The Liver Punch: Kinetic Energy

Last Saturday night, from Verona, New York, HBO gave the world a physics lesson, just as their “friends” at Premier Boxing Champions had done the previous week. What we saw was the difference between Kinetic energy and Potential energy. Kinetic energy is energy in action. It’s the energy generated in motion. Potential energy is the energy that could possibly exist.

Anyone over the age of 12 can tell you that potential doesn’t mean much until it’s actually in action. Potential energy is independent of its environment, and in boxing that means independent of age, infirmity, and the will of the opponent. Kinetic energy is what exists when all of those forces go into motion and we actually see what happens. It’s a curious thing, because in our sport, there are not just physical forces at work, but the mental inertia that can hamstring everything in the physical world.

There was something satisfying on a cellular level in David Lemieux’s savage KO of Curtis Stevens in their middleweight bout. There was the awkward transfer of weight just before the final left hook landed flush on Stevens chin. There was the preceding exchanges that let you know it MIGHT come soon. There was a crackle of energy in the fight. David Lemieux threw a hard right cross, briefly adjusted his balance, then fired a left hook with all his might. It landed just after Stevens landed one of his own. But Lemieux’s landed flush on Steven’s chin, and his opponent collapsed in a heap, unresponsive for a couple of minutes. Stevens got knocked the fuck out.

For a variety of reasons, we have become accustomed to relying on pre-fight build up as a source of drama and energy in our sport. There is always some sort of context that must be drawn to sell us on why we might get a thrill. It’s all bullshit. What that matters is the energy. Live cards are more fun than TV. Slugfests are more fun than brilliant displays of skill devoid of any action. It’s the energy.

Don’t tell me how great something is. I can see it. I can feel it.

Danny Garcia and Keith Thurman could have engaged in a game of blitz chess that thrilled the live and television audience of their welterweight title bout with its skill, ferocity, and drama. They didn’t. There are myriad reasons why they didn’t, none of which I will pretend to know. I do know that the constant Ray Leonard vs Thomas Hearns fight comparisons in the lead up did them zero favors. They aren’t those men, and suggesting that holding the same alphabet trinkets makes them a corollary is pretty fucking dumb.

Last Saturday, HBO seemed hell bent on convincing me that I was seeing something that didn’t exist. Just as the PBC crew had attempted to do the week prior. We spent ten utterly lifeless rounds watching Yuriorkis Gamboa follow journeyman Rene Alvarado around. Throughout, HBO treated us to endless fluffery about how good Gamboa could be, and how good he might have been. Gamboa is a case study in potential energy. This was his second fight in over two years, and he’s 35 years old. In the ring, Gamboa has always been chaos personified. Saturday night, not so much. He won, but he looked like an old man, and no one really cares anymore.

Intent on not shucking off that debacle during the main event, HBO continued their pursuit of narrative at the expense of action. Presented with an extremely fun if slightly one-sided slugfest, the venerable crew persisted in making the fight fit their words, and not the other way around. David Lemieux thundered out of his corner intent on destruction. Curtis Stevens did enough to claim his own space, but provided little evidence that he was any better than a fringe contender. If the first round was dramatic, it was Lemieux who made it so. He was hell bent on fucking someone up, not seeming to care who.

The 2nd round was somewhat closer, but still one sided. The 3rd was predation worthy of Sir David Attenborough’s narration. Lemieux’s seemed to have gotten his timing dialed in. He stalked, boxing (in his fashion), and came forward behind his jab, alternating circling. HBO’s crew seemed to be convinced that Stevens had shaken him up and that Lemieux was ripe for the picking. With 1:05 remaining in the 3rd, Lemieux landed a left hook that sent Curtis Stevens to hell. The energy had been transferred and the receptacle couldn’t handle the load. Stevens was splayed on the canvas. The fight was over.

Kellerman, appearing to be unwilling, or unable, to abandon the narrative he had embraced during the match asked Lemieux during the post fight interview if he was out of shape, and if Stevens was coming on. Lemieux seemed bemused by the questions. Watching live, I was more irritated than bemused, and here’s why: Lemieux never looks cut up. He’s a stocky guy, and while he was a little heavier than usual in the ring, he pretty much looked like himself. Additionally, as Lemieux himself explained, he was settling into rhythm in the 2nd round and picking his shots more carefully. But don’t just take our word for it; here it is according to CompuBox. Given that Lemieux’s final punch stats were 93/266, and the 3rd round was over after just shy of two minutes, he was still quite busy, but easing back toward his normal numbers. By contrast, Stevens was 36/105 overall. His high water mark was 18/43 in the 2nd round (he was 7/25 in the 3rd before getting detached from his senses). Someone will eventually have to explain to me how a fighter can have his output and connects beaten by more than DOUBLE and they think that’s a clear indication that he’s coming on and the other guy is wilting.

A fight is an exchange of energy. I might think I know how it will work, but I’m often wrong. I don’t watch because I want to see the outcomes. I watch so that I can see the shifts. I watch so that I can feel that surge. Call it drama, call it energy, call it will, call it whatever you want. But fuck you if you try to rob me of what I’ve just seen. I don’t care what you thought was supposed to happen. I care about what IS happening. Anticipation, context, and memory will never supplant the crackle of what is happening right now.

Delirium Tremens

  • I’ve probably never said a kind word about David Haye. In fact, I have loathed him for so long that I picked Tony Bellew before their fight purely from spite. I even suggested his Achilles tendon injury wasn’t real. I’ve seen the pictures of his surgery. I was wrong. It looked like a block of TNT had been set off in his leg. Full credit to Haye. It took a brass set to keep going with injury.
  • Full credit also to Bellew. He’s a fat light heavyweight, and I never thought he was anything special at 175. Genuinely. He’s not a cruiserweight, and he’s damn sure not a heavyweight, but when fortune smiled upon him unexpectedly (and unbeknownst to him), he made the most of it. Very few of us can say that.
  • Here’s hopefully my final word on PED testing: Fines that negate suspensions are blatant cash grabs by sanctioning bodies, who are already professional extortionists. No, I don’t think for a fucking second they have anyone’s “best interest” in mind.
  • Manny Pacquiao vs Amir Khan is “off.” Not that it was ever officially on. To quote myself, fight someone decent or fuck off. No, I don’t care who or where. Just make it happen, I don’t give a shit about fight negotiations.