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The Slur Test

The Slur Test

The Slur Test: Please Say Good-Bye, Brandon Rios

On Saturday night longshot-underdog Brandon Rios fought Danny Garcia and did what the oddsmakers said he’d do—he lost, knocked down and called out in the ninth.

Bam Bam Rios has always been a fan-friendly fighter, who usually goes balls-to-the wall for as long as he can. Some fighters claim they’ll only go out on their shields; Rios does. He’s stepped into the ring 39 times. And each time he has put himself in harm’s way so he can administer harm. Rios is not a boxer but a brawler. And brawlers take punches. And in his last eight fights, Rios has been in wars where, even when he won, he was beaten—his triple-feature with Mike Alvarado starred blood and brutality; his game losses to Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley showed highlight reels of concussive shots.


A Roman Thumbs Down for McGregor

A Roman Thumbs Down for McGregor

A Roman Thumbs Down for Conor McGregor

By Adam Berlin on August 25, 2017

A Roman Thumbs Down for Conor McGregor

We’re a day away.

With a poetry collection soon to come out, I’ve tried to find a non-cliché, a fresh metaphor, some original words to touch what the Mayweather/McGregor spectacle is, but I keep coming back to that overused car-wreck image—we may pretend we don’t want to see the horror, yet like the rest of those very-human onlookers slowing their vehicles, we look and look and look for as long as we can at the damage.

As I wrote in a previous piece, I won’t pay for this fight—because it’s not worth the price of admission. And I won’t see this fight—because it won’t be a good fight. But I’ve read a bunch of articles on the upcoming spectacle, and I’ve watched all four episodes of All Access, and I’ve spoken to boxing fans and non-boxing fans about tomorrow’s “fight.” The takeaways are pretty basic. Casual fans who know nothing about boxing, and Conor McGregor fans blinded by adulation, believe McGregor has a puncher’s chance. Boxing people know Floyd Mayweather Jr. will not only pitch a shutout but a no-hitter. I’ve suggested McGregor should take the fight to a place he knows where elbows and kicks and chokeholds reside, but this won’t happen—Pedro Armendariz astutely notes in this site’s Comments section that McGregor will “act shitty” during the fight’s preamble, but when the bell rings (when talking for play turns to fighting for pay), he’ll act like “a good little boy.”

The truth is, McGregor will act the little boy because if he doesn’t play nice, if he breaks the contract that stipulates Marquess of Queensberry rules only, he’ll lose his purse. McGregor will also be the little boy (without acting) because he just can’t box. When a great professional fights a mediocre professional, we talk about the master taking the apprentice to school. When the best professional fighter of this generation fights a man who has never fought a single professional fight in a boxing ring, the school we must talk about is pre-K at best.

In Thursday’s The New York Times, Joe DePaolo wrote an interesting piece on the real danger this fight presents. I’m glad he reminded me—seriously. The possibility of danger is something I’d forgotten when thinking about this particular fight, probably because of the glitter surrounding Saturday’s upcoming spectacle, the rehearsed or almost-rehearsed publicity tour, the glossy footage All Access presents, and the incessant focus on the cartoonish dimensions of Saturday’s two main characters. This fight has the sheen of the unreal.  Mayweather with his backpacks full of cash (street cred aside, isn’t it easier to carry around a credit card?), and McGregor with his outlandish outfits (such sartorial splendor belongs on runways or WWF arenas) have been portrayed not so much as fighters, but as avatars of a fight game that is indeed a game. But it’s not.

As Joe DePaolo points out, the Association of Ring Doctors, comprised of more than 100 doctors who ply their trade in a triage unit surrounded by ring posts, has not sanctioned the Mayweather/McGregor fight. They’re shocked and dismayed that the Nevada State Athletic Commission is allowing this fight to go on. DePaolo does the math—when all is said and done, the commission’s cut will be about 1.2 million dollars. My math says that’s enough to keep the commissioner and his posse in steaks and martinis for many moons. As a point of reference, DePaolo cites a fight Nevada’s Athletic Commission wouldn’t sanction between Andre Ward (the top pound-for-pounder on my list) with 18-1 Rohan Murdock. Expecting a blowout, a dangerous blowout, the NSAC said No.

