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Boxing: Sport of Kings, Game of Enablers

(L-R) Chavez / Vera (Photo © Chris Farina / Top Rank)
(L-R) Chavez / Vera (Photo © Chris Farina / Top Rank)

By Gabriel Montoya


Boxing is a sport of enablers. On its surface, it’s supposed to be the fairest thing there is. Two men who have agreed to the time, place, weight, type of gloves and the rules of combat enter a roped-off square known as a “ring.” A referee both parties have generally agreed to presides over three-minute rounds with a one-minute rest period in between. Three presumably neutral judges decide who wins and who loses each of the stanzas. How many rounds each fight goes depends again on the combatants and what’s up for grabs.
 
Barring height, reach, power, speed, agility, endurance and resiliency differences, the fight is generally accepted as fair if both men make the agreed weight limit. Matching a feather fist with a power-puncher is all good so long as they weigh the same a day before the bout for the amount of time it takes to get a proper weight recorded.

But this is boxing, where, “If you can’t beat him, negotiate with him until you can” isn’t a saying so much as a day at the office for matchmakers, promoters, TV networks, yes-men, star fighters and everyone else looking to match their human game cock successfully up the professional Violence Technician ranks. All this while knocking the risk/reward scale so far off balance that we don’t know what even looked like in the first place.
 
Everything in the sport these days feels like Earth in the final throes of entropy ecstasy. “Super-fights” have supernova’ed into “events” that feel like less like a fight than a commercial for an upcoming movie about one. A sense of responsibility has completely disappeared from anyone in power. That is never more prevalent than in the U.S., where promoters not so openly haggle over and obstruct drug testing, forgetting that all the fighters requesting it are saying, “Hey, this thing is life and death enough without questions of what’s in each other’s blood and urine streams.” But the longtime gangsters of the sport always seem to know better or, at the very least, how to bullsh*t long enough that the neutered media forget it was ever screaming outrageously, spitting free promoter-provided flan everywhere (full disclosure: I am a sucker for media lunch flan).
 
Rarely has the morally bankrupt old whore that is boxing’s soul been laid more bare than this Saturday night’s HBO main event between former middleweight titleholder Julio “Son of a Legend” Cesar Chavez Jr. and Brian Vera, a hardnosed, blue-collar pro from Texas. The 5’11” Vera is more of a natural 154-160-pound fighter who has ventured as high as 168. Chavez fights at middleweight but has been known to blow up to 185 by fight time. Yeah. That’s cruiserweight, one class below heavyweight. Actually, 185 is about the weight of Joe Louis in his prime, to put it into perspective.
 
The fight was originally slated to happen at 163 pounds. Then it became 168. Then 173 this week when Chavez, who has been the issue all along, informed his promoter he wasn’t hitting 168. An agreement was reached with Banner Promotions, Vera’s promoter, to compensate him for the upwardly moving weight limit.
 
Our own Steve Kim broke down the events as they happened here:
 
 
Vera’s trainer, Ronnie Shields was as pissed as a trainer should be. Trainers spend more time with the fighters than anyone. It becomes family at some point.
 
“Of course and that’s the thing we’re going to fight with. That’s what we’re meeting about right after this and, look, I care about Brian Vera the fighter, the person - they don’t give a f*ck about Brian Vera but I do. And this is about Brian’s health. Now, they don’t care because it’s all about money for them but Brian is going to have to live to fight another day.”
 
Shields says it all as eloquently and directly as it should be.
 
Shame on the sport. Shame on the press release that promoted the weigh-in on Friday as a groundbreaking technique wherein no one would know what the fight’s agreed weight limit would be until the moment each man hit the scales.
 
Praise to the California State Athletic Commission who declared it would cancel the fight if Chavez weighed 11 pounds more than Vera. As it happened, a healthy and hydrated Vera weighed in at 171.2. A pale, gaunt, Chavez, dark circles under his eyes, little muscle tone showing on his stretched skin, weighed 172.4 pounds.
 
Immediately his supporters said, “See? He isn’t fat. He weighed in under the limit.”
 
There are two schools of danger here. On one hand, Vera is likely as hydrated as he will be at 171.2. Maybe he goes up a pound or two. Junior likely comes in at 185-190 tomorrow night. It’s a safe bet HBO won’t provide an unofficial weight.
 
On one hand, Vera is horribly outweighed. On the other, Chavez looked like death on the scales.
 
This brings up this 26-year-old MMA fighter who died cutting weight this week in Brazil minutes before hitting the scale.
 
 
He literally dropped to the ground unconscious and never woke up.
 
Think about that. A ripped fighter in his prime dropped dead because he was likely trying to suck the last bits of moisture from his body in a week he likely wasn’t eating during either. Why? So he could rehydrate 15-20 pounds and fight at a whole other weight the next day? What kind of thinking is this anymore?
 
In today’s world of day-before weigh-ins meant to insure the health and safety of the fighters, they’ve gamed the system to where they suck down 10-20 pounds the week of the fight, rehydrate, then take intense punishment to the internal organs and brain. Aren’t two guys (or girls) fighting with aplomb enough? Why the weight torture? How did this get so out of control? This obsession with winning multiple belts in multiple weight classes in order to be great is ridiculous and dangerous.
 
Why do blue-chip prospects have to look like whole different human beings 36 hours before a fight? What’s the long-term endocrine damage being done here?
 
Shame on HBO for televising this main event. It may not be the death of boxing but it certainly won’t be an argument against tickling our tonsils with a shotgun barrel. Shame on Chavez for putting himself - and us - in this situation. And shame on Top Rank for enabling this all along.
 
Here’s hoping this fight ends with everyone safe and sound. The sport is likely beyond getting its soul back. Let’s hope on this night, at least we don’t lose anymore. If we don’t, like with our shotgun death wish, it won’t be for lack of trying.
 
You can email Gabriel at maxgmontoya@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him every Monday on “The Next Round” with Steve Kim, now at its new home, www.blogtalkradio.com/thenextround. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 p.m., PST.
 
 

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