A Pugilistic Celebration of Boxing Day

To any Boxing Day purists who have come across this article and are completely outraged by an ignorant American misunderstanding the meaning of the holiday, allow me to first say thank you for reading, and I’m sure you’re just as attractive as I picture you in my head. Also, I am aware that the day has nothing to do with people punching each other in the face (despite the fact that this theme would make for the greatest holiday in the history of ever). Boxing Day, or St. Stephen’s Day, originated centuries ago and consisted of wealthy landowners boxing up food and goods for their trades people and servants as a tip, essentially, for putting up with their hoity-toity shenanigans for a year. Nowadays, the holiday has pretty much devolved into trashing all of the used boxes used on Christmas Day.

So, as an ignorant American, I am deciding to take my favorite aspects (both apparent and non-existent) of Boxing Day and give you a few boxers who best display the original intent of the holiday. These pugilistic philanthropists may each have varying degrees of brain trauma but still display full function where it counts: the heart.

The Klitschko Brothers

Love them or hate them (but don’t hate them; they’re pretty good guys), these behemoths have sat atop the boxing heavyweight division for over a decade. Yes, half of boxing is punching a person in the face, but the other half is not getting punched in the face. And the Klitschko brothers do a fantastic job with the latter. Wladamir has kept his mug un-wrecked enough to land Hayden Panetierre, and Vitali’s wife, Natalia, isn’t too hard to look at either. Anyway, that’s not what we’re here to talk about.

When Wladimir received his gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, he had just finished his time at the Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky Pedagogical Institute and been accepted to a post-graduate program in Kiev. By 2000, he was heavyweight champ. Vitali became a title-holder even earlier in 1999 with a 2nd round knockout of Herbie Hide. And, oh yeah, both of them earned PhD’s.

Similar to their reign of dominance over other giant men, their foundation has been around for over a decade. The Klitschko Foundation seeks to improve literally everything involving the youth of Ukraine. From athletics to education, these two have consistently given back to their people to improve every aspect for both the present and the future. Remember that gold medal Wladimir won in 1996? He auctioned that bad boy off with %100 of the earnings going to the charity (It sold for $1 Million). I don’t know if any of you reading this have ever owned an Olympic Gold medal, especially one from the first year your country had competed in the Olympics, but I imagine it may be an item with a bit of intrinsic value. Fear not, though, because the medal was immediately returned because the buyer believed the medal needed to stay in the family.

Just ten days ago, Vitali vacated his WBC title to concentrate on his political responsibilities back home in the Ukraine, stating, “Right now, my full concentration is on politics in Ukraine, and I feel that the people need me there. My brother [and unified heavyweight champion] Wladimir will ensure more sporting success and I will, as always, support him as much as he currently supports me in my political fight.” Vitali acts as chairman for UDAR (Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform), which seeks to distance Ukraine from Russia and re-establish closer ties with the European Union. In case you were wondering, “UDAR” as a contraction literally translates to “punch,” because of course it does.


Joe Louis and Max Schmeling

I could easily end this entry by citing that Joe Louis punched Nazism to death and gave America the greatest victory ever, and ended it at that. Meanwhile, you astute readers may have noticed that I included the SOB that Joe Louis most famously beat. It was no accident.

No history lesson is needed on Joe Louis, but to sum things up, he was a pre-civil rights black man who every American loved regardless of race. As sportswriter Jimmy Cannon put it, “ Yes, Louis is a credit to his race — the human race.” Betwixt all the racial injustice of the late 1930s and ’40s, there was one idea that all Americans could agree on: We hated Nazis (and still do). On the biggest stage imaginable at the time in 1937, Joe Louis beat down the Cinderella Man, James Braddock, to become the heavyweight champion and was instantly one of the most popular names in America.

Enter: Max Schemling, a man who had actually beaten Louis earlier in his career and represented everything that Nazi Germany stood for. To describe Schmeling as “the bad guy” in this scenario would be an understatement on par with calling The Joker “a minor annoyance” to Batman. In the words of Nigel Collins of ESPN.com, Schmeling was “the beetle-browed German who had tea with Hitler and gave the Nazi salute in the ring after beating American Steve Hamas in Hamburg.” To this day, if you were to cite famous Nazis, he’d at least be in the top five.

