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Op-Ed: Boxing’s diamonds in the rough

Boxing has never been kind to writers from its inception. The man who sanctioned the original rules for the version of boxing that we all know, infamously threw Oscar Wilde in prison for being his son’s lover. Yet writers still run to the sport of savagery like moths to a flame.

We seem to love the metaphors that boxing draws, or the life lessons of a gallant fighter. But, do not be confused, boxing’s history is one of savage backwardness and brutality. Boxing was often used as a platform for Caucasian slave owners to demonstrate their dominance over Black slaves. Pitting well trained gentleman against untrained dark-skinned victims. Slaves were often introduced to the ring by being blindfolded, gloved and forced to “fight” a handful of other slaves in the ring for a bizarre and dehumanizing spectacle. From those events they would graduate to proper boxing.

Mysteriously, as slavery ended, and Blacks were given the opportunity to train in their trade, Caucasian American boxers refused to fight them. Black fighters were forced to ply their trade in Europe.

Something always seemed to happen with boxing — the so-called weak would adapt, learn techniques, train and stop losing. Despite what those in power wanted — the image of the fierce White man who would dominate minorities — often, White boxers would build relationships with their challengers, become training partners, or coaches. In Apartheid South Africa, one of the few non-segregated places was the boxing gym. Boxing ended up breaking down the barriers that it was meant to hold up with fear.

Is it okay if we call the spectacle of the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight what it actually was? It wasn’t the battle between the best defensive boxer since arguably Willie Pep, and assuredly Pernell Whitaker facing off against the most exciting offensive fighter in the world. It was a man who — like Jack Johnson did when he was the World’s greatest boxer — plays up to racial stereotypes, riling up racist hatred towards himself to generate profit, fighting the first non-Black who had an actual chance to beat him.

Mayweather is a doctorate paper on racism and human psychology. You either despise the Money character for racist reasons, you love the same character for its similarities to authentic minstrelsy and are drawn to him because he affirms your racist thoughts of Blacks, or you’re smart enough to admire Floyd Jr., for realizing that racism is alive and well and taking advantage of that to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Seriously, come on, Jack Johnson was doing the EXACT SAME GIMMICK at the turn of the 20th Century! If you studied tape on Mayweather or Pacquiao, the result should have been obvious. And for a fight that cost $100 to watch, perhaps that should have been the first thing you did.

Did I watch the fight live? No. I took advantage of all the empty bars that were not showing the fight and found a quiet bar to drink with friends. The injury to Manny? Didn’t matter. When Floyd was with Arum they announced every injury he had. Floyd has notoriously brittle hands. But when he left Arum his injuries stopped being announced. Why? Because they destroy the fictional image of the stereotypical party animal who defeats manly men without being touched, or hurt. If you think that Floyd was not injured yourself you’re unaware of the tale that he is spinning.

I was probably swayed to not watch by the fact that Floyd has some serious flaws as a person. And, that I strongly disagree with Manny’s political views. But, if boxers were not flawed individuals most wouldn’t box. They would play football, or soccer, or basketball. They would get scholarships to big schools and parlay those degrees into jobs. Most boxers have a story of hardship that makes them who they are. That said, since I’ve done the tape study, and you want to watch boxing again, but refuse to be ripped off, these are the boxers that I recommend that you follow.

First, let’s acknowledge the guys that you should already know:

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez — arguably Mayweather’s most difficult opponent in the Money May era. He’s quickly growing into boxing’s next big money fighter. He’s charismatic, has a big Hispanic American fan-base, a growing Mexican one, and a fearless, technical style.

Gennady Golovkin — boxing’s most powerful knockout artist under 200 pounds is considered boxing’s best action fighter. More importantly, he fights in Europe and the US multiple times a year. If you miss one of his knockouts, don’t worry, he’ll be in the ring soon to perform another.

Andre Ward — the Champion of the Super 6 Boxing Classic is a generational talent at Super Middleweight. Unfortunately, his career hit a standstill while attempting to leave his last promoter. Thankfully, he’s back, now with Jay Z, and ready for big fights.

Miguel Cotto — his career is nearing it’s end. When we look at this period of time in boxing in the future Cotto may be the true great of his generation. No one has fought more high quality fighters as Cotto. People complain about who Mayweather fought, but I don’t see Manny fighting someone like Austin Trout. Win or lose Cotto fights every high quality boxer that he can find.

But who are the true diamonds in the rough? The exciting fighters, worth tracking down that few people have seen or heard of?

Roman Gonzales — Chocolatito is an undefeated multiple weight class champion with knock out power and the best foot work in boxing. His last fight was his biggest, on the under card for a Canelo main event. However, Roman is the most exciting boxer plying the sweet science today. And unlike his more famous counterparts his exciting style has few technical flaws. Currently, Chocolatito is the #2 ranked pound for pound boxer in the world.

Terence Crawford — Many assume that the mantle of next great American boxer is Broner’s. But, it’s just as likely that he finds his way into prison, or gets knocked out. The boxer who is most likely to follow Mayweather as America’s greatest boxer is Crawford. A boxer who is equally adapt at fighting regular, or Southpaw (left handed). The ambidextrous eleventh ranked pound-for-pounder is one of boxing’s best strategists.

Naoya Inoue — In most cases you wouldn’t put a boxer who is 8-0 with 7 KOs into the discussion. But, Inoue is not the average boxer being fed easy work to fatten his resume. Naoya Inoue may be boxing’s great phenom of the modern era. In his first six fights Inoue collected two titles in two different weight classes! That is unheard of. Even more exciting is that he hovers around 115 pounds, only a weight class above Chocolatito. With Gonzales finally getting support from big US backers, the chance for the two to meet in North America should excite even the most novice boxing fan.

We can’t forget about the big guys. I could easily mentioned Tyson Fury, or Deontay Wilder but those two have already been unearthed. Instead, I’ll go with:

Anthony Joshua – Joshua went from troubled teen years that included squatting in public housing, to becoming an Olympic Gold Medallist. He’s not as far in his development as Fury or Wilder, but the future of the beleaguered division squarely rests on those three men’s shoulders.

Other diamonds include:

Nicholas Walters — the Jamaican world titlist is so good that he can walk to the ring with a wooden axe and not look goofy.

Zelani Tete — South Africa’s Tete is a true feel-good story. After defending his world title for the first time, he planned to buy his mother a prosthetic leg. Definitely the type of gentleman that we can all cheer for.

Kell Brook — I’m actually surprised that Kell isn’t talked about the same way that Canelo and others are. Mr. Brook is one of the most dynamic champions in Mayweather and Pacquiao’s weight range.

And Lastly, Ik Yang — or Yang Lian Hui is a fun, flawed, powerful boxer who is likely to become China’s first world champion in the professional ranks. I’ve heard rumours of a rough past that are likely why he started his career in Korea and not China. They probably also explain the 4 months he spent in jail. Mysteriously, those rumours have disappeared from the Internet as his success has grown.

Don’t forget these are the men to follow, but there’s a burgeoning women’s boxing scene as well. Their fights may be more difficult to find, but I assure you that they will be more satisfying to watch than $100’s worth of defensive boxing.

I can also assure you that despite the love/hate relationship that writers and boxing have that I’ll continue to watch the brutality masked as sport. It’s probably the artistry of a boxer who can hit without being hit — punching, dodging, moving and blocking his opponent — that forces me to acknowledge the beauty and grace of the sweet science.

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