In DePaolo’s article, Bob Bennett, the executive director of the commission, defends Nevada’s decision to sanction McGregor/Mayweather with these words: “Conor is the taller, longer, stronger, more powerful opponent. He’s also a southpaw, which makes it a little more difficult for a conventional fighter. He’s 12 years younger than Floyd.”

Really? Let’s drill down (to use a term drilled hollow by 24-hour news commentators) this statement.

First, let’s look at Ward/Murdock, the unsanctioned fight. BoxRec (which doesn’t tell the whole story but tells some of the story) shows Murdock being as tall as Ward, having a one-inch reach advantage over Ward, being eight years younger than Ward, and having beaten a number of fighters with undefeated and/or winning records, with Murdock’s last three opponents clocking in at a combined 45-4-1. Slouches all they may be, but Murdock is a professional boxer who has actually boxed. Would Ward have ruined him? Of course. That’s why the fight wasn’t sanctioned.

Are Mayweather and Ward in the same class? Easily. So Nevada saying No to Murdock doesn’t line up with saying Yes to McGregor. And Bob Bennett’s words about the charms of McGregor don’t hold up either.

According to BoxrRec, Mayweather is 5’8”. McGregor is 5’9”. As for reach, Mayweather’s 72-inch reach is two inches shorter than McGregor’s listed 74 inches. And McGregor is closer to eleven years Mayweather’s junior. Fair enough. But to say a southpaw will give Mayweather trouble is absurd. To say McGregor is the “more powerful opponent” is equally absurd. Perhaps McGregor is the stronger man in a parking-lot fight, but when it comes to concussive strength, Mayweather is feet (not inches) taller than McGregor. And with eight-ounce gloves Mayweather’s punches will crack even harder. If you’ve watched the very-limited (read censored) footage of McGregor hitting the heavy bag, you see how amateur and weak his shots truly are. Compare those feeble punches to Mayweather’s bag work. Mayweather, always relaxed in his gym, pops the heavy bag with the most casual punches. Again, masters and apprentices, college teachers and pre-K students come to mind.

I think the Association of Ring Doctors would agree that sanctioning eight-ounce gloves when this junior middleweight bout should see the fighters wearing ten-ounce gloves is unconscionable. The NSAC is turning a blind eye to glaring danger. Mayweather may not be a knockout artist, but he can punch. Look what he did to Victor Ortiz when Ortiz wasn’t ready to absorb a shot. McGregor will be in that un-ready, wide open, chin-up position as soon as he throws his first amateur haymaker, which is about the only punch he can throw.

Back to that clichéd car-crash image.

We watch because everyone else is watching, an echo of “I was only following orders.” We watch because we’re fascinated by what’s out of the ordinary, a break from the monotony that most road trips really are. And we watch because we want to see something horrible and brutal—we’re all infected by the heart of darkness.

Boxing, of all sports, is founded on that darkness. And death fights, not cartoon deaths but real deaths, are an all-too common occurrence. Stripped to its basics and stripped of its beauty, boxing is about one man trying to concuss another man.

So strip away the sheen, strip away the pre-fight hype, strip away that glittery veil that’s been created to sell Mayweather vs. McGregor as an extravaganza, a spectacle, a circus meant to distract us from our humdrum day-to days, and you have a fight between two men who want to impose real hurt, real damage. And when the damage gets too real, when bruises turn to blood and when blood leaks into brains, comas and death often follow.

Will this fight become a death fight? Probably not. Perhaps these two men have already made an unwritten agreement (or will make one during the fight) not to fight as hard as they could. I’ve seen this before in prize fights, and for a lot less money on the line. Perhaps veteran referee Robert Byrd, recognizing that the fight in front of him is a ridiculous mismatch, will stop the bout before it gets too ugly, too dangerous.

