Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Boxing Villains

I like boxing villains. My favorite heavyweight fighters are Larry Holmes and Jack Johnson. Both, I believe, are far better fighters than the public assumes.

Jack Johnson's history with villainy is storied. I love the way he fought; no matter how old he got, even sixty years old in his last fight, no one could lay a glove on him. My favorite part of Jack Johnson is his sheer defiance of a racist world that hated him, and most other Blacks. The whole world, despite raising a worldwide search for a white fighter to beat the Galveston Giant, threw every white boy fighter they could find at him for seven years. Jack Johnson beat them all. It took a huge Kansan fighter named Jess Willard to knock out the great Jack Johnson. Jack Johnson won the first twenty five rounds, but finally succumbed to fatigue in the twenty sixth. Another Black fighter wouldn't be allowed to fight for the Heavyweight crown until the Brown Bomber Joe Louis won the title won the belts twenty two years later.

Larry Holmes fought Gerry Cooney, a white Irish-American fighter with heavy hands and a smaller skill set than Larry Holmes. A still racist America largely supported Cooney. Larry Holmes beat Gerry Cooney, and nineteen other fighters in the greatest heavyweight championship reign since the aforementioned Joe Louis. The American public hated every minute of it. The boxing powers that be didn't like it either. Larry Holmes never lost to Michael Spinks in my observation. He beat that guy up for thirty rounds, and didn't get either decision. After his second loss, Larry Holmes callously said that Rocky Marciano couldn't carry his jock strap. That's not a fair statement taken out of context, and it made Larry Holmes an even more hated fighter. However, consider that the champ has just lost two obviously terrible decisions with no real purpose behind them than to deny the black Larry Holmes the white Maricano's 49-0 record. After the Cooney debacle, if I were Larry Holmes, I would hate American boxing fans, too. Personally, I think a prime Marciano versus a prime Larry Holmes would be an awesome fight; I think Holmes would win a close decision with his incredible jab, the best I've ever seen.

Larry Holmes became a villain largely because he knocked out Muhammad Ali. Muhammad Ali wasn't a villain, but he played one on TV. Jack Johnson was a Black heavyweight champion first. Joe Louis captured the imaginations of American fight fans of both races first. Come to think of it, he wasn't the first of anything except for the first guy to beat George Foreman. He also wasn't the last of anything. He wasn't the last Black champion to irk a racist American fight fandom in public. Larry Holmes upset white American fight fans when he fought Gerry Cooney long after Ali retired. I put Ali number two behind Jack Johnson on my greatest of all time heavyweight list largely on the opinions of others; I know when my judgment is clouded by emotions. However, Ali was never invincible. He had losses, a lot of them, in the prime of his career. He also received bogus decisions, an accommodation never given to Larry Holmes. I don't think Ali ever beat Ken Norton. He most certainly never did so decisively. Ali also lost to Joe Frazier, Leon Spinks, and Ken Norton. I think the reason I dislike Ali so intently is the image he fabricated for himself. He got away with saying horrible things to Joe Frazier, and draft-dodging because people were afraid to say anything against him, or were so enamored of his image that they'd follow it into defeat in the ring and worse. If a whole country loves you enough to give you decisions in fights you don't deserve, cheers for your every word, no matter how ridiculous, and unquestionable admiration after your last meaningful win in almost thirty years, you are not a villain. You're a popular fighter with too many fans.

If you don't believe me, post a comment on this blog explaining how much you loved Larry Holmes. Post a comment on how your great grandfather cheered for Jack Johnson in Reno against Jim Jeffries. Count those before you post a comment on how much you love Muhammad Ali.

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