By James Blears
No matter how you calculate it, forty two doesn‘t go into thirty five.
This last weekend, so many hoped that Manny could defy the height, reach and especially age disadvantages all stacked up against him, and somehow defeat Yordenis Ugas, but as the rounds mounted and then piled up, so the physical odds of him pulling off a miracle ebbed away and then dissolved.
Manny simply wasn‘t able to defeat Mother Nature and Father Time. His once lightning fast blazing hand speed complimented by dazzling footwork, which won him armfuls of WBC Green and Gold Belts and others of a different hue, are now conjoined and consigned to an ageing body, which simply can`t obey what his brain was pleadingly demanding of it.
Years ago the late great Marvelous Marvin Hagler told us that painful as it was, after he hung up his gloves, he forced himself to stay away from the gym for two years, to render the temptation to return impossible.
He wistfully said that if he‘d smelled the tang of the rubbing liniment and heard the whirring sound of the speedball, he wouldn‘t have been able to resist being seduced. So he instinctively knew what he had do to. Marvin said that you think you can be your old self, until you realize that you indeed are your OLD SELF.
Rocky Marciano who went out on top, but then contemplated a comeback, isolated himself for a month and worked out, until he realized that it just wasn‘t there any more…and never would be. The best conditioned heavyweight of all time, realized that time had caught up to him.
Other boxers, who remained active, also discovered this hard fact of life. Friends and those close to Muhammad Ali warned him that he must not go on, but he disregarded their entreaties. Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson, wanted to finally retire and make it stick, but were obliged to put the gloves back on for comebacks, due to the avaricious IRS, or unwise business decisions. As the saying goes, victory has a thousand friends, while defeat is an orphan.
Manny‘s rags to riches story, all earned the hard way in the most demanding sport, didn‘t necessitate continuing boxing, at this juncture. But, like so many champions, he`s erred, as he adores the roar of the crowd, doing what… he once did best. Time doesn‘t cancel out or forgive the accumulated debt enwrapped in middle aged vanity. Of course, Manny could have chosen an easy fight for his swansong, but that isn‘t a champion‘s way. There`s always another mountain to climb. The foothills are just too tame!
Two years or more ago, Manny then aged forty, was still able to hold back the hands of the clock, but only just. In a whirlwind, he knocked down a mightily surprised Keith Thurman in the first round and dazzled for the first half of the fight. But then the younger and fresher Keith, started going for the body, following up with long accurate punishing right hands to the head.
It was a fight of two halves and Manny won a close split decision. It would have been so much better to have called it a day then and there and have bade a fond and final goodbye, reinforced with a triumph. In Boxing, life doesn`t begin at forty.
All respect to Ugas. His clever strategy and his power shots were frighteningly accurate, unerringly and unnervingly finding the mark time and time again, with such a high percentage degree of consistency. One shudders to think what would have happened if Manny‘s opponent had been Errol Spence Jr.
As the fight progressed and it became more and more obvious that Manny was shipping more and more punishment, my heart was in my mouth. I kept looking at the clock, ticking down each round, hoping and praying for the minute of respite to please come.
I wasn‘t the only one. I‘m sure others were feeling the same way. Manny‘s Wife Jinkee, was a bundle of coiled up tension and fraying nerves, willing him on, while simultaneously hoping for the final bell to toll, and for him to emerge intact and unscathed.
Many had hoped that Manny was conserving his energy levels. Old boxers tend to conservatively fight in spurts, reserving and conserving their flurries late into the round to impress the Judges, but it became increasingly evident that this was not the case with Manny, who later confided that he legs cramped up in the second round, depriving him of agile mobility for the rest of the fight.
The crowd was willing him on, willing him home, cheering pleadingly every time he waded in, hoping for his success, but it was never going to come to pass on that last night.
There isn‘t a seniors‘ circuit in boxing, like golf, where our favorites don panama hats, and hit them right down the middle Bing Crosby pipe and slippers style, yet a full hundred yards short of what they easily could reach in their heyday. Boxing which is a sport of showdowns, doesn‘t concede a slowdowns. Boxing is great, but it‘s utterly unforgiving.
When a fighter gets old, and sometimes it can happen overnight, reactions and faculties desert them, going AWOL. A dereliction of duty, with not so much as a backward glance or parting salute, and then they risk getting drilled. Even when the fighter is an all- time great, they are then faced with but several stark options.
Either, they`re going to get blasted, ending up on the canvass, going out on their shield. Or they are going to endure a wincing and painful defeat, staying on their feet, after a long night. Or very, very occasionally, as in the case of monumental hitter “Big” George Foreman, they must endure a welter of smarting and bruising blows, in order for them to finally deliver their Sunday Punch and pull off a miracle, while paying a painful price… and sometimes at an ensuring long term cost.
I, like so many others was rooting for Manny and hoping for another sheer marvel. With my heat rather than my head, I predicted another split decision win. He hasn‘t won by KO for ages, but knowing, with a sinking feeling and in my heart of hearts that he was really up against it, and he would almost certainly lose.
I`m so very sad that the hunch was proved correct.
Manny has a future in politics or almost anything he chooses to turn his hand to. Fighting in the ring, is a glorious phase of his life, which is now over. We all hope that he too realizes this. What a ring career, what spectaculars you`ve thrilled us with over the years Manny.