Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Many of you may not know this about me, but in the past few years I've become a boxing fan. I used to think it was the worst of sports. Brutal, demeaning, inhumane, and violent. Which, of course, it is.

But then I saw the 1996 Muhammad Ali movie, When We Were Kings, which told the story of the 1974's "Rumble in the Jungle" heavyweight championship fight of Ali vs. George Foreman in Zaire. This is an amazing documentary which taught me for the first time how Ali used intelligence and the "roper doper" defense to beat pure force of Foreman's superhuman brawn.

A few years later I happened to catch a rerun of the Oscar de la Hoya vs. Fernando Vargas (Sept. 14, 2002) super welterweight fight, where Oscar de la Hoya ("The Golden Boy," "The Pride of East LA"), an acknowledged goodie-two-shoes, knocked out the incredibly strong Vato Loco-type Vargas in the 11th round.

De la Hoya used the same strategy against Vargas that Ali had, dancing around the ring, taking and withstanding a barrage of powerful punches, until the stronger Vargas tired himself out. Then de la Hoya moved in for the kill and knocked the crap out of trash-talking Vargas (who most fans say deserved it). I was stunned by the amazing combination of violence, strategy, and heart that I saw when these two athletes stood up to each other in the ring. It hooked me on boxing for good (or perhaps for bad).

A couple of nights ago, I caught the replay of Oscar de la Hoya's fight against the Nicaraguan Ricardo Mayorga from a week earlier. Once again, de la Hoya was picking on a trash-talking, wild-swinging opponent who was bigger and stronger than him. And once again, after taking several hard shots, Oscar knocked the guy out---this time taking the bad guy to the mat in the 6th round.

Even now, days later, I am still thinking about the rare meeting of heart, strength, and brains I see in de la Hoya when he fights.

After the fight, Oscar was asked who his next fight will be against. I always hate this part. De la Hoya is good looking, smooth, tough, and appears intelligent until he opens his mouth. Then out pops the squeaky voice of a 12-year-old done wrong. "Mayorga deserved that beating because of the bad things he said about my wife." "He said some bad things about me and my family. That really motivated me." Petty stuff like that. Oscar may be "The Pride of East LA," but this East LA boy isn't as proud of him once he starts talking.

Oscar answered that he was going to check out the other fighters and would pick the one that "will give me the most glory to fight." I was intrigued by his answer because I don't think I've ever actually heard anyone say they were seeking more glory for themselves. I've always thought of "glory" as something you give to God, or perhaps something a sunrise or sunset has. It isn't something people would try to gather for themselves.

I guess I'm being naive. There are probably lots of gloryseekers like de la Hoya out there. But whenever I start thinking that maybe this is something I should know, becoming a gloryseeker, the only image that comes to mind is that of the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican ballplayers. The Aztecs, Maya, Zapotec, and many other people built these amazing ball courts and fielded teams to play this game that was like a cross between basketball and soccer. The goal was to use one's hips to knock a rubber ball through a hoop high up on the slanted wall. The twist, from our perspective, was that members of the winning team achieved their glory after the match by being sacrificed to the gods. What greater glory could anyone be hoping for?

With ideas like this, it's better to be humble.

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