Gotta Get Your Fix
One of the minor life changes of moving several times zones away from where you grew up or spent a considerable amount of time recently is determining how to follow events that you used to take for granted. In an earlier time this would extend to all sorts of entertainment but with the expansion of DVR’s, podcasts, and the internet in general most things are covered and or their reliance on a set time have been removed.
There are some things that do matter or our enjoyment of them are affected by when they happen, especially if you attempt to watch the event without spoilers or after-the-fact in-depth analysis. I’m referring to sporting and political events, each a form of theater in their own right. We will keep it lighthearted and focus on the former. Speaking of sports I have boxing in mind specifically. US markets, fan interest, and the subsequent money that brings along have benefited my being able to grow up taking in a ton of top events on television and in person, both regular cards and pay-per-view, home alone, with family and friends, live as it happened, or on “tape delay” the following morning, happy on the buzz-fueled taxi or subway ride home in the knowledge that my DVR had captured the previous evening’s fight and that I would have it ready to go for my Sunday recovery and viewing.
Moving away does not preclude you from enjoying the same entertainments though time zones and access to services will have an impact.1 Should you move any significant distance and wish to follow along the time difference can result in some inconvenient AM/PM times. And follow along how, where? Is there a bar or friend who share your interest? Perhaps an online option, shady or otherwise?
I am living in a bit of a sleepy town at the moment. It’s technically more of a city but I like to refer to it as Naptown to annoy my girlfriend (no disrespect to Indianapolis). Thankfully there’s a nearby pub with a jovial Irish owner who appreciates the pugilistic arts. So much so that, in combination with his Irish pride, he kept the place open for the MacGregor/Aldo fight which took place at about 5AM local time. I wasn’t there for that one but I could imagine the utter disbelief and mixed emotions of seeing a giant win come so abruptly. Recently I had the chance to bring up this fight with the owner he admitted he had stepped to the bathroom for a piss and had missed the entire 13 second scuffle and shocking knockout.
Sleepy town aside, I find myself on the continent at a time when British boxing is enjoying one of its greatest, if not the greatest, periods in its storied history. This from a nation that birthed the sport as we know it. This upswing in belt holders has resulted in great enthusiasm and full stadiums. Along with the hoopla comes a lot of money, Brexit be damned. With belts and pounds at stake the UK promoters are able, as much as ever, to attract talent from around the world to their shores. This state of affairs has resulted in a double boon of sorts for me. I am able to tap into reasonably scheduled bouts of decent to high-quality talent and also see some of the familiar top fighters better known back home in the US, all without having to rely on next day Russian-commentated illegal video feeds. If such things even exist, I can neither confirm nor deny my having seen such things.
This past September, at the tail end of summer, one such highly touted fighter was lured to the lion’s den. As a result I got to watch another live broadcast of a GGG2 fight. Like many, I’ve followed Gennady Golovkin’s rise since HBO put him on in 2013, learning about his past and extrapolating his future (unfortunately there’s been far too much extrapolation of late, I’m looking at you Cotto, Canelo, Saunders, and now possibly Jacobs). I was even fortunate enough to catch the Stevens fight in person at The Theater at MSG. It was an incredible atmosphere that felt as if there were far more in attendance than the sold out capacity crowd of 5,000 people.
So Much Hustle Plus Down to Ill
GIF Source: P4PBoxingReport
Like all top fighters GGG does a few things very well. In descending order of obvious traits there is his punching power, boxing skills, and footwork. Along with the heavy artillery advantage he possesses a granite chin that allows him to stick it out in a firefight and deliver much better than he receives. With various options at hand he routinely displays what I believe is his greatest asset, the ability and willingness to mix up his approach, banging away if it suits him best or sticking you with a stiff jab delivered to limber you up first (I’m looking at you Monsieur Lemieux). It is this use and pressing of his advantages over his opponent, in the service of going for the kill, that makes him most appealing to watch.
On fight night of September 10 I was pleased to head out for an evening of boxing, drinking and talking shit. One of the great joys of watching sports in general and boxing in particular is the exchange of insight, information, and insults. The three are easy enough apart, a bit more challenging together, and truly something to master when you include the mixture of humor needed to avoid coming across as a know-it-all, an overly serious blowhard, or someone who might risk the animus of another and hence escalate what should be a fun evening out into something unpleasant (aka getting your ass kicked).