But perhaps, just perhaps, Floyd will beat McGregor down. Some ugly things have been said during the build-up to this fight—sexist, and racist, and low-blow statements that could dent even the toughest Teflon coatings. So perhaps a fight, a real fight, a heart-of-darkness fight will break out. And if that happens, Floyd Mayweather has the ability to do what Muhammad Ali did at least twice when fighting overmatched opponents who got under his skin. He taunted Ernie Terrell with a chorus of “What’s my name?” (Terrell refused to call Ali Ali) as he beat the shit out of him. Against Floyd Patterson, who showed similar disrespect, Ali went further, carrying Patterson for eleven rounds so he could torture Patterson before finishing him in the 12th.

Here’s one particularly stinging criticism delivered by McGregor against Mayweather during their publicity tour: “What are you doing carrying a book bag on stage, you can’t even read?” Perhaps this taunt with its layered implications has stayed with Floyd, festering, softening the edges of Floyd’s usual cool, calm, controlled resolve. If it has, perhaps Mayweather has Ali-like plans for McGregor.

If you’ve ever seen a death fight, and I have, you’ll know that the most dangerous beatings don’t come in the form of spectacular one-punch knockouts. They come from beatings, from tapping that rock over and over and over and over until it cracks, permanently. Death fights are usually mesmerizing, but they’re rough to witness—I felt awful, sick, sad, when Juan Ramon Cruz beat (yes, beat) Isidro “Gino” Perez at the Felt Forum. I saw Gino crumple, then stand, then crumple again. I watched Gino’s body carried out on a stretcher, oxygen mask covering his face, carried right by me. And later, when the night’s fights had ended, I went to St. Vincent’s Hospital and stood in the Emergency Room and heard Gino’s mother screaming. Like most fighters who suffer severe brain bleeds, Isidro “Gino” Perez went into a coma and died a few days later.

But I bought a ticket to the next fight card at the Felt Forum.

Mayweather/McGregor is a modern-day circus, as in bread and circuses. And instead of the Coliseum, the masses will pack the T-Mobile Arena and fill many couches across the world, watching on pay-per-view. In those original circuses, men sometimes fought beasts and beasts, being beasts, being naturally more gifted in the art of killing, won. Mayweather is more dangerous still. He is a master—he is a thinker in the ring first, a protector of self, the best at hitting and not getting hit. But in this fight, against a non-professional boxer, he won’t have to worry about safety first. He’ll be able to let loose the way we’ve wanted him to let loose in so many of his other fights.

“I’ll kill him” is a refrain we often hear fighters say pre-fight. And in a sick, car-crash, Coliseum way, maybe that’s what the public pays for, a circus with the ultimate price. If these were Roman times, and gladiator Mayweather humiliated schoolboy McGregor, what would the masses do? Would they give McGregor thumbs up or thumbs down? The truth is, the nays would have it.

That’s who we all are, whether we admit it or not.

And now one final time, in the spirt of Norman Mailer, who himself wrote about the fights, I’m going to advertise myself. My first poetry collection will be published by Finishing Line Press and the pre-sale period is almost over. The title of the collection is The Standing Eight. The epigraph is from Waiting for Godot. The poems all touch boxing, at least tangentially. And the poems point beyond boxing and go to those between-round places where an eight count is both reprieve and curse.

For a quarter of the price of tomorrow’s pay-per-view, you’ll get a collection of poems that, I believe, touch the felt experience of boxing. Buy a copy for yourself. Buy a copy for the boxing fan or the poetry fan in your life. Help spread the word if you can. There’s poetry in the ring. I’ve tried to put some of what happens in the ring into poetry.

Here’s the link to the site:

Adam Berlin is the author of four novels, most recently the boxing novel Both Members of the Club (Texas Review Press/winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize). He teaches writing at John Jay College/CUNY.  For more, please visit

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How a Man Chooses to Lose

How a Man Chooses to Lose

 How a Man Chooses to Lose: What McGregor Should Do
By Adam Berlin on August 1, 2017

How a Man Chooses to Lose: What McGregor Should Do

August is here. And the fight event (not the fight) of this month, of this summer, probably of this year, happens on August 26th when TBE (not) Floyd Mayweather faces UFC champion Conor McGregor.  Many boxing purists are mocking the upcoming bout, expressing their disdain for a fight that’s sure to disappoint the aficionados. Others proclaim boxing, a capitalist venture first, will not suffer and probably prosper from the massive cross-over attention this contest is garnering.

