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Anatomy of the Knockout
By Tom Donelson
A kickboxer once told me about the first time he was knockout. "I was getting ready to unleashed a right-hand, when I got nailed by a left hook'" he told me, " all I could remember afterwards was my seconds helping me up and seeing my opponent celebrating." There is nothing more dramatic in sports than the knockout. With a quick flick of the wrist, the glove makes contact with the opponent's face and all the brain's synapses misfire. The recipient of the knockout never sees the shot that sends him to canvas and is rarely aware of the surroundings around him. There is no pain, just embarrassment. The pain comes later.
Floyd Patterson's strategy against Ingemar Johansson in their first fight was to use his quickness against the taller Swede. Floyd's own thoughts before his knockout was, "This guy is nothing. I'm going to go in and just throw combinations and gamble. He may catch me with one or two, but I'll catch him with five or six and that will be it. I'll knock him out." Patterson went to throw his combinations and before he knew it, he was down. Patterson did not even remember the knockout. As Patterson recalled, "I just remember the referee saying, "Neutral corner," I said, I must have knocked him down, so I went to go to a neutral corner. That is when Ingemar came up and caught me again and I realized that it was me who was going down."
Patterson did not remember much of that fateful round as he lost his championship for the first time. As Patterson noted, "you do not feel the pain. To me, it was a lovable feeling. Maybe its like dope, I don't know..It's is like you're floating." The fighter's receptor sites are no longer functioning and he is never quite sure of where he is. Instinct takes over but sometimes that is not enough.
Joe Louis recalls that after being knockdown in the second round against Schmeling, " I really didn't know what happened the rest of the fight. I didn't know nothing, I didn't know where I was, nothing...The only thing I remember when I went out of the ring, my trainer, Manny Seamon, saying, cover his face because my face, my jaw was out like this, where I had stopped so many right hands that night." Louis fought another 10 rounds against the right-handed-minded German and never remembered the rest of the fight. It was animal instinct that kept him in the fight for a boxer trains by repetition and this repetition takes over when the memory ceases to work. Louis fought most of the fight, by memory. That is one affect of the knockdown.
Jack Sharkey came up with memories of a dead colleague when Primero Carnera knocked him out. When he hit the canvas, "I looked and I saw vision of Ernie Schaaf (who previously was killed in the ring after being KO'd by Carnera). There was no pain, just a feeling of turmoil momentum, constant buzzsaw going around." Sharkey remembers his last fight with the great Joe Louis. Louis began the fight like a buzz saw and dominated the early part of the fight. Sharkey's strategy was to play counterpuncher, waiting to catch Louis at the right moment. Sharkey was waiting for the right time when Louis right hand ended the proceeding. Sharkey recalls after the knockout, "I'm looking off at the audience I snapped out of it, witnessed the proceedings as they raised Louis hands." Sharkey merely threw kisses as he left the ring, not having seen the punch that ended his career. All he could remember was Joe Louis with his hands raised in victory.
Former light heavyweight Tommy Loughran told an interviewer that," I don't care who you are and how great you are, you're going to get hit." A boxer's lot in life is to get hit and even the great ones hit the canvas. Ali, Marciano, and Louis- they all felt the taste of leather and all were knockdown.
Sometimes there are the brutal knockouts in which the end is inevitable and the only thing keeping up the losing fighter is guts and courage. James J. Braddock defended his championship against Joe Louis and for eight rounds, he felt the blow of every sledgehammer shot of Joe Louis. Going into the eighth round, Braddock was taking a savage beating and after the fight, his face needed 23 stitches. Braddock remembers being hit by a right hand that drove "the tooth through the mouthpiece and right through the lip." Braddock concluded that Louis power was such, "when he knocked me down, I could have stayed there for three weeks." For Braddock, who admitted that Joe Louis hit him more times than any other fighter, the knockout was a merciful end. It was like being guillotined after being tortured, the final ending coming with no pain after enduring punches after punches.
A fighter feels more humiliated than hurt after being knocked out. Patterson sunk into depression after his knockout loss to Johansson but he later returned the favor when he knocked out the big Swede. Seeing films of that knockout still sends shivers down my spine. Johansson was nailed with a left hook and when it was over, the only thing moving was his feet, twitching. Patterson, for one brief moment, thought he killed his opponent. As for Johansson, there was no memory of the end. No pain and no memory, a typical knockout.
The knockout is a dramatic moment that climaxes a boxing match. It is the exclamation point of the boxing match that sends excitement throughout the stands. As for the victim of the knockout, there is no memory of the event, only disbelief as the fight is replayed on the morning news the next day.
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