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Home Boxing The Gift of Flamboyance
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The Gift of Flamboyance

long10There are boxers who not only come to the ring with extraordinary talent and drive, but also that little extra something that elevates them so far above the throng that they ultimately transcend the sport. Some are defined as “showboats,” some as “colorful,” and others “obnoxious.”

One can go as far back as Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion, to find a fighter whose blatantly superior skills and ring-style made fans sit up and take notice. But it was Johnson’s extracurricular activities that sent ripples through the fabric of society and shocked a nation. Johnson’s penchant for white women, and his ostentatious lifestyle in a time when such behavior was unthinkable, brought all the weighty forces of society down upon him. It was not unlike the scorn a young champion from Louisville would face 54 years later for daring to buck the system. Both were men of profound principles, and defined themselves outside the ring as much as inside.

The first fighter in my memory who displayed this unique flamboyance was Sugar Ray Robinson. Newsreels show Robinson dancing and cavorting in Harlem night clubs and “livin’ the high life in New York” as he ripped through the welterweight and middleweight divisions. He was one of the originators of the Bolo Punch and his dancer-like movements, especially when he came in for the kill, inspired the “Ali Shuffle” 3o years later.

long02Cassius Marcellus Clay, dubbed “The Louisville Lip” by early critics, brought flamboyant behavior to a new level.  Purportedly influenced by wrestler Gorgeous George, Clay’s histrionic duets with Bundini Brown and his proclivity for naming the round of his victory brought him to national prominence. His dazzling footwork and hand-speed were something very unusual for a heavyweight and, though a number of fans were skeptical, all eyes were on the new contender. But he was too loud for some boxing fans and more than a few were itching too see the fight that would shut “The Mouth” once and for all.  He was the boxer fans loved to hate until he “shook up the world” with his stunning defeat of Sonny Liston in 1964, when the hype became reality.

 

long07But, like Johnson, it was his personal life that would prove his mettle as much as his pugilistic skill.  Unpopular announcements that he had converted to Islam and changed his named to Muhammad Ali, as well as  his refusal to be inducted into the Armed Services, left Ali stripped of his title, boxing license, and passport.  He became a prisoner without bars, supporting himself largely by speaking at college campuses, and did not return to the ring for almost four years.

His comeback initially brought the public a more sedate Ali, but that was short-lived as he headed into a Trilogy with “Smokin’” Joe Frazier.  The country had changed, and the same antics that earned disdain in the 60’s, brought him adulation in the 70’s.  Within the next decade Ali’s charismatic power made him the most recognized human being on the planet, a position envied by politicians and celebrities alike. Today, he is revered as one of America’s National Treasures.

long01After Ali there was laundry a list of “wanna-be’s” that never quite hit the mark. But during the 1976 Olympics a young American welterweight with a brilliant smile received accolades that led many to believe there was a diminutive Ali in the making - and they were right. Sugar Ray Leonard, with a bit of the “Ali shuffle” and an abundance of attributes of his namesake, inherited the mantle of the most flamboyant boxer of his time.  Winning titles in multiple weight divisions and unseating the formidable Marvin Hagler to win the middleweight title after a three year layoff, Sugar Ray lifted the spirits of boxing fans everywhere until his comeback loss to another flamboyant fighter.

 

 

long08Perhaps remembered best for ending Ray Leonard’s career, and his embarrassing effort against Julio Cesar Chavez, Hector “Macho” Camacho donned an array of glitzy costumes and was unquestionably an “act-up.” Yet there’s something so serious and machismo about him - and Latino fighters in general - that it’s difficult to put him in the same category as fighters who display a euphoric “joie de vivre” in their pretentiousness. Camacho’s costumes were startling, and his quick hands and southpaw stance won him multiple titles. Like him or not, Camacho could deliver the goods. Beginning his career as a Featherweight in 1980 and winning a controversial decision against the legendary Roberto Duran at 162 pounds in 2001, Camacho fought as recently as 2009, and has never been stopped.

 

long06An often overlooked contemporary of Leonard and Camacho was WBA light welterweight Champion, Aaron Pryor. “The Hawk” was a thrilling fighter who adopted the ritual of pointing across the ring at his opponent before each match. With an 87.5% knockout percentage he was much more dangerous than he appeared. His breathtaking wins over Alexis Arguello in 1982-83 elevated him to super star status.  Pryor was only defeated once in 39 fights and terrorized two weight divisions from 1976 to 1985.

 

long09Another boxer whose highly eccentric ring entrances made him a British sensation on the way to becoming world champion was Prince Naseem Hamed.  A southpaw, whose off-balance, unorthodox style enabled him to throw punches from impossible angles, he stunned most of his opponents before they could figure him out.  As WBC Super Bantamweight and WBO Featherweight Champion, he was undefeated until he ran, fist-first, into Antonio Barrera in 2001. 

The next of the Big Boys to illustrate extraordinary ring showmanship after Ali was undoubtedly Roy Jones, Jr.  Turing pro in 1989 at 153 pounds, and winning championships from super middleweight to heavyweight, Jones’ brazen ability to deliver lightning-fast flurries with his hands at his sides brought him praise throughout the boxing world. Like Achilles, seemingly invincible, he became the stuff of legends with classics fights against Bernard Hopkins, James Toney, Mike McCallum, Reggie Johnson, and his amazing win over John Ruiz to become the first former Middleweight Champion in 106 years to win the a heavyweight world title.

long03The most recent heir apparent to this Legacy of Flamboyance is probably Floyd Mayweather.  His self-ascribed moniker, “Money Mayweather,” is part of the disdainful persona that has made him a super star.  Boxing fans will always pay to see an overconfident, unbeaten fighter like Mayweather get his comeuppance. But the fact is that Floyd has earned his wealth and position by remaining undefeated in forty bouts.  Even if some of his wins were less than scintillating, his skills are undeniable. His retirement and subsequent return to the ring will bring him a lot more of that green stuff he loves so much.

With boxing in the sad state it is today, one can only wonder when there will be another to capture our hearts and imaginations the way these men did. Who will inherit the legacy? Whoever it is – he will have some mighty big shoes to fill.

Charles Long
www.convictedartist.com

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