When Rocky Fielding retires from boxing, which may be before you read this or at some much more distant juncture, he will, like a long sequence of British fighters before him, be able to say he fought one of the best fighters of his generation. Beyond the financial security he presumably secured in his defeat to the irresistible Saul Alvarez on Saturday night, there was something less tangible than the purse but no less essential to his story and his prospects of contentment in retirement.
Simply put, at least Fielding now knows. Like the four British fighters that fell to Canelo before him; Ryan Rhodes, Matthew Hatton, Liam Smith and Amir Khan, Fielding found a definitive benchmark against which he could measure his ability.
It is a question several of his illustrious predecessors failed to resolve before their careers were complete and one which still hangs over a number of Fielding’s contemporaries too.
However much it must hurt to know you fell short at the exalted level, that the dream is at an end, there is, at least, comfort in the knowing, in not leaving the ‘what if?’ question on the table. The WBA ‘title’ belt he held was the bauble required to lure Alvarez toward him, plucking Fielding from a chorus line of similarly qualified opponents to headline a Madison Square Garden bill and provide the Mexican superstar with a highlight reel debut on DAZN, the platform for his next ten fights.
The evidence provided by the fight, Fielding was eviscerated in three punishing rounds, illustrated the chasm that exists between fighters who lay claim to world champion status in this multiple sanctioning body, multiple belts era and genuine, ‘bite the coin’ world class fighters like Saul Alvarez.
There were those who mocked Fielding’s chances from the outset, his one round loss to Callum Smith in 2015 the North Star for those wise men, but a single press photograph of the two together in New York inspired a few to believe in the taller, naturally bigger man.
On reflection, it could reveal the focus the Mexican had on Fielding’s chin, and the length of his rib cage too, both of which Alvarez found with precision and power to floor the ‘champion’ in each of the three rounds.
Many have passed through the trauma room Fielding found himself in on Saturday; Jennings had Cotto, London and Dunn tackled Ali, Paul Smith tackled Ward, Andries ran head first into Tommy Hearns and Alexander stared down Harry Simon. A handful of examples of British fighters who dared to do where others hesitated, there will be better examples, but they are the one’s that come to mind as I idle through Sunday night.
Some of them may have known before they walked from the dressing room, or even toward the first press conference that the gulf existed, that the gap could not be leapt but they ventured anyway. Fielding joins them, a brave, upstanding fighter who can contemplate the rest of his career with the ceiling of his potential found, with the knowledge of his horizons accepted.
It may liberate him and lead to a golden period at British and European level if he elects to continue. Should the motivation and desire now leave him, the purpose, the goal, beyond the financial, fulfilled, then a different liberation will still be his. A freedom from the weight of regret, the heaviest burden as summer turns to autumn in the seasons of our lives and one felt most acutely by those who are defined, at least publicly, by their physical prime.
I congratulate Rocky Fielding for trying his best.
It is all anyone of us can ask of others, and of ourselves.