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by Tom Donelson
The great fighters know no pain, no understanding of defeat, for they are the modern day gladiators, willing to die before defeat. No amount of punishment will stop them, eyes closed, ribs broken, arms bruised and yet they keep fighting. The fighter feels the scar of every punch that lands, and yet he blocks out all the pain for that one chance at the championship belt. Boxing reporter Mark Kram even suspected this sadistic behavior may have a sexual overtone for some fighters, when he wrote, " I suspected that the best fighters are sadomasochists who abjure pain in their words while secretly warm to it. Old trainers used to tell me that they had known fighters who got hit so much that it became pleasurable, they even ejaculated....but the history of orgasm pursuit.. suggest that no stone has ever been unturned." In a boxer's career, there is no part of his body that does not take a horrific beating. Paul Simon song, " the Boxer", details the plig! ht of the prizefighter as he remembers every punch delivered, every cut that scares his face. Chuck Wepner has a boxer's face, with scar tissues making up most of what was once a human face.
Wepner, who became the influence for the Rocky'series starring Sylvester Stallone, often used his face to block punches. His fight with Ali was a lesson in survival as he merely caught one of Ali's punches after another. In another fight against Sonny Liston, Wepner needed so many stitches after soaking up Liston sledgehammer shots, that Liston commented wryly that Wepner's manager was even braver than Wepner, in allowing Wepner to continue to fight.
Randall "Tex" Cobb took the sadomasochist side of boxing to yet another level when he confronted Larry Holmes for a championship fight. Cobb, who never was a big puncher, stood in the middle of the ring and took whatever Larry Holmes delivered. By the ninth round, Cobb face was a blooding mess and his corner showed no inclination to stop the fight. Howard Cosell yelled for the fight to be stopped from his ringside broadcast booth and there was nothing left to be gained by the fight continuing. Cobb did not quit and had no intentions of quitting. For Cobb, winning cease to be a goal but survival was. To be able to say, I stood toe to toe with Larry Holmes, was enough. For some boxers, victory is not the goal, but fighting is. It is what they do and what they enjoy. The cuts sustain in a fight are nothing more than a bloody red badge of courage to be savored. For Cobb and Wepner, every punch delivered is etched on their face and th! eir looks are the final mark of their trade. Cauliflower ears and flattened nose, with nothing but cartilage left is the final reminder of a boxer's life.
In boxing, cowardice is exposed and bravery is exalted. For a boxer to quit on his stool is the worse kind of cruelty of all. When Sonny Liston sat on his stool and refuse to come out to fight Ali in the seventh round of their first fight, his career was over. A reputation built on raw power and intimidation cease to exist and the word "quitter" was attached to his image, forever. It is said that a coward dies a thousands death and Sonny Liston's own reputation is forever sullied by his failure to answer the bell against Ali. That is a fate worse than death.
In the Thrilla in Manila, Ali and Frazier showed boxing at its most brutal and noble, simultaneously. Ali was the favorite and no one really expected this fight to go the distance. For the first four rounds, Ali was determined to end the fight early as he kept hitting Frazier with accurate combinations. Frazier kept coming forward, taking the punishment and featuring a punishing body attack as fierce as ever seen in the heavyweight division, Frazier turn the tide, beginning in the fifth round. During these middle rounds, Ali mockingly asked, "They said you were through, Frazier" and Frazier replied, "They lied, Pretty boy." This fight was not about the championship but about who was the better fighter, Frazier or Ali. For both of the men, death was preferable to defeat.
After many years of verbal abuse at the hands of Ali, Frazier was ready for his payback. Ali was ready to quit at the end of the 10th round after telling his corner; this was the "closest to dying he ever experienced." In every fighter career, there is a time in which the fighter's energy is depleted and nothing is left in the proverbial gas tank, the fighter must struggled to find one more ounce of reserve. Ali found that reserve against his most determined foe yet. Over the next four rounds, the tide turned once again in Ali's favor. In the 13th round, Ali send Frazier mouthpiece flying in the seventh row and in the 14th round, Ali's threw one right hand after another, as Frazier was powerless to stop him. Eyes closed, Frazier could no longer see and no longer able to defend himself. All he had left was will and the wiliness to die in the ring. Both Ali and Frazier showed nobility in the ring. As Eddie Futch whispered into Frazier ea! r before stopping the fight, " You will be remembered for what you did today." In the "Thrilla in Manila", Ali and Frazier were ennobled by their performance and the fight became part of boxing's folklore.
A fighter is, in the end, judged by the pain he tolerates as oppose to the fights that he wins. Boxing fans dismisses victory without pain and suffering. For suffering and the tolerance of pain defines the fighter. Nothing solidified a boxer more in the eyes of his fans than the pain tolerated in the pursuit of his craft. Pain, brutality and courage are what give prizefighters their notoriety and fame.
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