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By Eldon Frost
Jack Dempsey, "the Manassa Mauler" -- a solid puncher, a boxer, a showman, and the undisputed heavyweight champion for 5 years. When he announced his retirement in 1928, he had a career record of 61-6-8. These are the facts that people remember.
What people forget about Jack Dempsey is that he also fought hundreds of exhibition matches against hapless opponents, that he starred in Vaudeville shows and serials in the middle of his reign as champion (including a one-year layoff), and that he only had 5 title defenses in 5 years before losing to Gene Tunney in 1926. People also forget that in those days, boxing was a semi-underground sport where opponents were often untrained street fighters, and that the "world" title effectively meant Western Europe and North America. Yet, Jack Dempsey is regarded as one of the greatest boxers that ever lived.
Compare the record of Jack Dempsey to that of Lennox Lewis, the current heavyweight champion of the world. Lewis is a monster-sized man with a reach of almost 6 feet (!) and a current record of 35-1-1. He is well spoken, intelligent both in the ring and out, and has taken on all comers. His reign includes 22 world-class title defenses, with 10 world title defenses in the last 3 years alone. He has fought against opponents considered both talented and dangerous, and made them look untalented and boring. THAT, in my books, has all the trappings for one of the greatest heavyweights that ever lived.
Indeed, the biggest complaint about today's champions is that their fights are boring, or that they are not taking on top competition. Is this entirely true? As a point of reference, I like to use Roy Jones Junior. More than anyone, Roy (43-1) has been accused of avoiding top competitors. To a certain extent this may be true. However, his 3 last fights have included David Telesco (23-3, the #8 ranked light heavyweight), and Eric Harding (19-1-1), the #4 ranked light heavyweight. Is it Roy's fault that he makes defeating them look so easy?
The year 2001 promises to be the culmination of a series of incredible fights made possible during the previous year: Hamed vs. Barrera, Corrales vs. Mayweather, and potential matchups such as Lewis vs. Tyson, Jones vs. Trinidad or Jones vs. Hopkins. Some of the best fighters the world has ever seen are going against some of the best fighters the world has ever seen.
In this, the early 21st Century, there is no drought in the river of talent. As a boxing fan, it is indeed a great time to be alive.
Imagine yourself in the boxing ring, fighting a worthy opponent. You started out strong, but your opponent is gaining momentum and confidence by the minute. You're lashing out and connecting, but still taking hits. This guy isn't afraid to come inside any more. If things keep going this way, there's a chance you may lose. So you think to yourself, "He's getting stronger. How do I slow this guy down? Wait a second, I know! I'll punch him in the groin!"
So you do. You wind up and give the guy the hardest uppercut to the crotch you can muster. As your opponent hits the floor, the crowd groans in appreciation of the pain. Then it's wait time. You walk casually to the neutral corner. While your opponent is grimacing in pain and trying to recover enough to continue, you are enjoying a nice rest -- up to 5 minutes of it. Half a professional fight's worth of rest. And what do you lose from all this? One point.
Unfortunately, this scenario is playing out far too often in the professional boxing ring. Last year, fateful low blows were seen in high-profile fights like Vargas-Trinidad, Spadafora-Irwin, and Norwood-Gainer. In the latter fight, Norwood was actually throwing COMBINATIONS against Gainer's crotch!
After his fight with Felix Trinidad, Vargas was asked about the three (3!) low punches that Trinidad pummeled him with. "That was a great tactic!" said Vargas. "He was hurt. They take away a point. They're not going to disqualify you." Having learned from the experience, Vargas then added, "If I ever get hurt, I'll sure be swinging for the balls."
Vargas' impromptu statement says it all. Under the current rules of boxing, the penalties for hitting below the belt are so minimal that doing it is simply good strategy. Obviously, these rules must be changed.
First, we need to get rid of the terms "intentional" and "unintentional" low blow. They are worthless. It's easy to make a crotch punch look accidental in the heat of battle, and referees are always hesitant to make the call anyway. Instead, change the wording from "intentional" and "unintentional" to "marginal" and "direct." A marginal low blow is one that is below the belt but not directly on the crotch area (lower stomach, leg etc). A direct low blow is as it sounds. Whether it's intentional or not is intangible and shouldn't even be argued.
Secondly, change the point deduction system to something of consequence. A first marginal low blow should elicit a warning (it's boxing, it happens). A first direct low blow is an automatic two-point deduction, no questions asked. A second low blow, whether direct or marginal, is an automatic two-point deduction. A third low blow is a three-point deduction. One more low punch sees the match end in disqualification. As far as I'm concerned, if you hit someone below the belt four times and complain that it was unintentional, you deserve to lose on grounds of idiocy anyway. It's really not that difficult to punch above the waist.
Third, change the five-minute maximum recovery rule to a five-minute maximum and three-minute MANDATORY recovery. Fighters almost always jump back into the fray without having fully recuperated. Even though they are still in pain, they are also pissed off, charged with adrenaline, ready to fight and NOT ready to box. This gives all the advantages to the fouler. Having a three-minute mandatory recovery ensures that a fighter is truly mentally and physically prepared to continue. If you've ever been hit in the crotch (unfortunately I have) you know that three minutes is really the minimum!
Boxing promotes itself as "the sweet science," a fistic martial art, and a noble alternative for troubled street youth. It's hard to argue for any of these points while some of our best fighters keep nailing each other in the crotch. It's ugly, it's un-sportsmanlike, and it's unacceptable. The rules of boxing should ensure that low blows are NEVER a viable part of a fighter's strategy.
How good were the Oldtimers?
by Monte Cox
Atheletes. Are they better today?
By Tracy Callis
Jack Dempsey Record
Jack Dempsey Exhibitions Naseem Hamed
Roy Jones, Jr.