Top Ten Heavy Hitters
box and I rock. I do both without apology, and with wicked abandon. I revel in them. They each, in very different ways, make me feel whole. One takes care of my body; the other takes care of my soul. If you don’t think you can be open about a girl doing either of these things, you need to move along since there is nothing for you to read here. But c’mon! Open your mind; just a teeny. Besides, everyone knows that dissent is sexy.
Any female who plays rock or boxes, wittingly or not, challenges fixed ideas of what it means to be a woman. “Female strength is, even yet, seditious,” writes Natalie Angier in Women: An Intimate Geography, “It can make men squirm.” Sharon Lamb, in The Secret Lives of Girls, says the two most important prohibitions for girls, entering the 21st century, are against sex and aggression. Or to make it crystal simple: Rock = sex; boxing = aggression.
It isn’t so hard to get over women rocking since many do. However, there is still a stigma attached to it. Most music geeks feel that it is far better to watch girls rock out then to endure listening to them. Music, despite whatever anyone tries to say or do, is firmly masculine territory. Girls can hang out, perhaps make a relevant album or germane comment, but really, chicks don’t get it the way guys get it. They are not real members of the tribe.
Boxing is different since women have to contend both with the gender issue and society’s general bias against boxing. Most people think boxing is simply two missing-links macho posturing in a ring until brawn draws blood. But by neglecting to wonder what else boxing means, does, and is from the perspective of those who practice it, they commit themselves to a kind of cultural blindness and arch condescension.
There are many similarities between boxing and playing guitar. They each require discipline, control, desire and drive for success. You need to be emotionally damaged or escaping something—no one gets into the ring without baggage, ditto creating great music. Within each, the hierarchy of race is reversed. 4/4 time is the backbone of rock; there are 4 moves (1- jab, 2 - straight, 3 - hook, 4 - uppercut) in boxing. My favorite combo in boxing is 4, 2, 3; my favorite combo in music is a 1, 4, 5 progression. On guitars, you get the satisfying sound of a pick drag; in boxing you get the satisfying pop when your glove hits the practice mitt just right. Guitars give you bloody fingertips; boxing gives you bloody knuckles. You strap on a guitar; you step into a ring. They’re both solitary in practice, but require company to make them come alive.
In an effort to try and sway the dubious, here are the top ten heavy hitters of boxing and rock. The goal here is to make links between boxers and rockers so that while speaking the language of music, a language the Stylus reader speaks fluently, and by comparing that to something some people find unsavory, I will be able to contextualize the unsavory into something relatable. Some might seem a bit of stretch, but just go with it. It all ends up making sense in the end.
Mike Tyson – Sid Vicious
Both of these guys are the classic little boy lost. They were disenfranchised fuck-ups until taken under the wing of a mentor. Tyson’s was Gus D’Amato, and Vicious had Malcolm McLaren. They each enjoyed tremendous success only to suffer greatly when their mentors left them. (Each was then led further astray by the people that would single-handedly cause their undoing.) Rory Holloway was Tyson’s no-good manager who managed to drain both his talent and bank account. Sid had wacky-on-the-junk-groupie Nancy Spungen lead him down the smack path. Tyson ended up a bankrupt convicted felon. Vicious ended up ODing, with the disemboweled blood of Spungen on his hands to boot.
Muhammad Ali – Mick Jagger
Now, this was hard. Ali is a God and there will never be another Ali. I thought about putting in Elvis, but it just didn’t quite fit. So I went with Jagger. They are both often imitated, but never bettered. They each caused a paradigm shift in perception of their respective crafts. They each had phenomenal arrogance and a preening strut. But the genius they both shared was the ability to temper that arrogance with cunning charm, as well as the chops to back up their claims. Articulate, political and rebellious, they each pushed the buttons of society, but had the character to not push them to breaking point. Both are sexy and masculine, but each had a sultry feline grace that made them appeal equally to both genders. Men wanted to be them and women wanted them.
“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler - Jimi Hendrix
These two hold a special place on the list because they are both left-handed. Southpaws are rare in the guitar world, and even more so in the boxing ring. Hagler’s 1985 fight with Tommy Hearns is considered by many to be the finest three rounds of boxing ever fought. Hendrix’ performance at Woodstock is considered by many to be the finest live guitar performance ever filmed. They both worked just outside the box of convention—Hendrix playing his guitar upside-down, or with his tongue—treating it like an extension of his body as opposed to an object. Hagler invented the “Destruct and Destroy” philosophy of fighting every round with the energy of the first. Both fucked off to Europe when America proved too small minded for their talents.
