My grandmother was the first person I watched the fights with. All but running a pool hall in Tacoma from 1942-1970 ( tended bar, did the books for the numbers runners, did the books and the place itself), she was inundated by the culture of the fight game; first with the radio broadcasts of Joe Louis’s later title fights, then with the ascendancy of Ray Robinson, then with the electric charge of Muhammad Ali on color television. More than just understanding that it was something to know to work in a bar, she had a particular affinity for boxers who had a certain decorum. Her fighters were men who could whop ass and be graceful. It was the reason that she preferred Frazier over Ali ( along with Ali’s almost unforgivable colorism). It was also the reason that her favorite fighter of all time was Alexis Arguello. Like the black and brown men she kept close to, she loved fighters who could take a tremendous amount of pain and not lose their humanity.
I’m certain that-if she was alive-my grandmother would have stopped being a fan of the sport because of Floyd Mayweather. My uncle Gerald told me that the night after his victory over Manny Pacquiao, a fight we were both glad we didn’t watch.When the fight went down I was on a ferry in the salish sea, in between reading at the Cascadia Poetry Festival and featuring in the Versus Festival Of Words, and relieved that I was away from any discussion about it. If every big fight is a symbol of it’s time, this fight was a symbol of how many men hated women, as an eleven time abuser ( Mayweather) slickly outpointed a destructively fraudulent politician and activist who was outed as a homophobe and a sexist ( Pacquiao). Though it got massive attention, it will serve as boxing’s death knell, solely because it established that the sport’s most recognizable face since Ali is the most morally reprehensible one that the sport has ever had.
Yet last summer my uncle told me to see Danny Garcia beat Paulie Malignaggi. I reluctantly did…and the end was glad for it. I wasn’t glad because of the fight per se, but it was a good one. Garcia is an underrated fighter: a very solid technician who doesn’t do anything brilliantly but does everything well, he reminds me a lot of Emile Griffin but with a better left hook to the body. Against Paulie, he was at a good weight and used his money punch to full effect, slowly dismantling the tricky boxer in the early rounds, landing his right jab when Malignaggi slowed down, and repeatedly reaching him with his over hand right when the Brooklyn sprite could not sprite around the ring anymore.
But it was the action after the fight that moved me. Paulie evolved from a callow, loudmouthed kid to a quality boxer, but he reached an early end of his career with Garcia. A graceful dancer who could give angles and frustrate most fighters, Malignaggi’s flaw was a lack of power. The sluggers he fought (Miguel Cotto, Adrien Broner, Ricky Hatton), negated his elusiveness by the sheer effort of mauling him solely because he couldn’t punch in a way to make them think twice about it. Yet he was a fighter, a brave fighter who took a lot of punches, and got in the ring in some big fights; and everyone in his hometown Brooklyn crowd knew that Garcia had beaten him so badly that he would never get in another big fight again.
Understanding that, Garcia took Paulie’s hand, raised it and took him to the four corners of the ring so that his crowd could cheer him one last time. And thank him. Danny knew that haunting truth about boxing that-if few things in sports are as exciting as a young fighter-few things in life are as tragic as an old one. He understood that Malignaggi had entered the tortuous early winter old fighters go through, where the best of someone’s life lives only in memory and youtube clips, and wanted to remind the Brooklyn boxer’s base-the people who were cheering for Garcia to get beat minutes ago-that their hero had given something to them.
Boxing is an almost unforgivable sport to watch with an unguilty conscious. Mayweather’s popularity that he is the greatest Strindberg character came to life, a unconscionable mass of men’s rights terror, an abuser who espouses viciously misogyny, and wins and makes millions of money in the ring. It doesn’t matter what he does, he will be popular because millions of reprehensible men live through him, and the people who paid for the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight have a complex filth on their hands.
Yet there isn’t a sport that has the moments of complex grace like you see in the above picture. I will never be a fan of boxing again, but I will never forget the fights because of people like Danny Garcia .My grandmother would have been proud of him. She also would have watched.