The Tale Of The (Lesser) Tape

Styles make fights. And body types, especially when pitted against other bodies, make for styles.

For those of you who may lack gray hair or memory, this is pretty much what a description of those bodies, a Tale of the Tape, is supposed to look like — what it used to look like. What, in the very least, every major newspaper (and often less than major: Marvin Hagler/Tommy Hearns, Daytona Beach Morning Journal) would print before a big fight; what every TV broadcaster would show.

And yes, a 10 year-old with Microsoft Publisher could probably have done a better job than this Tale from the Thrilla; and yes, Joe Frazier probably should have held a lifelong grudge against whomever actually designed it. But what the mid-70s and 80s lacked in graphics ability was more than made up for in information.

Look at the detail: age, weight, height and reach. This we still get from major broadcasters (newspapers in the U.S. for the most part abandoned boxing fans to our blogs over a decade ago) but notably (more below) the “Reach” here is full wingspan, from fingertip to tip, not the “length of arm” we get from HBO, Showtime, et al.

But the rest! Biceps, chest (normal and expanded), waist, thigh and calf.

Since when is the size of a boxer’s bicep not important? His legs, neck, waist and chest?

Years later, when Muhammad Ali fought Larry Holmes, the Tale of the Tape was a tale of woe writ large: Age: 38, weight, just five pounds more at 225; but waist: 37 ½! ; chest, three inches plus at 47 normal and 49 expanded, calves and thighs the same at 17 and 26.

Ali had been redistributed, but not in a good way; the same would hold true in the ring.

I’m not sure when, exactly, we began to get the truncated Tale, but suffice it to say, knowing better, the short form leaves something to be desired. If you can give me a six minute videographic on the difficulty of a boxer’s youth, surely you can take the time to flash the size of his biceps and waist across the screen. And seemingly, a number of promoters are still compiling the information (a quick google search on “boxing tale of the tape” shows long form Tales for the likes of Floyd Mayweather/Oscar De La Hoya, Mayweather/Juan Manuel Marquez, Mayweather/Canelo Alvarez, Manny Pacquiao/Miguel Cotto, Andre Ward/Mikkel Kessler and Andre Dirrell/Arthur Abraham), it’s just not getting generally broadcast to the public through print, broadcast or otherwise.

As for the reach, the armpit to fingertip measurement would be fine — if boxers stood square and only punched with their arms. They don’t. Or at least the good ones don’t. Just look above at Ali in his stance, left side to front extending toward his opponent, the chest both leading and set to follow the jab forward — the chest every bit a part of reach as the fist.

The chest plays the same role when a boxer pivots and throws the right: it comes forward; it matters.

I’m not saying the armpit to fingertip isn’t a useful number; I’ll take it. Just give me the wingspan reach, chest, waist, thigh, neck and calf too. And while you’re at it, maybe throw in the forearm, fist and ankle— three chapters in the Tale of the Tape that didn’t make it into this Ali/Frazier poster, but were mainstays throughout boxing history.

What good can an ankle measurement be? You’d be surprised. Consider for a moment Hagler/Ray Leonard, courtesy of The Detroit Free Press from April 6, 1987:

HAGLER. LEONARD. Age 32 30, Weight 160 160, Height 5-9 ½ 5-10 ½, Reach 75 74, Chest 40 39, Biceps 15 15, Forearm 12 11 ¾, Waist 30 30, Thigh 22 21, Calf 15 13, Neck 16 15 ½, Wrist 7 7, Fist 12 11, Ankle 9 9 ¾

If you look closely, the story of the fight is there. The numbers truly tell a Tale. Hagler did his roadwork in army boots; Leonard skipped a lot of rope. Leonard is taller, but Hagler is bigger: full inch in the chest (also his reach advantage) another inch up in the thigh, and two whole inches in the calf (look above, Hagler’s calves were, remarkably, as big as Frazier’s). But even with smaller thighs and decidedly smaller calves, Leonard still has ankles ¾ of an inch bigger!

Even if you had never heard of either fighter, tell me — with ankles like that, which boxer demanded the 24 foot ring and would be up on his toes throughout the fight?

Telling examples of such Tales in boxing are almost endless, that’s why they told the full tale of the tape for so very long—here’s Jack Johnson/Jess Willard; Jack Dempsey/Tommy Gibbons, Joe Louis/ Rocky Marciano; and Roberto Duran/Leonard.

Just like that videographic on the fighter’s road to the big time, the Tale of the Tape is one worth telling — and age, weight and armpit reach doesn’t begin to tell the story.