“He that lives upon hope will die fasting.”
So said Benjamin Franklin, and Ricardo Mayorga would do well to heed the words. Or rather, Mayorga would have done well to heed the words last Friday. By Saturday night, unfortunately, it was too late for the former boxing champion-turned-mixed martial artist; the time for heeding was past, and Mayorga, soft around the middle now and with only one MMA fight to his name (an ill-gotten TKO victory over a tomato can he beat with an illegal knee to the spine), walked into a cage in Nicaragua and promptly and inevitably got submitted by middleweight Rene “Level” Martinez, who may never be as good a mixed martial artist as Mayorga was a boxer (a world champion in two divisions, a 29-8-1 record, a cover story in Ring Magazine), but who, unlike Mayorga, is actually a mixed martial artist and not a dabbler and who did exactly what any mixed martial worth the name would do and has done every time a boxer dares/dared to try MMA: He took him down as soon as humanly possible and submitted him. No need to stand in the way of an artist’s fists when there are other options on the table.
Mayorga is only the latest in a long line of professional boxers who have deluded themselves into believing that skill sets between combat sports are transferrable and that toughness is enough to win a fight. From James Toney to Ray Mercer and now to Ricardo Mayorga, the list of the hopefuls whose hopes were quickly dashed by a choke is growing long.
Each boxer who steps into a cage is another example of a human being and a culture raging against the dying of the light. We live in an ever-changing world, and with the rise of MMA and the decline of boxing, the old definitions of toughness and mastery have changed with it. No one wants to feel left behind, particularly men who have made their livings proving to themselves and the world that they are the exemplars of man’s innate biological need to show mastery over other men. Imagine if you were raised your entire life to believe that your fists are the tools by which you prove your dominance, your masculinity, only to find out that by the time you got that chance, a new language had emerged to express and redefine that dominance? Would you go quietly into that good night, or would you rage? Even knowing (good technician that you are) that rage is no state to be in if you want to win a fight?
Obsolescence is a kind of early death, and for some worse than the real kind. That’s why so many fighters (boxers and mixed martial artists alike) fight way past their primes: They refuse to believe that their time has come and gone, that their bodies have started to betray them, that the next generation, once only an annoyance biting at their heels, has at last caught up and surpassed them. For men and women in the fighting arts, pride, and not an opponent’s fist, is the truest enemy. Ricardo Mayorga, like Toney and Mercer before him, has been blinded by fighter’s pride into believing that he is indestructible, and his rage against the rise of MMA and the decline of his beloved boxing is causing him to lash out blindly against the usurpers. On Saturday he paid for it with his neck.
More than any other sport, MMA breeds hope. It also crushes most harshly those who give into that hope. On any given weekend at any given half-filled armory in any mid-sized American town, some poor "tough" man or woman, overcome by desire, egged on by delusion, and motivated by a misreading of biological imperative, enters a cage and puts his or her life in very real danger. Hope may be the thing with feathers but it can also be the millstone around the neck, dragging the deluded, the untrained, the unready, and the overzealous down to ugly fates. Like a scorned lover, Ricardo Mayorga raged Saturday night against the transference of the culture’s affections from boxing to MMA and broke the first rule of boxing in the process: never run into a fight with your hands down, your chin up, and your heart on your sleeve.
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