By Gary Elbert
The iconic moment when Roberto Duran turned his back on Sugar Ray Leonard remains a metaphorical moment in boxing history. Sugar Ray made ‘Hands of Stone’ quit.
Duran was the ultimate hardman. Squaring off against grown men at the age of 15 the granite fisted ‘Manos De Piedra’ was a fighting and punching behemoth. Yet his career remains stained by the impulsive decision to walk away from the superior silk and surgical violence of Sugar Ray.
To be a ‘quitter’ remains the cardinal sin in boxing.
At an elite level, the expectation is of a psychotic will that never stops and never quits. Personal health is secondary to fighting pride. Going out on your shield. Hearing the final bell. The standard tropes.
Boxers are warriors. They are modern gladiators perfecting their art and risking their brains for the entertainment of the masses. We are no longer in the Coliseum however.
Three decades on from Duran’s iconic moment Daniel Dubois’ recent decision to take a knee offers a 21st twist on the ‘no mas’ debate.
Whatever you do do not quit.
That is the motto of our times.
What does ‘quit ‘mean exactly?
The reductionist agenda is a silent force that stains our society and our culture. Reducing complex elements to simplistic explanations. Its why millions own Facebook accounts but only a handful have read Dostoevsky. Reducing that momentary Dubois decision to the explanation that the young fighter lacks the mindset or the grit to be a future champion is a cognitive act more suitable to the playground.
Yes, some kids are more predisposed to combat; genetics and personality intermingled with environmental factors produce better fighters. The Mexican chin down walk forward approach however is not conducive to a happy retirement.
The very best fighters are smart fighters who operate upon defence fundamentals 101. Sure, it may not attract the casual pint drinker, but it will also avoid permanent brain damage. Which is more important?
Andy Lee: “ When an MMA fighter taps nobody calls him a quitter and questions whether they should ever fight again”
Lee stated that Dubois’ should have been spared making the decision to withdraw. The fighter’s corner should have intervened and saved their man the public shame of ending the contest himself. Public shame in this context means having your personality and your mindset questioned and debated over. Should you really be fighting? Will you always quit when things are not going your way?
David Haye countered skilfully, asking Lee if he would have been happy in his own career for his corner to pull him from a fight he was winning especially when the stakes were so high; world title shot and long term financial security.
Haye had landed the killer blow, and highlighted the inherent conflict that forms the foundation of boxing as a spectacle. Lee could not respond. When Lee was getting assaulted by John Jackson his corner allowed him the time to produce one of the punches of the decade. We can blame Dubois’ corner, but they had full faith in the young lion’s power and his ability to land a fight ending punch.
The debate revealed the fundamental truth that underpins the sport of boxing.The sport straddles the tightrope between glory and doom like no other. We see it now more than ever without the blanket of a crowd concealing the fighters heavy breathing and we hear the smacking and thudding of leather on gloves, face, head, and body.
The sheer back to basics brutal toughness of professional boxing is truly shocking. Shocking in its risk , in the skill levels involved, and in the sheer depth of will in the fighters.
It is a cliché worth repeating; everybody who gets in the ring deserves the utmost respect. It is something 99.9% of people will never do yet feel qualified to judge and criticise.
Tony Bellew led the chorus of voices questioning if Dubois is world title material after taking a knee following another educated and thudding Joyce jab. The implication is Dubois cannot handle the inevitable adversity that arrives when a fighter steps up in class and faces opponents who come for more than just a payday. Bellew claimed it “would take a baseball bat” to stop him from fighting.
But what happened against Adonis Stevenson?
A depleted Bellew got outboxed, bullied, and battered before being saved by the referee. Bellew stopped fighting back as the Adonis onslaught rained down upon him. In the aftermath of the contest the consensus was Bellew was not good enough for world level. Domestic level British tear up with some beef and niggle would represent the heights of his career.
Bellew returned and surprised his detractors by capturing the cruiserweight world title and cashing in against an ageing and compromised David Haye before wrapping up a successful career with a spirited display against cruiserweight king and world class amateur star Oleksandr Usyk.
The point is Bellew was given an opportunity to rebuild his career and prove his critics wrong.
What about Edward Gutknecht? A warrior spirit and inept cornermen has left him permanently damaged after absorbing the heavy artillery of George Groves. If he had taken a knee-in the process saving his life and health- would Bellew have written him off too?
What about tragic Magomed Abdusalamov? If he had taken a knee that night against Mike Perez and saved his life what would Bellew have said?
Or what if Paul Ingle had “quit” early on against Mbuleo Botile?
Dubois is 23. Rather than write off his future boxing career experienced veterans like Bellew need to ease off the street scumbag talk about baseball bats and recognise that Dubois can rebound and learn from the Joyce defeat.
According to Bellew’s logic Vladimir Klitschko should have hung em up after being blitzed by Corrie Sanders. Or what about David Haye himself producing a bruised toe after a timid effort against Klitschko?
Taking a decision to save your eyesight and protect your long-term health is the only decision to make. Let Dubois regroup and re-engage. Let us see can the young man overcome this early adversity. He may very well be a confidence fighter. When things are going his way, he looks world class but when the opponent is there to win then maybe he is liable to mentally break .
Only time will tell.
There is much talk now of how special Tyson was in his heyday. You can make the argument however that he was fundamentally a bully boy, blessed with biological gifts, who looked for a way out when Holyfield refused to be intimidated. When Tyson faced adversity there is an argument to be made that he was fragile mentally perhaps due to an upbringing devoid of love and affection. The rage turned to tears and the abandoned little boy re-emerged.
We live in a world where men with no experience of violence walk around posturing, shaping, mouthing, posing, and preening offering tough guy versions of themselves that stand up to no real scrutiny.
Daniel Dubois is no quitter. He is a talented 23-year-old professional boxer with time on his side to rebuild and reinvent himself.
First thing he should do is contact Vladimir Klitschko for advice. Or Lennox Lewis.
Both men overcame early career setbacks to register a permanent space on the heavyweight Hall of Fame.
Lewis and Klitschko reinvented themselves under the guidance of the late great Emmanuel Steward.
How did they do so?
They avoided brawls and utilised their strengths. Lewis called himself the “pugilist specialist” while Vladimir was Doctor Steelhammer.
Both greats combined boxing to their strengths with a more cerebral approach to fighting.
The result; Hall of Fame credentials, bulging bank accounts and healthy brains in retirement.
Tony Bellew’s street scumbag bravado about baseball bats and “you have to kill me” belongs on you tube call out videos or in a dimly lit nightclub carpark at 3am.
Dubois can come again.
People bounce back from adversity all the time.
And professional boxers are more capable than most of doing so.