Deep Underground with Raul Groom

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Little break from politics here - I was thinking today about why boxing purists hate the heavyweight division. It's not because of the corruption or the granstanding or the fact that there is this vast sea of nobodies and maybe one or two legitimate fighters who never fight each other. That's all of boxing, it's just the higher up you go in weight, the more pronounced it is.

Being a boxing purist myself I ought to be able to answer the question for myself. And I think I have.

The main skill that separates a good fighter from a regular person (regular people, a class which includes you and me, are varying degrees of awful at fighting, regardless of our delusions to the contrary) is the ability to throw punches in combination. Almost anyone can throw a credible punch, if you have some idea of the basic motion of punching. It's not a complicated skill.

What's difficult is to put three, four or five punches together in a row and deliver them all with speed and power. And if you watch the lower weight classes, you see this a lot. In fact, it's practically all they do. One guy jumps in, pops off a few quick shots, and tries to get out before the other guy can throw his own combination.

In the heavyweight division, it's very different. You don't see an awful lot of combination punching from heavyweights for several reasons. The most obvious reason I think is probably laziness. Almost everyone in the upper ranks of the heavyweight division can knock a fighter out with one punch if it lands flush. So there's no real incentive to throw five punches all at once. After all, you can't knock the guy out five times.

But combination punching was the main reason Muhammad Ali was almost totally unbeatable for most of his career. He actually threw a lot of combination punches, and it made for a very exciting fight.

So why, you might ask, doesn't some enterprising young heavyweight come around and start throwing combinations? Well, if you watch a lot of Ali fights, you start to see why. There are moments even in very lopsideed Ali fights where the champ is about an inch from being knocked completely into next week. It was his skill at getting out of the way at the last second that allowed him to be a combination puncher in a one-punch division.

That's the other key reason heavyweights don't throw a lot of punches in combination. Throwing a combination is dangerous because it requires you to commit to multiple punches based on some perceived weakness in your opponents' defense. But what if that weakness was imaginary? Now you're exposed for a second or more while you work through your combination, and as we discussed earlier, if your opponent hits you, you're probably done for the night.

What's funny about all of this is that you listen to announcers and they say the same thing every heavyweight fight. "Fighter A really needs to throw more combinations. He's trying to do everything with one punch." What I wonder is if anybody ever said that before Ali. Did people get upset with Marciano for loading up for one big punch? I doubt it. Ali made everyone crazy, including fighters. If you've ever watched Dannell Nicholson you know what I mean. Nicholson was this semi-talented fringe contender who had sort of a quasi-Ali-like style in the late 90's. Trouble is, he wasn't Ali. Watch his fight with David Tua to find out where that formula gets you.

What does all this have to do with anything? Screw you. I'm going home.

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