Prof. Carlo Rotella, American studies, Boston College, aruged that it is futile to vest undue meaning in the sport of boxing at a lecture Monday.
Proponents of the sport push the notion of “meaningful hitting” to sell fights as morality plays or identity-forming events, rather than just “meat and bone hits meat and bone,” according to Rotella.
However, he argued that there is no deeper meaning to the sport and that “hitting wants to just be hitting.”
“The capacity of the fights to mean [something] is rivaled by their incapacity to mean anything at all,” he said.
Meaning is imposed by both the outer and inner members of the boxing world, according to Rotella. This desired significance is present in every aspect of a fight, from the training to the promotion to the battle itself, he said. Boxers themselves are often the most eager to impose higher meaning.
For example, Rotella discussed a boxer’s ring walk, which he said has practical, instrumental and symbolic function, by demonstrating a boxer’s persona to their opponent and the audience. One kind of walk could show an entertainer, while another could show a fighter “from a land of atavistic force,” he said.
“The ring walk suggests the effortful lengths to which fight people go to wrap meaning around the imminent hitting to come,” he said.
Rotella used the proliferation of boxing terms as another example of this phenomenon.
“The proliferation of terms is an indicator of the elaborateness of the apparatus that we have developed to get the blunt fact of a knockout shot wrapped up in the orderly discipline of language,” he said.
The overanalysis of boxing also causes fans to prioritize the historical significance of a fight over its quality, according to Rotella, pointing out that well-known fights are often of lesser quality than obscure fights.
Rotella further stressed that it is impossible to fully “impose logic and meaning to boxing,” because there will always be something “that resists your analytical will.”
“The more you think you know about boxing, the more you discover that you never truly know what’s going on,” he said.