“Boxers, like prostitutes, are in the business of ruining their bodies for the pleasure of strangers.”
On Saturday night, Las Vegas played host to the biggest event in boxing history. The world tuned in, hoping to witness a fight that would rival those of the Gatti-Ward, Hagler-Hearns vintage. The crowd bayed for blood, clinging on to a distorted sense of entitlement whereby they felt a bloodbath, and only that, would justify the cash they had shelled out to witness greatness.
Boxing, having endured a terrible decline in recent years, was delivering on its promise, metaphorically jabbing its way back into the mainstream. Like an aged fighter, battered and bruised from a lifetime of hits, this was boxing’s final punch, the classic ‘fight in the old dog’ and she was flooring the opposition.
The crowd rose to their feet, rolling with every hook, ducking and diving with every jab and fully immersing themselves in the greatest show on earth. This was what they paid for, this was why the world’s richest people flew into Vegas for the night. This was what we had been waiting for for five years.
But then, the fight started.
May 2nd, 2015
As Mayweather and Pacquiao jousted in the Las Vegas ring, a different battle was ongoing in Greenwich, Connecticut. Bakanay Abdusalamov was awoken by her alarm early in the hours of Sunday morning, a regular occurrence in her life in recent times, dedicated to tending to her bed-stricken husband.
Magomed Abdusalamov, Baka’s husband, is incapable of washing or feeding himself, and his devoted wife spends her days caring for him and their young family. She sets her alarm to go off every three hours during the night, just so she can turn her husband in the bed. But things weren’t always this way.
Mago, as he is affectionately known, was once a highly regarded and talented boxer. Such was the level of his talent that the Russian Tyson pulverised opponents throughout the US en route to an undercard fight at the iconic Madison Square Garden.
November 2nd, 2013
Boxing was Mago’s life, and this was his chance to break onto the mainstream. All that stood in his way was the talented Cuban bruiser, Mike Perez.
As Dan Barry so aptly describes in his excellent New York Times piece on Mago:
“A win, he believed, would improve his chances of taking on the heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, who sat in the crowd of 4,600.
“Mago went to work. But in the first round, a hard forearm to his left cheek rocked him. At the bell, he returned to his corner, and this time, he sat down. “I think it’s broken,” he repeatedly said in Russian.
Maybe at that point, somebody — the referee, the ringside doctors, his handlers — should have stopped the fight, under a guiding principle: better one punch too early than one punch too late. But the bloody trade of blows continued into the seventh, eighth, ninth, a hand and orbital bone broken, his face transforming.”
But nobody did stop the onslaught, and the punishment continued.
May 2nd, 2015
As Mayweather put on a defensive masterclass, eluding almost everything that Pacquiao had to throw at him, the casual boxing fans began to voice their anger.
“We didn’t pay to see this! Knock him out!”
Boxing purists were of the opposite opinion; it’s a lot harder to avoid punishment than it is to inflict it. Mayweather’s impenetrable defence was at its imperious best.
As the bell knelled rounds to a close however, boos began to ring out through the arena. The result was no longer in doubt, and fans were upset with the manner in which Mayweather had dismantled boxing’s apparent last great hope. Good vs evil it was not, great vs under-performing seemed more apt.
People took to social media to complain, albeit incorrectly, about what they were witnessing. The conspiracy theorists raised their heads, yells of ‘Illuminati’ inevitably gathered pace. This guy with an unbeaten 48-0 record was, according to the Twitterati, boxing’s biggest problem.
The fact that a master tactician could completely nullify the threat posed by one of boxing’s greats just wasn’t good enough. Boxing’s last chance at returning to the mainstream had come and gone.
May 3rd, 2015
The back pages of the papers were dominated by the Mayweather fight, but for all of the wrong reasons. The casual fans, the bandwagoners, had stayed up to witness greatness but somehow felt cheated.
‘Boxing is dead’ they proclaimed.
While the world came to terms with the fallout from a so-called ‘underwhelming’ fight and continued to cite Floyd Mayweather as boxing’s biggest problem, Mago Abdusalamov’s caretaker washed him and fed him his usual breakfast of oatmeal and crushed antiseizure pillls. His life and that of those around him had changed dramatically since the stroke he suffered after the Perez fight. As Barry explains in his piece,
“(Mago) opens his mouth to indicate more, the way a baby does. But his paralysis has made everything a choking hazard. His water needs a stirring of powdered food thickener, and still he chokes.
“Mago used to drink only water. No alcohol. Not even soda. A sip of juice would be as far as he dared. Now even water betrays him.”
If the casual boxing fans that tuned in on Saturday night believe Mayweather is boxing’s biggest problem, then the lack of publicity given to the sport’s most vulnerable people is undoubtedly worse. Along with the physical battle that Mago faces every minute of every day, his family have to deal with $2 million in medical bills and a legal case against the ringside doctors that failed to stop the obvious beating he was enduring, and sent him to the hospital in a taxi rather than an ambulance.
However, he’s not alone.
The saddest thing about Saturday night’s showpiece was not Floyd Mayweather’s boring yet effective destruction of Manny Pacquiao, it was the fact that people like Mago, a man that devoted his life to the sport, have been completely forgotten by those in power. Irrelevant through incapacity it would seem.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of Magos out there, and until boxing faces these issues head on, it will never enjoy the riches of days gone by.
The self-proclaimed ‘Fight of the Century’ is believed to have generated over $400 million, an absurd amount of money and a sum that could have a massive impact on the lives of the voiceless Magos that are struggling today.
If boxing really wants to hold a presence in living rooms throughout the world and return itself to the mainstream, it needs to look after those that made the sport so great; those that gave their all and continued giving until their bodies said no.
A good start would be to carve out 2-3% of major fight purses and donate the proceeds to helping the boxers that need it.
Magomed Abdusalamov gave his all to the sport, it’s time the sport gave him something back.