Desperate Days: Making Weight and Making Excuses

Long before lightweight Brandon Rios (30-0-1) was awarded a decision over Richard Abril (17-2-1) in a fight that most everyone believes he lost, he stepped onto the scale and suffered his first defeat of the weekend. For the second time in two fights Rios failed to make weight.

On Twitter, Rios critics and apologists quickly manned their battle stations. In the hour long battle that waged between these two factions, apologists of Rios focused their defence along two prominent fronts. The purpose here will be examine the two arguments in defence of Rios, and to refute them.

One line of defence suggested that Rios’ inability to make the lightweight limit of 135lbs was merely another example of an irreversible trend; that until Rios enters the junior welterweight division he shouldn’t be expected to make weight. Perhaps this is true, as Rios’ second trip to the scale on Friday revealed a disturbing two pound increase in his weight. But if he’s no longer a lightweight then persisting in this façade is ridiculous. He’s hurting himself, and perhaps more importantly, he’s unfairly hurting his opponents (more on that later).

The defence that criticism of Rios’ lack of professionalism should be tempered because it transpires in accordance with expectation is pathetic. That a misdeed is easily foreseeable does not justify the transgression. In fact, it does the very opposite, as it makes premeditation easier to establish. If indeed Rios could be reasonably expected to fail on the scale—a belief presupposed by a defence rooted in predictability—then his inability to make weight can be criticized.

Twentieth century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein asserted that no solipsist ever lived according to the solipsistic premise, which thereby undid the veracity of the solipsist’s worldview. That same challenge applies to those who defend Rios on the grounds that his failure to make weight was plainly foreseeable. How many would permit disappointment and a lack of professionalism in their own lives merely because it were predictable?

The merit of the defence based on predictability is that it has actual content: there are premises that must be invalidated to challenge it. What it lacks—to its credit—is an element of obstinacy, since proponents of this argument must acquiesce when it’s refuted. This obstinacy is evident in another argument presented in defence of Rios. Sadly, this second argument lacks the content of the first—it isn’t even an argument: there’s no relationship between propositions, no conclusion entailed therein. It’s nonsense.

This second line of defence offered in the name of Bam Bam Rios is that critics don’t know enough about boxing, and were they to escape this opaque mist of ignorance, they would absolve Rios of his guilt. Granting that this assertion of ignorance is correct, a number of questions arise.

The first of these questions is: How is it acceptable that Rios ostensibly cheat? By not making weight Rios exploits an already formidable size advantage by never having to shed the last few pounds. Even someone who knows little about boxing is liable to have heard testimony to the difficulty of losing the last three pounds. Rios, in escaping this final pre-fight trial has spared himself, has preserved more of the physicality that makes him so formidable. He has done so at the expense of sportsmanship and the rules. This is cheating. Apply whatever casuistic gymnastics one might, it’s hard to negotiate the cold reality that a contract was violated to the advantage of Brandon Rios.

A second question: How is it acceptable that Rios place his opponent—for the second time in two fights—in a no-win situation? Abril, like Rios’ previous opponent John Murray, conducted himself like a professional and made weight. Whatever toll this took on his body, he paid (unlike his opponent). And yet, to be compensated financially for the hours of sacrifice he had to concede an unfair advantage to Rios. Abril faced two unattractive options: endanger himself by facing a junior middleweight in a lightweight title fight, or don’t get paid. The only reason Abril was faced with such unpropitious prospects is because Rios violated his contract. Abril was innocent of any wrongdoing, and yet he had the most to lose.

Finally, why is criticizing a professional fighter for failing to make weight unjustified? A man whose livelihood is determined by his ability to satisfy an audience is subject to the criticism of that same audience. Rios may provide any number of excuses or explanations, and the paying public can find them palatable or otherwise, but the forum for criticism is inescapable. Moreover, many of these defenders of Rios slandered Gamboa when he mysteriously withdrew from the anticipated Rios – Gamboa clash. Consistency would dictate that Rios should suffer at least some criticism for his own unprofessional behaviour. Perhaps consistency is inapplicable to personal favourites?

Were any of Rios’ defenders willing to answer these questions, perhaps the issue could be resolved. But to simply cling to the empty challenge that those who disagree are ignorant does nothing to satisfy critics or defend Rios. It is to say: “You lack knowledge that I have, but it’s beneath me to educate you.” Again, this isn’t an argument. It’s vulnerability masked as superiority.

* * *

Why do some fans feel the need to defend their favourite fighters at the expense of intellectual integrity? What purpose does seeing them through a lens that refracts their faults serve? Is it that in defending a fighter we are really defending ourselves, our inclinations, our culture, our choices? Is that why even desperate, flimsy defences will suffice? Because it isn’t about the fighter, but the fan?


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