Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Problem of Genius

Yesterday Frank sent me a five minute clip of an out of shape, thirty plus year old Muhammad Ali being knocked from stem to stern by a focused, technically precocious nineteen year old Michael Dokes.

Dokes looks like a worldbeater. He’s had five pro fights, but stylistically looks like a veteran. He puts punches together beautifully and, although not a full-grown adult yet, already bangs with a pro's authority.

Ali looks lousy, and knows it. He spends his time mugging, talking, clowning, and backing into the ropes. Dokes seemingly doesn’t understand that this session is “play” and attacks Muhammad vigorously. Ali takes every shot, apparently impervious to all.

After about two and a half minutes, something remarkable happens. Dokes has Ali trapped in a corner and fires a volley of uninterrupted hard punches, all delivered with perfect form. Ali dodges every single one of them. He moves his head, slips and slides, ducks and pulls back. He doesn’t even bother, for the most part, to put his gloves up to block the shots.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. The only instance that comes to mind is watching an unconscious Wilfred Benitez—likewise trapped on the ropes—instinctively avoid every punch thrown at him by Matthew Hilton.

All of this has made me wonder whether true genius in boxing, when not augmented by supporting craft, isn’t a very dangerous thing. It clearly did Ali a lot of harm. Likewise, it seems to have been Roy Jones’s undoing. Does natural aptitude tend to serve as a disincentive to traditional technique?