Role Model Boxers

Sadly, this post isn’t about the amusing 2008 movie starring Sean William Scott and Paul Rudd. It’s about well behaved boxers.

I’ve always thought that the idea of sports stars being “role models” is slightly absurd.

There’s no reason why someone who’s ridiculously good at throwing a ball around (or punching someone else in the face) should be held up as a paragon of virtue.

Indeed, successful athletes find themselves in a situation where it’s very difficult to behave well — they’re essentially average people who gain massive wealth and notoriety after years of deprivation, training and anonymity.

In many sports, boxing included, they’re also from low socioeconomic backgrounds and have sacrificed a meaningful education to pursue their athletic skills.

That’s not to say that being a good athlete is an excuse to be a bad person, just that criticising these athletes and their transgressions on the basis that they’re role models is pretty dumb. Stephen Hawkings is a role model. Kobe Bryant is not. James Kirkland definitely is not.

Just as an antidote to the generally negative coverage of boxers’ personal lives from the mainstream media, here are the boxers who might make the best role models, if that’s what you’re into.

Wlad Klitschko, heavyweight

Their style might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you can’t deny that the Klitschkos carry themselves with grace. Both brothers have tertiary educations, and Wlad is a doctor. Along with Vitali, Wlad works for UNESCO as well as his own charities. Wlad has even agitated against Japanese dolphin hunting. He’s so nice that calling David Haye a “beetch” was more amusing than intimidating (though the whole video has the feel of something you might see if you accidentally walked into a back alley cinema).

Andre Ward, super middleweight

Personally, I’m not a big fan of all the overt Christianity — but you can’t deny that Andre Ward seems like a great guy. Though while we’re on the subject, isn’t calling yourself the SOG a little blasphemous? Not that I’d really know. Not one to talk trash or needle opponents, he showed his true class when coming out of the tunnel to face Allan Green dressed in a robe honouring Showtime’s Nick Charles, who’s battling cancer. His (sometimes dirty) trickery in the ring has been compared to Bernard Hopkins, but give me Ward any day over that big mouthed homophobe.

Librado Andrade, super middleweight

What a dude. After stalking down and bloodying up Eric Lucas in Quebec earlier this year, Andrade got Lucas up on his shoulders and walked around the ring with him. Now that’s what I call sportsmanship. The fans in Canada have clearly taken a liking to the iron chinned Mexican; he’s basically an honorary Quebecois.

Anthony Mundine, middleweight

None of the others on this list are controversial, but I’m probably going to piss off a lot of Aussie boxing fans with this inclusion. Yeah, Mundine acts like dick sometimes and has fought a stream of South American bums (or boxcar Josés as I now call them). But in a country where the press pillories football players for their drug and alcohol use and sexual transgressions, Mundine is a rare teetotaler. Nevertheless, he’s still widely criticised and hated. Mundine is one of the few indigenous people in Australian public life and he’s not afraid to use his position to draw attention to the terrible disadvantages and racism that his people face. That’s why he merits inclusion. By all accounts he’s actually a top bloke in person as well.

Yuri Foreman, junior middleweight

Foreman’s got the heart of a lion. Everybody saw that when he fought Miguel Cotto earlier in the year. The amount of coverage that his life as a rabbinical scholar got was almost tedious, but you can’t deny that it’s a cool story. Especially the part about boxing in Arab gyms in the West Bank. It just goes to show that the best thing you can do for world peace is punch someone in the mouth (albeit lightly).

Timothy Bradley, junior welterweight

Bradley is a boxer who really knows how to use his head. Boom tish. Like Ward, it’s a mystery how someone who’s such a tenacious little destroyer in the ring could be such a nice guy. Not that I’ve met him, but every journo who has describes him in glowing terms. He’s not one to talk trash and dedicating his fight against Nate Campbell to the late Vernon Forrest, a former nice guy of boxing, showed all sorts of class.

Victor Ortiz, junior welterweight

Kind of the opposite of Yuri Foreman, Ortiz pissed a lot of hardcore boxing fans off when he quit halfway through his fight of the year candidate with Marcos Maidana. But in a sport full of guys who came from nothing to make it good, Ortiz’ story stands out. He helped raise his little bro and now he’s using his position to try to improve other people’s lives. Good on him.

Is there anybody who you think should be on the list but isn’t? Someone who is but shouldn’t be? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

About Tim Starks

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