But when August 26th moves into August 27th and the long view of history for this particular fight begins, the Mayweather/McGregor match will quickly fade into the footnote it is, an asterisk next to Mayweather’s name, a Wikipedia line in McGregor’s entry. The contest isn’t even a con. Boxing fans and MMA fans and casual sports fans understand this is a spectacle, an event, not a fair fight, and whatever happens on August 26th will leave no significant mark on either combat sport—boxing or MMA.

This fight’s insignificance is one reason I won’t pay to view. The main reason I won’t watch Mayweather/McGregor is I’m just not that interested. There’s nothing fair about this upcoming fight, the rules are stacked in Mayweather’s favor, completely, and whatever grace I admire in boxing will be absent here. (One reason I rarely watch MMA fights is because they’re so graceless, so parking-lot sloppy—of course, the combatants are skilled fighters, but the grappling in their octagon looks ponderous next to, say, college or Olympic wrestling’s artful holds, and the punches, wide and sloppy, smack of the apprentice.) Because this fight will be fought under the Marquess of Queensbury rules, any potential conflict/tension/drama (the stuff of good stories and good fights) will be absent. It’s not a newsflash. Conor McGregor is going to lose. The contract these two fighters signed practically stipulates this inevitability. All we don’t know is how quickly Conor McGregror will lose and how badly.

I see Mayweather being Mayweather, safely hitting and moving until the non-boxer in front of him can’t take it anymore.

When Conor McGregor can’t take it anymore, when he realizes there’s zero chance he can compete with a master boxer (and I’m sure McGregor, no dummy, realizes this already, a minor wound to his ego, which will be soothed by millions of dollars), then and only then will the potential intrigue to this match emerge. It will be a quick moment’s worth of intrigue, but it’s the moment why, beyond wanting to see a spectacle, so many will buy into this fight—everyone wants to see how Conor McGregor chooses to lose.

He can go quietly and gently into this fight’s inevitable night, which means he can pretend he’s a boxer until the end when time runs out or the referee stops the bout.

Or he can go less gently by asserting his fighting self, by showing Floyd Mayweather that in an octagon, a place where not just fists are used to touch an opponent, or in the street, or in real life, he would have decimated Mayweather the way Mayweather is (will be) decimating him.

The way a man loses helps define that man. And I’m not talking about the polite take on this idea, about the measure of a man being defined by how he gets up after being knocked down, literally and metaphorically.

The way a man loses, and the moral implications attached to the way a man loses, is magnified in boxing (and, probably, all forms of fighting). Some fighters quit when they’ve had enough. Some fight until the end, going out on their proverbial shields, risking the humiliation of getting knocked out, of ending in a prone or supine position (the opposite of standing, upright victory), in front of a crowd. And some men choose to lose on their own terms.

When it comes to boxing, purists may admire men who fight to the finish obeying Queensbury rules. But non-purists, or those who think survival is more admirable than winning or even playing by the rules, may see this legitimized exit as a sucker’s game. I admit that while I admire the grace of boxing, and much of this grace is tied to playing by rules, I also admire (and am drawn to) the fight in the fights, the stripped-down, heart-of-darkness, kill-or-be-killed underpinning of what makes a real fight a real fight.

Think back to these two images of that most fearsome fighter, Mike Tyson.

Here’s the first image:

Mike is on the ground, on his knees, stumbling around the canvas, trying to put his mouthpiece back into his mouth, the thick padding of his glove too thick to finish the task, a task he’s focused upon with the same intensity as a drunk who has to do what he thinks he has to do when what he’s doing is futile, absurd even. Tyson’s eyes are gone. His legs are gone. Everything that made him Mike Tyson, the man who ended most of his fights standing while the other man lay prone or supine, all of that is gone. In this image, an image every boxing fan who witnessed this fight vividly remembers, Iron Mike Tyson is not a man to be feared. He’s a man to be pitied or, if cruel, a man to be mocked. That was Mike Tyson at the end of the Buster Douglas fight when he, Mike Tyson, fought by the rules.

