Please enjoy today's guest post from legendary boxing author, Mike Silver.
The Book That Answers Boxing’s Eternal Question
Who are the greatest boxers of all time? Why—and how—did they become great? Why have certain eras produced an abundance of outstanding boxing talent while others have not? Are contemporary superstars, such as Floyd Mayweather, Jr., Manny Pacquiao, Roy Jones, Jr., Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Bernard Hopkins, and Oscar De La Hoya better, or worse, than their counterparts of 50 or more years ago?
I was motivated to write The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science because of the trend toward revisionist history espoused by so called “boxing experts” including the TV ringside commentators who are so quick to ascribe greatness to belt holders who would be considered ordinary 6 round preliminary boxers had they fought 60 or more years ago. I wrote it because I felt a need to set the record straight. I did not write this book to add fuel to the “old school” vs. “new school” boxing debate. I wrote it to end the debate!
To enhance the book’s validity I interviewed over a dozen authentic boxing experts who shared their wealth of knowledge and insights, including three of the world’s top trainers: Freddie Roach, Emmanuel Steward and Teddy Atlas. The richness of the material they provide is unprecedented in its wisdom and scope.
A popular belief among sports fans holds that it is unfair to compare boxers from different eras because athletes today are bigger, stronger and faster than ever—therefore boxers must also be bigger, stronger and faster than ever. On a superficial level the “newer is always better” attitude towards athletic excellence appears to be valid, except for one important caveat: A boxer’s performance, unlike that of a swimmer, track and field athlete, or weightlifter, cannot be defined in terms of finite measurement. The interaction of athleticism, experience, technique and psychology is a far more complex activity than just running, jumping, lifting or throwing.
For example, in competitive weightlifting the definition of effective strength is obvious; whoever can lift the most poundage wins. On the other hand, a golfer’s strength is not measured by how much he can lift, but by how far he can hit the ball. And a tennis player’s superior strength is useful only if it translates into a powerful serve or return. What happens if the stronger player is slower, less skillful, or lacks experience? Under those circumstances strength becomes less of a factor in determining the outcome, just as it would be in a boxing match.
Strength is certainly useful to a boxer when he is trying to control an opponent during infighting and in clinches. But strength should not be confused with power. A fighter can be very strong but have only average hitting power, or he can be of average strength and possess a powerful knockout punch. But even if an opponent has greater strength and punching power, or superior speed, there are effective strategies that a boxer with the proper training and experience can use to overcome.
To blithely state that today’s top professional boxers are better than their predecessors simply because measurable athletic performance has improved in other sports—whose winners are determined by a stop watch, ruler or scale—is analogous to suggesting a singer is great only because he is capable of reaching a higher note than anyone else. Of course no reasonable person would agree with this statement because it totally ignores the complex nuances of the singer’s craft such as timbre, inflection, vocal range and phrasing. Nevertheless, many people, without even realizing it, apply this same logic to boxing, oblivious as they are to the complex nuances of the boxer’s craft.
Even though today’s professional athletes are, on average, bigger than ever, it is illogical to relate this fact to boxers because they compete in separate weight divisions appropriate to their size. Except for heavyweights, the weight differential between opposing boxers rarely exceeds ten pounds. As for heavyweights, why should the “bigger than ever” label automatically stamp today’s giants as superior just because of their bulk? I challenge anyone with a modicum of interest in this sport to take a look at the three or four current heavyweight champions (whoever they are at the moment) and explain to me how they are better than the “small” heavyweights of 50 or more years ago, when fighters named Liston, Ali, Frazier, Holmes, Norton, Foreman and Quarry were contending for what was once considered the greatest prize in sports
The effective application of the art of boxing to defeat an opponent possessing superior strength and power was apparent as far back as 1892, at the very dawn of the modern boxing epoch, when “Gentleman” Jim Corbett knocked out the legendary “Boston Strong Boy”, John L. Sullivan, in the 21st round to win the heavyweight championship of the world. The scenario would repeat itself countless times over the next century. Seventy-two years after the epic Sullivan-Corbett battle a fighter then known as Cassius Clay used a similar hit and move strategy to upset the brutish heavyweight champion Sonny Liston.
The fact that today’s athletes can routinely run a mile in less than four minutes, or the one hundred-yard dash in almost 9 seconds flat, or lift the equivalent of a small automobile off the ground, is irrelevant to the sport of boxing. When technique, experience, strategy and psychology—not to mention a solid right to the jaw or solar plexus— are thrown into the mix an opponent’s speed, strength and power are situations that a boxer must deal with and attempt to overcome.
Many of today’s boxers have huge potential but they cannot develop into fully seasoned professionals. They suffer from a lack of quality trainers and rarely fight more than 4 or 5 times a year (if that). Title belts are often won with 12 to 20 bouts on their professional resumes. The old timers averaged 50 to 70 bouts before they were given the opportunity to fight for a championship. Under present circumstances there is simply no opportunity for the kind of bout-to bout education that empowered the great boxers who were active from the 1920s to the 1970s. The Arc of Boxing explains in detail how socio-economic, cultural, demographic and environmental changes affected the performance of boxers over the past 100 years and why and how boxing became a lost art.
I have spent over 50 years seeking out and meeting with top boxing experts, documenting conversations, and gaining insights. The information contained in this book challenges many preconceived notions about the nature of boxing as it exists today. Whether you agree or disagree with the book’s conclusions, of one thing I am certain—no one who reads it will ever look at a boxing match in the same way again.
The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science is available on Amazon:
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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