I won’t make any friends with this column, so go ahead and start the hating below. I’m fortified with spiced rum. And I put my motorcycle helmet in the basement so I’m not riding tonight.
Here’s the thing: I’m kind of wondering, half seriously, if there shouldn’t be some sort of extra scrutiny of boxers seeking motorcycle licenses. Yes, I know that the motorcycle death this weekend of former light heavyweight title-holder Julio Gonzalez in Mexico was a hit and run, or so it is reported as such.
I’m not stupid enough to think this is some kind of trend — hell, you can look up the list of people who have been killed on motorcycles and it ranges from Duane Allman to Bangladeshi cricketer Manujural Islam Rana. But last year U.K. Boxer Thomas Bradley was killed on his motorcycle in Sheffield. In January Gary Mason died, but he was killed riding a bicycle. And, of course, there was Diego “Chico” Corrales’ horrific motorcycle accident (is there any other kind?) in 2007 in Vegas. Corrales, 29, was riding his rice rocket at high speed, probably intoxicated, when he back-ended a vehicle.
Gary Shaw, his promoter at the time said it all: “He fought recklessly and he lived recklessly…that was his style.”
A lot of activities are dangerous. People think I’m crazy for riding a bicycle in NYC. And I’ve done it drunk. Riding an elevator in NYC can be fatal, too. But I’m wondering if certain elements of great boxing aren’t antithetical to safe motorcycling. Yes, motorcycling requires good reflexes, solid defensive skills, and a minimum of physical tension, just like boxing, but there are attitudinal differences that I think are at odds.
Biking safely means not focusing only on what’s in front of you. The same holds for good ring generals. I remember a fight in which Floyd Mayweather, Jr., in the midst of dominating his vastly overmatched opponent, turned briefly to interject an opinion on football to the ringside commentators who, bored, were talking about a recent game. That probably took the heart of the other guy faster than a punch could have. Still, boxing is 90 percent forward awareness. You could box with blinders (with a wide enough angle to see overhand punches) if need be.
But when you ride a motorcycle, you have to have a multidirectional awareness. What’s happening in front of you is maybe 30 percent. You are riding dangerously if you are focused on the taillights in front of you. You have to cultivate a sense of the world around you that includes front, sides and back. You have to have eyes on the back of your head. You have to be passive, and almost hypersensitive to what’s happening and likely to happen on all sides.
But that’s minor compared to the attitude issue: an aggressive, offense-driven instinct is deadly on motorcycles unless you’re competing in an AMA Pro Road superbike race. The necessity in boxing of having a certain attitude of invincibility and chutzpah doesn’t translate to the road. Corrales had a devil-may-care-attitude about taking a hit that made him a hero in the ring. And while the gift of an iron chin works wonders in the squared circle, it is fatal on a motorcycle because the canvas is made of concrete and if you hit it, you are probably going to do so at high speed.
Finally, there’s the possibility that boxers suffering various degrees of dementia pugilistica may have lost some ability to think critically and act quickly. I know that what happened to Gonzalez was, by all accounts, not his fault but the work of a hit and run driver. But I wonder if fighters who have been at it for years haven’t lost too much in the way of reflexes and cognition to swing a leg over a motorcycle. For a sport that also makes you a safe biker, I’m thinking golf.