Saturday, March 22, 2008

Another Hyped White Boy Bites the Dust?

Michael Katsidis can't fight much. He throws lots of punches without much power, leaving himself wide open when he does. If Joel Casamayor has anything left, Katsidis is exactly the kind of fighter he'll completely expose.

I hope that happens. The forty-plus year old Casamayor is a real fighter who got to the top (of the division, not to the upper echelon earning status) by beating tough opponents. The problem is that Casamayor has gotten old and maybe a bit lazy. That doesn't usually bode well for someone facing an active, energetic young opponent. Still, if Joel has trained for a vigorous fight, he'll do what HBO is hoping he can't do.

Katsidis is another over-hyped white kid, the third of a recent crop (along with Jason Litzau and Andy Lee) who've been pushed as "can't miss" future stars. The always over-zealous Emmanuel Steward actually had the temerity to suggest that Lee was a "future hall of famer." This was after the young fraud had had four pro fights. Steward, who has a side gig for HBO, knows what side the bread is buttered on, so he'll say anything.

Katsidis's own people are talking about how their boy's "heart" is the thing that makes him special. "Heart" is, of course, code for "my guy has no technique." Technique almost always trumps heart, luckily, so I think there's a good chance that Joel Casamayor will be able to show suits at HBO that they really do need to put storyline beneath talent and skill when it comes to choosing their poster boys.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Fight Is Fight

In the early 1990’s, when no-holds-barred fighting was beginning to take hold in America, a lot of the Americans including myself who were covering this sport were introduced to a generation of fearless fighters from Brazil, mostly trained in the Gracie style of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. This new sport was rapidly breaking down international barriers, as well as misconceptions about what fighting was and was not, but one barrier that took a while to break down was language. While few Americans understood Portuguese, these Brazilians were learning or improving their English, although sometimes imperfectly.

One of the favorite sayings of many of the Brazilian fighters of that day was, “Fight is fight.” What this meant, besides a matter-of-fact attitude to whatever fight happened to be next, was that in whichever style they might be competing, it would still be a fight. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, of course, was just grappling in a gi. NHB, as we affectionately called it then, had very few rules, and allowed punching, kicking, submissions, wrestling, etc.

The fact remains that all these styles of combat sports are in essence forms of fighting. Whether emphasizing grappling or striking, or some combination of both, they are still a fight.

Today I leave for St. Louis to cover the 2008 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championship, which runs Thursday, March 20, through Saturday, March 22. These days, not many people recognize a sport like college wrestling as a form of fighting. Still, it is not some type of analogy for fighting, as team or ball sports can be, but it is actually using some of the key techniques of real fighting. Just think about how many street fights go to the ground when one fighter takes the other one down, and you will understand that all these techniques are, and must be, used in unarmed combat.

All these combat sports have their own rules, restrictions, traditions, techniques, histories, and cultures. They remain, however, forms of fighting, using specified fighting techniques.

Most of the people around NHB in the early days were big boxing fans. Many people in the wrestling world have been, too. Boxing’s documented problems have driven many of them away like so many others. But at heart, they still like the fights.

Yet the cultural and political disconnect between the combat sports has hit boxing and wrestling, two sports with exceptionally parochial cultures, particularly hard. There is only minor crossover, for example, between the media of these two sports. As far as I know, I remain the only member of both the Boxing Writers Association of America and the National Wrestling Media Association, and have had this unusual distinction for years.

The style vs. style angle of the early NHB fights respected all styles, including boxing and wrestling. Virtually all of these fighters regularly trained in boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, and jiu-jitsu. That is one reason for the mass appeal of modern mixed martial arts. That these sports, which utilize specific fighting techniques and at far higher levels than when they are used in some combination like mixed martial arts, have had trouble capitalizing upon the recent popularity of MMA, only reflects their basic shortcomings in marketing, promotion, and use of the media, especially the Internet.

These problems also result from their attitudes that their style is somehow the only legitimate form of combat sports. That makes it uncomfortable for the fans and aficionados of one of these sports to drop in on the others.

Can you be a purist in more than one or even all of these sports at once? Perhaps, if by “purist” you mean someone who cherishes and defends the highest level of integrity and technique in that sport, and not one who looks down upon or denigrates anything outside one little box.

So check out the NCAA wrestling, boxing people. The finals are live on ESPN Saturday night, March 22, with extended coverage of the earlier rounds on ESPNU Friday and Saturday. And when you do so, keep in mind that fight is fight.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Real. And Real Good

It's hard to imagine what more you could want from a fight. Once again Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez produced 12 rounds of riveting action and drama and all those other words HBO loves to trumpet. It's humbling to see that level of skill and commitment and courage—of true professionalism. Humbling, and immensely entertaining. Again Pacquiao brought that thrilling strength and speed (when he really throws that straight left, it seems somehow to be suddenly on a speeded-up film) as well as that exuberance that registers almost like joy (even if he was not quite the dervish of past fights); and again Marquez brought that discipline and craft and amazing resilience. Both were in great shape and both withstood terrible, bloody damage. Scoring off the TV, I had it 114-113 for Marquez, but I can't complain (except about Harold Lederman's whiny-voiced scoring interpretations. Jim!!). How did others see it?