Words

From Ali to McGregor: A Brief History of Showboating

Fightland Blog

By Alexander Reynolds

Photo by Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

In the ring, the cage, or on the street, there is nothing more annoying than having to fight a slippy old show off. Showboating, for lack of a better term, is the most direct and blatant way to disrespect another fighter on the kill floor. Sometimes it pays off. Sometimes it doesn’t.

But when it works, it reaps dividends. Case in point, the charismatic fighting Irishman and history making MMA champ, Conor McGregor. Last weekend, the pumped up featherweight clasped his hands behind his back and stuck out his chinny chin chin for lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez to try and sock at will. He stunned Alvarez with this macho display of contempt before letting rip with a sweet four-punch combo to secure victory as the UFC’s first two-weight world champion.

It wasn’t genuine, outside the box stuff. Tyson Fury, the English heavyweight, did exactly the same thing when he outpointed long-standing champion Wladimir Klitschko in November 2015.

After seeing McGregor’s victory at UFC 205 on TV, Fury was moved to do a Donald Trump and make his thoughts known on Twitter. “Congratulations on making UFC history,” wrote the colorful boxer. “If you need any more tips just ask.” All’s fair in love and war, right?

But hang on a mo, Mr. Fury, isn’t that “tip” the old Roy Jones Jr. hands-behind-the-back taunt from the 1990s? You bet your sweet bippy it is!

Even still, right now, McGregor’s got the copyright, and it will no doubt spawn a rash of imitators trying to do much the same thing. And why not? Like spin kick KO’s, the punters love it and so do the shark-faced promoters with fat bellies and Cuban cigars. They know full well that grandstanding is what the media love to talk about. It generates buzz and puts rears on the seats of venues like Madison Square Gardens for the next pay-per-view installment of bread and circuses.

And McGregor’s Roy Jones Jr. impersonation (via Tyson Fury) happens to coincide with a special anniversary in the history of pugilistic taunting. It’s fifty years since Muhammad Ali fought Cleveland Williams on Nov 14, 1966, and dazzled the world of boxing with his fleet footed “Ali shuffle.” Then as now, there’s nothing more grating than having to fight an Ali wannabe with the brazen cheek to bust a shuffle on the fight floor. Nothing.

How best to defend against this cocky display of supposed superiority? Fighters take note: legendary boxing trainer Cus D’Amato had the best reply for an Ali shuffle—lunge and shoot a jab to the midsection. It’s simple, effective, and, aged knees withstanding, any old pug can do it.

Another way to nullify an Ali shuffle is to crouch into a Karate style right hand gyakuzuki to the midsection, and then spring up to wallop your opponent with an old Joe Frazier (left hook) to the jaw. 

However, the Ali shuffle is but one item in the showboater’s annoying bag of tricks. Low hands. Chin jutting. Tongue sticking. Body popping. There are so many ways to taunt and bait the insecurities of an opponent in a fight. Depending on the psychological make up of the fighter, the effects can sometimes cripple an opponent into submission. Take Sugar Ray Leonard’s classic performance piece against Roberto Duran in 1980. The dancing chin, arm cranking and foot shuffling antics of Leonard flummoxed the timing of the Panamanian brawler—who famously quit the WBC welterweight championship bout with the immortal words, “no más” (no more). Defeat, however, did not stunt the growth of Duran’s subsequent fighting legend. With a jaw of stone, he soaked up the public humiliation, and the acid pens of sports writers, to come back for “más” in spades.

Sometimes the effect can be permanent. One tragic drubbing that comes to mind is Naseem Hamed’s Fred Astaire dance routine with WBO featherweight champ Steve Robinson in 1995. Hamed was the challenger, the cocky, big-punching fighter, the self styled Prince and legend. Robinson was the boxer turned unlikely champ. Even though he had some big scalps on his résumé, no one expected Robinson to triumph. Right from the start of the contest, Hamed was the boss of the bout. He stood square; hands low, taunting and laughing at Robinson like a playground bully. Hamed won and Robinson lost by way of TKO in Round 8 of 12. People didn’t like it but, paradoxically, they admired it all the same.

Some fighters showboat even when losing. Take former WBO heavyweight champ Herbie Hide. He got mugged inside two rounds by the strong juju of African boxer Joseph Chingangu way back in 2001. The big, soft-bellied Zambian was older and less experienced on the fight stage but decked bullyboy Hide with a series of almighty slappers during Round 1. Instead of playing it safe in Round 2, Hide, the boisterous ex champ with a bit of a glass chin, decided to show off to Chingangu by loading up his right hand in the air. It was a cardinal error. The underdog belted Hide with a straight right that sent the English fighter down to the canvas and defeat.

Not every fighter gets the chance for payback. Sorely embarrassed by this shock defeat to a bum of the month, Hide managed to avenge this KO by inflicting one of his own in a rematch with Chingangu in 2003.

In the ring, the cage, or the street, you don’t have to be the Dalai Lama to know that everything is a circle and everything gets a return. The undisputed modern master of taunting, Roy Jones Jr., got his comeuppance when he faced Joe Calzaghe at the tail end of his illustrious career.

The Welsh super-middleweight, once a contestant on a BBC celebrity ballroom dancing show, went into a body popping salsa during his bout with Jones Jr.

Hmm, I don’t think the Welshman would have gotten away with doing that to Mr. Jones in his 1990s prime, don’t you? Neither does Mr. Calzaghe, I wager.

At the end of the day, showboating may please the fat punters and dreary celebs in attendance, but it’s best to protect yourself at all times with your hands held high and your chin stuck low. It’s the first thing they teach us. The tragedy is that it’s very often the first thing that we forget in the ring, the cage or the street.

 

Check out these related stories:

Conor McGregor Wins a Second Title and Someone Forgot His Belt

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Kickboxer

The Battle of the Southpaws: Race, Rioting, and Beer on the Canvas

 

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