days later.
The press said Robinson had paid Turpin more respect and actually put in the hard yards ahead of the rematch, which resulted in a decisive win.
In Zaire in 1974, Big George Foreman was cut in sparring, uncomfortable in Kinshasa and he wanted to leave. Ali was at ease. He was vibrant and relaxed. He won. The signs were all there. With hindsight.
Another case in point was Mike Tyson’s Tokyo loss to Buster Douglas. Sure, Buster was inspired by the death of his mother, motivated by his strained relationship with his father, hoping to make amends after his poor attempt to take Tony Tucker’s IBF title.
But upon investigation, Tyson’s corner wasn’t fit for purpose, he’d been dropped in sparring, he was sleeping with any maid in his hotel he could – even after they’d moved out the younger ones and brought in an older generation to make sure that didn’t happen!
Of course, there’s such a thing as fate. When Darren Barker was moved to rise against Daniel Geale by the spirit of his late younger brother, it was as though it was written. When Tony Bellew came up trumps in front of his fellow Evertonians at Goodison Park against Ilunga Makabu four years ago this week it was a scene straight from Hollywood – and in an ironic twist it echoed scenes from Creed, which featured Bellew. Same thing with Ricky Hatton… It was destiny that his pinnacle was going to be that incredible night in Manchester when he ground Kostya Tszyu to a brutal holt.
That said, there was more than a share of being wise after the event with that one. Tszyu was finished, they said. He’d been inactive, they argued. He was past it, they contended.
Yet the same Tszyu had destroyed avoided Sharmba Mitchell before that, and he’d been inactive before Mitchell, so that wasn’t new.
Still, you can choose to see the signs or not.
When Anthony Joshua appeared marked up before he fought Andy Ruiz in New York last year, amid denied rumours that he’d been hurt in sparring, plenty of experienced heads said it was a good sign that things had not gone his own way in camp.
Those signs helped the post-fight evidence stack up, the writing had been on the wall for the experts, that Ruiz having fought Alexander Dimitrenko a few weeks beforehand had been the perfect prep. When he posed with AJ’s belts, it was another sign that the Brit was ready to cede his crowns.
Then there’s the undefeated fighters, how boxers like Jeff Lacy and Lucian Bute simply weren’t that good after being exposed by Carl Froch and Joe Calzaghe respectively. They were good of course, very good, but in this day and age it’s all too easy to be written off after one fight, particularly if you aren’t the same again after it.
Sometimes us, the boxing press, are architects of our own downfall. By asking how a training camp has gone we leave ourselves open to cliched responses to our banal ice-breakers.
A fighter could have been knocked about in sparring, have seriously dented his or her confidence and killed themselves to make the weight.
“How’s training camp been?” they’re asked.
“It’s been the best camp ever,” comes the obvious riposte, trotted out on repeat for print, digital and TV interviewers.
Maybe it’s time to start listening behind the words, taking the information we have on board at the time and to be brave with our predictions. Sometimes the writing is on the wall yet it is hard when a fighter is so heavily favoured to go against the grain. Even with the knowledge we had of both Tyson and Douglas, would that have changed our pre-fight calls? It’s doubtful. And even then there’s a story of a long count to negotiate but that’s a controversy for another column.