I wonder whether it is harder for fighters to etch their legend into our collective psyche these days. The saturation of coverage helps build brands, invites us to know our heroes better, to co-exist beside them. An invited voyeurism that can reveal struggle and educate fans to the risk and reasons that motivate prize fighters but also homogenise those we would otherwise propose possess special powers.
The price of this exposure, if there is one, is this puncturing of a fighter’s mystique, their sense of otherworldliness. Unfettered access has removed the robe of mythology we once wrapped our kings in. I’m not sure even Marvellous Marvin Hagler’s solemnity would have outlasted the chatter of video courtiers every pug with a pair of gloves is now exposed to.
Even the words; Hagler, or Tyson or Duran, still provide a frisson of the electricity fans once felt when they caught the first glimpse of their walk to the ring. Or when their hero’s eyes locked on to his prey.
It is harder for their modern day counterparts to leverage the same awe in their less active careers and, in the case of Saul Alvarez, one of this generation’s most gifted fighters, with the burdensome asterisks of a failed drug test forever attached to his name.
Perhaps this new multi-platform, saturation level coverage actually changes little. Is the aura surrounding Hagler and his contemporaries, for those of us who grew up during his prime, entirely indebted to that coincidence of his prime and our own formative years? It is the nature of youth that the experiences and heroes we collect there always loom largest in our minds. Our senses less dulled by the logic of adulthood. Our imagination untethered by the mundanity of reality and mortgage.
My mind often wanders back to Hagler, and his brother in arms, Tommy Hearns, in the days before big fights. As I’ve written many times, it may merely be the swirl of nostalgia which envelops us all from time to time, a yearning for what once was, or the hope and innocence that still abound in our teenage years. Or maybe it’s a sense that his would be successors just aren’t as good.
As boxing turns its gaze from the brilliance of last weekend’s clash between Josh Taylor and Regis Prograis to the prospect of Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez treading in many of the footsteps of Hearns, from Light-Middleweight to Light Heavyweight, it is harder still not to think of the Detroit ‘Hitman’.
In Sergey Kovalev, Canelo has plucked an enormous challenge from the buffet of options his luxurious contract with DAZN and his standing as the sport’s most lucrative attraction provide him. Were the Russian not a 36-year-old veteran, the choice may have been different. Age, and a muted performance against Eleider Alvarez in their first fight a year ago, have encouraged the notion that he is ripe to be plucked.
After all, there is more money in a Trilogy fight with Gennedy Golovkin and there is a unified champion, Calum Smith, in the division he most recently fought in, Super-middleweight. A bout which would represents a more logical weight progression than Kovalev. However, whilst their is opportunism in the bout – Canelo will claim to be a four weight champion, despite the fragility of his claim at 168 – it would be unfair to dismiss the risk the 29 year old is taking. Kovalev remains a dangerous fighter.
Canelo will forsake height and reach to a career Light-Heavyweight. One with pedigree, sound fundamentals and a punishing right hand. This will not be the conquering of an already fallen castle. Kovalev has been active and looked refreshed and tactically switched on in his rematch victory over Alvarez and in repelling the British upstart Anthony Yarde just two months ago. Though he was rocked in the process.
It is the trick of memory that we forget the asterisks Hearns’ own multi-division triumphs frequently required after all. The availability of championship belts is at unprecedented levels today, but at the ill-advised end of Tommy’s career, he too was fighting only for portions of the crown, and on occasions, the most tenuous fraction.
There was no clenbuterol though.
The Mexican fighter will, on retirement, be considered an all-time great, irrespective of how the remainder of his career unfolds, such is the depth of the ledger he’s compiled thus far.
But I can’t quite love him like I did his countryman Marco Antonio Barrera, or the Four Kings, or Herol Graham or Big Lennox.
It’s the astericks.