I felt good about my prospects of hitting the trifecta, not least of all because I would be unencumbered by my lady. Don’t get me wrong, she’s wonderful when it comes to the fight game, ever ready to (allegedly) queue up YouTube videos of past evenings’ fights for me to watch prior to my having the results spoiled by news and/or friends messaging me, it’s just that once in awhile it’s refreshing to cut loose. I hadn’t realized how much of an exhilaration this would be, or rather I forgot, until I was on my bike (literally) pedaling to the pub. Some of the electric energy I would routinely get in heading out for the night back in NYC struck again. I felt the single minded joy of a man who knew he’d be watching a good fight and getting drunk while doing so. My prefered forms of bread and circuses.
I arrived at a perfect time with still a half hour to go before the main event. The bar itself was mostly empty. The regular clientele being unenthused by any sport that does not require the kicking of a spotted ball into a knitted box. I’m told this is called football and no matter how many times I’ve attempted to disabuse the people here of this erroneous notion, that football is a sport involving the throwing of an oblong ball and paralysis-inducing tackles which hardly ever calls for actual kicking of the ball, they remain unconvinced. As such, the bar was nearly empty and I had my choice of seats, which I promptly took after taking the owner’s hand and thanking him for showing another fight.
Typical of Irish pubs the world over I could enjoy a Guinness if I so chose but preferred to go with some of the bottles on offer, specifically two different IPA’s from a Scottish brewery. In keeping with the British Isles theme developing for the night I gave a silent but thankful nod to the creator that brought us CZJ. Positioned at the bar, directly across from the projection screen, and with a pint in hand3 I was comfortably awaiting the opening particulars.4
With time yet to kill and not much to view on the screen I picked up conversations with those around. The owner, the bartender, and some dude who knew, by way of knowing someone who knew someone, a local K-1 professional fighter. This last one got me talking about fight styles and fighters of all sports, swapping information about experience and training. I had the sense, enjoying my second pint even before the opening bell, that if I said the wrong thing I should at least know what I was up against and how quickly I’d have to get my trash talking tipsy ass out of there. No worries, as it turned out. My humor spared me the need to set the yougin’ straight.
Meanwhile, a little crowd had casually formed by way of the enthusiastic prognostications put forth by the bar owner and myself. Once the fight began these newly aggregated few showed an outsized interest and attention, nearly enough to fill the predominantly empty bar. We had fostered a great atmosphere with less than a dozen people all engrossed by the pace and violence which started at a high pitch and rarely let down.
The British TV commentators and crowd added to the excitement by reacting to every success that Brook showed, however small and ultimately futile. The first round saw Brook buckle but finish strong. In the second he had what I thought was his clearest round of advantage. By the third, certainly the fourth, though still making the crowd hysterical it appeared that all of his winning battles were part of a larger doomed war.
Ultimately the fight was cut short in the fifth when Kell Brook’s corner stepped in to save their fighter, both from what was clearly becoming an inevitable dismantling, quite real and immediate, as well as possible permanent damage to an orbital bone. That last detail should give an idea of the sort of battle it was.
In the immediate aftermath of the fight I wondered how the performance had come across, both to the people around me whose ears I have been chewing off with unrelenting insights as well as to myself. I agreed with the stoppage in the moment5 believing the fight was not suited to Brook’s advantage, despite his ability to shine and electrify the crowd. Kell was taking too much damage despite how much he was dishing out. Ultimately it was an exchange that benefited GGG and would have compounding effects further on down the fight as the rounds added up, to the extent that they would.
Despite the win and apparently correct stoppage, I saw the GGG approach as possibly undisciplined and fraught with unnecessary danger. Regardless of his claiming not to have been hurt he was tagged quite impressively at times by Brook. Had some of the shine of the win been diminished by the manner of his performance? He was still the most dangerous and best middleweight but the finesse had been put aside, some of the beauty was missing.
Then again, what had GGG done? He had pressed and chased a smaller man, forcing Brook to throw in order to keep GGG off, thereby exposing him to the harm that eventually did Brook in. Going to the other extreme, a pure boxing match would have played into the strengths of his opponent. The more I thought about it the more I considered the possibility that we had seen a master strategy. A dangerous one but a tightrope performance worthy of some respect. Certainly another pint didn’t hurt in my convincing myself.
Data Source: TopClassBoxing
Undisciplined performance or clever fox, I was surprised to find that GGG was down on one of the judges’ scorecards and even on the others. That did not seem inline with what I had seen. Aesthetic qualities aside, GGG appeared to be dishing out the more pronounced punishment. Perhaps the judges were swayed by the crowd reactions or maybe, as Paul Malignaggi would comment weeks later during the Linares/Crolla fight, which also took place in England, there was too much home cooking.
