Whatever Happened to Ambition?

Why isn’t Deontay Wilder screaming for a fight with Wladimir Klitschko? Why isn’t Leo Santa Cruz calling out Guillermo Rigondeaux? Or Vasyl Lomanchenko? Or Nicholas Walters? Why isn’t Adonis Stevenson yelling to the media on a regular basis that a match between he and light heavyweight rival Sergey Kovalev should have been made yesterday? Why doesn’t Danny Garcia seem eager to face anyone challenging? Why doesn’t Mikey Garcia seem eager to face anyone at all? Why did Andre Ward take so much time away from the ring? Why did Demetrius Andrade do the same?

The answers to all of these questions may be perfectly acceptable and understandable. Or then again…

Let’s face it, boxing is going through something a lackadaisical age. Known fighters just aren’t as ambitious as they used to be. Maybe it’s the weight of boxing’s unwieldy bureaucracy that’s to blame. Or maybe we simply live in a cynical time. No matter the reasons, these days fighters aren’t fighting the guys they should be, as often as they should be.

Wilder: NOT the heavyweight champion.
Wilder: NOT the heavyweight champion.

The fact Mayweather vs Pacquiao almost didn’t happen is very telling. It took until the eleventh hour of each man’s career for the two to finally meet. Truth be told, it’s hard to believe neither man was responsible for the delay. Had both champions been screaming to face off simultaneously, the powers that be would have made the fight happen much earlier than 2015. Clearly, one or both of the principals had something to do with the interminable delay and wanted to play it safe.

Indeed, playing it safe is an unsettling trend in boxing. While it’s true that pugilists rightfully look out for their financial futures more than in the past, they’re still boxers. That means they have to box. What’s more, boxing is still primarily a sport, as opposed to a business. That means boxers should try to prove they’re the best when they have the talent to do so.

If Mayweather has proved anything, it’s that claiming you’re the best simply isn’t enough. He’s been referring to himself as ‘TBE,’ The Best Ever, for a while now, and has faced a lot of blowback for it, and with good reason. No one knows who ‘TBE’ truly is, or was, or if there even could be such a thing. Yet hype works in today’s world and many fighters, particularly Al Haymon fighters, are employing it for all its worth.

Literally just waiting for the final bell
Floyd: playing it safe?

Take those ads that are running where Deontay Wilder is called the heavyweight champion of the world. Us Yanks are forever being accused of  demanding our countrymen be champions, so let me disprove that theory once and for all by stating unequivocally that Wilder is NOT the heavyweight champ. He holds a portion of the heavyweight title, nothing more.

The undeniable truth of the matter is that Wladimir Klitschko, not Wilder, rules the heavyweight division. He’s the champ, the king, the head honcho. What’s more, Klitschko deserves to be numero uno. Not only has the man (along with Lennox Lewis and Emanuel Steward) proven to the world that big guys can indeed succeed in combat sports, he’s taken on all comers and emerged victorious, save for two experiences that he actually learned and grew from.

Meanwhile Wilder has faced a dehydrated Bermane Stiverne and that’s about it. Yet Wilder isn’t the only person to point a finger at here. Garcia, for example, has had exactly one opponent in the past two years, Lamont Peterson, who was on his level and, truth be told, I felt Garcia lost that fight. I also think he lost to Mauricio Herrera, but the judges clearly love Danny, so who am I to complain?

Of course this tendency to take the easy road didn’t start yesterday. Jack Dempsey, for instance, literally went years between fights while heavyweight champion. And let’s not forget Mayweather’s most recent choice of Andre Berto as an opponent. Such things can be forgiven, however, when a fighter is noted for standing atop the mountain. People may not like it, but they can accept it, albeit reluctantly. When fighters present such attitudes without having proven all that much, however, well, people are going to notice.

Ward defeats Dawson: the last time we saw some ambition from ‘S.O.G.’

Andre Ward, for instance, is unquestionably one of the world’s most talented fighters. But he recently pulled a Dempsey by literally disappearing from the ring for years. And now he’s rubbing some the wrong way by calling for a big fight with Gennady Golovkin, who resides a division below Ward’s traditional home turf of super middleweight. Ward may be within his rights to want the showdown, but some feel there’s a real sense of entitlement which, given his activity level isn’t entirely earned. Especially when one recalls how a while back the only guys Ward wanted to fight were Kelly Pavlik and JCC Jr.

At least Ward (now!) wants to fight someone good, and here’s hoping he does square off with GGG or Kovalev sometime soon. Meanwhile Mikey Garcia doesn’t seem interested in facing anyone at all. While it’s true the man may be in a legitimate contract dispute, the public simply doesn’t want to hear it. As far as fans are concerned, sports figures should be engaged in sports, not endless legal issues.

And, ultimately, they’re right. An athlete should be primarily driven by his or her chosen sport when it comes to their career choices. Does anyone think Muhammad Ali was happy losing the years he did to legal battles? Why then should anyone else be so comfortable sitting on the sidelines?

