My girlfriend, Magpie, insists that I am quite mad because I insist on portraying my characters in an unfavorable light. I wish that I would meet some cool people, but coolness has been out of style for along time. As a result, I am forced to play the hand I am dealt.
I was talking to this one turkey, he looked like a turkey with a shaved head and big fat pot belly, about fitness and sport. He told me, jovially, "I used to be fit when I was young". The guy was at most 30 years old.
What happened to the ethic of "fit for life"? It has evidently been definitively interred in favor of going back to the old ways, whatever those are. Recently, The New York Post ("it's gotta be true!") ran an article on fitness, about how it was possible even for people over forty to get fit, although only in a limited way.
Are you kidding? Forty? When I was forty, the forty-year-olds basically ran everything: marathons, bodybuilding, baseball, you name it. The twenty and thirty year-olds were already falling behind. That must have been the top of the curve, which has been declining ever since. I was running five miles a day and then doing a full weight workout. I was boxing, practicing martial arts, jumping rope, swimming. My bible was Muscle & Fitness Magazine, which was directed by the inestimable gods of bodybuilding, Joe and Ben Weider. When Arnold Schwartznegger was forty he was hard as a rock, and the undisputed star of Hollywood cinema. Oh boy, it was a groove to be forty!
I was reminded of this last night, watching an evening of classic boxing matches on ESPN. They reprised the 1991 Heavyweight Championship match between then-reigning champ Evander Holyfield, 225 lbs. of hard muscle and superb aerobic conditioning, against George Foreman, 50, an immense mountain of muscle at 255 lbs. Foreman had been champion back in 1973, and he decided to make a comeback, to the disdain and ridicule of the boxing press. But Foreman made monkeys out of those characters, beating a series of tomato cans until he had positioned himself to meet Holyfield at Trump Resort and Casino in Atlantic City.
Foreman was huge and powerful, and Holyfield's announced strategy was to keep moving to the side and to box him, wearing him down round by round until the fourth round, when he estimated that Foreman would run out of steam, and then Holyfield would mercifully finish the old guy off.
Right from the beginning it was apparent that Holyfield had miscalculated. Foreman was flat-footed and not a little bit slow. He absorbed a lot of haymaker shots from Holyfield that would have demolished a regular fighter. He had a funny-looking defense of crossing his arms in front of his body like a fatman trying to ward off blows to his midsection. Holyfield did a fine job of moving to his side and making Foreman chase him around the ring, making sure to keep away from the ropes and avoiding the corners of the ring, which would have been suicide. He was controlling Foreman with overhand right-left hook combinations and beautiful hard jabs followed by uppercuts and left hooks. Based on artistic boxing, Holyfield was the dominant fighter by far.
But none of this fazed Foreman. Starting in round 2, he started to find his game, which was his right hand, and he repeatedly landed devastating right hooks to the head of Holyfield, which Holyfield only mitigated by using a really cool trick that he had of raising his left shoulder to deflect the force of the blow before it reached his head. It was like a bullfight with Holyfield as the toreador and Foreman as the bull.
Just to leave a psychological impact on Holyfield's mind, Foreman even refused to sit down in his corner between rounds, preferring to stand as his handlers sponged him off, while the younger man sat huffing and puffing.
As the fight progressed, it was the reverse of Holyfield's strategy. It was Foreman who wore him down. Holyfield was reduced to running away or standing and trading punches with the older man, which worked to his detriment. Foreman, who was absorbing a lot of punishment from Holyfield's blockbuster bombs, withstood them all and almost put Holyfield away on several occasions. Nevertheless, Holyfield kept the presence of mind to stay away from the ropes and out of the corners, which would have been a death sentence, given Foreman's overwhelming size and strength advantage.
While all this was going on in the ring, the crowd of 20,000 was erupting in pandemonium. Some idiot set off a smoke bomb in the audience, which would ordinarily have provoked a stampede for the exits, but the fans were so transfixed by the slugfest taking place in the ring that they ignored the smoke and stood rooted to their places, cheering on the exhilarating exhibition of pugilistic pulchritude of punching power taking place in the arena.
Holyfield expended a lot of energy going to Foreman's mid-section, which Foreman took seriously, given all his attempts to cover it up, but the body shots didn't end up having much effect, considering the huge mass of muscle and surrounding belly fat they were supposed to penetrate, which was about the equivalent of trying to damage a hard 7 foot body bag with your gloved hand. It was the head shots inflicted by Holyfield that did the most damage, with Foreman's face showing a great deal of swelling towards the end of the bout.
The Spanish language has an old bit of philosophy that states, "The devil is evil because he's old", and Foreman countered Holyfield's relative speed and agility with a big bag of tricks that grew from more years of fighting in the ring than Holyfield could count being in this world. To wear down the younger man even more, Foreman would clinch him and lean on him, and Holyfield would find himself in the unenviable position of having to hold Foreman up, which required a lot of energy that he could not spare.
By the end of the twelfth and final round, which nobody expected the fight to go that far, Holyfield and Foreman were both so exhausted that they were holding each other up, their faces impassive. Holyfield had clearly won the fight based on the number of shots landed, and anyway, unless the contender puts on a vastly superior performance, the decision always goes to the reigning champ.
But Foreman had made his point. At age 50, he was still a fearsome competitor, a real life Rocky Balboa. It was Foreman who displayed outstanding sportsmanship by approaching Holyfield and congratulating him for a masterful performance, when ordinarily it is the role of the winner to congratulate the loser. Foreman struck a blow for all of us aging sports fanatics who refuse to take a back seat to the younger generation. As Muscle & Fitness has ceaselessly insisted for decades, you can always keep on building strength and putting on muscle mass until the end of your days. Aerobic training and devotion to the fundamentals of boxing, combined with the wisdom that comes from experience can help to narrow the edge of the faster speed and reflexes enjoyed by youth.
I am reminded of the story about the old bull and the young bull standing on the hill. The young bull says, "Let's run down and screw a cow". The old bull answers, "Let's walk down and screw them all".