Joshua, Never Underestimate Your Opponent, Ringside Lessons of a Lifetime
Editorial By Robert Brizel, Head Real Combat Media Boxing Correspondent
When ‘The Bayonne Bleeder’, bar-room brawler and liquor salesman Chuck Wepner, decked Muhammad Ali in the ninth round of their March 1975 World Heavyweight title bout in Richfield Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio, the boxing establishment, which thought it knew and understood everything, suddenly got turned upside down in the blink of an eye.
In my long career as a boxing reporter, writing in many mediums from newspapers to magazines to internet, no boxing event has ever been the same. For me, there have been good moments, bright moments, bad moments, confusing moments and sad moments. Like the movie ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’, this reporter has seen kind people and honest people on the positive side of boxing, and the liars and hate on the evil ugly side of boxing. There is a side of boxing which is often transparent, which requires x-ray vision to see through people and stay one step ahead of them to survive in playing the game
The lessons of a lifetime learned in the boxing arena have shown me the difference between those individuals of integrity, those who are idle of the road, and those who come from the dark side. Boxing, like life, is often a turbulent storm. Survival outside the ring if at times no difference than inside the ring. There are those who learn from their mistakes in this business, and there are those who do not. The difference between the ordinary reporter and the magnificent reporter is the reporter who is willing to take chances to know some boxers, managers and promoters better than others, in quest not just of a better story, but of a higher level understanding. I never wanted any awards, never wanted a front row press seat, only to understand my profession-and myself-on a higher plane-as time passes.
In the embracing of ego, there are those who take them to the grave. In boxing, like life there are those who think they know everything. In most cases, the fighters with egos are not thinking with their brain. I know ego too well, because once I had at ego like them. Only when ego is fuelled, by intention, accident, or both, in the course of life, does humility embrace one’s soul. Despite the good features of most people, most men are mere mortals who take their egos to the grave, and cannot shake them till something rocks their soul, which is what humility means.
Anthony Joshua is not unique. Many fighters, coasting on ego and well-promoted, falsely allow themselves to believe they are better than they actually are. When Joe Louis got decked by ‘Two-Ton’ Tony Galento, Louis got up and somehow survived. Louis had learned a critical lesson: never judge a book by his cover. Joshua was led to believe, and indeed probably still believes, he is better than he actually is. Sometimes inadequate trainers, training and lack of discipline cause an unexpected upset. Sometimes a fighter wins a rematch, and sometimes he does not. Usually not. Rocky Marciano fought rematches with Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles and Roland LaStarza. Floyd Patterson fought rematches with Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston. These rematches did not end happily.
After a lifetime in boxing, Andy Ruiz, who was sponsored and promoted, was still financially broke. Andy entered the ring with Joshua desperately hungry. As Mickey once told Rocky Balboa “You ain’t been hungry since you won the title.” Looks be damned, Ruiz was hungry. A hungry lion will chew on a wildebeest or a hyena when he catches up with it.
Being at ringside for a lifetime, this reporter has seen and analyzed many things. My memory has given me the wisdom of self-reflection. Having lived my life as a real person, and seen too many people who weren’t real, the realities of boxing eventually bared their soul. Without a financial sponsor, without a team emotionally supporting a fighter he could trust, the best of fighters, the best of fighters are left alone, poor, and more often than not forced into a position of taking fights unprepared. The game is best played at the highest levels when, all points considered, a fighter and his team are together upstairs and have made adequate preparations for a bout in training camp. I always viewed a late substitute opponent as unwise, both in terms of preparations for a bout, and knowledge of opponent. While not true in all cases, many times late substitute opponents are taken too lightly. Some are actually ready for the late call, and that’s trouble for the lazy and egotistical boxer who may not have anticipated a violent storm against an unknown opponent.
Many years ago, in an old barn with a ring, heavy bag, speed bag, jump rope, and medicine ball, in Kerhonkson, New York, the old black and white 16MM footage of all of Joe Louis’ bouts backwards and forwards on a big screen, looking for something. He discovered that on occasion Louis had a lazy left, which he brought back low after throwing overhand power shots and jabs. With sparkling preparations, speed and timing, Schmeling broke Louis down and knocked him out in the twelfth round. Louis was unable to perceive his flaw, and thus unable to make the correction. The lesson this reporter has learned, being gifted with a blueprint memory of all people, places and things, is you remember the things people say and do, you reanalyze them and yourself, and make corrections. Without ego, never underestimate your opponent. You are always learning. Expect the unexpected, and remain one step ahead of the game, rather than one step behind. In 2007, Ex-WBC World Flyweight champion Gerry Penalosa, ten years removed from that title, won the WBO World Bantamweight title with a seventh round knockout of Jhonny Gonzalez with a liver shot. On paper, Penalosa was a million to one underdog. Gonzalez remains one of the world’s finest fighters today, with more respect for his opponents after losing to Penalosa.