By Eric Harrington
As I watched the Saul “Canelo” Alvarez / Erislandy Lara fight night I couldn’t help thinking of a scene from a movie I recently watched of Queen Elizabeth dancing in court. All the “dancers” walked around with great panache staring intensely at their partner across the room, and every so often they would come together and hold hands for just a second, and then walk away again. Over and over they repeated this pageantry, and watching Lara fight, I can’t help but think he was a 17th century British noble in another life.
Many contemporary writers, commentators, and fans have begun to refer to the dance Lara performed against Canelo as “Skill” or “Boxing” as opposed to that presumably vulgar “fighting”. Apparently they feel that it is perfectly reasonable that if a fighter can by any means go 12 rounds and hit his opponent just a few times, while not being hit back, he should be considered the winner of the fight. But it begs the question, where is the skill? Where is the courage? Where is the value to the fans? When did this become “Boxing”?
I fail to understand why it is considered “skillful” for Lara — a taller man, with 5 inches of reach – to simply walk or even run away from Canelo for 7-10 seconds, then stop to throw one quick jab or right hand, and then run away again. ANY fighter with a long reach can accomplish this amazing “technique” but it is not Boxing, or skill.
Boxing has a long tradition of fast, skilled boxers who managed to transcend a “fight” and turn a boxing match into virtuoso performance of mobility, speed, and strategy. But they NEVER just ran away. From Gene Tunney to Muhammad Ali, to Sugar Ray Leonard, great “Boxers” have graced the ring, and while frustrating those boxing purists who believe a fight should be a “fight”, they none the less did not run away, but instead used mobility, hand speed and strategy to make the opponent miss while remaining within range and punching effectively and often.
Even Sugar Ray Leonard in the infamous ‘No Mas’ fight with Duran, received a lot of criticism for his running around and his antics, yet he was never more than 3 feet from Duran virtually the entire fight, and he threw several times as many punches as Lara did last night. Lara was close enough to touch Canelo less than 20% of the time in the ring at most, and that is woefully unfair to the fans, and contrary to the tradition of Boxing. I think the next time a “fighter” experiences this run-away strategy they should just stand in the middle of the ring and wait.
But maybe the real root of this trend is that modern boxing judges are supporting this notion of “Boxing” by awarding these dancers rounds under such abstract justifications as “Ring Generalship” and the suggestion that such tactics “take the opponent out of their game plan.” But what do these justifications have to do with landing more effective punches?
The basic rule of judging boxing is the fighter who lands the most effective punches should win. The rest is theater. And yes, if Lara could dance around and land 2 jabs a round and never let Canelo get close enough to hit him, he could presumably win under this rule. But a fight is not in a vacuum, and it is not exclusively about the fighters. It is paid for by the fans. And the vast majority of fans want to see a FIGHT, not a dance. But it is the judges and the promoters that need to change this, not the fighters.
Finally, in regards to the suggestion that this Elizabethan Dance Boxing is more skillful, where is the skill in simply running around and only stopping a few times a round to snap off a jab? Skill is being able to stand within punching range and make the opponent miss, while landing punches. THAT is skill. Joe Calzaghe had real skill. He stood right in front of the great (although admittedly past his prime) Roy Jones — continuously within Roy’s punching range for 12 long rounds– and barely got hit (except for an early knockdown in the 1st round) while landing several hundred (arguably only mildly effective) punches. That is SKILL. That is a BOXER. Erislandy Lara and his ilk should — as Canelo said in the post fight interview– “learn to fight”, or go find their version of the American dream someplace more appropriate… like Dancing With The Stars.