Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Some Random Thoughts On A Tuesday

Wow, this waking up early thing to get more done is a new concept for me. It is almost 6:00 a.m. and everyone else is still asleep. The little girl is probably going to wake up within a half hour or so, that's been her recent pattern. And when she wakes up, we all wake up. But I have to admit it makes me feel good to be up doing something I actually care about, writing, and keeping up with ya'll. Again, these are some random thoughts, probably without links, or even proof, so you get what you get on this rainy Brooklyn Tuesday morning. (Okay, I added a few links.)


Last night I watched the ESPN documentary "Muhammad and Larry" about the 1980 fight between The Greatest, Muhammad Ali, and The Most Under-rated, Larry Holmes. It was obviously sad and heartbreaking. By 1980 Muhammad Ali was obviously already on his way into dementia and Parkinson's. There is a lot of footage of him being out of shape, and getting beaten up by his sparring partners. It's so hard to forget that only six years before he was filmed for perhaps his greatest fight, "The Rumble In The Jungle," where he beat George Foreman.

So here are a few random thoughts about this fight.

My god, boxers age in dog years. It would only be a few years later that Larry Holmes himself would take a terrible beating (though he won) against a former Ali sparring partner Tim Weatherspoon. That was kind of the beginning of the end for Larry, though he came back a few times.

Larry Holmes comes across as a very cool dude. Doesn't need the limelight, is content with what he has, made himself a world champion, stayed married to the same woman for over 30 years. Ali, by contrast, as great as he is and was, seems much more insecure, always begging for people's attention. I think it is this latter trait, this need, that ultimately kept him coming back again and again, way past when it was too late. Well, that and the money.

Larry, today, seems like a content, happy guy and not all that punchy for a longtime professional boxer. God bless him for that.

I forgot how good Larry Holmes was. You see I was a bit of a fight fan in the 80s, so Holmes was the guy when I was growing up. To others he may have been in Ali's shadow, but I had mostly missed the Ali era, so that didn't mean much to me. So seeing a young, lean Larry Holmes in action was a blast of sweet nostalgia. Personally I think he would have given Muhammad some real trouble no matter when they fought in Ali's career, and might have beaten him.

Ali was only 38 when he received his royal beat down in 1980 from Holmes. That's the age I am now! And yet I feel that if I worked out and really put my mind to it I could get into much the same shape I was as a 25 year old. Am I as delusional as Muhammad Ali was?

The doc reveals that about two weeks before the fight that Ali started taking thyroid medication! This killed his energy and made it impossible for him to win. I have to admit, some part of me was thinking, man if Ali hadn't done that he might have showed Holmes a thing or two! But instead the entire fight, the entire fight, is Ali getting beaten up. He had nothing.

In the doc they also flash back to the Ali-Spinks rematch from 1978. I remember watching that on TV! I was rooting for Ali so hard, it was like seeing god on my television. And he won. But now, seeing the footage, I think the only reason Ali won was because Leon Spinks was probably coked out of his mind. (My lasting memory of the fight is from before the fight. As Ali is being lead to the ring the places goes absolutely crazy! Like rock star crazy, only more. I remember so clearly that someone had actually brought a painting of Muhammad Ali posed on a throne like a king to the actual fight! And they showed it on TV. This is my sharpest actual memory, that painting!)

In the Holmes fight the only energy Ali seems to have is for riling up the crowd before the fight. They must have been very excited. In fact one thing the documentary does that is great is talk to a longtime Vegas bookmaker who describes the atmosphere -- even for an old, washed up Muhammad Ali -- as electric. God, these people, these parasites. You really get a good view for why it must have been so hard for Ali to stay retired. All these people kept dragging him back, and he couldn't live without the crowd.


I boxed for a little while when I was in my mid-20s. I think the main reason I did it was to learn how to take and give a punch. I never knew how to actually throw a punch, and wanted to learn, kind of like Peter Brady, in that episode where Mike Brady teaches him how to throw a mean right cross and beat up that school bully. ("My toof is loof!")

