Table of Contents
By Enrique Encinosa

Fighters and excuses go together like peanut butter and jelly. Excuses are a part of the closing ceremony of every bout. The winner thanks God or Allah, declaring he's ready to fight everyone who ever laced a glove, while the loser complains of a jammed thumb, cold sore, hangnail or force of nature that intervened, preventing him from winning.

"Fighters don't lose," former lightweight contender Frankie Otero told me, "it's just that something happens."

"Hell, Frankie, that's a brilliant statement," I answered.

"It's not an original," Frankie answered with his usual honesty, "I think Teddy Brenner said that."

Frankie Otero is the exception to the excuse rule. The Cuban lightweight that only lost nine out of sixty pro fights, was a no excuse fighter. After dropping a hard fought ten-rounder to Ken Buchanan in Miami Beach, a hometown reporter asked Frankie if he thought he'd won the fight. Otero answered with an honest "no," praising the Scotsman for his valor and strength. When the reporter insisted that a knockdown had been a slip, Frankie shook his head. "No," he said to the reporter, "Buchanan hit me a very good shot."

Kudos for Frankie, but he's the exception to the rule. Boxers always have an excuse. Perhaps it is a justification of ego, a self-hypnosis to soothe the fears of defeat and mediocrity.

Of all excuses, diseases and maladies are the most common. Losers are either getting over a cold or just blooming with a bronchial infection. Let us also not forget the physical handicaps such as pulled muscles in training, stomach cramps-a-la-Duran and the I-hurt-something-in-the-early rounds excuse.

"I lost because I am weak from a cold," I saw a prelim fighter tell Chris Dundee. "The other guy had a cold also," Chris answered, "do you want a rematch?" "No," the pug answered after a moment of reflection.

A reporter once asked Fritzie Zivic, the reason he lost to Sugar Ray Robinson. Instead of an excuse, Fritzie came up with an optimistic definition of his defeat.

"I didn't do so bad," he answered, smiling, "I came in second."

One of my favorite anecdotes involves Jimmy Braddock, the hard Irishman who decked Joe Louis before abdicating the heavyweight crown to the Brown Bomber. Braddock went into the dressing room of a fighter that had just been pounded silly by Louis. When Jim asked what had happened, the fighter went into a long technical excuse. "I was coming in low," the fighter said, "getting under his jab and I was shifting to the left and he was pivoting the other way and his uppercut was coming in..."

"Hits like hell, doesn't he?" Braddock said.

The fighter became suddenly quiet, only nodding his head.

"It's the ego," Dr. Ferdie Pacheco said to me when we discussed the topic, "the ego doesn't want to deal with defeat on a fair level, so an excuse is invented. Whether it's a cold, boil, cramp, bolt of lightning or spoiled sandwich, there's always an excuse. Even some of the great ones invent delusional theories to explain their defeats. Then it's not their fault they lost."

Tom Heeney, dubbed "The Hard Rock from Down Under" complained until his dying days that Genne Tunney had beaten him by fouling. Whether true or not, Tunney would have won anyway, the difference between them being that Heeney was good and Tunney was great.

There are even religious excuses in the fight game. In Miami many Caribbean fighters are believers of the Yoruba and Lucumi religions, often generically referred to as "Santeria." With African roots -although it is practiced by many non-black latinos- the religions practice animal sacrifices and cleansing rituals dating back centuries to tribal dances in Ghana and Nigeria.

"I should have cleansed myself before fighting this guy," a Dominican middleweight said to me after receiving a solid beating from a black Baptist from Tampa.

"You think so?" I asked.

"The Orisha Gods would not let me down. If I had cleansed myself of bad spirits I would have won for sure."

I did not answer while I pondered the implications of boxing as a jihad. I'm not a religious person but it would seem to me that any God would be too busy doing whatever deities do, which is not likely to be working a corner in a six round fight.

There are of course, real excuses. I've seen fighters enter the ring with stitched up stomach wounds, bruised ribs, bad hands, nasty colds and even with an impacted tooth. Then again, those fighters were really tough, taking wins and loses in stride without much justification.

The most memorable of excuses occurred at a fight card held at a Miami Beach hotel. A thirty-eight year old 180-pound war-horse was launching his third or fourth comeback of a gutsy but ordinary career. His friends had tried to talk sense to the veteran but the man was on a mission. He liked the stage, the applause and the battle.

He went in against another scarred warrior and they had a brawl in the first round and by the second our veteran started to fade, getting pounded in the third and fourth, until it was stopped by the referee.

Back in the dressing room I consoled the gallant loser. I expected him to announce his retirement but he shook his head in a motion that seemed both neck exercise and body language denying defeat.

"I had him in the first round and then it happened," the fighter said.

"What happened?"

"My legs went numb," he said, "I was wearing bikini underwear instead of a jockstrap and it just cut my circulation to my legs."

Top that one.

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Frankie Otero
Fritzie Zivic
Jim Braddock

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