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 WAIL!... The CBZ Journal
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November 2002
 
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Strength in Numbers
By Dan Hanley

Numbers, figures, statistics. Why, as boxing fans, do we encumber our minds with numerical units that are better served gracing an RBI column? Have we come so far in the Information Technology age that we can afford to place the old noodle on the back burner while listening to some statistically minded announcer screaming, "Well, Harry, it doesn't look good for Bobo going into his bout tonight with Rocco, as he has never won a fight in a month with an 'R' in it, nor has he ever beaten a fighter brandishing a Golden Palace.com tattoo on his back".

Allowing for the pronounced cynicism, I think one can see where I'm going with this. Numbers can distort what the human spirit aspires to.

To give an example, let's say fighter A has nearly 60 pro bouts under his belt, is 30 years old and clearly on the downside of his career having won only 4 of his last 8. While his opponent, fighter B, is a 22 year old wunderkind who is slicing his way through the ranks of his division like so much chaff, with a record of 27-0 against good competition. Now, the numbers dictate a foreordained win for fighter B and any other result to be decreed an upset. Hmmm...well, let's say fighter A watches films of our young protagonist and observes his spent jab dropping to his waist on it's predictable return and screams the now immortal phrase, "I sees somezing!!".

Should the man with the funny accent's win be called an upset? Perhaps. However, let us not ignore the fact that Max Schmeling went into his first bout with Joe Louis courting a defined plan. And ultimately, capitalised on that defenseless window of opportunity to lash out with his still vaunted right hand and make a mockery of the stats that had him eating resin long before he entered Yankee Stadium on that New York evening in 1936.

Of course, Joe Louis had the pedigree, regrouped, got back up on his horse and continued his organ harvesting of the heavyweights of his day after modifying the inviting opening to his chin. This was not some parody of talent that conned the scribes and punters of the day, as Joe Louis was the real deal long before that moniker was claimed. How little we've learned from this experience, however, is best reflected by the media fervor which traipses after any kid brandishing an undefeated price tag like some penniless hooker on a slow night.

Names such as Mac Foster, Duane Bobick, John Verderosa, Jose Baret and Shawn O'Sullivan had the media salivating over their numerous but hollow wins. And, like Joe Louis, found themselves wanting when thrown in at the deep end of the pool at the veteran hands of Jerry Quarry, Ken Norton, Boza Edwards, Marlon Starling and Simon Brown, respectively. However, unlike Joe Louis, the flaws of this quintet outweighed the attributes immeasurably. And none were able to attain the heights that the golden boy starved media had predicted.

Think of these boys as accountants for Enron. Able to post some very pretty numbers from one set of books...until we take a gander at the actual.

Running with this thought of pretty numbers, recently, a colleague and I were discussing an opinionated all time top ten list. The discussion continued throughout the workplace and appeared to end in, of all places, the company mens room. It was there, when discussing the attributes of the bantamweights that, 'I could takes it no more!'.

While combing what is left of my hair, my cohort, hunched behind the customary partition, caused me to raise an eyebrow at his inclusion of Orlando Canizales to his all time top ten. Canizales?! Excellent fighter, definitely in my top twenty five, but top ten? Okay, I thought, I can respect it if that was his opinion. But, it was not. When pressed as to why he would include a Canizales over...say...a Chucho Castillo, his response only succeeded in grinding my gears.

He retorted, "Well...Canizales made sixteen title defenses, while Castillo was only a one hit wonder".

"A wh...! A wha...! A what?!" I managed to babble.

"A one hit wonder! Lost the title in his first defense." he eloquently explained.

Barring my desire to run his forehead into the top of the urinal for such a ludicrous statement, I tried to keep the decibel level of my response to a mere bellow.

First off, let's examine Orlando Canizales, he of the pretty numbers set. Sixteen title defenses, but what was the depth of his competition? The recognisable names on his championship resume are Kelvin Seabrooks, Bones Adams, Billy Hardy, Paul Gonzales and Rolando Bohol. Oooooh! Names that will live in the annals of boxing lore for generations. Now let's have a gander at Castillo, the one hit wonder.

First of all, Castillo did not post pretty numbers. His known, but incomplete record - unless one truly believes he was fighting 10 rounders in his third pro fight - of 46-18-2 is certainly not awe-inspiring by any stretch. He had a spotty beginning and spotty end to his career. But when one scrutinises the level of his competition, these numbers then take on greater meaning. Calling him a one hit wonder is an injustice to his searing title fight trilogy with Ruben Olivares and says nothing of his stoppage wins over Rafael Herrera and Bernardo Carraballo, nor his decision wins over Jesus Pimental, Jose Medal, Rogelio Lara, Raul Cruz and Yoshio Nakane. It is a demeaning appelation which makes light of the passion generated by his Latin fans after his razor close decision loss to Lionel Rose in his first title fight. How those in attendance decided upon an reenactment of the Chicago fire with the Fabulous Forum acting as proxy for Mrs. O'Leary's barn. Nor does it reflect how, with little left in the tank and in the twilight of his career, Castillo was still able to pound out a 10 round nod over future featherweight titlist Rafael Ortega.

One hit wonder, indeed.

It appears we have arrived at a precipice, where the body of work is being overlooked in lieu of numbers. Why else would the media put such a spin on Bernard Hopkins' record breaking number of defenses and the man he deposed for the record, Carlos Monzon. Perhaps it was a slow news day which had the scribes rattling away at their keyboards proclaiming with glee that the King is dead. Okay, let's step back one moment.

The names etched into Hopkins' reign are that of Felix Trinidad, Keith Holmes, Antwun Echols, Carl Daniels and John David Jackson. And we gotta face facts, sports fans, outside of Trinidad, none of these boys will be bangin' on the door in Canastota anytime soon. Monzon on the other hand, clipped the wings of such battle-hardened fighters as Nino Benvenuti, Emile Griffith, Bennie Briscoe, Denny Moyer, Tony Mundine, Jose Napoles, Tony Licata and Rodrigo Valdes. Now this is the stuff of legends, so please, let the Guiness book play with this one while we take it with a grain of salt.

Perhaps it is time we take a good hard look at our sport and decide upon whether or not to pull the plug on the compu-box stats, or to treat them like the fluff they are. For boxing is a sport that adheres to no recipe and historically has strayed from the beaten path.

So, lest we become no more than a room sized Uni-Vac, digesting data like Butterbean on a carb binge, I say we put away our calculators and sulley our minds on that what matters. The only info I wish to hear on fight night is..."He's got a left hook like a friggin' freight train!" Or..."He'll hurl if ya hit 'em in the breadbasket!" Or, the most melodramatic..."He bleeds like Henry Cooper on Coumadin!" These are the bytes of information my gut can digest.

And the numbers be hanged!

See ya next round.

Dan Hanley

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