It’s a natural outcome that in an individual, combat sport like boxing, the vast majority of attention is destined to be focused on the handful of big stars. The world of sports is a meritocracy by definition. To the winners go the spoils.
Yet, true fans of the Sweet Science understand that a full picture of the sport contains many levels of competitors. And while the sport needs it’s elite superstars, it needs its blue collar journeymen as well.
This Saturday night, away from the cameras of network television and premium cable, at the Valley Forge Casino, Garrett Wilson will battle Anthony Caputo Smith for The Pennsylvania Cruiserweight title. This is not a belt that will resonate with a multitude of fans. Yet, for two tough, hard-nosed professionals, that title will represent the most important battle of all for any fighter, a battle for pride.
Wilson’s professional record is 13-9-1, with 7 knockouts. The more casual boxing fan is unlikely to look twice at a fighting with such a pedestrian record. But that kind of flippant dismissal overlooks a great boxing story.
Known as “The Ultimate Warrior,” Wilson is a classic case of a tough guy who will fight pretty much anybody, anywhere. At just 5’8”, he’s a muscular, pressure fighter who brawls with heart and intelligence. He’s coming into this fight on a four-fight losing streak, but his opponents over that stretch had a combined record of 64-3-2. They included Alexander Alexskeev and Thabiso Mchunu, two of the top cruiserweights in the world and Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, a very good, undefeated light heavyweight prospect. Wilson’s fourth fight in that stretch was against top-10 heavyweight Vyacheslav Glazkov, who Wilson faced as a last-minute replacement in November 2013, after Tomasz Adamek pulled out at the last minute with the flu.
I was in the press section for Wilson’s fight with Glazkov. Fighting a much bigger man and more talented boxer, Wilson showed absolutely no fear, forcing the fight in every round and bringing the crown in Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York to their feet, chanting his name.
Wilson’s opponent for this fight, Smith, is a similar case of a gutsy competitor, matched tough. He’s lost three of his last four, to top rated cruiserweights Ola Afolabi and BJ Flores and to undefeated light heavyweight contender Sean Monagham. Like Wilson, Smith is getting the rare opportunity for a headline fight where he isn’t being set up to lose to a bigger name or up-and-comer.
To me, the true greatness of the fighting sports lies in the drama of the epic quest. A competitor goes into a fight to test himself, to show himself, and the rest of the world, that he has it in him to do something braver with his life and to be more heroic than a normal man. That kind of epic drama can be found from the lowest levels of the amateur ranks, all the way up the marquee, pay-per-view events. And it should be in abundant supply this weekend in Valley Forge, when Wilson and Smith climb into the ring to get it on.