It is late October 2011, in Toronto, a time of year when the chill lays siege to your bones. The clouds menace overhead, tumbling like waves, seemingly within reach. In St. James Park, close to 2000 protesters gather; the marginalized voiceless—legitimate and otherwise—congregate in a small park within shouting distance of the epicenter of Canadian finance to give sound to their disparate plight.
A girl in her mid-twenties sits cross-legged on a resilient patch of grass near one of the crowded walkways that snake through the park. Among the cacophony of drums, the impromptu chants decrying social inequality, and the passionately strummed chords of those who have come to find an audience for their own troubles (or at the very least their music), she smokes a cigarette, enjoying her participation in this ephemeral community.
Positioned on the dirt before her is a makeshift placard: bold, black letters on thick cardboard. “I HAVE A UNIVERSITY DEGREE, DEBT, AND NO JOB”—this is her reason for participating in Occupy Toronto. There is an implied injustice in these biographical details, one that has caused the have-nots to lock hands in a show of solidarity. Like many of the protesters in St. James Park this afternoon, the girl assumes that having an education entitles one to a desirable vocation, that accepting the debt required to afford this education is merely part of the wager she is supposed to win. It is an intuitive notion of reward, one with much currency among the group.
But there is a new paradigm at play. With post-secondary education available to a larger number of people, it is no longer the distinguishing quality of potential employees. Now a minimum requirement for many of the jobs pursued by university graduates, education is a necessary but insufficient qualification. Hopefuls must decorate themselves with supplementary plumage to capture the eye of prospective employers. This is a hard truth about one of the consequences of equality: it distinguishes the collective, not the individual.
Across the Atlantic, Carl Froch is in preparation for the finale of Showtime’s Super Six Tournament, where he will face undefeated Olympic Gold Medalist Andre Ward. Froch’s position in the tournament final is secured by his performances against a level of competition unsurpassed in the sport.
In less than two weeks, fellow super-middleweight Lucian Bute will face Glen Johnson, a 42 year-old former light-heavyweight who has four losses in his last six bouts, including one to Froch that eliminated Johnson from the tournament. Bute has been cruising recently. With the division’s premier competition committed to the tournament, he has been honing his skills against opponents unlikely to pose any serious questions. This isn’t an indictment of Bute: there is a dearth of competition available to him. To his credit, Bute has looked spectacular since referee Marlon Wright spared him from the lumbering Librado Andrade in the closing seconds of their 2009 fight. Since that scare, Bute has knocked out every opponent he’s faced, including Andrade in their rematch. He is staying busy as he waits for the tournament to reach its conclusion.
It is now May 2012, Occupy Toronto’s second rendition has come and gone. So too has Lucian Bute’s unblemished record: his highly anticipated clash with Carl Froch having resulted in an emphatic and definitive fifth-round stoppage for “The Cobra” from Nottingham.
With the exception of a first round characterized by measured reconnaissance, Bute was ground to pieces. Froch controlled when and where the fight was fought, negating Bute’s significant speed advantage by keeping the action in close and throwing vicious and unpredictable punches whenever Bute let his hands go. Froch’s awkward punching left Bute ignorant of where the next punch was coming from and fully aware of where it terminated. By the fourth round the outcome seemed inevitable; Bute’s bleeding physiognomy betraying a painful realization of what was being done to him, and such treatment’s logical conclusion.
In retrospect the outcome can be easily explained: Froch is the superior fighter. Bute has certain advantages—speed of hand and foot, and perhaps one-punch power—but as a fighter, and more importantly, in a fight, Froch is better. But this superiority cannot be reduced to simply psyche, genetics, and praxis. The version of Froch that blitzed Bute is better than the version that entered the Super Six, and the competition he faced in that tournament played a role his improvement. By facing a diversity of elite opponents, Froch has become intimately aware of his strengths and weaknesses, of his ability to absorb and administer hurt at the highest level. Froch has maximized his potential by having to draw on all of it to succeed, which is a testament both to his ambitions as a fighter, and the inherent value of taking risks.
It is difficult to argue that Bute lost to Froch because he prepared for his sternest test against inferior opposition, especially with Froch being as dominant as he was. Moreover, Bute’s willingness to face Froch on the Englishman’s home turf is proof that he too has grand aspirations. But Bute did look flustered and confused throughout the bout. When landing punches that failed to produce the expected damage, getting hit with punches he didn’t expect, and especially when he was hurt, Bute looked like a fighter ill-prepared for the worst contingencies, and these contingencies are always closer to the surface in challenging fights.
Considering both fighters, it can be said that quality opposition stands to improve a fighter, even if mediocre opposition isn’t necessarily detrimental. It stands to reason then, that fighters looking to actualize their potential would readily seek out risk. Anyone familiar with the sport knows that such ambition is actually rare, with fighters often delaying the possibility of defeat for as long as possible rather than discovering where their professional ceiling is. It is difficult to criticize this strategy both because the critic isn’t taking the punches, and because the capitalism that drives boxing is predicated on maximizing earning while minimizing risk.
Whatever the justification for the path of least resistance may be, it leads to a situation where fighters (and promoters) speak of injustice while collecting two paychecks a year from a network that televises their mismatches, where stardom is assumed merely because others have achieved it; where a sense of entitlement balks at the spirit of competition, and the privileged dress themselves in the garb of the less fortunate. But last Saturday, that mentality was turned on its ear, when Froch—who may have more of the supplementary plumage than any fighter in the sport, and seems to view fighting the best as an end in itself—put in the best performance of his career, reaping all of the accolades. Oh, that this fearlessness, too, would become a new paradigm.