IT was a good night at the Barclay’s Center on Saturday, another one, and I thoroughly enjoyed working a varied and interesting bill alongside Darren Barker and Matt Macklin, who are always great company.
But when I woke up the next day it wasn’t Mikey Garcia, or Adrien Broner or Jarrell Miller or even Katie Taylor who was on my mind. It was Sebastian Heiland.
Commentating on Heiland’s WBC Middleweight title eliminator against Jermall Charlo was painful enough so I can only imagine what it must have been like for the fighter himself.
The first time he put his left foot, his back foot, down, Matt spotted that there was something wrong. Heiland was fighting on one leg and had no chance whatsoever of winning. We were convinced that he’d brought the injury into the bout, purely because there’d been no time to sustain it during the fight, and afterwards we learned via Showtime’s Jim Gray that the Argentinian had arrived at ringside with a strapping on the knee which he had correctly been ordered to remove by the commission. Straight after the fight someone sent Matt a clip on Twitter of Heiland at the weigh-in and, knowing what we knew by then, you could see something was wrong. I watched that weigh-in and am happy to admit that the injury didn’t reveal itself to me, basically because I wasn’t looking for it. Nobody saw it, even though with the benefit of hindsight it looked so obvious.
So the fight itself was a farce, there’s no other way to describe it, and in situations like that, when deciding how I’m going to handle it on air I always ask myself how what we’re watching, how what is happening makes the sport of boxing, the sport we all love, look. In this instance it didn’t make the sport look great and once the crowd figured out that they were watching a non-contest between a man in peak physical condition and a man who could barely walk, they made their displeasure known.
So who was to blame for this hideous spectacle?
Well in black and white terms the answer was that Heiland was to blame. He was injured, he couldn’t compete in any meaningful fashion, he knew it and yet he kept that fact to himself, took to the ring anyway and in doing so took the paying and viewing public for mugs.
But boxing, and life generally, isn’t that simple and I couldn’t blame the man from Buenos Aires for doing what he did. From where I was sitting he deserved sympathy not censure.
For two long years he had waited for his number one ranking with the WBC to mean something. He had to watch Daniel Geale chosen to face Miguel Cotto ahead of him and then bide his time whilst the belt passed from Cotto to Alvarez and then to Golovkin via an unedifying series of catchweights and strippings. Finally he’d got his shot, and not even a full shot at that, just a shot at getting a shot, and against a fighter in Charlo who, having only just moved up to middleweight, had immediately been given the same opportunity Heiland had had to wait so long for. If he’d disclosed the injury and asked for the fight to be rescheduled he would rightly have had no confidence whatsoever that that would happen. And if a fighter doesn’t fight, then he doesn’t get paid so Heiland had two choices; either withdraw and lose the opportunity he’d been fighting his whole life for as well as the biggest purse of his career or walk to the ring knowing that he had no chance whatsoever of winning.
People often talk about boxing being a brutal sport and usually they’re referring to the physicality of it, the pain of getting hit, but in this case the brutality was threefold; physical, mental and emotional. Physically he was done, mentally he knew it and I can only imagine what that does to you emotionally; the most unholy trinity there is.
I shared a post on Facebook recently that was just a picture of a blank piece of paper with one simple line above it; “what life owes you.” I shared it because I agree with the sentiment, that if you want something you have to go out and get it, that success, to a large extent is a choice. But innate in my subscription to that school of thought is my belief that hard work pays off, that in the long run it will be rewarded. It’s a belief that is shared by millions, billions even, it’s what keeps people going, often in very difficult circumstances, but it’s not always true. Sebastian Heiland had worked hard all his career to get him to the Barclay’s Center on Saturday, he’d grafted away from the spotlight without any serious backing and earned his opportunity. He deserved the chance to meet Jermall Charlo on equal terms and he didn’t get it.
In other sports an injured party can recuperate knowing that there will be another tournament, that there is a route back, difficult though it may be. In Boxing there are no such guarantees. Heiland will not get that chance again, we all know it, and that for me is where the brutality of boxing really resides, in the knowledge that you are owed nothing as a fighter, that “deserves”, as William Munny, Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven, says as he’s murdering Little Bill, “has got nothing to do with it.”
It’s a sobering thought.