Jack Johnson – P. Diddy
It all comes down to stylish bling for this pair. Jack Johnson was the first African-American Heavyweight Champion of the world. He broke down race barriers and forced white America to accept him on his terms. A lion in the ring and sartorial dandy outside of it, Johnson lived well with his hard-earned money—he liked to drive nice cars fast, loved the ladies, and look damn good while doing it. The term “sport” was invented for him. P. Diddy is the modern version of a “sport.” Combs is a self-made man, with a bright business and musical mind. Like Johnson, P. Diddy not only forced society to reevaluate its terms for success, but then proceeded to exceed those terms with greater achievements. They set a brand new bar, and then leapt over it. Unlike Johnson, who was punished by America and suffered greatly for his victories, Combs commands respect for his accomplishments. And, like Johnson, looks classy while doing it.
Lucia Rijker – Bjork
And we knock it over to the ladies. Bjork is one of few female performers who escape confinement due solely to her immense talent. From her early Sugarcubes days to the magnificent Vespertine, she continues to stun and defy category. Same with Lucia Rijker. A former kickboxing champion from Amsterdam, she is the WIBO champ as well as a practicing Buddhist. Plus, they’ve both branched out into films—Bjork in Lars Von Trier’s stunningly powerful Dancer in the Dark and Rijker played Billie the Blue Bear in this year’s Oscar winner Million Dollar Baby. No one can quite figure them out. And therein lays their beauty.
Laila Ali – Jakob Dylan
This is almost too easy—the offspring of greats who chose the difficult path of repetition. Both are moderately successful—although Ali is a far better boxer than Dylan a songwriter. At least they both inherited the paternal good looks. Maybe their talent will follow someday.
Oscar De La Hoya – Eminem
Change is in the air. De La Hoya was at the forefront of the boxing world’s move away from the heavyweights to the welter, light and featherweight divisions that Latinos dominate. Eminem is arguably the premier white rapper who not only has the pedigree and Dr. Dre working his corner, he is considered by many to be a poet. The main incentive for both of them to get on with their work is family. De La Hoya won gold at the 1992 Olympic Games as a tribute to his mother who died of breast cancer two years before. Eminem is guided by his love for daughter Hailie. Finally, each one has the entrepreneurial spirit. De La Hoya enjoys great success with his boxing promotion company and Eminem is a producer of records for his own record label. And, on the shallow tip: both have a baby-faced beauty that is hard to resist.
Lennox Lewis – Seal
Both part British and part something else (Lennox Canadian, Seal Nigerian), both sexy in a way you can’t quite put your finger on, both fashionistas in their own way, both enjoy the same level of moderate fame and both possess the same quiet intellectual air.
Joe Louis (The Brown Bomber) – Ray Charles
Louis and Charles got into their respective arts because of perceived disability: Louis had a terrible stutter and Charles was blind. However, what made them vulnerable only served to make them unforgettable. Both showed talent at a very young age, reigned supreme in their arenas for approximately the same amount of time, and both had drug habits—Louis, cocaine and Charles, heroin. But perhaps their most important commonality and contribution is that each broke the racial barrier by allowing a segregated America to embrace an African-American hero: Louis by defeating German boxer (and Nazi-sympathizer) Max Schmelling in 1938 and Ray Charles by bringing gospel music into a secular setting, in a way they had never been before.
Sugar Ray Leonard – Smokey Robinson
Real talent starts early. By the time he was 19, Leonard won 3 national Golden Gloves titles and gold at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. At 17, Robinson was writing hit songs like “Shop Around” with Motown’s Barry Gordy Jr. Two years later, he was vice-president at Motown. They both possess smooth good looks, which they retain to this day, and they both bring a certain silky gentlemanly feel to the table and even out the rough edges of their respective arts. Each one has enjoyed long careers and remains popular in this fickle media world.
Not to mention the fact that Sugar Ray was named after Ray Charles, but adopted the nickname Sugar Ray after boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson, and Ray Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson but just used Ray Charles to avoid confusion with Sugar Ray Robinson. And the links just keep on coming!
By: Hope Zabriskie
Published on: 2005-03-25