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Going the Distance: March-April 2004


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We have instruments and we have the imaginations to use them.

Miles Davis was a boxing fan because he could relate to it in two ways: boxing (like jazz) is a remarkably honest sport, and boxing (like jazz) is a remarkably rough business. The work of great boxers, like the work of great jazz musicians, speaks for itself. Boxers and jazz players share a mutual mandate: transcending human limitation. Fight fans live for such resilience. Jazz fans are the same.

Jazz and boxing share tales of redemption and destruction. The elements of brutality and grace dignify human performance, whether that happens in a ring or on a stage. Most of the greatest tales are borne in the margins of our understanding. Those who excel in boxing and in jazz learn to test and redefine the limits of that understanding.

Sunday, February 16, 1986 : when 19-year-old Mike Tyson shattered Jesse Ferguson’s nose with a savage upper cut, Ferguson’s mission was redefined. Jesse lasted for over two more torrential minutes of Tyson’s violence. After the fifth round, Ferguson sat in his corner at a 45-degree angle and sucked wind while his training staff told him to get out alive. Although Ferguson was disqualified in the 6th round, Jesse remained true to his commitment. Jesse Ferguson hung in as long as he could. He did his best.

For a time, Mike Gerard Kirkpatrick Tyson was simply the greatest fighter in boxing. Upon being floored by Tyson’s power, the sports world buzzed with the historic mantra: “nobody will ever beat him!”

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