Boxing deaths make us all ponder our love for the sport
Boxing is used to dealing with black eyes, self-inflicted ones, as the freelance nature of the business means that people involved in the sport, which has a negligible barrier of entry, oftentimes do silly, strange and self-harming things.
That can bring dishonor to the sport, and we who cover it regularly write about and comment on the black eye inflictions.
But now and again, it goes beyond “black eyes,” and the very nature of the sport, and our involvement in it, comes up for discussion.
On July 23, Russian-born boxer Maxim Dadashev died from head trauma, which occurred in his July 19 fight versus Subriel Matias on ESPN. On July 25, Argentinian Hugo Santillan died from head trauma, which occurred in his July 20th bout versus Eduardo Javier Abreu, in Argentina.
This sort of double shot had not happened in lord knows when, and it had old hands and young converts alike questioning themselves. Why do I follow this sport, some fans pondered? The same questioning of self pinballed in the minds of many folks who make their living deeper inside the sweet science.
“A fighter doesn’t owe it to us to die,” said promoter Lou DiBella on a recent edition of Ariel Helwani’s ESPN show. Yes, it is clear, the New York-based deal-maker, who spent decades as a cable TV executive before moving into promotion, has laid awake at night asking himself hard questions.
He brought up the case of his boxer, Tevin Farmer, who fought on July 27, against Frenchman Guillaume Frenois, in Arlington, Texas. The scrap ran on DAZN, and it was basically all Farmer, all the time. Frenois had managed to get ranked higher than his skill or resume suggested, and Farmer, one of the most skilled technicians operating, toyed with him at times. The crowd in Texas wasn’t, by and large, in the mood for the “sweet science” Farmer was supplying. They indicated that fact by jeering mildly. Many of them, after Farmer was announced as the victor, 116-111, 116-111, 119-109.
So, here’s a thing: The IBF super featherweight champion is very light on his feet, moves so well, and sees what is coming at him, and what is likely to come at him, exceedingly well. He works from the “Don’t-Get-Hit, And-Then-Hit” school of pugilism. He’s not inclined to trade, to be reckless, to “give the people what they want,” if they are the types who revere action of the Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward variety.
That sort of action is the type which helps build a fighter’s legacy into a rarified category. Most fights fade from memory, and the week after they occur, aren’t often mentioned again. It is ultra-rare for a bout to live on, decades later, and be referred to, and sought after, by new generations of fans. That first Gatti-Ward fight is an exception. For that, the two combatants will enjoy the fruits of that acclaim. Or, should we say, one of them will: Ward is alive and well enough, but Gatti died in 2009, in sad and murky circumstances.
Boiled down, it’s this: Engaging in fights like that entertain fans, and bring buzz and acclaim to the participants, but often, not always, there are downsides that can be seen afterward. Suffice to say, it is better for the brain to absorb less punishment, which is why Farmer fights as he does, and why his trainer, Chino Rivas, is often reminding him to be elusive, don’t get into trades, be smart. But the people who buy a ticket to see a prize fight, most, but not all of them, wish to see a prize “fight.” They aren’t as enamored by high-tier pugilism. That is a more subtle art, and subtlety isn’t as prized by human beings as is more sensational and obvious stimuli.
And so, after hearing some whistling and jeering when his name was announced as the winner, preceding a humdinger of a unification tussle between Jose Ramirez and Maurice Hooker as the ref halted the scrap, with Hooker taking unimpeded punishment, Farmer said this:
“I did an excellent 12 rounds. I don’t care about the crowd. I come in here and I fight and I win and I get paid and I go home to my family. Whether I’m here or I’m going, the fans are going to move on to the next person. I don’t really care. You either gonna love me or you gonna hate me.” The fans there handled it pretty well, truth be told. Farmer then stated he doesn’t “really care” if a fight with WBA super feathweright beltholder Gervonta Davis happens. He’d like it, he said, but the Davis people haven’t signaled the same.
Farmer, 28, followed that up with a social media take. Analyst Mike Coppinger posted a Tweet and Farmer responded:
More entertaining like take more risk. And more punches to the head. Just to be another fighter to suffer from brain injuries and possibly die just so I can be forgotten about a few months after. Nah. I dominated last night. Came home to my family unmarked and well❤️ GOD BLESS https://t.co/CcVlqzyzhA
— TEVIN FARMER (@TevinFarmer22) July 28, 2019
Fast forward a bit to the DiBella hit on the Helwani show. “It’s not about living to fight another day; it’s about living another day,” he said. “Living another day with your faculties. I’m really making an effort. You’re not going to hear me say anymore, ‘That guy quit.’ If they’re quitting out of frustration, maybe. Quitting, in any sense, when they are losing or being beaten up, they gotta protect themselves, they gotta go back to their families.
He touched on the Farmer victory, and DiBella admitted it “wasn’t the most scintillating fight in the world.” Props to Lou for admitting he was in error when he told writers that he’d be speaking to Farmer about being more “entertaining.” And, he continued, saying that Ward has CTE symptoms, and Gatti is dead. “Tevin Farmer doesn’t owe that to me, to you, to the crowd, or anyone else.” Win, and get hit as little as possible, the promoter said. He reacted viscerally, DiBella admitted, when saying that he’d talk to the “American Idol.”
Now, DiBella is a cerebral sort, and beyond that, is willing to speak about his emotions, and bring up areas he’s fallen short. It was and is compelling that here he was, telling Helwani and us that right after two boxers died, in short order, he fell back into his familiar thought patterns. And that’s not to his discredit. Most of us are wired this way. We are wired to gain enjoyment from things that might well not be healthy to us, or, perhaps, to the persons who are performing for our amusement.
Fill in the blanks regarding the activities that bring you pleasure. Be it fighting, or watching porn, or using your iPhone. Fighters get CTE. Adult performers are often exploited for producer’s gains, iPhone parts are made in sweat shops, and labor is exploited. That is the way of the world, and we go through periods when we examine that harsh reality. Then, by and large, we go back to our old ways, walking that path of least resistance. Not to come off as cynical, I more so see that take as realism. Progress, in so many areas, is hard fought and slow coming.
Here is the truth, and you can call it sad, or see it as brutal: The Farmers of the world will not be rewarded as handsomely, in some ways, as those that trade, and engage in trade-fests. That is because taking more risk brings greater reward, financially speaking, in that realm. Skills pay the bills, but KOs pay them quicker. And the names of Maxim Dadashev and Hugo Santillan will fade from memory faster than they should.
That’s because that’s how your brain works. If you are consumed and pre-occupied with the darkside elements of this sport, then you cease to enjoy it as much, and you may stop being a fan. Or you may stop being a fighter, or being a promoter, or an analyst who covers the sport that is usually more savage than sweet, truth be told.
Follow Michael Woods on Twitter @Woodsy1069.