Vol.  197

Boxing is among the oldest sports in the world and remains one of the most popular internationally. Regardless of wheter you've gotten in the ring yourself or you wouldn't dream of turning on a Fight Night special, boxing around the world illustrates fascinating dynamics around nationalism, culture and power. In this week's Field Guide, we dig into the global history of the sport and its implications, from ancient Sumeria to the Philippines, starting first with Andrii Rozanovy on Ukrainian boxers and their fight to break away from the Soviet School from our most recent guide.

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The Broken Yoke

Emerging from boxing’s “Soviet School”
By Andrii Rozanov
Translated by Olena Jennings

The myth of the Soviet boxer is one known around the world: think of the monotonous, brute strength of Ivan Drago, Rocky’s nemesis in Rocky IV. He’s a machine, throwing relentless punches, but fighting with little character or style. For decades, as a part of the Soviet athletic system, Ukrainian fighters were funneled into a pipeline that produced a similarly bland style of boxing. But, Ukrainian athletes pushed against the mold, stylistically and politically, asserting their independence on several levels.

Once free of the USSR, Ukraine instantly became a significant force in the boxing world. In the three decades since Ukraine’s independence, Ukrainian boxing has continued to define itself as a unique counterpoint to the Soviet style from which it emerged. Several generations of fighters—starting with the Klitschko brothers and their training under the Soviet system, then evolving into the unique styles of Lomachenko and Usyk, and moving onto the individualized style of today’s athletes—chart a dynamic path for boxing in Ukraine. It follows a trajectory similar to the new nation itself: shaking off the yoke of Soviet control, embracing innovation and individual strength, and defending its accomplishments as a nation, no matter the costs. By looking at evolution in the ring, we can also chart activism of some of the sport’s—and the nation’s—leading public figures at times of growth and through moments of crisis.

Continue reading in Stranger's Guide: Ukraine

Did You Know

Although Cuban boxers have earned the second highest number of boxing medals in the world (after the US), the Cuban government does not actually allow professional boxing. As a result, many Cuban boxers compete internationally only after defecting to other countries.

Votive tablets discovered in the ancient Sumerian city of Khafaje, in modern-day Iraq, suggest that boxing is one of the oldest sports in the world. Dating back to 3,000 BCE, the tablets show two boxers locked in combat.

Did You Know

Over the course of a two decade career, Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao, nicknamed the Pac Man, won world championships in a record eight weight classes. In part because of him and the generations of boxers he inspired, the Philippines holds the record for the most boxers in the World Boxing Hall of Fame and International Boxing Hall of Fame among Asian nations.


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But before I got in the ring, I’d won it out here on the road. Some people think a Heavyweight Championship fight is decided during the fifteen rounds the two fighters face each other under hot blazing lights, in front of thousands of screaming witnesses, and part of it is. But a prizefight is like a war: the real part is won or lost somewhere far away from witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym and out here on the road long before I dance under those lights. I’ve got another mile to go. My heart is about to break through my chest, sweat is pouring off me. I want to stop but I’ve marked this as the day to test myself, to find out what kind of shape I’m in, how much work I have to do. Whenever I feel I want to stop, I look around and I see George Foreman running, coming up next to me. And I run a little harder. I’ve got a half-mile more to go and each yard is draining me, I’m running on my reserve tank now, but I know each step I take after I’m exhausted builds up special stamina and it’s worth all the other running put together. I need something to push me on, to keep me from stopping, until I get to the farmer’s stable up ahead, five miles from where I started. George is helping me. I fix my mind on him and I see him right on my heels. I push harder, he’s catching up. It’s hard for me to get my breath, I feel like I’m going to faint. He’s starting to pull ahead of me. This is the spark I need. I keep pushing harder till I pull even with him. His sweat shirt’s soaking wet and I hear him breathing fast and hard. My heart is pounding like it’s going to explode, but I drive myself on. I glance over at him and he’s throwing himself in the wind, going all out. My legs are heavy and tight with pain but I manage to drive, drive, drive till I pass him, Till he slowly fades away. I’ve won, but I’m not in shape. I’ve still got a long way to go. I’m gasping for breath. My throat’s dry and I feel like I’m going to throw up. I want to fall on my face but I must stay up, keep walking, keep standing. I’m not there yet but I know I’m winning. I’m winning the fight on the road.

—Muhammad Ali, The Greatest: My Own Story

“You fighting here?” asked the waiter, corking up the bottle.

“Yes,” Manuel said. “Tomorrow.”

The waiter stood there, holding the bottle on one hip.

“You in the Charlie Chaplins?” he asked.

The coffee-boy looked away, embarrassed.

“No. In the ordinary.”

“I thought they were going to have Chaves and Hernandez,” the waiter said.

“No. Me and another.”

“Who? Chaves or Hernandez?”

“Hernandez, I think.”

“What’s the matter with Chaves?”

“He got hurt.”

“Where did you hear that?”


“Hey, Looie,” the waiter called to the next room, “Chaves got cogida.”

—Ernest Hemingway, Men Without Women

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Photo illustration, Photographs from Prokudin-Gorski
Library of Congress

(Heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko of Ukraine)
Roger Williams/UPI/Alamy, Stranger's Guide: Ukraine

(Sumerian tablet)
Print Collector/Getty Images
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