But in reality Max Schmeling was not a Nazi and did not believe in a single bigoted sentiment the Nazis preached. There was a flap about anti-Semite attitudes on live radio, but when Hitler himself is pulling your strings, public image is probably the least of your worries. On Kristallnacht, Schmeling hid two sons of his Jewish friend in his hotel room despite his fame and good favor with “the fuehrer.” He eventually smuggled them into the U.S.

On more than one occasion, Joe Louis donated his entire fight purse to the war cause. This is even despite his relative poverty leading up to his fame. Because of his incredible generosity, Louis fell into hard times during his later years. During this period, none other than Max Schmeling was both his close friend and benefactor. Upon Louis’s death in 1981, Ronald Reagan requested him buried in Arlington National Cemetery as an American hero should. And because real life often plays out better than any feel-good movie, Max Schmeling paid for the funeral.

Manny Pacquiao

The Philippines have endured typhoons throughout its history, but over the course of just the few past years, destruction caused by Megi, Ketsana, Fengshen, Nesat, Parma, Bopha, and, most recently, Haiyan have cost the country over $2 billion (USD). With these catastrophes, countless lives have been lost as well as severely hampered. Through all of this, the entire nation rose in uproarious elation when, on November 23, a diminutive bearded man beat the unholy crap out of Brandon Rios.

Manny Pacquiao is one of the most recognizable figures in both boxing as well as humanitarianism on the planet. He has held titles in eight different weight classes and beaten up men from fifteen different countries. He also starred as Magno Meneses in the Filipino film Wapakman to a mediocre critical reception, but that is neither here nor there. My point is the man has the ability to beat people up even when his arms can’t reach his opponent’s face.  With his history of not giving a single care about the size of his opponent, you can bet he always tries his damnedest to win a fight against typhoons the size of the southeastern United States.

Since rising to prominence as a boxing legend, Pacquiao has literally spent every last cent he has giving back to his home country.  As the Habitat Hero Ambassador for HPH Philippines, he has foregone any governmental involvement and financially supported relocation of typhoon-effected homes from his own pocket on a yearly basis. Because of the repeated devastation and his devotion to relief, Pacquiao now finds himself pretty much broke. Even after making Brandon Rios’ face resemble a busted can of processed beef, Pacquiao finds himself borrowing money to provide for Haiyan relief. Still, even with virtually nothing of monetary value to provide, Pac-Man always gives the Filippino people something far more valuable: a hero to cheer for. And his battles have the singular effect of doing more to combat crime than a year’s worth of Batman.

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali has spent the last half-century both telling and demonstrating  to us every aspect of how he is The Greatest. After achieving Olympic gold in 1960, Ali rapidly entered every last person’s home with his incessant banter and charm. Whether you wanted it or not, he was there. He told you he would beat a guy up, and he beat that guy up. In a sport known specifically for facial disfigurement, he remained pretty. Most boxers struggle to formulate complete verbal thoughts, but he spat out poetry. He’s the only man on earth Will Smith couldn’t accurately portray. The man is a legend.

Even as his Parkinson’s Disease has slowly overtaken his body, he is able to ignite a populace by his sheer presence. Designated as the United Nations Messenger of Peace in 1998, Ali has spent decades hand-delivering support to developing nations in Africa and Asia. President Carter famously referred to him as “Mr. International Friendship,” and President Reagan has been photographed punching Ali in the face before eating a counter-left hook to the temple and falling prostrate before Congress.

In 2005, Ali was awarded the United States of America’s highest civil award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom because he already owned every other award, medal, and championship belt ever produced.

Empires have fallen by less.

Joseph Howard can help you with your chronic choking and enjoys tweeting about the rough life of restaurant workers.

We still don’t have a handle on Boxing Day. Maybe these foxy Boxers can help us figure it out?

boxing day thinkstock 191 A Pugilistic Celebration of Boxing Day

We’re seeing stars before we even get into the ring.

More from Joseph Howard

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