By Trigo Egbegi
In defining the demons of boxing in this column last week, I was only scratching the surface of a crucial universal issue that is either never given consideration, or totally neglected at the appropriate moment.
Truth is – and even allowing for all my love, passion and commitment lavished these many years – boxing is the one sport deliberately founded on and packaged around, perhaps, the highest percentage of societal misfits the world over.
That’s like pulling no punches. After all, these are the only proven specimens lacking the capacity to reason and think for themselves.
Carl The Truth Williams, a more than useful heavyweight contender of the 1980s was quite blunt when he lambasted promoters for unending manipulation, and, yet, reserving championship opportunities on the basis of personal loyalty. With two losing efforts to his credit (respectively, against Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson) Williams was a notable name in the blue books of Don King who shut him out.
Boxers are the only known specimens who commit themselves wholesale in terms of future and health sacrifices, without first demanding to have security assurance. Great is the number that has lived to regret in the latter days.
I am not a complex person harbouring inordinate ambitions. My fundamental understanding of life is that success is enough compensation for whichever endeavour a man embarks upon, and the sacrifices rendered. It varies from individual to individual, though.
In the context of boxing, I would define success as having saved enough to enable one secure his future when the rains come calling. Success in the boxing sport is not necessarily defined in terms of career wins and titles garnered in the process; Or outrageous financial windfalls that go with the ring sacrifices a fighter makes.
After all, the giant purses by which many love to identify the game with don’t come the way of over 80 percent of competitors today.
By success, I refer to those who have something left on which to fall back on when they quit the game. Plus, good health. The latter serves as a great bonus.
I fear for Roy Jones Jnr not because he’s a stranger to victories, titles, wealth or fame. I fear for him simply because I’m not too sure how much of the wealth will remain by the time he wakes up to walk away from the same sport now traumatizing him.
Plus, I fear for the multi-decorated one-time whiz-kid of pro boxing who is presently pre-occupied with putting his precious health at risk in old age. At 42 – with his reflexes and skill level down to zero point – and with no hope of winning a major title again, Roy Jones is now practicing the art of blocking punches with the head that he never did in his younger years.
Jones and Evander Holyfield are just two elite athletes of contemporary times that are busy re-enacting the fall of other notable, equally illustrious sons who ruled the ring in their own era. These are the characters who provide me with the ammunition to attempt and predict the future of many a champion.
Along comes Joe Louis, arguably the biggest name to grace the pro boxing sport. Here was America’s greatest national hero in the days of World War II. Joe Louis, it is said, did more to diffuse supposed Aryan supremacy with his demolition of the German Max Schmeling, than did the combined US Armed Forces in the battlefront.
Louis made a record 25 defenses of the world heavyweight title over a 12-year span that also brought him considerable fortune. He retired in 1949 undefeated champion, only to return to the ring 18 months later – broke.
Joe Louis did not have the brains to utilize his wealth, lavishing much of it against some of the best professional golfers of his time. His return to the ring fetched only a couple of meaningless victories sandwiched between the two title setbacks inflicted by Ezzard Charles and Rocky Marciano.
That was just the beginning of his woes. In deteriorating health and unable to fend for himself, Joe Louis became a state welfare beneficiary. Yet, Americans still thought it fit to honour him; the management of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada offering him the ceremonial job of head greeter till his death April 12, 1981.
Sugar Ray Robinson was another hero who was never able to manage the glory that attended his illustrious career. This flamboyant character both within and outside the ring could as well have called it a day and quit after 13 years during which he had won both the world welterweight and middleweight titles. Robinson first announced retirement in 1952, only to return two years later for another 12 years in the ring during which he re-won and lost the 160-pound title three more times.
When the original Sugarman finally left the grip of the demons at the close of 1965, he had compiled a career 201 contests. But he was never the same again. Although hanging on to his fame and popularity, Ray Robinson was pauper-broke and in poor health till his death.
The list is extensive, but I feel compelled to cite one of the rather more encouraging cases – the mantle here falling on our own Hogan Kid Bassey. As pioneer success case, Bassey opened the doors wide open to a lot of Nigerian youths of his time. He did not let his 1957 world featherweight title triumph fool him.
Two years on, Bassey bade farewell on the heel of his two championship defeats by Davey Moore, by which period he had made quite a reasonable fortune from the ring. At his death, Hogan was a comfortable man who owned property even back here in Lagos.