IN MY capacity as a keynote speaker, I often use positive affirmations to support some of my presentations. Among them, I have a popular phrase which states: ‘Your reputation precedes you.’
The idea of reputations holds true in many aspects of boxing. A boxer’s actions inside and out of the boxing ring will be remembered long after the final bell has rung on their career. Sometimes, those actions will define a fighter’s legacy.
What follows a boxer’s career are debates about who was the best boxer of that era. Along with boxing accolades, the narrative includes other occurrences that are associated with the boxer.
I remember sitting in the barber shop as a youth. I listened to the conversations and stories of past champions. It was always interesting because you got varying, animated accounts.
A few weeks ago, I was at a wonderful birthday celebration. It was well attended by boxing champions and other people from the boxing fraternity. There were also lots of long-term boxing supporters. As I went around the room greeting guests, one supporter jumped up from his seat to greet me. He looked at me beaming from ear to ear. Our first exchange of words led with him happily informing me that he was at the show in Battersea Town Hall, quickly adding, ‘Where you kicked off!’
He spoke as if it was a recent occurrence.
I immediately recalled the occasion he was referring to. The incident occurred in 1984, almost forty years ago. It was the Southwest London division amateur boxing association championships. I was in the finals. I got disqualified. A melee followed.
Amid those forty years, I became a Commonwealth champion; a European champion; a number one ranked heavyweight in Britain and a world top 10 ranked heavyweight. Out of all these accolades, this guest chose to remember the events of that night, at the town hall.
When boxers climb through the ropes, it is not only their boxing talents or athleticism that is scrutinised. Judgement is also made on any related attachments. Often any juicy bits aligned to the boxer are regularly commented on. Their lifestyle and characters are a major part of many conversations.
Boxing, as ever, is currently experiencing a turbulent time. Conor Benn and Amir Khan are at different stages of their career but are now likely forever linked by failed drug tests. Benn was on the verge of possible major accolades, but now there will always be that cloud of doubt hovering. Gone is the shine of a bright young talent, replaced with a question mark.
Khan was an accomplished champion and he tested positive for trace amounts of anabolic agent ostarine. Now, some fans will focus solely on his failed test rather than remember all his major successes. Reputation does precede you. We will never know if the boxers were guilty of purposefully using performance enhancing drugs. That will be for their conscience to wrestle with.
It is of course not just drugs that can affect a fighter’s reputation. The failure to fight closest rivals, as contract disputes become more prominent than the bouts we actually get, is something else that can live long in the memory.
Andrew Golota was a talented boxer. Yet he had a reputation of bending the rules. Leaving fights before acceptable completion became his trademark. We trained at the same gym in Florida. He told me that when he boxed Samson Po’uha, he was buzzed after getting tagged in the fourth round. As Po’uha moved in to finish the job, Golota said he bit Po’uha on the side of the neck.
Golota was also disqualified on two occasions for consistent low blow fouls in his fights with Riddick Bowe.
He walked out of the ring after only two rounds with Mike Tyson. Against Michael Grant, Golata refused to fight after rising from a knock down in the 10th round. So around the boxing fraternity they called him, ‘The Quitter’. Not a nice name for a prize fighter.
Even Roberto Duran, who is a legend in boxing, is remembered as much for quitting in the eighth round against Sugar Ray Leonard as he is his finest wins. Duran who provided some of the greatest nights in boxing but that some only remember him for wanting nothing further to do with the fight and signalling ‘No Mas,’ is perhaps the biggest indicator of them all about what a moment of poor judgement can lead to.
Boxers enter the sport for various reasons. They often have large egos and the desire to be the best. They want to leave a legacy that can be viewed as honourable. But they must always remember, people see what you show them, and your reputation lives on.