Boxing’s unexpected beauty

Michael Thompson, Deputy Sports Editor

This past Saturday night, I had the opportunity to travel to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for a middleweight title fight between Daniel Jacobs and Peter Quillin as a representative for WNYU, NYU’s radio station. Living in New York has enabled me, a lifelong fan of boxing and combat sports, to attend these events as a member of the press. It wasn’t my first time covering a fight for the station, but I had never received a ringside view for an event of this magnitude. I’d never had the opportunity to be up close and experience the live nuances of the sport I’ve loved for so long.

In the world of spectator sports, your experience is dependent on your location. Nosebleed seats provide only a small portion of a sport’s intricacies, while sitting closer opens up entirely new dimensions. It becomes personal. From the upper deck of a boxing ring, you can see the fight, but you cannot hear or feel it. Ringside, every punch reverberates, the impact of leather meeting flesh echoing through the seats. The sweat of each fighter jumps off of them, and faces occasionally transform into disturbingly swollen, bloody meshes.

More experienced journalists representing ESPN, ESNEWS, YES Network and others also surrounded the ring. Former heavyweight Gerry Cooney sat in front of me reporting. I have only been covering boxing for about a year, but in the press row we all share the same experience when viewing a fight. It is one of the oldest human activities and sports, taking us back to a time of simplicity. Even in a time of growing concerns over trauma in sports, combat still has its allure. There’s more to it than just two guys punching each other.

The night’s main event was a battle for Brooklyn bragging rights, as Jacobs and Quillin — cordial and respectful of each other outside of the ring — put friendship aside to compete for a middleweight championship. Quillin was knocked out in just under 90 seconds, shocking the crowd and stirring up controversy. Some fans at home and in the arena may have thought the stoppage was early, as referee Harvey Dock stopped the fight even though Quillin never went down. From close range — with a view that captured much more than a camera — I knew the right decision was made. Quillin had just withstood a vicious barrage of punches, with one final overhand right obliterating his equilibrium. Quillin’s balance was completely gone, and his decision not to take a knee to recover was further proof of his distress. I could see his eyes. As he stumbled, they remained wide in an uncomfortably distant gaze. Any more punishment, and Quillin could have been seriously injured, a fact he alluded to in the post-fight press conference. His praise of Dock for protecting him was met with thunderous applause from those listening.

It was a part of boxing that remains hidden from the common fan. In a sport so obviously violent, we tend to neglect its human element. Quillin, who had just suffered his first professional defeat, showed an uncanny amount of poise, eloquence and graciousness. Rather than question the outcome of the fight, he focused on how making it to this point was a blessing in itself. In a losing effort, he still made $1.5 million, more than enough to support his family for some time to come. That is certainly more important than winning or losing.

Quillin left the stage, sharing a long embrace with Jacobs as the press looked on. Unless you seek out the video of the press conference online, you will never see this side of the night. It goes beyond the initial interviews on television. This is the beauty of covering boxing or any sport. I admit, as a college student it’s just exciting to be in the same room with professionals you have seen on television and look up to. But more than anything else, it’s comforting to see new layers in a sport that often appears so violent and nonsensical.

Email Michael Thompson at [email protected].