Every fall the Sigma Chi fraternity at the University of North Texas hosts its annual charity fight night. Students and local residents alike turn out in droves, partly to support whatever philanthropic effort is on the docket, but also because it’s hard to pass up the opportunity to see someone get knocked out. They swarm the skirt of the ring like a pack of wild hyenas observing a showdown between two merciless and simultaneously majestic lions battling for dominance in one of nature’s most beautiful and violent rituals. Except instead of lions it’s two dumbass college kids hitting one another, mostly in the shoulder and hip, until one of them gasses out and they wave it off. Still, it’s a pretty cool event, if you’re ever in town you should check it out and support the cause. But the real show happens a few weeks prior, just down the street.
Jimenez Old School Boxing Gym sits in the 1200 block of East University Drive, in the corner unit of a dated strip mall, flanked by a Drug and Alcohol Education Center, about a mile from the center of the UNT campus. Every day at 4:00 the doors open and a couple dozen local kids pour into the facility. Whether there because the monthly membership is a fraction of what a good babysitter charges, exploring the challenges of a newfound passion, or working their way towards the realization of an ever-elusive vision of extraordinary success, they spend hours, absent air-conditioning in the heart of the Texas flatland, refining their craft, and proving themselves among their peers.
The list of individuals that serve as mentors for the group, training alongside them as they put in their own work, has included a former Olympic team captain, a National Golden Gloves Bronze Medalist, a gaggle of other high-level amateurs, like myself, and some of the most dangerous professional fighters in the country at any given time. Put simply, this is a fight gym. Jimenez is not a place you come to lose weight. Getting in shape is simply a side effect. This is a place you come to fight.
I’d say that the most important lessons I’ve ever learned in life have been taught to me in a boxing gym, but that would be tacky, even if it’s true. When you dedicate your life to a particular craft or persuasion it’s easy to assign the significance of every piece of wisdom you encounter to it. I may have learned a lot about a lot of things in the thousands upon thousands of hours I’ve worked towards achieving pugilistic greatness. Maybe not. What I can tell you is that I know a shitload about boxing, and even more about being humble. The latter of which I was given a refresher in every fall, weeks prior to Sigma Chi Fight Night.
Now, in case you’ve never been to college, know someone who has, seen a movie about it, or you’re just new to Earth and still trying to get your bearings, let me give you a sociology lesson. Most frat boys are arrogant. I imagine that’s probably caused by a mixture of too many bros being under one roof, like how the five powers combine to create Captain Planet, and over-exposure to Axe Body Spray. Regardless, you’d be hard-pressed to find a 21-year old fraternity member who isn’t convinced he is, at least some form of, the shit. So you can probably imagine the attitude that the four or five that showed up to the gym to “train” for their upcoming bouts brought with them.
I say “train” because showing up to a boxing gym fifteen days before your first ring appearance and expecting to learn how to fight is like using WebMD to study for the MCATs. The only thing you can learn in that amount of time is how to get punched in the face slightly fewer times. Which I think is still worth it. But not these gentlemen. No, year in and year out, several members of the Sigma Chi fraternity would pass through the doors of Jimenez Old School Boxing gym, completely out of time to learn the first thing about boxing, yet still unanimously unfazed by the fact that they had no fucking clue what they were doing. All they wanted to do was spar.
And we were happy to accommodate. Unfortunately walking into a fight gym you’ve never been to, sporting a bag of equipment too pristine to have ever been used, and asking if you can spar with your friends, who are also unfamiliar faces is about the quickest way into the doghouse. Ring time is precious, and in most places it’s earned. Fighters understand that. Asking to absorb some of it so you and your punkass friends can play Rocky for a few rounds is akin to spitting in the face of every fighter that’s there to work. That doesn’t mean you won’t be allowed in the ring, it just means it won’t be in the context you’d expected.
The only way you end up in the ring, with zero experience on your first day, is if you’re there to be taught a lesson. We didn’t let new fighters spar one another. They sparred the pros. This was the norm for two reasons: 1) Having two inexperienced maniacs wailing away on one another is a good way for both of them to get hurt and 2) having them spar a professional is a good way to make sure only one of them does.
The politically correct reason was that experienced fighters could control the action more acutely and take it easier on their opponents while still being protected. But that’s like asking a police attack dog not to bite so hard in training. It doesn’t work like that. And it didn’t here. One by one the self-assured challengers would enter the ring, beaming with confidence, only to exit moments later, a shell of their former selves.
