Who Do You Think You Are? A Boxing Writer’s Defense

In my short tenure as a self-proclaimed boxing writer, I’ve received dozens of comments over time to the effect of: “What do you know about boxing? You’re an idiot,” and, “You’ve got no right to criticize fighters because you don’t know what it’s like to be a fighter.” I got them a month ago from Vladimir Klitschko’s fans. More recently, I got them from Manny Pacquiao’s fans, who have turned out to like me OK in the end. I’m not especially sensitive to such remarks. I rarely curl up into fetal position or cry and hug my legs or whatever when I hear them. But it happens often enough that I feel compelled to answer in-depth. Let me start by stating my point of view on boxers in general and the respect I have for them, just so there can be no confusion on this point. Boxing is rightly called “the hardest game.” I have nothing but admiration for someone who makes a living getting punched. I am the kind of boxing fan who actually admires savvy defense. It is, after all, the art of hitting without being hit. I rarely have criticized a fighter for quitting when, say, his nose or jaw is broken. (The only time I can think of where I’ve criticized a fighter for quitting was junior lightweight [130 lbs.] Acelino Freitas, who did it twice in a row, and the second time acted like it was something to be proud of, as his team lifted him up on his shoulders and he smiled broadly. I don’t think there’s much shame in quitting a fight when you’re getting beat up, but it’s not exactly something to show off, either. And if you do it routinely, well, maybe boxing’s not your sport, right? I’ll elaborate on that in a sec.) When a fighter pushes through a broken nose or hand or what have you, they are deserving of exceptional praise. Now, that out of the way, I’d like to move on to the whole “unless you’ve been a boxer, you can’t say anything critical of a boxer” line of reasoning. This kind of formulation is pretty common to anyone who doesn’t like whatever specific criticism they’ve heard of something they like. It could be a boxer, or, say, someone’s own life — like when some actor or star says something to the effect of (and this is admittedly an extreme case), “Until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes, you’ve got no right to question my decision to drive drunk.” Here’s the thing on that, or, rather, several things on that. If we limited what we could express our thoughts on to things we’ve done, then it’d be a pretty conversation-free life. By that standard, hardly anyone would be allowed to write about anything, ever. College professors couldn’t study tribal behavior and publish a paper about it unless they joined the tribe. In fact, by the own internal reasoning of the formulation, the actual remark “you can’t criticize a fighter unless you’re a fighter” is guilty of the same sin. I could just as easily reply: “You have no right to criticize my boxing writing unless you, too, are a boxing writer.” I won’t reply in that fashion, because if I said that, I’d be wrong, too. I haven’t been in a fight since the seventh grade. I lost, but I felt like I took a pretty good punch. Still, I can only imagine what it’s like to be a boxer. I have no training. I do think it would enhance my understanding of the sport if I did, but it doesn’t mean I can’t comment on the sport without it. And, certainly, I have a right to criticize whatever I want, whenever I want, just like everyone else does. I think the standard should be, “Does the criticism have merit?” To reject my point of view merely because it comes from a specific person is a common logical fallacy, taught in basic logic classes in every college in America. This is “argument ad hominem,” or argument to the man. If you say to me, “Tim’s criticism is worthless because he’s never boxed,” you are committing a mistake of argument. Still, allow me to discuss a little bit of my credentials, such as they are. I’ve written for several boxing sites, including this one, my own blog, TheSweetScience.com, Eastsideboxing.com and BadLeftHook.com. Therefore, at least a few credible people have considered my views worthy of publication. I recently got a fight credential in February in Madison Square Garden, the Mecca of boxing, to cover a fight that got a ton of media coverage, the February heavyweight unification bout. Therefore, at least a few of the powers-that-be in boxing considered me credible enough to treat as a respectable writer. I am not always right in my predictions or things I write, but I have called some beauts; for instance, I was in the minority in predicting that now-middleweight (160 lbs.) champ Kelly Pavlik would viciously knock out Jermain Taylor in their first meeting. That gives me something of a track record. And I’ve been a journalist for nine years, by profession, covering all manner of topics and usually garnering respect from my peers, superiors and sources along the way. Even if none of the above was true, though, I’d still have the right to my opinion. There’s an additional right, beyond that of just being a human being, that I have earned as well. I’m a consumer of boxing. I shell out money for HBO and Showtime, and, frequently, pay-per-views at $50 a pop. Boxers earn their money by being entertainers, in the same way all sporting figures do. I am their audience. I am one of the many people who are, in effect, paying their salaries, or, when I switch into coverage mode, giving free promotional airtime to their fights. All of that gives me the ability to say — as I did of Klitschko — that a boxer’s performance was horrible. A bad performance is bad entertainment, and I’m not getting my money’s worth. It doesn’t diminish my respect for the courage it takes to be in the profession. It just makes me an unsatisfied customer. P.S. On a related point, I’ve said it many times before, but I also must add that as a blogger, it is not written anywhere that I cannot have an opinion about the boxers I’m writing about. What I do verges on journalism sometimes, but it is not that. It is a different format. I express my rooting interests regularly so the reader knows my interests and can make up his or her own mind about whether it tarnishes my analysis or predictions. But rest assured, I try to keep those things separate. I predicted Ricky Hatton, a fighter whose personality I like, would lose to Floyd Mayweather, a fighter whose personality I do not like. I predicted a win by Rafael Marquez, one of my favorite fighters, over Israel Vazquez, a fighter I like but like less than Marquez, but had Vazquez winning on my scorecard. My writing history is littered with instances where I have been critical of fighters I have soft spots for, or praise for fighters I can’t stand.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.