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Join Date: Mar 2007
Re: ESB Essay Writing Competition: Comparing fighters from different eras
It looks like this thread has had it; no more entries look forthcoming. Let's end it. First of all, thank you very much to all who participated. We have had some good entries, some very well written. The reason why I wanted to hear opinions about whether fighters from different eras can be compared is because we do it all the time, particularly on this forum.
I threw in the view:
"Comparisons between fighters from different eras are unwarranted, and, as such, cannot reasonably be made."
because of the following:
Firstly, fighters from different eras were fighting in a different environment. Boxing in the 1930s, say, meant, to a certain extent, something different than it means now. Even at the level of society, people had slightly different world views and values and priorities that affected the way they perceived boxing as an activity and as a profession. I don't know enough about the detail. Perhaps someone could write back and tell us more. What struck me particularly was that they used to fight so much more often, and for more rounds back then - whether they saw it as something more of a roadshow than a one off big show as things seem to be seen these days, I personally do not know. It would be interesting to find out. But what is clear is that it affected the way they fought, because, for one, recovery times were shorter. Chris Pontius and cross_trainer touched on this subject.
Secondly, given the expectations and value-sets at the time, clearly boxing became a refine art form, as cross_trainer explained. Dammit, they were fighting all the time, for many rounds - of course they started to see all the angles. So I think it's silly to say that they didn't know what they were doing or that boxing wa still in its infancy. It doesn't work like that...
Thirdly, no one could deny that there have been advances in nutrition, training, psychology, physiotherapy that have allowed many more top fighters to have more impressive physiques, and thus hit harder and be fitter. rekcutnevets and particularly Rattler explained this very well. The latter though, also explained that things that are commonely described as "heart" cannot be trained for; you either have it or you don't - motivation, desire to win/not to be defeated, things like that - sometimes make all the difference! But it would be foolish to assume that per capita, there were more people with heart then or now than at some other perios on time. What is certain however is that these days, for many more people in the world, there are many more options to realise their potential and have a decent life. But whether it is absolute or relative poverty that really makes the biggest difference is hard to determine...no one really touched on this.
Fourthly, there is the size of the talent pool. cross_trainer, particularly, touched on that subject. But is the talent pool bigger now than then or the other way around? Frankly this issue is only tangential here...because the question was not whether guys in the goodold days were better than guys in this era, but whether they could be compared.
There are more issues to consider, but these are the ones that come to me now.
What struck me as very good points are the following:
Chris Pontius: even though there have been changes in the sport, the legacy that certain fighters have built up, these legacies themselves, can be compared with the legacies of modern fighters. I think this point touches right at the heart of the subject.
cross_trainer: an equilibrium point, when fighters figure out the best techniques for their ruleset, was achieved then, as it is today. Thus, even though the sport evolves, and even progresses in some ways, during each major era, an equilibrium - a gold standard for the sport - is reached. This poses a problem while creating an opportunity.
cross_trainer: the proof of the pudding is in the eating. This is very important! Clearly, every fighter was fighting the opponent in front of him, and not some other, and certainly not some other from another era, when the sport and expectations were different! This makes "comparing" fighters from different eras impossible and unwarranted - because we simply do not know how they would IN THE END have reacted to a different style/different conditions.
Rattler: explained that there is evolution in the sport, but showed that due to the "intangibles" and "heart", even if the sport is assumed to progress, one cannot assume that current fighters would beat the old-timers. Also made cross_trainers last point very well.
rekcutnevets: made the very good point that it is reasonable to compare fighters involved in a similar activity, all said and done. Not just that - but it is inevitable! Also made the very good point that when comparisons are made, we always allow or at least should allow for the fact that there has been progress in nutrition, training, recovery, etc., which have had an effect. Also explains very well that as a result, such comparisons are VERY much an artform, and cannot be a science. I guess this is what makes them such fascinating and creative activities to engage in.
My opinion is that the fact that the rules/conditions of the game are different, that there have been progresses that give an advantage to moders fighters over old fighters, whatever the rules of the game, and not least, that boxing represented quite a different thing then, than it does now, and that boxers, like memebers of their society, saw that activity in a different way, make objective comparisons unwarranted. But legacies can certainly be reasonably compared. And not just legacies, but the extent to which each fighter is closer or further away and in some cases, even defines, the gold standard of their day, can be reasonably compared!
So to give my one line answer to the question: even though strict comparisons between fighters are unwarranted to a large extent, it does not follow that reasonable comparisons cannot be made between them, and particularly of their legacies.
And since it is I that has the difficult task of decidind a winner, I would like to say that I was impressed with quite a few of the points that have been made, and certainly some of the entries have also been very well written, but my (subjective) pick for the winner is, and it is not an easy choice, because I'm tempted to give it to three of the different entries...rekcutnevets, despite his entry not being as well written, stylistically. So what do you think? Which entry do you like best? And thank you very much again to all who participated!