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No Mas: A brief etymology of what quitting means to the boxing world

By Alden Chodash: Boxing is one of the most dangerous sports in the world. If that’s not readily apparent by the tragic brain injuries suffered by the likes of Meldrick Taylor, Riddick Bowe, and Gerald McClellan, the impact left by the ring deaths of Earnie Schaaf, Duk Koo Kim, and Leavander Johnson sent a clear message. With that being said, all fighters have the right to retire on their own terms, to “quit” in the ring whenever they please. However, the circumstances under which a fighter declares “no mas” has tarnished the reputation of many fighters, as was most recently evidenced by Guillermo Rigondeaux’s bizarre surrender against Vasyl Lomachenko.

In reaction to the Lomachenko-Rigondeaux outcome, Freddie Roach stated that “There’s no quit in real fighters”. However, the truth is that not all surrenders are created equal, and that it’s important to distinguish between honorable surrenders and dishonorable ones to avoid the misconception that fighters should never quit under any circumstances. Quitting can sometimes be the difference between life and death, whereas in other instances it can be the product of pride and frustration.

In the case of Gerald McClellan’s tragic 1995 fight against Nigel Benn, McClellan’s decision to retire on one knee may have saved McClellan’s life. Both fighters were sent to the hospital following the brutal affair, but McClellan’s injuries were far more severe, nearly dying in a surgical attempt to remove a blood clot from his brain. While McClellan lived through surgery, today he remains blind, deaf, and unable to take care of himself. Sadly, considering the warrior he is, the last memory of McClellan in the ring was Showtime commentator Ferdie Pacheco berating the “G-Man” for taking the full count on his own volition.

Miguel Cotto has been public in expressing his proclivity towards his family when faced with the prospect of life or death situations in the ring. Particularly, when Cotto dropped to one knee to avoid further punishment in his first fight against Antonio Margarito, Cotto turned out to be checking out of a fight where he may have been outgunned by a fighter with plaster loaded hand-wraps. While the issue of loaded hand-wraps may not have been considered by the public until 7 months later when Margarito was caught attempting to impose an illegal handicap, the truth is that the public can only see so much when observing a boxing match. Only the afflicted fighter can know exactly what physical danger they are in, in addition to the risks they would face in continuing to fight. For this reason, it is important to exercise discretion when using words like “quitter” to address professional boxers.

For example, recently we saw Errol Spence lift the IBF welterweight title from Kell Brook in a rousing 10 round stoppage that saw Brook ultimately retire on one knee. While Brook was criticized by some for taking a knee to avoid further punishment, the former welterweight champion was suffering from his second broken eye-socket in one year. Brook, who looks after his daughter with his domestic partner, shouldn’t have to answer to such a line of criticism when his physical well-being was so clearly compromised, especially when one considers that Brook had already underwent eye surgery less than a year before Spence got to him.

While there are many reasons to exercise restraint for fighters who quit under certain circumstances, veterans to the sport may have difficulty doing so when considering boxing’s extensive history of fighters choosing to fight through hellacious obstacles, some even coming back to win. In Rocky Marciano’s 1954 rematch with former heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles, Charles split Marciano’s nose in half in an injury that put the outcome of the fight in doubt. With the fight in jeopardy of being stopped, Marciano put a sudden end to the contest by knocking out Charles in the 8th round.

Middleweight champion Marcel Cerdan suffered a dislocated shoulder in the first round of his title defense against Jake LaMotta, which rendered his left arm completely useless by the fourth round. Cerdan nonetheless chose to continue fending off the relentless challenger for as long as he could, until his corner ultimately surrendered before the start of the 10th round. In more recent history, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fought their “Thrilla in Manila” amidst reported 120 degree Fahrenheit weather in one of the most brutal fights in boxing history. Both men were well past their prime and were not seemingly in condition to fight such a pitched battle through 14 rounds, yet the action never ceased before Eddie Futch stepped in on Frazier’s behalf before the start of the 15th.

What makes it even more difficult for many to justify quitting is the foul taste left from the history of fighters who surrendered for no clear reasons at all. In the infamous “No Mas” rematch between Roberto Duran and “Sugar” Ray Leonard, the seemingly indomitable proud champion Duran suddenly through up his hands and refused to continue despite not appearing to be in any physical danger against Leonard. Very few were able to justify Duran quitting in New Orleans, particularly his home country of Panama who vilified their formerly beloved countryman shortly after. Even Duran’s original trainer, veteran Ray Arcel, was not able to explain Duran’s intentions, going so far as to claim his fighter “doesn’t even have a heart”.

In more recent history, Andrew Golota has been infamous for suddenly calling it quits in his fights against Mike Tyson and Michael Grant. One of the more shocking retirements came when Vitali Klitschko, having built up an insurmountable lead against light punching Chris Byrd, told his cornerman Fritz Sdunek before the 10th round that his shoulder “hurts too much” and refused to answer the bell. While Klitschko was later found to have a torn rotator cuff, many were disgusted and unforgiving that despite his lead and immense physical advantages over Byrd, Vitali chose to give up rather than cruise to victory for the remaining 9 minutes. Vitali didn’t clear his reputation of the Byrd debacle until his brave performance against Lennox Lewis, giving Lewis all he could handle despite a series of horrific cuts suffered around his left eye.

While the act of quitting is considered by many to be the most reprehensible sin in boxing, the fact is that boxing is simply too dangerous to disparage all of the so-called “quitters” for their actions. A fighter who quits may be doing so for reasons unbeknownst to fans, officials, and even his own cornerman, and for that reason it is important to consider all the facts before casting judgment.
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