Here’s the second image:

Mike is standing. The fight’s been stopped, but Mike is on his feet, his eyes still clear, his street-cred intact. The other man may have won the fight. But the other man is bleeding. He’s missing a chunk of his ear. In real-life fights, in battle, in war, where damage is assessed not by a ten-point-must system but by more primal scores, Mike Tyson has not lost. That was Mike Tyson against Evander Holyfield in their second meeting, after Tyson had played by the rules once, the first time, and ended up off his feet, a loser by both fight definitions.

For a fighter, for any man if he’s honest, I think it’s easier to live with the second image.

Back to that first image: If Mike Tyson could do it all over again, or if he’d recognized the long view of history during that rough night in Tokyo instead of getting punched senseless, I wonder if he might have bitten off Buster Douglas’s ear, a move that would have erased the memory of Tyson fumbling like a drunk, which will forever melt some of Iron Mike’s fearsome reputation.

Conor McGregor’s self-proclaimed nickname The Notorious suggests he has a sense of history. And this sense may be the key to what happens on August 26th—perhaps he’ll do what he needs to do to preserve his dignity as a fighter even as he loses the fight, even if he’s chastised by boxing purists (but complimented by those who believe winning a fight by any means is more important than winning a fight by prescribed means).

And part of me, the part that admires the fight part of fighting, the part that wants to see Money May earn his money in this farce of a boxing match, the part that wants to see the egotistical B and outrageous E tarnished in TBE, wants to read about (and see a few days later) how Conor McGregor took a play out of Tyson’s street-fighting book and hurt this man, Floyd Mayweather, who has seldom been hurt. Conor McGregor should kick Mayweather. He should take Mayweather down to the ground. He should put Mayweather in a chokehold. He should beat Mayweather even as he’s disqualified from the fight.

At the press conference following this spectacle, rules will be invoked, excuses will be made, and there will be laughter about the mega-million checks being cashed, but the asterisk next to Mayweather’s record (soon to be 50 and 0) and the line in McGregor’s Wikipedia entry (he lost a boxing match to Floyd Mayweather) will have an image attached we won’t forget. That, perhaps, will be the more important win, and that victory will belong to Conor McGregor if he does, fuck rules, what maybe he should do.

As a boxing fan, I will say this. Instead of fighting Conor McGregor, I wish Floyd Mayweather, a superlative, intelligent, pure boxer, would have signed to fight Terence Crawford or Errol Spence, both potentially superlative boxers. A fight like that would have been a fight to watch. A fight like that would have made a mark (not a footnote-scratch) on boxing history.

And now, in the spirt of Norman Mailer, who himself wrote about the fights, I’m going to advertise myself. My first poetry collection will be published by Finishing Line Press and the pre-sale period just started. The title of the collection is The Standing Eight. The epigraph is from Waiting for Godot. The poems all touch boxing, at least tangentially. And the poems point beyond boxing and go to those between-round places where an eight-count is both reprieve and curse.

For a quarter of the price of August 26th’s pay-per-view, you’ll get a collection of poems that, I believe, touch the felt experience of boxing. Buy a copy for yourself. Buy a copy for the boxing fan or the poetry fan in your life. Help spread the word if you can. There’s poetry in the ring. I’ve tried to put some of what happens in the ring into poetry.

