“IT IS NOT the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better.”
That is an extract from a powerful speech, delivered in Paris in 1910, by former US President, Theodore Roosevelt. It is entitled ‘Citizenship in a Republic’ though is more commonly known as The Man in the Arena’.
The meaning of the speech carries through to this day and I believe that boxing spectators who are frequently critical should read or listen to it.
Boxing is challenging. It is a very serious business and boxers, for the most part, should be respected. To enter a competitive boxing ring, requires courage, skill, resolve and so much more than merely sitting, watching and pointing out what the boxer should have done.
That is why, when I sit at boxing events, I am not impressed whenever I hear observers criticise the boxers in the ring. Clearly, people are free to conduct themselves however they choose, and I am not at liberty to tell them how to, but it would be good for them, and the sport, if the harsh, too often toxic, criticism was turned down.
Real boxing supporters appreciate the hard work that boxers put into their training sessions and the sacrifices they endure to develop their craft and achieve goals.
Every time a boxer enters a ring, the risk to their mental and physical health is immense and sadly, because of the way our sport is structured, they box, at times, for very little monetary rewards. Not all boxers are paid the sizable amounts that some main attraction fighters get paid. Some boxers maintain full-time jobs and must fit their training sessions around work times.
Consciously, these intricate portrayals of boxing are important because it allows supporters a greater understanding of boxing and of the boxer’s journey.
When I prepared for fights, members of the public would come up to the gym and watch my workouts. Some days I would do a question-and-answer session with the spectators for a few minutes.
I remember preparing for my fight with Jimmy Thunder in 1991. I was training at The Ring in London, Blackfriars. Now, the setting was not formally set up for a discussion. It was the end of my gym session that day and I was engaging in banter with the spectators.
A young man asked me, ‘Why do boxers clinch each other so much during fights?’ Adding that, ‘he would not clinch so much if he was a boxer.’
His reference to the clinching, I suspected, had something to do with the earlier sparring session. My sparring partner had boxed two good rounds with me and then by the third round, he was frequently clinching. In the past, I had also heard other people expressing similar thoughts.
I invited the young man to come and hit the heavy bag for a round. He was excited at the opportunity. There were only a few spectators in the gym, but he was keen to impress. He put on a pair of gloves and immediately attacked the heavy bag, with his two fists flaring away.
Clearly, I could see that he was not a trained boxer, there was no timing or positioning. There was no jab though he did throw a spectacular cluster of punches at the heavy bag. Then, after about 30 seconds, he was gasping for air. I asked him why. He admitted that he was tired and had not realised that punching took so much out of you. He appreciated boxing was harder than he realised.
More recently, before the Covid lockdown, I attended a black-tie boxing dinner show at the Hilton Hotel in London. I was seated on a table as a boxing guest. A few of the other guests at the table were raucously betting amongst themselves on which fighter would win the next fight.
I listened as they reproved the boxers that lost, especially if a bet had been wagered on them. During the evening, I was able to explain to the guests about each stage of the fights.
The boxer’s journey is more than the combative aspect. It entails having a good team around the boxer, dedication, trust, and a strong work ethic. A good management team, who arrange regular learning fights, can help a boxer to a gain experience and a greater chance of achieving their goals, although it does not guarantee success. That is why, sometimes early in careers, we will see what some may perceive as mismatches when the reality is a boxer is learning how to fight a southpaw, a taller boxer, an awkward one, a spoiler, a puncher and so on. As the career progresses, each box gets ticked.
At a higher level, it is then the job of the boxer to put into practice all they have learned. Even then, they will encounter problems and those hard battles inside the ring should not be met with criticism because the opponents they now face are presenting them with new puzzles to solve.
The boxer’s personal desire to accomplish is of course the most important. It is the boxer who succeeds or fails and that is on them. That is what is matters. It is not the voices from the sidelines, it is not the critic who counts.