CARSON, Calif. -- Cus D'Amato once said, "When two men are fighting, what you're watching is more a contest of wills than of skills, with the stronger will usually overcoming the skill."
On Saturday night in Carson, Calif., Erislandy Lara's demonstrative advantage of skill over Alfredo Angulo only served to inflame Angulo's reserve of willpower. The elegance of Lara's skills simply weren't capable of removing Angulo's will from the equation of the fight. Then, in the fourth round, Angulo's fiendish efforts were rewarded when he dropped Lara, the first knockdown Lara has suffered as a professional. For the duration of the round, every fan in attendance stood to roar approval. Round after round, Angulo took even more risks, applying pressure and striving to close out the fight while eating enough leather to reconfigure his face. Again Angulo dropped Lara, yet the Cuban got off the deck to continue.
In the 10th round, Angulo ate nearly everything Lara threw at him in order to land something meaningful of his own. Then a crisp left hand from Lara struck the swelling over Angulo's eye. Angulo grimaced as another left followed, then another, and finally the referee called off the bout, fearing a broken orbital bone.
Boos. Beer tossed into the ring. "Tijuana style!" a writer next to me laughed. Everywhere you looked, aggrieved faces contorted in expressions of betrayal.
It was all a little incomprehensible to me. Everyone on hand had enjoyed a brilliant fight stopped only after one fighter's health was gravely in danger.
Wait a minute. When exactly was enough enough? What was the expectation here?
Victor Ortiz quit against both of Saturday's headliners, Marcos Maidana and Josesito Lopez. Were those unreasonable decisions? In one of those fights, Ortiz's jaw was broken in two places. Should he have been booed for not fighting on with a broken jaw, as Muhammad Ali did against Ken Norton? Ali was praised for such courage. Oscar De La Hoya was fully capable of getting off his stool to continue against Manny Pacquiao, yet sensibly recognized the futility. Does he get a pass? At the time, his corner asked if he felt like continuing, and Oscar didn't launch much of a protest when it was suggested he not bother. Joe Frazier was legally blind in the only good eye he had left against Ali in the "Thrilla in Manilla." Was his trainer, Eddie Futch, right to call off the fight? Did Futch betray his fighter?
What about the most famous quitter in boxing history? Is Duran's "No Mas" a more defining moment in his career than his victory over Sugar Ray Leonard in their first fight? For many, it is. Mike Tyson notoriously looked for a way out against Evander Holyfield when it was clear Holyfield had his number. Suddenly, Tyson's cowardice in gnawing off Holyfield's ear overshadowed nearly everything he had accomplished as a fighter. Twice, Andrew Golota snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against Riddick Bowe when he swung gratuitously low. His career never recovered.
So in boxing, when is it acceptable to quit? How much abuse is a fighter expected to endure before he can be allowed to show some concern for his own welfare? Anyone who has been around fighters knows they all share the same secret: They are more afraid of embarrassment and humiliation than injury. Do fans and writers use this fact against them in what we celebrate or criticize?
In the documentary "Facing Ali," nearly half the fighters involved required subtitles despite speaking English, their speech slurred by the physical toll of their ring lives. This was their reward for testing their furthermost physical and mental boundaries.
As Guillero Rigondeaux's recent near-shutout of 2012 ESPN.com fighter of the year Nonito Donaire demonstrated, the days of fans cheering Willie Pep for winning a round without throwing a punch are long over. Arturo Gatti's induction into the Boxing Hall of Fame is further testament of boxing giving fans what they clearly reserve their loudest cheers for: fighters who lay their lives on the line at every possible moment of every fight. The truth is, fighters have always done this. We just didn't used to boo the ones who committed the cardinal sin of trying to minimize some of the risk.