Ali: a champion who took risks.
Ali: a champion who took risks.

It should be noted that boxing is a sport that lends itself well to a general lack of ambition. It isn’t like baseball, hockey, or basketball, where the athletes don’t dictate the schedule. It isn’t like the UFC either, where the best generally have to match off. In other words, in boxing, you can get away with being lazy. At least for a time.

But the question the fighters mentioned in this article might want to be asking themselves is: how long? For how long are they going to let opportunities slide by, while fans impatiently wait for them to take a meaningful fight? How long do they want to wait for court proceedings to resolve before they finally get in the ring again and compete? After all, even the most casual fight fan’s patience has its limit. And the hard truth is: no one stays young forever.      — Sean Crose

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6 thoughts on “Whatever Happened to Ambition?

  • September 23, 2015 at 4:55 pm

    I noticed you didn’t mention the unjustified fight of Pacquiao vs Algeiri. Ward was in a legitimate legal dispute with his promoter during that off time. It’s not like he willingly walked away. Why didn’t you mention Lucian Bute’s lack of activity. Perhaps Nonito Donaire could have been mentioned as well. He has not been very active. Why didn’t you mention Lomanchencko taking on bum after bum. I’m not saying you have an agenda, but it seems you are purposely avoiding talking about certain fighters without talking about others.

    • September 23, 2015 at 6:40 pm

      The list is just too long to present in its entirety, I think. But you raise a good point, this maladie has been around for a while and none other than Pacquiao also had a bunch of unnecessary fights against outmatched opponents over the years: Clottey, Algieri, Margo, Mosley, Rios…

      I’m also disappointed with Lomachenko failing to get a big fight. Bute hasn’t been world class in a while though, although he seems intent on getting to that level again. Donaire is almost on the same page as Bute, he has to prove he’s elite again. Maidana is another name that comes to mind. And something tells me Porter vs Thurman won’t come to fruition either.

      Thank the Lord for GGG vs Lemieux, Canelo vs Cotto and Klitschko vs Fury.

      • September 23, 2015 at 10:30 pm

        I’m getting a sinking feeling about Porter-Thurman myself, truth be told. Not sure who would cause it to not happen (though I’ve heard the rumors), but would be very disappointed in the person or people who stifled it, regardless.

    • September 23, 2015 at 10:25 pm

      Pacquiao did come to mind when I wrote this piece, actually, but I ultimately felt he was running out of opponents when he fought Algieri thanks to an endless promotional war. As of now, Manny’s reportedly looking for some top level guys to fight in the New Year. I’m not calling the guy a saint, but that’s why he didn’t make the “list”. Lucien Bute, truth be told, isn’t in the spotlight the way the others in the article are and Donaire was still reputedly in talks with Quigg when I was writing the piece.

      The truth is that I simply put down the fighters who have rankled me the most lately. I suppose I could be accused of having an agenda by mostly mentioning Haymon guys at the expense of names like Cotto and Loma, but you won’t read me griping about Haymon fighters like Thurman, Porter or Khan, either. I don’t flat out accuse anyone of anything in the article, but I do point out that each man’s recent activity – or lack thereof – is problematic, and rightfully so, I believe.

      That being said, there’s little doubt other names could have been brought up.

      • September 27, 2015 at 2:58 pm

        Your thoughts are valid. Today’s generation of fighters will not take the risks of the fighters of yesteryear. Gone are the days when Sugar Ray Leanord would challenge a prime Thomas Hearns, so the fans could find out who really was the best at 147. Gone are the days when an Alexis Arguello would challenge the best 140 pounder in the world in Aaron Pryor. What we are left with now are fighters who are well paid trying to pander the fans and protect their “brand”. Why would a man that holds a piece of the Heavywht title essentially say in the post fight presser, that he would be willing to wait out the real Heavywht champion of the world? If you are a champion would you not want to challenge yourself to be great? I applaud champions like David Lemuix who in first defense of his IBF title will try and unify his title with Gennady Golovkin. Lemuix could have taken the Wilder route, yet he is challenging himself to be great. Will he win, maybe not, however, this is boxing and he may score the upset. That’s what made boxing beautiful. And that mentality is what is being stolen from boxing when we have champions like Wilder who do not want to challenge themselves to be great. Yet they want to be called a champion. That’s what sours us the FANS!

        • September 29, 2015 at 12:49 pm

          Everyone is always talking about how fighters have changed. That’s not true the business of boxing has changed. The fighters of previous generations weren’t gladiators or warriors that sought the greatest challenges. They were athletes chasing a check just like the fighters of today. Only back then they couldn’t earn multimillion dollar paydays without facing the best. Now, fighters can earn those same paydays facing lesser opponents. That is the only thing that separates fighters of yesteryear with fighters of today. It’s simply more money in the pot, which decreases risks naturally.


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