I’m pretty sure I was fascinated by boxing through Muhammad Ali. He moved like no one I’ve ever seen, gracefully hopping around the ring, feinting in and out like a fencer, and sometimes clapping gloves together like he was clapping. “Dancing,” Ali called it.
I studied a traditional martial art for most of my youth. My parents were gracious enough to allow me to turn our tiny garage into a gym of sorts, where I had bolted to the wall a huge, heavy sack (the bolt creaked if the sack was hit or kicked too hard), a speed bag on the opposite wall, and a floor-to-ceiling sphere in the center of the room, lacking a floor connection, swinging around like a black pendulum.
I would also continue to train outside of the garage and my martial arts classes. For years I have especially loved shadow boxing; That’s where I see the beauty of boxing and dancing the most. I often practice sidesteps, spins, crouches, blocks and parries, rolls and counters, mostly trying to mimic what I’ve seen boxers do rather than something I’ve been taught. (Similar to the character Powder from Arcane, who watches her sister throw quick combos and then tries to awkwardly mimic her moves.)
I’ve never been to a boxing gym to train before, but if I did it would probably be a situation like a scene in Billy Elliott (a film about dancing as a way of self-expression, both critics and directors have noted) , where Billy is primarily interested in jumping around the ring and is promptly knocked out by his opponent. Bruce Lee – who loved boxing and was a cha-cha champion in Hong Kong – spoke about how martial arts is also essentially about self-expression and I think that’s what I’m starting to feel about shadow boxing.
Why have I never stepped in the ring? Largely due to the terrible brain damage inherent in the sport. People were killed in the ring. It’s a fact that makes boxing difficult to just watch or write about. Writer Davis Miller, whose thoughts on the sport seem to resemble my own (and who found his own form of self-expression through martial arts and boxing), stopped writing articles fully celebrating boxing shortly after observing how Sugar Ray Leonard was hit near the end of his career and seeing how indifferent other people seemed to be about it.
My relationship with boxing is therefore complicated, but the danger issue mentioned above is obviously not an issue when it comes to boxing in video games. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent playing the Fight Night games, going through the career modes over and over again while trying to explore my aesthetic ideal of defense. One thing that has always bothered me and other players was the approach to footwork; The characters almost always moved as if speed and grace were forbidden. While I loved the upper body flexibility that could be exhibited, walking around the ring felt oddly awkward given the dexterity of Ali, Willie Pep (whose motto was essentially hit and run), and Pernell Whitaker remembered.
As many know, the Fight Night series hasn’t spawned a new game in years –