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Portrait of Tomato Cans

The show opens with closeups of neon lights on the marquee of the New Daisy Theater. Henry Rollins is on the schedule for next week. Tonight is a boxing match. Ira Glass’ voice tells us the story behind two unknowns in the match. Every image is full of black, negative space and eyes fall into darkness. The high-contrast image is stark and heavy. An amazing overhead shot of the two boxers meeting the referee and announcer in the center of the ring makes me shiver. Then the opening bell, recorded clean and sharp cuts into the budding excitement and on the screen, the title THIS AMERICAN LIFE, over black.

Despite being a fan of MMA and loving its proliferation onto premium cable and free stations, EliteXC is not the reason I subscribe to Showtime. It is good motivation, sure. But #1 is This American Life. This American Life is a half hour program on Showtime, Sunday nights at 10 pm that originated from the radio show of the same name. The show is essentially arty short subject documentaries. Last night’s episode deals with underdogs, Marteze Logan and Anthony Bowman, fighting each other for the Mid-South welterweight belt in Memphis, Tennessee.

The episode delves into the lives of these “opponents,” the term given to boxers who are brought in to lose to rising stars. They don’t throw fights, they are tomato cans. A good opponent can make a decent living. As fewer people become boxers, the fighter who will put up a good, but losing fight, is rare and can earn more than top stars. But what happens when two such “opponents” face each other?

Before watching this, I understood the idea of the silent offering, but have never known the story behind such fighters. These fighters don’t want to be cans, they don’t want to lose. But they are consistently placed against tougher, faster boxers with undefeated records to build.

Watch a clip from the show here.

Writer Geoffrey Gray reminds the audience in his narration that these fighters are, “Supposed to try their hardest, and with any luck, lose.” We as fans and journalists spend a lot of time bashing promotions for bringing in cans, we bash the cans for taking the fights, we mock their lack of skill. Yet, and this I have always felt because I have the honor of photographing both fighters in the bout, no one cares to ask what the palooka thinks of himself?

MMA has not yet abused this system to the extent of boxing, but losses are also not as injurious to careers in MMA. I would be curious to see similarly well-produced stories on Bo Cantrell or Hong Man Choi.

For 23 year old Marteze Logan, boxing is his raison d’être. He has been boxing since he was a child, it is all he knows. Marteze Logan has fought top boxers, yet remains unknown and the scars of so many losses on his record will prevent him from ever being a champion of any enviable kind. The faces of top prospects are blurred out in the video clips of both fighters’ prior bouts. I took a peek at Marteze Logan and Anthony Bowman’s records and found many, many losses to top names. Then, when I clicked on links of top names, I found wins over other boxers with even more losses.

“Underdogs” is amazing not only for its writing, but the amazing production. The opening shots are inventively gorgeous. After the title, we are treated to wide, long shots of each boxer training, running across the dry Tennessee winter landscape. The music and natural sounds come in and out, soft yet harsh. Everything reminds the viewer, these men may win but will remain underdogs. Such men remain in their place in life, never champions, always under the bright lights, but invisible under the radar.

Read the 2004 article by Geoffrey Gray that inspired this episode.

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  • iamphoenix

    i found this episode boring. maybe i like mma so much that i can’t stand boxing, but i was kinds excited(in my pants) to watch this episode because the info said it was gonna be about fighters and was highly disappointed to see it was about boxers. crappy boxers. i saw 2 shows of american life, one about some iraqi dude in america and another about some midget head guy in a wheelchair.

    i couldn’t watch more than 2 minutes of this show without changing to something else. and i did get showtime to watch elitexc.

  • chico

    im not reading all that shit, you guys should know better

  • iamphoenix

    i read the rest of this and this might have been the gayest thing you ever wrote.

    …with all due respect.

  • cyrus

    dude, stop writing about boxing on this blog. You keep doing it from time to time and nobody gives a shit but you. Jesus, dad, pull your head out of your ass.

  • BossTweed

    I enjoyed your post allelbows. Someone has to lose, and I guess cans have to lose a lot.

  • Sha

    great post, I had never thought about those guys before.

  • ekc

    awesome write-up!

  • JYAG

    i happened to catch that while surfing through channels last night. Amazing piece and a great show

  • Threatis

    god damn i love “This American Life”

  • nephildevil

    damn, sounds sad

  • iamphoenix

    i didn’t mean what i said. i was high on acid that day.