The Fine Line of Trash Talk
By: Brandon Bernica
TV personality and boxing aficionado Mario Lopez took to Twitter this past week to call out boxing videographer Elie Seckbach to a sparring session. Seckbach enticed Lopez to call him out after Lopez caught wind of him revealing that he doesn’t like to be hit to the body. Both sides have jousted through social media, matching bravado with bravado, insult with juicier insult.
While promoters won’t be running to advertise this fight between media members, the feud stands as a microcosm for one of boxing’s long-standing traditions: trash talk. Our sport relishes the anticipation of two warriors throwing down like spectators in the old Roman Coliseum. From Ali to Mayweather and every fighter in between, good ol’ fashioned beef has exploded the hype to unforeseen levels.
Any fight between two high-caliber combatants is hard to turn away from. When the two strongest kids on the playground want to trade knuckles, everyone gathers around to witness. Usually, however, there’s a reason behind the face-off. Maybe one of the kids stole money from the other. Maybe they’re fighting over the same girl (or guy). Typically anger leads to careless trash talk, people get amped, and soon you have a can’t-miss event on your hands.
Perhaps equating an elementary school recess beef to the cutthroat business of boxing isn’t perfect. Yet the same human instinct drives both dynamics: we want to see who really means what they say. Verbal jabbing gives fights storylines and seasoning. Floyd Mayweather made millions of dollars not because of his fighting style, but because of how high he could drive (many times flawed) expectations for his bouts. We’d hear him discredit Victor Ortiz’s abilities to his face or tell other fighters how exactly he plans to beat them. This polarizes us into two camps: those who admire an athlete going against the grain, and those who want nothing more than to see the smack talker flat on the canvas. Regardless of reason, both sides are equally pumped to see fights.
If you stick around the sport long enough, you’ll realize that most “beef” is code for promotion. On the surface, it’s easy to believe every diss and threat. If one boxer questions the standing of another, he’s likely to run into a defensive wall of pride. Soon, it slowly escalates. Past embarrassments are brought into the mix, and us fans eat up every second of it.
That is, until they actually fight..
Exchanging grimacing blows for 12 rounds will do something to you. Fighters operate in the shallow halls of pain management whenever they’re in the ring. They often lash out emotionally in training camp because they feel misunderstood. So when another fighter shoulders the same degree of self-doubt and anguish as his opponent in a fight, it makes it much easier to respect that man. It’s why, after fights, neither guy usually holds a grudge. The drama beforehand spoils into nothing more than a petty footnote. Newfound appreciation prevails.
Simply put, most boxing beef is harmless. Even if words grow vile, fighting (and winning) remedies these arguments. Promotions rinse and repeat. But are there standards to denote trash talk as too extreme? Is there such a thing as going too far in boxing?
The obvious answer is yes. Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito come to mind. Before their rematch in 2011, Cotto accused Margarito of illegally loading his gloves for their initial match in 2008. That hit a very personal chord with Margarito, causing the two to despise each other in the lead-up to the bout. After Cotto knocked Margarito out the second time around, he didn’t meet him with a warm embrace or congratulations. Instead, he stared him down from across the ring, venting years of frustration with one chilling glaze.
Boxing’s biggest challenge is to not become a conduit for fractured relationships while maintaining the edge that defines the sport. While most beef remains more marketing and less vitriol, occasionally true hatred manifests and grows in the current promotional formula. As a community, we need to check fighters if they go too far. It isn’t in good conscience to enjoy the smack if we allow the standards of fighter etiquette to dip.
So, the next time you hear a controversial quote building a fight, ask yourself whether it’s mere comedy or if that narrative is doing justice for our sport.