By Corey Erdman
When you watch fights like the ones between Oscar Valdez and Scott Quigg, and Mikey Garcia and Sergey Lipinets, it’s very easy to love and appreciate the sport of boxing.
Valdez vs. Quigg and Garcia vs. Lipinets gave us an early pair of Fight of the Year contenders, two bloody battles between four legitimate world class operators. The kinds of fights most fans hope they get when they grab their Tecates or Coronas, sit down on their couches and turn their televisions on every Saturday night, and the kind promoters promise every fight will be like.
It’s impossible not to admire the pain tolerance of Valdez, whose jaw was broken in the fourth round, and who, according to the Los Angeles Times, had his teeth separated to such an extent that he couldn’t remove his mouthpiece. And even Quigg, who took the expected online lashing for missing weight for the bout, endured a face-altering amount of punishment 24 hours after desperately trying to melt away three stubborn pounds in plastic bags and a hotel sauna.
It’s awe-inspiring to watch Mikey Garcia still be able to play his brilliant tactical game of violent questions and answers in the squared circle as blood streams down his face. All the while, it’s heart wrenching to watch Lipinets, a man who has spent more time kickboxing than boxing, battle valiantly against a man much more experienced in the craft as his wife prays in silent fright in the front row.
Every time anyone takes a punch to any part of their body in a prizefight, it’s a risk, and one most human beings wouldn’t dare take. Every boxing match, no matter how dull or how dreadful it might seem, is something to be respected. But these types of cinematically brutal fights lay bare the real risks of the sport, one which distilled down is simply a dogged, dangerous pursuit of a reward that may never come, and the signing of a blank check in terms of physical currency.
What we forget however, or fail to realize, is perhaps the cruelest reality of the sport--that these fights are quite often the reward in boxing. For all four fighters on Saturday, even as they lay in their hospital beds, they likely considered it to be a highlight of their career, performance-wise and financially. Micky Ward, for example, had to take a career full of punishment for short change just to take the three biggest beatings of his career, which netted him fortune and fame.
It often takes action movie levels of violence and injury for fighters to be humanized to fans, who might not always consider that these brilliant battles are often the culmination of more grinding, private struggles as well.
When fighters are on Showtime or HBO, it’s easy to yell at the screen or take to Twitter to belittle the efforts of the combatants because, after all, they’re being compensated handsomely. If you look at premium cable fighters’ Instagrams, they’re often the lives that we envision for ourselves—in perfect physical condition, seemingly always travelling, generally enjoying the perks of notoriety.
But what did it take to get there? And what about all of the fighters who haven’t made it to the big dance, or never will?
Ninety per cent of professional boxing takes place far away from the lights of premium cable networks, and as a result, completely out of the view of the average boxing fan. The venues range from dingy and decrepit to unusually ornate, and host a range of fighters for whom boxing is necessary for a variety of reasons, all going through things the layman never would.
On Saturday night in Brooklyn, while Garcia, Lipinets, Valdez and Quigg were duking it out, The Real Deal Boxing put on the second installment of its Showcase Series at the King’s Theatre in Brooklyn, NY. The card featured a host of top prospects, and opponents hoping to upset the applecart and change their fortunes.
There was the undefeated light flyweight Natalie Gonzalez, a decorated amateur who entered the world of women’s professional boxing knowing its often limited opportunities. A mother of two children, she works the overnight shift at Home Depot, all after a full day of training and caring for her kids.
There was Zack Ramsey, a naturally gifted boxer who once won both the National Golden Gloves and the National PAL championships. After an undefeated start to his professional career, he found himself “in the streets, getting into trouble,” and did a year in prison. Today he is homeless, spending nights on his uncle’s couch with his child, hoping to win a big fight that will increase his paydays enough to afford an apartment of his own.
And there was Elliot Brown, a light welterweight from Erie, PA, whose boxing gym he trained at shut down unannounced during his most recent training camp. As a result, Brown is forced to train himself on the heavy bag at the YMCA before and after shifts as a dish washer at the Olive Garden.
My former broadcast colleague Sugar Ray Leonard once said something that’s stuck with me when I asked about people looking up to him. Ray looked at me and said, “they don’t want to be me, they want to be in my tax bracket.” It succinctly described what many will never admit: Going through what boxers go through to get to fame and riches is not something everyone is willing to do.
As superhuman as fighters may seem, particularly in the bloody battles we saw on Showtime and ESPN this weekend, it’s critical to the appreciation of the sport to remember that the participants are still human. Human beings who possess a drive we can’t fathom, a willingness to go through the duress of a Valdez-Quigg or a Garcia-Lipinets type affair over and over with the hopes that one day they can do it somewhere everybody will see it.