The Liver Punch: Our Vulgar Sport

One of the most jarring realizations of adulthood is that even the people in charge don’t really know what they’re doing and that life is nothing but chaos with a veneer of order. Some people relish the nihilistic glee of it because it gives them cover for never taking responsibility for anything they do. Some people refuse to accept it and spend their days arguing over whose chosen political tribe is less incompetent. Very few people ever bother doing anything about it because we’re an inherently lazy, insecure species. So then, it falls to the shameless and wantonly ambitious to run things almost by default. 

For most of us, sports represent a vicarious world in which conflicts can be resolved because all parties have agreed to abide by a set of rules. Violation of those rules results in predetermined penalties. Players who violate off field policies can be fined or outright banned. The same goes for teams. At regular intervals the policies of the leagues are renegotiated to keep the competitiveness and entertainment at the highest level, and within the health and safety regulations of governments. Scandals create interventions and change. The entire process becomes the product, and fans know what to expect.

In short, order.

It’s within this framework and expectation that boxing produces its most fervent and frequent lamentations from fans, media, and often government officials. Boxing has had so many black eyes that you’d hope using that phrase would’ve been banned. But it hasn’t, because Boxing as an entity doesn’t exist. 

If FIFA is McDonald’s, boxing is food trucks. Obviously food trucks exist, but they aren’t franchised or connected. They don’t have bylaws and a corporate board. They are discreet events run by individuals or small groups of them. There’s no set menu and they need only concern themselves with the health and safety requirements of their current location. 

This weekend’s boxing “exhibition” on Triller between 58-year-old retired heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield and 44-year-old retired mixed martial arts fighter Vitor Belfort represents a rickety food truck belching exhaust gasses and burning oil that started off trying to sell day old tacos in California but was struck down by the health department and has migrated to Florida to sling road kill stew. 

As gross and dangerous as the event is (watch Holyfield train, or speak), it’s only possible because of the place boxing holds in societies at large. Boxing remains on the lawless fringe purely because it is a concept and not a company. There’s nothing that can really be banned because no one actually has jurisdiction. If your fight doesn’t get cleared in California, you just move it, whether that be Florida, Mexico, Texas or elsewhere. The most scrutiny that will be applied is by the local commission, and the Association of Boxing Commissions is voluntary. 

Recently, junior lightweight beltholder Oscar Valdez tested positive for phentermine, a stimulant that is used for weight loss but his title defense will still go on this Friday night in Tucson. The positive test violated the World Boxing Council’s testing regimen run by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency. The problem with that being that the Pascua Yaqui Tribe Athletic Commission sanctioned the bout, and they don’t use VADA, they go by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which doesn’t consider phentermine a performance-enhancing drug. If you thought the cretinous dauphin who runs the WBC would enforce his own sham policies over collecting the sanctioning fee, bless your heart. ESPN analysts Tim Bradley and Andre Ward rose in righteous indignation over the affair, joining a chorus of people who decried the scandal. 

Boxing always has a new scandal on which to focus, though. And Triller saved the news media and social media from having to grow an attention span by announcing Holyfield and then changing venues. 

What makes boxing miserable is also what makes it great. Anyone can do it. There’s no barrier to entry. There are no guarantees of outcome, only opportunity. A 100-pound teenager can enter a gym in the Philippines and a quarter century later retire to  an ongoing career in politics with a fortune to his name. Those stories are what keep us coming back as much as the fights themselves. We tell them to ourselves so that we don’t have to admit that for every Manny Pacquiao there are dozens of Jeanette Zacarias Zapatas. We tell ourselves that *someone* should do something about [insert latest scandal]. We tell ourselves all of those things because it’s easier to pretend that something will be done than it is to admit no one’s in charge and the only people who could make a difference are us.