Five Boxing Things I’m Thankful For

Erik Morales: Was there ever a more willing warrior — a guy who was more dead set on meeting fire with fire? From his teenage days in Tijuana, right up to a few months ago under Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz, Morales has always delivered drama and action. Knocking out the 122-pound gargoyle-faced Daniel Zaragoza to lift the WBC strap. Pre-bell corner praying a little too long and getting jumped from behind, then turning ’round to unleash unholy hell. Posing for a trophy pic over the knockout victim that had insulted his brother before the bout. Waging all out war against compatriot Marco Antonio Barrera three times — whom he called simply, “a motherfucker.” Turning southpaw in fight one, round 12 of his thrilling victory over Manny Pacquiao and asking HBO’s Larry Merchant afterwards how he liked it. Attacking like a rabid dog for three stanzas in his ill-fated but incendiary third go around with “Pacman.” Returning from retirement and beating the hell out of Marcos Maidana with one eye closed… so many memorable moments, so many explosive fights… “El Terrible” never made for a bad fight, let alone a terrible one. If you’re looking for the man to measure all other fighters against, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who did it better than Erik Morales.

DVDs, YouTube and Streaming: There are generations of boxing fans who never had the opportunity to see the greats of the sport in action. Imagine yourself a youngster drawn in by Rocky Marciano, having never seen Joe Louis until the night he got knocked through the ropes by “The Brockton Blockbuster.” There were many who didn’t see “The Fight of the Century,” Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier I, until it was rebroadcast three years later in anticipation of their rematch. Even that was made almost unwatchable, overshadowed by bickering between the fighters who live narrated the bout during a slow burn telecast that eventually ignited into their famous studio brawl. Nowadays, even though the sport has lost its network backing and is splintered across cable channels, premium outlets, pay-per-view events, foreign networks, and Internet live streams, almost any match of note is there for the viewing via the Internet, in many forms. Entire career sets of DVDs can be downloaded and burnt for perusal. Saturday night’s fight can be downloaded by Sunday morning. Rounds of action can be called up on YouTube at a moment’s notice. While high priced PPVs and premium cable channels have made the sport more expensive than ever to spectate, fans have scrounged around and found ways to see the fights they’re dying to see. For the truly dedicated, there is seldom a fight that cannot be seen.

HBO Analyst Larry Merchant: Some love him. Some hate him. He’s cranky at times. He’s like a kid in a candy shop sometimes. Wide-eyed and giggly for the firefights, grumbling and terse for the stinkers, he unspools perfect, event-crystalizing analogies. He stumbles through muddled, head-scratching metaphors. He antagonizes fighters who didn’t fight. He glorifies punishers who punish themselves. He compares in-the-ring killers to orchids. He threatens Mayweather with an asskicking, semicentury aside. He’s not around for every fight anymore, but his spectre looms over every broadcast. HBO tried to get rid of him. The outcry brought him back. He’s a boxing broadcasting icon. He’s a hallmark and an institution. He’ll deliver at least one memorable line every time he’s behind the mic. Here’s hoping he gets to frame the big fights for as long as he wants to.

Technicians: They may not have been born with the whip-crack reflexes of Mayweather, the combustible power of Pacquiao, the catastrophic size of the Klitschko boys, but they have something that might count for more than all of that in the long run: diligence and determination. Bernard Hopkins is a self-made man. He knows every trick in the book; wrote some of them himself. He became the longest reigning middleweight champion and the oldest fighter in the sport’s long and storied history to win a major title. The primary reason is because his mastery of the pugilistic arts have allowed him to offset the ravages of time on his speed and reflexes. While his chief rival, Roy Jones, Jr. has lost much of the blazing hand speed that made him special, Hopkins has stayed atop the sport with the footwork of Fred Astaire, the defense of a Brinks bank truck and the ring I.Q. of a grand master. Likewise, Juan Manuel Marquez is the textbook boxer. Never the fastest or most powerful, he focused and honed, studied and perfected the art of the counter shot. As though his career hadn’t shown already, further proof of his mastery came when Marquez took to the ring with every physical disadvantage possible and outboxed the pound-for-pound figurehead Pacquiao. Sure, it’s impressive to see the flash and dazzle of a natural born specimen. But the studied nuance of perfection that boxers cut from the cloth of Hopkins and Marquez attain is a sight to be appreciated, respected and revered even more than a fighter merely born into greatness.

The Build Up: Who doesn’t love the fight — that moment when two guy’s start to mix it up and finally get to settling things in the ring? But often half the fun in being a fight fan is speculating about the match-up as the days tick away and we await that opening bell — the message board arguing, fighter interviews, Twitter posturing, press conference smack talk, 24/7 hype-mongering, weigh-in stare downs and ring walk rock-outs. Do the fights always measure up to the pre-fight opera? Of course not, but perhaps no other sport lends itself to such anticipation for a single event. Imagining the fight, breaking down strategies, analyzing advantages… if the fight itself is nothing more than a pastime at the end of the day, perhaps we can take solace in realizing that the stolen moments we’ve spent thinking about and anticipating the coming event are as much a part of the experience and excitement as any of the punches launched in the squared circle.