Alexander Dimitrenko and the Problem of Courage in Boxing
Last night's Top Rank boxing card culminated with a compelling bout between heavyweights Bryant Jennings and Alexander Dimitrenko, which concluded with a ninth-round TKO of the 6'7"Russian. Dimitrenko had dropped Jennings with a cuffing right in the fourth round, but Jennings reestablished his dominance in the following frames, and put Dimitrenko on the canvas twice in the 8th and again in the 9th. In one of the worst stoppages I have seen this year, referee Allen Huggins waved off the bout as Dimitrenko was crumpling to the canvas under the impact of a destructive Jennings right uppercut. But it was immediately clear that the stoppage had been premature: Dimitrenko looked fully able to recover and in fact immediately protested the stoppage.
What made it a particularly bad stoppage was that Dimitrenko had showed the ability to hurt Jennings, and surely was not out of the fight when it was stopped. But Dimitrenko's reputation preceeded him into the ring, as the Russian has been known in the past to quit under difficulty circumstances. I didn't see those earlier fights, but during the ESPN broadcast last night, it seemed as if the announcers, particularly Andre Ward and Mark Kriegel, were anxious to fit the action into their pre-determined narrative about Dimitrenko's alleged lack of heart. In fact, after the fight, Ward said he was fine with the stoppage because he didn't think Dimitrenko wanted to be in the ring anymore. The accusation was absurd: whatever can be said of Dimitrenko, a man who protests an early stoppage two seconds after taking a vicious uppercut to the chin surely has the heart to continue fighting.
If I am honest, there is also something about Ward that often rubs me the wrong way. Yes, he was once the pound-for-pound champion of the sport. Yes, he is a future Hall of Famer and an insightful commentator. But I don't think that a man who retires at 33 and with an undefeated record should question the courage of a 36-year-old who has tasted defeat four times and has a long amateur and professional career. All respect to Ward for his accomplishments in the ring, but honestly it bothers me when people question the courage of professional boxers. What men like Dimitrenko risk when they enter the ring should not be taken lightly. Ward knows this as well as anyone, and that kind of commitment and courage should not be treated so flippantly.