By James Blears
It`s wonderful to see some of the all time greats hitting the gym again, getting fit, glowing and gloving up, to give us thrillingly entertaining exhibitions, raising money for deserving charities.
The double helping of Julio Cesar Chavez and Jorge “Travieso Arce” was a real treat to behold! Giving away seventeen years, vintage JC, who`s always stayed in tip top shape, proved sharp, nimble and coordinated, as he stamped his considerable authority on a grandstand finale both times.
Now there`s talk of Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera squaring up for a fourth time, yet not for a fully fledged encounter. Their trilogy was breathtaking, especially fight one, which went far beyond brilliantly majestic. Chillingly ruthless, with neither prepared to back down, each grimly determined to stem the considerable achievements of the other, and then go one step better! The fight was lighting and its atmosphere sparklingly electric! One for the ages!
Recent footage of “Iron” Tyson pummeling the pads is rather impressive, and he too could earn a small or even medium sized fortune to put towards a good cause. But that`s where this clause ends! Imagining that fifty three year old Mike could claw his way back to once again become a top ten contender, is pie in the sky, and he of all people knows it.
Can any of us run faster, or fight harder than when we were twenty, four months and twenty two days? Are our reactions as swift and as deft? To believe otherwise is daft?
Sugar Ray Leonard once told me: “At twenty, I could hit you three times and know that you wouldn`t be able to hit me back even once in retaliation. At forty, I was thinking how hard that returning blow was going to be? And that contemplation of doubt shaves just a fraction of a second off the audacity, speed and confidence to deliver it.” And so it was proved against Hector “Macho” Camacho.
The formidable Marvelous Marvin Hagler, smiled wistfully when he recalled that to insure his retirement from boxing, he forced himself to stay away from the gym for a full two years, to avoid: “The tang of the liniment, because you really feel you can be your old self, but ultimately you ARE your OLD self!”
The great Rocky Marciano who was supremely and leanly conditioned throughout his undefeated career, mulled a comeback in 1959, after Ingemar Johnansson won the championship against Floyd Patterson. Four years distant and distanced from the ring, Rocky secluded himself for a month of Spartan training. But then abandoned any seductive notion of a comeback. The firestorm greatness of youth, had now dissipated to embers in the grate of early middle age. So to speak: “The burned out ends of smoky days.”
Years earlier, by taxing the Great Joe Louis to the fullest extent for the fights he did for the Army Benevolent Fund and then the Navy Benevolent Fund, during the War, of which he kept but one dollar each time, the IRS, to its eternal shame and surefire damnation, starting building a festering slushy snowball of downhill debt, which forced an ageing Joe Louis out of retirement and inevitably as well as directly into the forbidding path of a young, hungry and ambitious Rocky Marciano.
Forever brave and proud Joe, got up from a blisteringly hard knockdown, only to be pounded through the ropes, where he lay stricken on to his back in round eight. In the changing room Joe was accompanied by Sugar Ray Robinson and Rocky, who both wept copious tears. Through those tears, Rocky whispered: “I`m so sorry Joe.” To which the Brown Bomber stoically replied: “What`s the use of crying. I guess everything happens for a reason?”
Joe had piled up twenty five successful defenses of his crown. Larry Holmes who notched up nineteen, had the most superb left jab. But, edging and ebbing into middle age, it was of little tangible use against barnstorming Mike Tyson, who ruthlessly dispatched him. Eventually Mike`s turn came against Lennox Lewis, Danny Williams and Kevin McBride: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
When “Crashing Bashing” Terry Downes outpointed champion of champions Sugar Ray Robinson in 1962, he was asked what it was like to beat a legend. To which “The Paddington Express,” snapped: “I didn’t beat Sugar Ray Robinson. I beat a ghost!”
No fighter can defeat time! As Willie Pep sardonically quipped: “First your legs go, then your reflexes…then your friends.” Roberto “Manos de Piedra” observes: “The wind is old but it keeps blowing.”
In the boxing ring, the life force of youth can be measured and held back by the wisdom of maturity, but only for so long. I asked George Foreman if he thought any man will ever be able to better his record of regaining the heavyweight championship of the world at forty five years of age, to which he smilingly replied: “I hope no man ever has to!”
As Jean Jacques Rousseau philosophically suggests: “Youth is the time for assimilation of wisdom. And old age is the time for its application.”