By James Blears
In these eerie times, when bird song drowns out piffling traffic rumble, deafening tinnitus gives you a fleeting chance to ring the changes, in the empty void of a metropolis, where Batman and Superman have gone AWOL, as even they`re self- isolating.
So now utterly bereft, against the backdrop canvass of an Edvard Munch “Scream” landscape, there`s a chance to bridge it, by knuckling down to a basic exercise routine.
One chore which tends to define an individual, especially a boxer, is skipping. Muhammad Ali seemed to perform this so effortlessly with the minimum of apparent sweat beads, in a deceptively indolent manner, as a languid extension of his naturally brilliant coordination. In his most sublime ring moments, his footwork clicked in and mimicked it, minus the rope. It took on an irresistible life of its own.
At the other end of the scale, lumbering puncture lumbar Liston, labored to lift those massive saber shaped thighs high enough to clear the whirring rope. It was a tour de force accomplishment, accompanied by the rasp of James Brown`s rendition of Night Train, with its unrelenting unnerving beat. A bemused worried looking Ed Sullivan introduced Sonny, skipping on one his TV show. It seemed to disjointedly defy logic…what on earth was he doing there? I mean Sonny…not Ed, who looked like a bit of a Charlie!
Mike Tyson used the skipping rope almost like an offensive weapon. His thick rock wrists rotated it like a lasso, and every now and then, he`d turn over the engine, increasing its tempo threefold for one electrifying squat jump. It was a woe betide cracking bullwhip warning, that he simply wasn`t messing about or fooling! This was as real as it gets!
The genius guile which perpetually fascinates, wrapped up like candy floss, is the gilded ribbon of Sugar Ray Robinson. A gifted natural at just about everything he turned or lent his hand to, Ray was the Fred Astaire of jumping rope. He teased it, flicked it, uncoiled and snaked it, signing his name in the dust with its strands. He varied the tempo, swopped it from two hands to one, swooping in to seductively dance a tango. Ray`s philosophy was that every action had to be in rhythm and in perfect tempo with his heart. That was his one and only concession. Ray was also an accomplished tap dancer, using these natural skills to dazzle and appease the gods. It was sheer poetry in motion. An absolute treat and a delight to behold.
Similar perfection sought and located with running. Coated in a mechanic`s overalls, Ray glided down the streets, as a rosy dawn turned night into day. Often as not he`d swivel like a piston and run backwards. Joe Louis praised Ray saying he could knock you out from either a forward or backwards vantage point.
Muhammad Ali wasn`t daft. He used this deft trick a few years later in Zaire to clip, dip, rip and almost trip up a bemused, befuddled and badly dehydrated Young George Foreman. The only other man to drop George so hard was Ron Lyle, although he couldn`t make it stick. Gil Clancy saw to that!
Be mesmerized by Sugar Ray Leonard in the 1976 Olympic Final, against lanky Cuban southpaw KO artist Andreas Aldama. On perfectly coordinated “Rope a lope” legs, circling away to the left, his smooth chin slipping the Cuban`s long right leads, which were flailing and failing, catching and scooping up mere fresh air. Then suddenly coming back, moving inside to precisely drill the chest and face, with the ruthless cunning of a predator, yet to elegantly move out of retaliation range, only to ease back in, pecking and then decking, with stunning left hooks to the face, jaw and cheekbones.
The flustered, floundering, drowning Cuban had to be saved in the dying seconds of the third and final round. He`d fallen out of the nurturing amateur nest, landing on the sidewalk with a fledgling splat! Ray of course, was the darling of the adoring crowd, who by this time, were eating out of the palm of his hand. As Sam Goldwyn once alliterated: “He exuded both warmth and charmth.”
Rocky Marciano used running in a different and bludgeoning way. A glutton for hard core, curbstone Spartan punishment during his grueling training rigmarole routines, Rocky used to run extraordinary distances in best foot forward heavy army boots. Something Marvelous Marvin Hagler emulated years later in Cape Cod. It`s rumored that Rocky would sometimes set out on a fifty mile walk, leaving others floundering in his pounding wake! A trek/ on track knack to splendid conditioning.
When it came to the heavy bag, Rocky picked out one which weighed three hundred pounds. A lot more than the stuffed kitbag hanging from his tree at home. George Foreman went somewhat lighter jack knifing its mass, held by an often winded Dick Sadler. Tyson`s heavy bag reputedly weighed five hundred pounds. He punched pineapple wedge chunk-dents deep into its inner layers. On visiting his training lair, and using every ounce of my strength, I slightly ruffled its resilient shiny surface.
Archie Moore is an example to marvel at. He elevated himself to heightened levels with umpteen chin ups on the parallel bars, used his Auntie`s heavy flat irons to throw punches, then executed a handstand, followed by walking around the block on his hands. It must have worked for him, because in a thirty year ring career he KO`d one hundred and thirty two opponents. No fighter before or since has felled more oaks! Undoubtedly, Archie`s biting blows was worse than their bark! He even dropped and irritated Rocky Marciano in the second round of their titanic encounter. It was rather like a tough kid provocatively prodding a stick into a beehive! Seeing is believing, while feeling is hurting.
No fighter I`ve ever seen in Mexico trained with more dedication than Juan Manuel Marquez. In the Gilberto Roman/Romanza Gym, he lay on the floor of the ring, someone sprawled across his lower legs, he leaned out into mid air and started to do sit ups. What seemed like an eternity later, someone shouted: “TIME!” and he stopped. By that juncture, Juan`s stomach muscles were stretched as tight as classical Spanish guitar strings.
I asked him how many sits ups he`d just done, to which he ruefully replied: “I dunno. I haven`t got the foggiest or the faintest idea? I just do three minute rounds worth of em!”
Home on the range, our road remains horrifically deserted. I`m earnestly debating if I should take the lead and amble along with the dog, going out into heat of the midday sun. After all …I am an Englishman!