“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)
On Saturday night, most eyes will be on on the seminal, potentially era-defining bout between Gennady Golovkin, the piston-powered champion from Kazakhstan and Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, the quiet, scowling Mexican, his number one contender. A few more will be keeping abreast of the preceding middleweight clash between Billy Joe Saunders and Willie Monroe Jnr. from London, and Callum Smith will pique interest against the Swedish heft of Erik Skoglund in the first of the World Boxing Super Series Super-Middleweight tournament too.
Public, and therefore media, interest in boxing in Great Britain remains higher than I can ever recall. Television coverage has been secured for three of the five cards being promoted on Saturday night to add to Nicola Adams’ appearance on the Golovkin v Canelo under card too. Boxing is everywhere.
At the bottom of one of those five British cards taking place on Saturday night, from the 02 Academy in Bournemouth, Dean Dodge will be making his professional debut. As a graduate of the Yeovil ABC, in which founding member Dave Edmunds continues to coach after 50 years with the club – one example of the many devotees who work tirelessly at grassroots level around the country – Dodge will doubtless have some nerves tonight, tomorrow and until the bell rings and he blocks or throws a punch. (Dodge may Dip, Duck and Dive as well of course – sorry Dean).
“The wait in the dressing room before a professional boxing match – that last hour – could be enough to strip a man who never boxed before of whatever pride, desire, and he heart he thought he had.”
John Sculley, Contender (1988-2001)
Facing the debutant, in his 272nd contest will be Kristian Laight 12-251-8 (0ko), a 37-year old southpaw from Nuneaton. One wonders whether it is possible for a fighter who has fought as frequently as Laight to still wrestle with anxiety before a contest in which, as with the most of the preceding 271 engagements, he is expected to lose.
Speaking to Mike Lockley at the Birmingham Mail back in June, Laight suggested age, and the approaching conclusion to his boxing career, had increased his nerves before a fight.
“It’ll surprise you, but the nerves (before a fight) get worse. I’m a lot more nervous now because I know I’m coming to the end, I can see the finishing line. Are you going to get hit by a stupid shot?”
Kristian Laight, Journeyman (2003- )
The idea that so vastly experienced a fighter, on whom so little expectation is placed, could encounter nerves forced me to consider the role anxiety could play in determining the outcomes of the lustrous bouts above young Dean Dodge’s debut. This aspect of a fighter’s psychology, and its portent for influencing their performance, was pushed in to the spotlight still further in today’s final press conference for Saunders v Monroe Junior.
Monroe went as far as to mimic, or imagine, the voice of Billy Joe’s subconscious, drawing a murmur of mirth from the junior scribblers left behind by those annointed enough to be catching expensed flights to Las Vegas for Golovkin v Canelo at the time.
He suggested Saunders’ typically, noisy, sometimes humorous, sometimes irritating bluster was in fact merely a cover for his insecurity. It was a bizarre half-hour in which neither party summoned a soundbite of sufficient creativity to steal the limelight from the super-fight Stateside. In fact Saunders, and his promoter Frank Warren, appeared entirely satisfied to act as the h’ordeuvre for the Vegas bill, and sought merely to capitalise on the opportunity to establish Billy Joe as the next in line for the winner.
Nerves will contribute to the story-line of all the fights scheduled, it will be hidden, disguised or, perhaps utilised to sharpen the wits and senses of the sufferer but it is part of human nature. Golovkin and Canelo both carry the burden of pressure in to the fight. Golovkin knows this is the defining encounter of his career, no other champion or contender across the Middleweight classes, 154-168 pounds could provide the kudos a victory over Canelo will.
Were he to lose, or even struggle, and the scratchy baritone of social media will soon submerge Golovkin’s brilliance and significant achievements beneath a tsunami of ill-conceived criticism. Despite the authenticity of the match, I don’t think Golovkin can improve his lustre in anything other than a dominant victory.
For Canelo, the nerves are more primary. Just how much harder than the men he’s fought to this point does Golovkin hit? However, even in a creditable distance defeat, irrespective of his future success, his career will forever carry an asterix, “Canelo? He always lost at elite level”.
That too will be a cruel summary. Any analysis of this subjective psychological factor always leads me back to a couple of boxing truisms, from the Dean Dodge 4 -round debut level, to the top of the mountain his illustrious contemporaries occupy. First, “Everyone has a plan, until they get hit in the face.”, which is of course a quote from Mike Tyson who knew a thing or two about the art, and secondly, as former Lightweight champion Jim Watt used to frequently say as co-commentator for Sky TV, ‘When a fighter gets in trouble, or he tires, he will always resort to type, to what he knows.”
For Kristain Laight, that will mean surviving, retreating and not getting cut to ensure he can earn another £500 the following week. For Canelo? I fear it will mean he tries to punch with Golovkin. He has, after all, spent his entire career being the strongest dog in the fight. If he does succumb to nerves, or to his Mexican machismo when he’s hit and resort to type, and I suspect he will, I’m convinced the coal miner’s son from Kazakhstan will pound him to a standstill in the later rounds.
After all, if Canelo the fighter doesn’t instil fear in Golovkin, the idea of entrusting the outcome to three judges on a Las Vegas card hosted by his Mexican opponent’s promoter really should.