Breaking the rules: Boxing (cont.)
Posted: Wednesday July 25, 2007 12:13PM; Updated: Wednesday July 25, 2007 12:13PM
In that, he is part of a long tradition. Opponents of Evander Holyfield have repeatedly complained that the former heavyweight champion is a dirty fighter frequently given to head-butting. So outraged was Mike Tyson by Holyfield's alleged cranial transgressions during their second bout, in '97, that he wrote a formal letter of protest to the Nevada state athletic commission -- oh, wait ... no ... he bit off part of Holyfield's ear. Well, who can blame him? Being faced with such blatant unsportsmanlike conduct can really peeve a guy.
Holyfield has also been accused of working an elbow or two, as well as the occasional shoulder, into his combinations. Of course, that's just the sort of rough and ready action that falls into the gray area between blatant cheating and a strict adherence to the Marquess of Queensberry Rules. "The way that I describe Holyfield is [as] an opportunist," was how heavyweight John Ruiz --who faced the Real Deal three times -- put it to RingsideReport.com earlier this month. "If he sees things aren't going his way, he will throw an elbow or hit you with a head butt. Even though it is dirty fighting, you have to look at it that he is coming to win and that is what I admire about him."
By that measure, Ruiz would have worshiped Fritzie Zivic. The welterweight champion of the world from '40-41, Zivic built a reputation over his 232-bout career as the dirtiest fighter of all time. His win over Henry Armstrong, in which Zivic won his title, was a two-sided 15-round symposium in butting, elbowing, kneeing and goughing. At that game, of course, no one could beat Zivic. He won a unanimous decision. "You're boxing, not playing the piano," was how the master explained his approach.
Boxing may not be piano playing, but any fighter will tell you that a little improvisation is always part of the repertoire. Former heavyweight contender Gerry Cooney recalls some of the less than Queensberry-worthy tactics he encountered during his career. "Guys thumb you all the time. They'll hit you low. Step on your feet," he says, with a kind of begrudging nostalgia. "Another great one," Cooney continues, warming to his subject, "is to drive your knee into their thigh during a clinch."
The moves that Cooney describes are not really intended to incapacitate the other fighter. They're merely meant to harass -- to inconvenience and distract an opponent so that one can more easily wear him down or maneuver him into position to land a telling blow. The key, of course, is to do all this without being seen by the referee.
In his '82 bout with Larry Holmes, Cooney was penalized three times for low blows -- all of them, he insists, unintentional. "Holmes was so smart," says Cooney (who lost that bout on a 13th round TKO). "I would come in to throw a body punch and he would reach over and pull my head down to prevent me hitting him and it would make me throw low. He was doing this always on the opposite side from the ref. The ref couldn't see what he was doing and he kept penalizing me." Cooney laughs in admiration at the memory.
In the end, maybe the only thing more effective than cheating is arranging things so that your opponent gets caught cheating. That's why they call it the Sweet Science.