Friday, February 9, 2007


It’s been twenty-one years today since Marvin Hagler separated Thomas Hearns from his senses in one of the most intense and exciting fights in boxing history. The great fight scribe Pat Putnam called the Hagler vs. Hearns fight “raw violence.” Boxing has always been about the dark side of man and those that climb into the squared circle have always been a rare breed. Not just anybody can make a living by taking off their shirt and beating somebody else up.

The ills that plague boxing in 2006 are many, but a disturbing trend is the lack of tough guys. Where is the crooked nose crew that only thought about the drawing power of knockouts? Where are the guys like Tex Cobb that were insulted when they were missed by a punch? Where are the guys that would be disappointed to win a fight by a decision? Sure, some tough guys still remain, but they’re fewer and farther between now than at any point in boxing history.

Maybe nobody was tougher than Joe Frazier. The epitome of the classic Philadelphia fighter, Frazier would take one to give one and he was happy to mix it up, as he would say, “to get the job done.” Smokin’ Joe was fearsome and fearless and he was proud of his grinding style. Frazier brought a sense of pride to his life’s work that was unparalleled. Bobbing, weaving, hooking and snorting like a bull it was the relentless non-stop style that Frazier possessed which enabled him to plow through a generation of supreme heavyweights.

Joe Frazier’s disgust with the fighter’s of today and their perceived lack of dedication, honor and toughness is palpable. The raspy voiced Frazier claims, “The technique about the game is to win, get in and throw punches. You gotta’ take the bodyshots, you gotta’ take the chin shots you gotta block the shots you gotta roll with the shots. I’ve seen none of this. These guys come in to put on a good show, let’s put on a good show! I don’t see no show. That’s what they get paid for. The fans are really, like bored and tired, watchin’ and seein’ guys huggin’ and holdin’ all night long.”

Involved in three Ring Magazine fights of the year in 1971, 1973 and 1975 Frazier has no use for these so-called trainers today who have never had a fight themselves and he sees major problems with trainers that have never laced up the gloves. “I just don’t understand the boxing game today. I mean, because, I think we need more people concerned who have been there. Why not go in there and show these guys how to throw a punch - I mean how to fight!”

While Frazier cites the decline in the physicality and toughness of boxers today as a major problem, Teddy Atlas and Jose Torres, disciples of legendary trainer and mental master Cus D’Amato, see a marked decline in mental toughness. Says Torres, “When two fighters are competing at the highest level in the sport of boxing, it’s not about the conditioning of the body – it’s about conditioning of the mind. Boxing at the highest championship level is more psychological than it is physical.”

Teddy Atlas is all about the mental side of the sport of boxing and he speaks about it frequently. Commenting on the recent Audley Harrison versus Dominick Guinn heavyweight bout, Atlas had this to say, “Mentally these guys are guys that have been inferior. There’s nothing wrong with them physically. Their problems have been that they’re underachievers. They have not controlled their emotions and gone out there and behaved like fighters need to behave on a consistent level.”

Atlas has trained many fighters over the years ranging from a young Mike Tyson to Michael Grant to Michael Moorer, whom he helped win the heavyweight championship. Atlas has always approached training with as much an eye on mental conditioning as physical conditioning. “When guys are not in control of themselves psychologically it shows. They fight without confidence and conviction." Atlas knows of which he speaks because many of his best proteges were gifted from a physical standpoint. Psychologically, however, it was another matter entirely with fighters such as Mike Tyson, Michael Moorer and Kirk Johnson all flawed to such a serious degree mentally that they never reached their full potential and they all had careers where promise was left unfulfilled.

Perhaps more troubling is the recent trend of fighters that quit while sitting on their stool. High level matches featuring accomplished professionals often end with the fighter pulling the plug, deciding he has had enough and stopping the fight himself. To be a quitter in the world of boxing was once a subject that was so taboo it was never discussed openly. Now, however, high profile fighters such as Julio Cesar Chavez, Mike Tyson and Kostya Tszyu have simply quit in the middle of big fights when the going got tough. One of the primary reasons fighters such as Carmen Basilio, Bobby Chacon and Micky Ward are adored by fans today is because they always fought to the finish. The very word “quit” was not even in their vocabulary. Watch any fight card these days and it’s rare to see a fight that does not end with a fighter making the decision to remove himself from the fight.

Whether the problem with fighters today is mental or physical or both, Joe Frazier is at a loss to explain it. “I don’t know what to tell you, you know what I mean? I think the guys today who could really be champion are so busy trying to get their hair black and wear rings in their ears and their nose, they don’t have time to get to the gym and get the job done right. It’s to the point where nobody has no technique. Nobody gets a bruise, nobody gets a bump, and the fight’s over. I don’t know what to say.”

Where have all the tough guys gone?

April 2006

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