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  • Writer's pictureSean Spencer

The Perfect Record

One of the first questions fight fans ask whenever they are told about an up and coming competitor is, "What is his/her record?" For some reason a pro fighter remaining undefeated is the standard by which boxing spectators measure a boxer's relevance in the sport. I have witnessed in both boxing and mixed martial arts the fall in popularity of athletes as they lose their first fight. Even I have been guilty of this and so I understand where people are coming from. I clearly remember when MMA fighter Anderson Silva lost his first UFC fight against Chris Weidman in 2013. Before that fight I was convinced Silva was unstoppable, that nobody could beat him. To my surprise he not only lost this battle, but a few more after that (including another bout against Weidman). Then one day my coach told something I never forgot and it affected me to the point that I not only changed my perspective on the matter but I tell my students the same thing in many circumstances. He said, "Everybody is beatable."

When we think of the greatest of all time in any sport, many of them have lost games, matches or races; they have lost playoff games, championships and titles. These competitors have come back from losses to win future competitions, regain titles and prove their worth once again. In June of 1980 Roberto Duran proved victorious over Sugar Ray Leonard, and then lost the rematch just 5 months later, in that same year. In the first fight Duran was able to successfully pressure Leonard into the ropes where he worked his famous in-fighting, unanimously proving to the judges that he was the better of the two fighters that night. The next fight was nowhere near the same outcome. Not only was Leonard able to establish dominance after making the proper adjustments, he actually made Duran quit during the 8th round of the fight. Although the first match was Leonard's first loss (he would eventually lose 2 more), he proved he was still able to perform and went on to win multiple fights in the next 10 or so years.

When we talk about the greatest of all time, everyone has their own opinion. Personally, I cannot choose one fighter to be the best because there have been so many great fighters in history and each had a completely different career, set of skills and opponents. In my opinion, especially when considering different weight classes, few should be directly compared. Let's take a few different fighters: Floyd Mayweather Jr., Rocky Marciano, Joe Calzaghe, Sugar Ray Robinson, Julio Cesar Chavez, Andre Ward and Vasiliy Lomachenko. I'll say up front that all are great fighters and have brought a lot to the sport of boxing, influencing millions of people and generating a big fan base.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. Wins - 50 Losses - 0

Rocky Marciano Wins - 49 Losses - 0

Joe Calzaghe Wins - 46 Losses - 0

Sugar Ray Robinson Wins - 173 Losses - 19

Julio Cesar Chavez Wins - 107 Losses - 6

Andre Ward Wins - 32 Losses - 0

Vasiliy Lomachenko Wins - 12 Losses - 1

Many have said Floyd Mayweather Jr. is the greatest fighter of all time, and this is understandable from a certain point of view, considering what he has been able to do in the ring. However, it has also been argued that he fought many of his opponents when they had already passed their prime, or that he was given wins by decision that he didn't deserve. I'm going to ignore the fans who don't like him because of his defensive style or his attitude, because while I understand the fact that some people find him boring and don't like his personality, this has nothing to do with his actual ability to win fights. Nevertheless, he retired with an undefeated record. He is known for his defensive and counterpunching abilities, speed, sharp punching, and overall ring presence. There was never a situation he couldn't deal with and he took very little punishment compared with some other fighters.

Rocky Marciano, among the greatest of all time, made his entire career on pressure fighting, endurance, power punching, and a chin that allowed him to take hits round after round. He was famous for his "Gazelle punch" and used it beautifully to work his way to the inside range of his opponents and set up knockout punches. With a record of 49-0, he has only one less fight than Mayweather, which is just as impressive, although they had much different careers. First of all, Marciano was a bigger man, a bigger puncher, and fought much different opponents than Mayweather in terms of skill set, speed and power. Also consider that many of Marciano's fights were scheduled for 15 rounds (although Marciano knocked many of his opponents out sooner than the 15th round), compared to the modern rules Mayweather fought under, which were 12 round bouts at most. Marciano also had an 87% knockout rate by the time his career ended, while Mayweather retired with a 54% knockout rate. This illustrates how different they really were: Marciano relying much more on offense while Mayweather used his defensive skills to best his opponents.

Joe Calzaghe retired with an undefeated record of 46-0. I have never heard anyone suggest that he be named one of the greatest of all time (although he is considered by some to be the best to have competed in his division), even though his record is right up there with Marciano and Mayweather. It seemed that he never really developed the mainstream appeal that some other fighters did, even though he beat both Roy Jones Jr. and Bernard Hopkins, both of whom are considered among the top fighters to have ever competed. He claimed victory by knockout for over half of his fights and while many would claim that he never fought any big names in their prime, at the end of the day he showed up to 46 fights, and 46 times he won.

