Squash matches are bad for everyone


Sports mismatches are a feature, not a bug. Bracketed tournaments open with the highest seeds fighting the lowest seeds and round-robin formats disregard relative strength entirely.

Those are products of circumstance, though; in those sorts of arrangements, the participants themselves don’t hand-select weak opponents. Things like college athletics have a bit more leeway involved, allowing for a la carte beatdowns, but contenders with championship aspirations still need to maintain a steady diet of credible opponents.

Then there’s combat sports, where outside of mandatory challenges, it’s basically Calvinball.

The obvious issue here is the ethics of putting someone in the ring with the expectation that they’re going to be savagely beaten without the means to properly defend themselves. Division II college football teams take some hard knocks and put up goose eggs when FBS squads use them as cannon fodder, but a rout in a ball-focused sport, even one as physically destructive as football, isn’t appreciably more hazardous to the losers’ health than a competitive one.

It’s one thing when a poorly balanced fight makes sense from a rankings perspective, like when a generational champion takes on a top contender who’s merely great. It’s another when you, say, have your newly minted “super welterweight” slaughter a shot welterweight with one (1) win since 2019.

More than that, though, I’d argue that it’s also harmful for the guy doing the slaughtering.

There aren’t a lot of activities at which I genuinely excel, but I am a very good fighting game player, at least when I gel with the mechanics. I had a brief hyperfixation with the game Guilty Gear Strive a few years ago, using the gargantuan grappler Potemkin to smash my way up the online leaderboards.

Guilty Gear’s online matchmaking attempts to pair players with opponents of comparable skill by separating itself into 10 “floors.” If you prove too dominant, the game moves you to higher and higher floors until your win rate scooches more towards .500. Pull off an impressive winning streak on Floor 10 and you get a chance to qualify for the Celestial Floor, where you’ll have to power through an unforgiving gauntlet of elite players to establish residency.

The way Potemkin and other grapplers work is that they don’t have a lot of safe, easy ways to rack up damage. They hit incredibly hard and can turn a game around in an instant, but all of their most damaging moves are slow and punishable, require careful setup and analysis of your opponent to exploit their bad habits. This can be exhausting to maintain, especially against opponents as good as if not better than you, so I’d find myself turning my brain off and feasting on Floor 10 opponents when Celestial proved too frustrating.

The problem was that the more stupid, sub-optimal moves I could get away with, the more I’d lean on them. Bad habits with no consequences will never be addressed.

What did Vergil Ortiz Jr gain from five minutes of bag work against Fredrick Lawson and Thomas Dulorme? While I understand that the Dulorme fight was not specifically made to prepare him for Tim Tszyu, it also didn’t prepare him for any competent super welterweight. He’s going to get hit harder than he’s ever been hit while his punches do less damage than they’ve ever done, and he’s going to have to deal with that without any relevant experience to fall back on.

Similarly, Bob Arum talked up the “rounds” Jared Anderson got against Ryad Merhy, but what lessons did Merhy teach Anderson by standing there and getting punched for 30 minutes?

The original impetus for the article, which got put on the backburner when Top Rank announced his first competent opponent, was Richard Torrez Jr. I’ve seen others urge patience, as he’s still just 24 years old and less than 10 fights into his pro career, and I respect that argument. I still remember Lü Bin’s promising career hitting a wall when he tried to topple Carlos Canizales in just his second pro fight.

At the same time, we have to acknowledge that this is an Olympic silver medalist who’s shared the ring with the likes of Bakhodir Jalolov and actually held his own. He’s no stranger to elite opposition; the goal here should be facilitating his transition from three-round amateur scraps to eight- or 10-round pro bouts.

Feeding him a bunch of goons he can wipe out in two minutes doesn’t do that. I don’t see how euthanizing a 41-year-old Don Haynesworth gives him any confidence or worthwhile experience that he didn’t get during his Tokyo 2020 run.

Prospects don’t need to be going life-or-death every time out, but the way I see it, every fight in their rise should ask them a question they’ve yet to answer. Can they deal with a southpaw? Can they go the distance against someone who won’t just shell up? Can they handle someone who may not have much technique but will go full throttle from the opening bell?

Record padding begets complacency and lets fixable issues metastasize. It’s a disservice to both the hammer and the nail.

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