Here’s the link to the site:

Adam Berlin is the author of four novels, including the boxing novel Both Members of the Club (Texas A&M University Consortium Press/winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize) and Belmondo Style (St. Martin’s Press/winner of the Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley Award). He teaches writing at John Jay College/CUNY and edits the litmag J Journal. His poetry collection, The Standing Eight, comes out this fall. For more, please visit

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The Greatest Compliment Ever in “Aethlon”

The Greatest Compliment Ever in “Aethlon”


14 Aethlon XXXII:2 / Spring 2015 / Summer 2015


The Greatest Compliment Ever


I was drinking on the street when I saw Wayne, my brother’s
roommate at law school, and then we were outside the Shark Bar,
two white guys on the Upper West Side and inside the bar no white guys
and we said Let’s go in, let’s get a drink, and I don’t know if he
was drunk, my brother’s roommate, but I was all-prepped
for a night out which meant I’d started at home, heavy-handed pours
of vodka and Kahlua to keep me coffee-alert and milk
to keep my stomach strong and not hungry so I could
drink without stopping and shots straight from the bottle before,
right before, I left my apartment for the streets happy
Saturday buzzed and we went into the Shark Bar,
me and Wayne, my brother’s law school roommate, and ordered drinks
and the word, I’m not sure where I heard it, but the word from voices
all around like movie extras was Mike Tyson was here,
and it was after Desiree accused him of rape but before his trial,
a kind of middle-ground purgatory between free and prison,
and I’d seen Tyson fight once, live, he broke a white man’s nose
and knocked him down for good when he, Mike Tyson, was coming up,
undefeated, a kid-phenom, and then I saw him later on the street
and shook his hand and told him he would be champ, which came
true, and I was drunk that night and clairvoyant and that night
inside the Palladium, I went out all the time, drank and slept with
women all the time, undefeated, racking up numbers and numbers
greater than any old-school fighter but in women not busted faces,
I saw Mike Tyson dancing and we stared at each other
and I was fearless and he was fearless then too,
but back to the Shark Bar, the voices, the word he was here, and here he was
in front of me with a hot girl on each arm and I touched his shoulder when he
walked by and he turned and here he was, Iron Mike, thick-necked and eyes
to eyes with me and he said You scared me, man and here it was, everything,
four words and everything I wanted to hear drunk or sober, I had scared
Mike Tyson, and I was the man and said what I was thinking I scared you,
that’s great, I’m going out tonight, I’m going to kick everyone’s ass, I’m
that fearsome and I told Mike Tyson he’d be okay, he’d get off, they
wouldn’t put him in jail but I wasn’t clairvoyant that night but
I remembered and still remember his four words You scared me, man
and I was drunk and strong and strong beyond alcohol muscles
from working hard at Trinity Gym, hitting the bags and sometimes
sparring and always running even when hung over, penance for too much,
and that night I could have knocked anyone out except Mike Tyson
and I think about scared and fear and mortality and Mike Tyson, undefeated,
then defeated and that Tokyo night he looked dazed and beat and scared
too because this was new to him, he was down, looking down
for his mouthpiece, a drunk on a sidewalk looking down for that thing
that tethers him to the world, and for Mike it was his mouthpiece, trying
to put his mouthpiece in his mouth with his gloved hand, the thumb part
too thick, impossibly thick to maneuver, and he was counted out, and then
I knew, always knew but knew again, solidified-knowing, they all fear, we all
fear, even the fearless, which Tyson wasn’t, Cus D’Amato
taught him to control his fear, to use it, and he did until he didn’t, but
there are some who seem fearless like Joe Louis, but
in the Irving Penn photo he’s an old man with scared eyes and death
closer to him than any time in the ring, and even the ones who were
fearless, even recklessly, like Tapia, they were scared too, scared
to live, and the list of boxing suicides, a list that includes greats like
Johnny Tapia and Alexis Arguello and Randy Turpin and Edwin Valero
who would have been great, look at their eyes, look closely, see
the greatness but the fear too and they were prize fighters, professionals
with death next to them every time they fought, and I wasn’t
scared that night, I scared him, Mike Tyson, that’s what he said,
the greatest compliment ever, and it took me through days, drunk
and sober days, but that’s a lie too.

-Adam Berlin

Street Fight Article on

Street Fight Article on

boxingOctober has been a slow month for boxing—a few bouts on the grade-B channels, nothing on the premium channels between A-list fighters, and the single mega-fight slated for this fall month evaporated like a bad pipe dream when the combustible Tyson Fury combusted.

With professional pugilism taking a hiatus, I started thinking about those… read more on