Andre Ward, also retiring with no losses, only had a grand total of 32 fights before he decided to hand up the gloves. Each time he stepped into the ring he demonstrated skills that proved difficult for his opponents to deal with. Lightning speed, good control, head movement and footwork all allowed him to put together scoring combinations and evade his opponent's punches. And as we know, that is the name of the game: Hit and don't get hit. However, it is difficult to rank him as high as some other fighters because of his early retirement. It's tough know if he would have been able to keep up on his success, had he continued his career.

Getting into the fighters who have lost one or more of their matches is a little more of a complex situation, especially considering the fact that there are a number of factors to keep in mind. Let's take a look at Sugar Ray Robinson, who, despite winning an incredible 173 times, lost 19 of them! Robinson is widely accepted as being the greatest fighter who ever lived, and for those who do not put him in the #1 spot, he is within the top 5 or so. But how can this be when he lost so many times? It's difficult to compare him to Marciano, Mayweather, or Calzaghe because he had literally four times the number of fights as each of them. 200 total fights is unheard of in the modern era of boxing, so that statistic alone is impressive. And then you have Julio Cesar Chavez, who won 89 times before he lost (again, many more bouts than Marciano, Mayweather, and Calzaghe). Imagine if any of the previously mentioned boxers would have continued their careers to fight 40 or 50 more times. Are we going to suggest that they wouldn't have eventually lost? I think that would be unrealistic.

In today's world of boxing we see so much talent and we could list quite a few noteworthy competitors that are doing great things for the sport. Vasiliy Lomachenko, who will be my last example, is already being talked about as one of the greatest of all time, fighting a grand total of 13 fights...Oh yeah, and 1 loss. But let's look at his amateur career, where he lost only 1 of almost 400 fights! That is where most of his experience lies. he started his professional career later in life than many other competitors do, but that shouldn't discredit his accomplishments as an athlete. Although the amateurs is a different league than the pros, to be able to stand in front of almost 400 different boxers and suffer only one loss is an incredible feat. Although he will most likely retire from the pros with a lower number of total fights (unless he fights more frequently than he has been in the last 5 years) his accomplishments and skills in the ring are matched by few, if any at all. His footwork, timing, speed, defense, and tricky tactics prove to be huge problems for those that have faced him. Lomachenko, on quite a few occasions, has made his opponents look like beginners. His future competition will most likely be tougher, as is the case for most professional fighters. There is plenty of talent out there and his future fights will determine whether or not he will be able to continue to impress the viewers that hold him to such high standards.

Comparing each of these fighters is tough to do because one could make arguments from many different angles, but at the end of the day I think that people make biased decisions of who the 'greatest' is based on who they favor as far as style and abilities. But just because somebody has a personal favorite shouldn't have anything to do with the significance of other fighters' careers, and one or even a few losses should be low on the list of important factors to consider because again, everyone is beatable. I will illustrate a couple of other reasons to further my point.

One thing that some sports fans might be overlooking is the differences between individual versus team sports. I think there important aspects to be pointed out, particularly when it comes to the pressures and performance of these athletes we admire and look up to. Another thing my coach once told me when I was first learning about combat sports had to do with comparing a fighter who performs poorly on any given day to a player of a team sport who struggles during a game. He said that if Tom Brady, for example, has a bad day, he still has every other New England Patriot to support and back him up. A team can still pull off a win without one player. On the other hand, if any fighter has a bad day, they are likely to get beaten. They are absolutely alone when it comes to performing. With this in mind, it would seem that an athlete competing in a solo sport is under more pressure to do well because all they can only rely on themselves. Teams with injured or poor performing players have still won important games because a victory requires the entire organization of athletes. Typically one player doesn't ensure a victory.

Other factors that complicate matters include setbacks like injuries or health problems of athletes. Two examples include Keith Thurman and Ryan Burnett's most recent fights. Thurman suffered injuries and depression as a result of not being able to compete. His 2 years off fighting was a difficult period for him because he wasn't able to do what he loves to do. Even his training was put on hold because he needed time to recover. And unfortunately, some of the public criticized him for not fighting for so long, probably ignorant to the status of his health. In Burnett's case, during his most recent fight with Nonito Donaire he suffered an oblique muscle tear. This was not the result of a punch by his opponent, but rather a strain caused by his own movements in the ring. He was not able to continue into the 5th round and so the referee had to stop the match, which resulted in Burnett's first loss. But does this make him any less of a fighter or even diminish his place in the sport? It absolutely should not in the eyes of the public.

As fans of boxing we should all agree that many factors contribute to the successes, failures, and overall careers of all the fighters around the world. Many of us are quick to judge and instead of looking in from multiple angles, gravitate toward a single fact and hold that fact to a high importance. Wins and losses are a part of any competition and maintaining an undefeated record should not be as important to people as it seems to be in terms of a fighter's worth. It is easy for us to make decisions about others when we are sitting on the couch drinking beer, but I challenge everyone to take a step back and realize the importance of the big picture. There are always many things to consider.

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