Other solo sports are generally bearable because there is usually a chance for redemption next year (even someone who loses in the Olympics can always win a world championship) and besides that there are noble failures.
Most failures in boxing aren't noble. They are bloody and bruising. Boxing is the only sport where you have to watch the guy you're rooting for literally get beaten into submission. Generally speaking there's little chance of redemption either, fights that are televised are critical to a fighter's career. More than 3-4 losses and you can count him out forever. He may dabble at the fringes or win a minor title but he's mostly just a test for future young pups or a tune-up opponent for the big boys.
Watching an old fighter lose is the worst. I always root for the old guys. Greying beards, a little bit of sag in the once tight stomache no matter how they train, and the faint look of desperation in those eyes. Boxing is not an occupation that is good to its alumnae. The ones who make it get rich and if they're lucky retire without debilitating injuries. The ones who don't are often carried out of the ring with empty pocketbooks and scrambled brains.
Watching an old fighter take on a young buck I hope that the one who's pushing 40 can turn back time a few years and whip the young whelp. He needs the money, the pride, and the opportunity more. The young guy can always come back, or he can retire early and healthy and find another profession. The old guy's past his prime and he knows it. He is just trying to keep his family fed and comfortable for as long as possible, sacrificing his body and his future for a few more minutes under the fading lights and a few more presents under the Christmas tree.
He usually loses.
For the first few rounds he'll look sharp, snapping back the kid's head with stiff jabs and keeping him at bay with veteran defense and slick movement. The scorecards will go in the vets direction and he'll be looking good. The pup will be frustrated, seething at his inability to find his elder's head and lacking the composure that comes with experience.
It doesn't last though. Old bones don't move as quick as they once did. Old nerves can't fire as fast and the youngster is learning, always learning. He catches gramps with an overhead right and you swear you can hear the slap of the leather through your window as well as the TVs speakers. Suddenly old legs are not as steady as they once were and it's just a matter of time. The next few rounds are pops trying to survive, trying to find a way to fend off the barrage and get back in the game. He won't be able to though.
Around round 5 he gets cornered on the ropes and a quick combination puts him down on his knee, dizzy and confused. He gets back up at the count of 7 and tries to steady himself. It's at this point that I usually leave the room. I don't want to see what happens next. I don't want to see a couple more rounds of misery, a few glimmers of hope in a sea of savage blows and gasps for air. I don't want to see eyes get cut up and blood start to flow down wrinkled cheeks. I don't want to see that last moment when the final blow lands, like a steel rivet to the head, and old knees turn to jelly before the body slams into the mat, sweat and blood spraying up. I don't want to see the old man flop around like a fish out of water, unable to rise before the bell. I don't want to watch the victory of the kid where he thanks god for helping him beat the living daylights out of one of his elders and goes off to party. I don't want to see the old guy slink off back to his family, knowing that his shot is done and he doesn't have enough money to keep them going. Knowing that he's got to do something but not knowing what it is.
Of course sometimes the old guy wins. He teaches the whippersnapper a thing or three about gumption and heart and he edges out a decision or even sends the kid to the canvas with a lesson eloquently delivered by a counter left that arced over a right glove left a little low. He grins like the cat that ate the canary and focuses on his next fight. He's only got a few left in him, make them count. The kid will come back to fight another day, besides he doesn't have a wife and kids to provide for. Gramps wanted it more and he got it.
That's rare though. They don't showcase young kids on TV to have them beaten up by fading 37 year olds who never made it big. They don't want the old guy to win.
But I do.
Don't get me wrong, boxing can be a great sport to watch when it's two younger fighters who both have time to recover from a loss, or two superstars so rich that they don't need to worry about the future, they're doing it for the love of the game. There's nothing like the thrill of an action fight, with more bombs than the basement of a mosque and sweat and blood sprayed everywhere. Or the beauty of a tactical match, where the sweet science earns its name and intelligence matches with pure physicallity to produce a fight that's thrilling even if it's destined to go to the cards.
I like boxing. I don't think it should be banned.
Call me sentimental, I just don't like to see the old guys lose. Nobody does TV shows on what happens to them afterwards, but it's not nearly as pretty as Oscar De La Hoya's left hook.