I had fortunately secured for myself at least one way of seeing if I was the one who was swayed by my prejudices or if maybe it was the judges being influenced by the crowd (let’s be generous). At the beginning of fight week I had begun pulling tweets with one of two hashtags (#GolovkinBrook & #GGGBrook) and had collected just under 140,000 tweets. You can bet your candy ass these tweets were not evenly distributed but predictably spiked on fight day. In fact, zooming in on fight day, night, hour, and the five rounds of the fight itself was quite the fractal phenomenon, each zoom resembling the scale above.
Data Source: Twitter
Retweets were pervasive, accounting for more than half of all tweets overall and on each day except for the fight date. I saw this as an example of people passing along the information they agreed with or felt strongly against but only caring to make themselves heard as a collective of individuals on the day of the actual event.6 I see this akin to real life conversations regarding sporting events. Common storylines are broadcast, disseminated and spread via word-of-mouth. This invention of conventional wisdom sticks around not particularly challenged in the absence of an upset result.
Data Source: Twitter
In pulling down the Twitter data I had flirted with various ideas of what to do with it once the fight and fight weekend were over.7 Once the judges’ cards were revealed I knew what was of utmost interest to me. Gone was any curiosity of who had the most liked tweet, the most shared tweet, whose followers were heard and reheard the most. I wanted to see what people thought about the victory, specifically how they saw the fight leading up to the early stoppage. Taking the data I clipped it to the approximate 20 minutes of fight time, identifying the three minute rounds and one minute breaks in between so that I could bucket all tweets by timestamp and identify actual in-the-moment reactions and scoring.
Fight Hour Tweets
With the data set narrowed it was only a matter of figuring out how to attribute scores to the appropriate fighter. I toyed around with various text processing options, including word counts, cooccurrences, and sentiment analysis. Let’s just say that the results were not promising and that I leave my burgeoning proficiency at these skills with tweets specifically for another time. In the end I settled on what was the most obvious and easy solution, I used the actual round scoring that Twitter users were sharing. What I mean is that I took all instances of user round scoring (10–9) as well as parsing out overall fight scores across multiple rounds (20-18 or 19-19 after two rounds for instance). I did not limit my example set by following users from round to round, I simply took each instance of a tweet in the rest period between rounds as a “vote” for the respective fighter. The resulting tallies allowed me to get a decent picture of what the Twitter-verse was seeing in the moment. It is this view that is visualized below.
Code Source: Sankey from Excel ramblings.mcpher.com
As there were only four complete rounds I focused on these for the scoring. From left to right we have rounds one through four. The vertical bar representation of all votes for that round are split by the way the scores came out. As you can clearly see round one was a landslide in the opinion of Twitter users for GGG. In subsequent rounds the picture was more balanced, occasionally murky,8 typically more balanced, but with a general consensus nonetheless. By that I mean, the majority of Twitter users who were scoring the fight saw the bout generally as either split or in GGG’s favor, in contrast to the ringside judges who leaned slightly in the favor of Brook.
In a small way I felt vindicated. Here was visual evidence from boxing fans who had taken the time and trouble to bother scoring and sharing their opinions, agreeing in the aggregate with how I had seen the fight play out.9 I suppose you could say those pre-fight and in-fight pints had not hindered my judgment too severely.
1 I once watched the Mayweather/Canelo fight live in the late morning of Tokyo. That was a holiday trip allowing for the interesting experience of scarfing burgers, drinking beers, and messaging with friends back in the US still experiencing “yesterday.”
2 Triple “G” for all you latecomers. ↩
3 Naturally I poured it into a glass. I’m not an animal. ↩
4 Shout out Jim Lampley. ↩
5 It would be several hours before the orbital bone fracture was disclosed. Of course if I knew of the injury there would be no doubt. I’m not an animal. ↩
6 Similar to polling versus voting. The political parallels rear their head again. ↩
7 You can see some of my meandering investigations via this PDF. ↩
8 I did not help matters by taking just the round percent scoring, irrespective of Twitter user and using a Sankey diagram. If you look carefully from the first round to the second you see some of the “votes” going from 1-0 GGG to 2-0 Brook. This would be impossible on a real score card but I decided to keep the irregularity in order to highlight how lopsided the first round was. At least according to Twitter’ers. ↩
9 Not even getting into the type of fight fans who would tweet, non-random selection, bias, yada yada yada. ↩