Old Warriors-Brave or Immature, Insecure and Stupid

Posted: September 29, 2010 in The Duffy Dombrowski Fight Club
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“No more 40-year old debuts” I heard someone say.

A guy with a shredded upper torso was lying unconscious in the ring. His 20-something opponent was dancing around celebrating

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This 40 year old decided to try pro boxing. He looked like he had 4% body fat. It looked like he could box and I bet, most of the time, when he was in a room, he could probably kick everyone’s ass in it. Not in this room and not tonight.

Why would a 40 year old try the world’s most demanding sport at an age more appropriate for retirement? Should we admire the bravado or mock the lack of common sense? Is it reaching for everything life has to offer or is it a grasp at trying to defy the immutable laws of time.

I’ve been sparring more lately. I don’t like getting hit, but then again, I never really liked it all that much.

It takes a lot of psychological energy to fight. I could always have used more sleep, been less sore or not have had the nagging injury before I climbed inside.

But that feeling is easier to take than the feeling of knowing I avoided it. I feel it in my gut and it goes through me. I feel cheap. I feel like a fraud. Lately, if i skip it, I feel old.

After I spar I’m usually elated. I’m not sure if it’s from the sparring or from having sparred–that is, I faced it and did it. I don’t know if I like that. I think I ought to do it because it is enjoyable and challenging–not because I’m not good enough or cowardly if I don’t. It torments.

Seems to me a man my age should be secure enough to choose an activity because he deems it fun not because of some fear that it will define him if he chooses not to.

I took a hard one again the other night. I’m not sure what I did wrong and i might not have done anything wrong. It’s boxing and you get hit. Taking a hard one, at least a certain type of hard one dampens the elation a bit for me.

I feel a little stupid, a little defeated and a little scared. Scared that I might be losing what I had, that I might not be as good as I was and that I might indeed be getting older.

I’ve done fighting as a hobby. I’m a never-was, not good enough to be a has-been. I fully understand why the elite of the sport (and the not elite) stay too long and make poorly-advised comebacks.

There’s a lot of identity in fighting. There’s a lot to lose by giving it up.

Being around it, watching it, officiating it, isn’t the same as doing it.

It’s a complicated thing.

  1. Tom,

    Having once been an amateur boxer in my teens and coming from a family of professional boxers, I fully appreciate and love the sport of boxing. There is no sport more competitive, exciting and graceful – if evenly matched – in my humble opinion.

    With that being said, I have not – and will not – enter the ring again except to give an award or title. (Note: I also turned 40 this year.) I say this because as wonderful as the sport is, it is truly a young man’s game. Unlike baseball where a player can simply strike out or basketball where a player can no longer get open to take a shot, age deteriorating a boxer’s speed and endurance can cause significant and immediate trauma (some short term and others permanent) and possible death. That is as serious as life can get and something that should not be played with in very conservative opinion.

    As a boxing regulator for a few years, I had some wonderful moments watching some of the greatest boxers of the modern era compete at Madison Square Garden. One of the biggest applauses I heard was when Evander Holyfield was walking to the ring during a Don King Promotion (I believe it was “Night of the Heavyweights”). He was over forty and on a mission to unify the heavyweight belts. One could tell that Evander was soaking in the love from the fans and wanted to prove all of his naysayers wrong. As proud as I was to say I was watching a great champion, I was equally worried that he would get hurt. That night, Evander, as the boxing experts say, “couldn’t get off”. His reflexes and speed were gone and he couldn’t keep an aged, journeyman Larry Donald from peppering him with constant jabs. Had this been either Klitschko, Sam Peter or other championship caliber boxer, Evander could have seriously been hurt or worse.

    Football players also get injured more often when they age, but training camps, salary caps and roster spots usually prevent older players from going on too long. Unfortunately boxing does not have that luxury. The common practice is to use former marquee names to build up young talent or simply sell tickets for a less than exciting boxing card. This practice will continue sop long as there is a belief that “there is still one more fight left in me” and enough money can promote/justify a bout.

    Being a boxer provides an adrenaline rush like no other sport because it is truly the only “mano a mano” and winners can sometimes receive almost as much punishment as the boxers they beat. Walking away from anything you love is very tough, but not walking away from boxing at the right time can be extremely dangerous. That is why I chose never to walk into the ring again as a competitor, and I highly recommend sticking to the old heavy bag because it doesn’t hit back.

    Your friend and fellow boxing afficianado,

    Hugo Spindola

  2. D. B. Dean says:

    my experience in fighting is limited to the gym and dojo. I have never and will never be a real fighter. I appreciate the movement of the sport and the body contact, seeing it perhaps as a women does…a beautiful brutal dance…two rams smashing against each other over and over on a precipices of a mountain. And in truth that is what it is. The time comes when the older rams wisdom and experience can not over come the brutal force of youth. And he tumbles to the rocks below. Why do they do it. Why do YOU do it.

    I am not a believer of evolution – but if I was I would say …we as humans are not all that evolved. You no longer need to dominate your peak to prove your right to procreate…but yet the drive and urge is there. So what is it?

    Perhaps its a desire to hold on to who you where. I had this conversation with my neighbor last week in fact. He is 90. He marched through out Europe in WWII with a mortar plate on his back. Today he has crippling back pain. He push mowed his lawn until he was 87 when the back pain became too much. He hunted until 87, he was trim and fit and full of life until suddenly he was not. I had to rush him to the hospital a few weeks ago because he fell in his kitchen while changing a light bulb. I asked him why he climbed up on that chair and did that when I have three able bodied little boys willing to help him. He said – “because damn it I have never needed help before. I hate getting old. ” I told him its not about not being able to any more, but earning the right not to have to.

    He has served his country
    He has raised his children
    and he has earned the right to not have to mow his lawn.
    He has proved he is a man…

    We are not rams…you’ve proved yourself and in our society you dont have to go on proving yourself to us. So who do you box for if you have nothing left to prove…yourself.

    What are you trying to prove to yourself?

    (and now that I am done pontificating all over your blog I will take myself off to the gym where I will uselessly try to become that 20 yr old i was 10 yrs ago who weighed 70 lbs less and hadn’t had three kids yet….my niece told me this weekend I wasn’t fat …I was mommy shaped and I have yet to stop crying)

  3. BD says:

    There are some good points in a piece re: Ricky Hatton I just read that dovetails with your entry & Mr.Spindola’s thoughts.
    I’ve always thought the “what will people think?” and “if I can no longer be a _______ (which I’ve gotten so much attention + approval for for so long)…then what the hell am I??” factors contributed to the falls from grace of the big, bold, bright & beautiful we’ve all seen.
    I know it happens to the rest of us, too. Luckily, we don’t have every orifice examined by the Tallahassee Urinal & Constipation and Geraldo Rivera to further batter our psyche.

    This is a little excerpt (and I think “accountant,” “priest,” “suave, single guy about town,” etc can all be substituted for “boxer” — less the specifics of the physical trauma…but all fields have their own daily dose of liver-shots).

    “…By the nature of the sport, boxers have a feeling of invincibility. When it is beaten and battered away after a long career, fighters often lose their sense of self worth. That leads to the type of problems Hatton is fighting.

    Retirement is often difficult for an average person, who hasn’t spent years being beaten in the head and, more significantly, believing he or she is invincible. After realizing he’s not good enough any more, a boxer will have a hard time dealing with getting away. That’s why so many boxers unretire with such a high frequency….”


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