Tony Robbins is credited with coining the idea that all change happens in an instant. This was a maturation process. The kind in which you’re forced to come to terms with the fact that you’re not who you thought you were. That excellence is earned not inherited. These aren’t the kinds of lessons you’ll learn in a college classroom. But moment by moment, round by round, these truths are infallibly cemented in the mind of a fighter. Every inch is earned. And with that, a wealth of knowledge, untranslatable to the outside world, is given fluency in the cerebrum of the journeyed competitor.
It’s by this disconnect, the gap between what has been learned by few and assumed by many, that modern America has come to be defined. Enter Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor.
August 26th, more than anything, will mark the culmination of one the most remarkable PR circuses in the history of sports as two of the most polarizing athletes of the last few decades will square off in what is sure to be an officially sanctioned professional boxing match. I know, that last sentence fell flat. I could have said something more incendiary like ‘in what is sure to be an unforgettable collision of expertise and savagery.’ But I didn’t. Because it shouldn’t be. And barring the possibility that this is all some elaborate precursor to the relaunch of Punk’d, it won’t be. So there’s my bold prediction. I’m sorry it took me 1,250 words. Mayweather will beat McGregor on points, in a poetic fashion that, to the vast majority of observers, will appear incredibly mundane in comparison to the extravagant buildup. And, of course, not everyone reading this will agree. The social media stratosphere is currently rich with battalions of McGregor supporters all eager to share their personal perspective on exactly why they’re convinced the possible upset of the century will come to fruition. I’m sure I’ll even get a barrage of comments to this article highlighting why I’m wrong. But unfortunately I won’t be able to respond to such incentives. Although talking boxing is among my favorite ways to pass the time. Not because I’m not up for a healthy debate.
But because if you disagree with me, I can’t even explain to you why you’re wrong. You’re simply not knowledgeable enough to understand.
To clarify, if you have a different prediction on the outcome than I do, I’m not calling you stupid. What I mean is that you simply don’t have enough of a background in combat sports for me to explain to you the flaws in the concepts on which your opinion is based in a way that you can understand. And there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m absolutely positive there’s a nearly infinite spectrum of topics on which my readers would absolutely abuse me intellectually. I’ll even give you some jumping off points: I don’t know shit about cars, I can’t name more than three soccer players, and it would take me at least several minutes to find Uzbekistan on map. But I am a boxing expert. And that’s exactly why we can’t talk about this fight.
If you’ve ever taken a psychology course, or worked in sales, you’re likely familiar with the Four Stages of Competence. If neither of those apply to you that hyperlink will take you to a Wikipedia page for a quick breakdown. And if you’re too lazy to click the link I’ll give you an even quicker briefing, here are the four stages:
Unconscious Incompetence: You don’t know what you don’t know.
Conscious Incompetence: You know what you don’t know.
Conscious Competence: You know what you don’t know and you’ve consciously improved your knowledge and skills through concentration of effort.
Unconscious Competence: You don’t know what you know. Things have become second nature.
In regards to the sweet science, after a lifetime of participation, I have reached a level of unconscious competence, meaning I’ve forgotten more about boxing than most people will ever know. It’s the intuitive result of millions of punches, tens of thousands of rounds, countless injuries and more bloodshed than one of Rob Zombie’s directorial efforts. It’s a language learned only through that kind of immersion.
From an empirical standpoint this places me in rare company. Boxing has always been a comparatively small sport and the last ten years have seen it all but vanish from the mainstream conversation. And it’s this deficit that makes conversing about these sorts of topics such an unappealing proposition for people like me.
Boxing is a very elemental sport. Meaning it requires little more than two fists to participate. Most human beings meet all the tangible requisites to become a boxer. And perhaps because of this, combined with our inherent instincts for violence and self-sufficiency, most people feel their opinions hold some sort of validity when it comes to the kinds of marquee fights that transcend the world of sports into that of pop culture. They don’t. The reality is that, when it comes to combat sports, nearly everyone is unconsciously incompetent.
A fighter debating boxing with the average person would be like an attorney debating corporate law with a three-year old. He wouldn’t even be able to explain his points in a manner in which his counterpart could understand. The knowledge deficit is simply too big to foster any sort of constructive conversation. This is what the Mayweather/McGregor conversation is like.