These days I don't think most parents teach their kids to stand up to bullies by ripping them right in the mouth, but times have changed. For the better? For the worse? Hard to say. Mike Brady wasn't a real dad, after all.

But anyway, yeah, I boxed. Or at least trained to box for several months. I learned to hit the speed bag (which was very cool). This made it extra sad in the documentary when they show an old Muhammad Ali not able to get any rhythm on the speed bag. Because, you know, he was about to go into the ring with the world's most dangerous fighter, and he had been doing it for decades. And because I could do it. To see him not be able to was so sad.

I would hit the heavy bag, which I liked too, and that weird bag that was on a rope that extended to the ceiling from the floor; this was my favorite. I skipped rope, but didn't do the road work, because I hated running and still do.

I even got in the ring a few times, which was very educational. Pain is a good teacher! Yes, I learned how to punch and be punched. Depending on whom I was fighting it could be a good deal more of the latter than the former. I learned, to my dismay, that I was a bleeder. Give me a good shot in the nose and it's raining blood on the canvas. Gross! I remember the normally hard-edged trainer, Dave, looking at me in disbelief as I kept on dripping.

But, honestly, I wasn't too bad at it. I had a few rounds that were pretty good, including one against this jacked up muscle head, kick-boxer guy, where we went toe-to-toe for the entire round, it made me feel good.

Boxing was a sport that had a lot of brotherly love in it. That's why you always see fighters clinch at the end of a fight, you actually develop a bond with someone via the process of trying to hit them, as they try to do the same to you. It's a real feeling, oddly enough.

I remember sparring with one older guy, who had to be in his 50s. He stopped me half way through the round and started to train me how to move better. Then when I landed a punch, using what he just gave me he said, "Nice right!" Now if teaching someone how to hit you better isn't brother love I don't know what is!

I punched very well for my size and weight (I was a middle weight, but on a good day, my coach said, punched more like a heavy weight, I swear he said it I didn't!), but couldn't dodge punches very well. As a result I could do okay against other total beginners, but I spared a decent amateur once, and let's just say he made the canvas real red real fast, I barely landed a punch.

That's the other thing about boxing, it's exhausting! Three minutes in the ring feels like a very intense 45 minute workout doing something else. We always think of punching, but when you punch and miss? It wears you out, and fast! That's why defense and blocking are so key. It takes just as much energy to call back a missed punch as to throw it, so you can wear a guy out simply by making him miss.

After a few months I quit, but I think about doing it again some day. I liked it, in its way, although sometimes I think I should consider a contact fighting sport that isn't quite so designed to give you brain damage.

And that's the thing about boxing, I can't watch it anymore. I know too much about what happens to these guys at the end, we all do. It's impossible to watch footage of a limping, silent Muhammad Ali and believe that this is a sport that should be supported, at least for me. No fighter could ever shut Ali's mouth, but when you take all of them together, they, over time, did it better than they ever could have imagined.

I wonder if other fans feel the same way about pro football. It's hard to watch a sport that you know ruins people's lives.


Okay, a few quick thoughts about the economy. I have heard from very reliable sources that up in New Canaan, CT things have started to really quiet down in the high-end real estate world over the past few weeks. This must be a reaction to the stock market turning down in that same time.

I fear we are headed for a double dip recession. When you look at the chart for the S&P 500 you see the market fall off a cliff in late 2008, like go straight down. Then the correction of the past year, or so, is virtually straight back up. This is not a sustainable pattern.

Also, it's kind of hard to believe we have a real economic turnaround when the only things that really go up are banker's bonuses and the stock market. Jobs are still terrible, housing has only turned around at all because of government supports and people are still totally grim about the future. Add in the massive BP oil spill and you have a bummer of a month in May.

Me? I don't try to predict where the markets are headed, it's impossible to know. But I would like to get invested again, even if things go down for some time. It's the only way to build up any sort of wealth at all if you make what I make, and weren't born wealthy.

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