For example, here are a few snippets I’ve come across in the comments section of statuses concerning the fight this week, along with what I would have said had I any inkling to respond.
“McGregor’s feet are fast AF! Money in trouble!!” – No, McGregor’s feet are not fast AF. He has far below average footwork even for a mid-level welterweight. You just don’t have a frame of reference or any expertise by which to compare the two.
“Floyd’s never faced anyone with as much power as McGregor.” – McGregor’s power is mediocre at best in the world of boxing. Shane Mosely, Canelo Alvarez, Oscar de la Hoya, Arturo Gatti, the list of Mayweather opponents with more power than McGregor is anything but short.
“Floyd’s always had trouble with southpaws. McGregor has a huge advantage.” – Being a southpaw doesn’t close the skill distance between the greatest fighter of a generation and a man who’s never set foot in a professional boxing ring. That would be like saying a high school bench player would have an advantage against Lebron because he’s an inch taller.
See the thing is, a lot of people are going to read that section and still disagree with me. That’s the frustration with a collective conversation like this. One would have to at least reach a level of competent incompetence before they’d even be able to understand why their assertions are misguided. But, of course, that won’t keep the fires of this debate from raging well after the final bell has been rung. And while the stark polarization brought on by this bout is innocuous itself, it’s really a microcosm of a social atmosphere in which uneducated opinion has come to make up the bulk of all contribution on issues that really matter.
This has become the unflattering reality of American progress today. Hard opinions, flawed perspectives, blind allegiance, insufficient knowledge and a total lack of objectivity are the cornerstones of the collective conversation. We spend more time arguing about shit we don’t know the first thing about than we do actually working towards becoming even basically acquainted with the subject matter. We spend hours slamming away on our keyboards trying to prove indistinguishable points about healthcare bills we’ve never read. We jump to conclusions, based entirely on blind supposition, about economic policies we can’t articulate. We pass judgement on police officers and possible suspects alike, with absolutely no experience in the shoes of either. This is how we’ve become a nation divided.
This sort of incestual breeding of shitbrainery is really brought on by the ease with which the modern world affords human beings access to two things they insatiably crave. Validation and a sense of belonging. The reality is, when it comes to the majority of concerning issues we feel absolutely no inherent need to seek actual objective or legitimate information. That’s not what satisfies our psychological needs. What we desire is to feel like someone else agrees with us, and that we’re accepted by our peers. When it comes to our emotional fulfillment, that’s all that really matters to us.
Viewed from a broader perspective this observation becomes relatively obvious. It’s on display every day in every socially divisive occurrence we’re presented. Politics, sports, current events. It’s why we support candidates whether or not we can comfortably discuss the specifics of a single policy they plant to implement. It’s why we’re positive the planet is either warming or cooling despite having no ability to converse informatively about the science behind either stance. It’s why we think Conor McGregor will upset Floyd Mayweather and it’s why we think Donald Trump can’t spell. We, as a people, are largely unconsciously incompetent in just about every persuasion of significance. But that’s never, and will never, stop us from battling like the primitive savages we truly are when our opinions, unfounded as they may be, are challenged.
And so it is, the path we’ve cleared for ourselves, headed towards a future marked by tremendous uncertainty and an abundance of conjecture. Whether this is the beginning of the downfall of a society so full of yet so unsure of itself I don’t know. The sides are as divided on that premise as any. What I do know is that, counter-intuitive as it may be, we don’t have to be a part of the catalyst. Every one of us has the opportunity and right to refuse the conformation imposed on us by the broader society. And if you’ve read this far I’m inclined to feel you’re probably of the kind of inquisitive nature that lends itself to such behaviors. So let me leave you with some friendly advice.
Become competent. There’s a really good chance you don’t know what you’re talking about. Not about everything, I’m sure you’re well-versed in a range of topics. But don’t let the allurement of acceptance and validation outshine the importance of developing a meaning full grasp on the inter-workings of the issues you consider pressing. Stop getting your news from Facebook and stop letting your perspective be shaped by people as clueless as you. If you truly want to see the world change in a way that you believe will truly benefit society, commit yourself to establishing a level of competence that will allow you to take meaningful action backed by the sensible and objective conclusions you’ve formed based on intentional education.
The world has enough pretenders. Choose to be more.
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