In what can be termed only as a sham, 70- year-old Albert Hughes Jr defeated Tramanae Towns, 43 in a boxing match on Sunday in Indianapolis. It was a bout arranged just to ensure that ageing boxer claimed the Guinness World Record as the oldest active boxer.
He knocked down his “static” opponent twice to replace the previous record holder Stephen Ward, who was just under 62 when he set the record two years ago.
Professional boxers are known to pick rank outsiders to boost their own winning records to give them inflated records.
It was similar to how Elizabeth Swaney qualified for the last Winter Olympics despite not being able to do a single trick in the freestyle skiing halfpipe. Qualified for the Olympics, by simply, taking advantage of a loophole in the qualifying process.
The minimum requirements for making it to the Winter Games included consistently finishing in the top 30 in World Cup events and accumulating enough ranking points. The former was not a major problem, as many World Cup events did not attract 30 women. She selected and entered tournaments with less than 30 competitors and did just the basics of skiing to ensure her qualification.
Picking weak opponents or taking part in a much lower ranked tournament is not new for Malaysian sports, either, looking to bolster flagging image.
Malaysia played five friendly football matches this year, with three against lower ranked teams – Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives. Malaysia won all the three matches. However, against two other higher ranked opponents, they managed to edge Tajikistan but lost to Jordan. The results did help Malaysia improve on their ranking from 167 to 154.
The Malaysian badminton juniors were entered for the Bangladesh Junior International Series last week, and the juniors duly delivered three titles and numerous playing making the semi-finals and finals.
But the event did not attract the top juniors from the top badminton nations. Players from China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Chinese Taipei and Indonesia were all missing. Thailand and India did send a handful of juniors but even they did not send all their best.
While winning against lesser opponents is likely to give an athlete a morale boost and the sports federation concerned a false sense of success, it does not help the athlete or the sport in the long run.
It is fine for the Malaysian football team to play against Maldives, who are only ranked one rung below them. But, does playing against the 205-ranked Sri Lanka, who are just five spots above the lowest ranked team in the world Anguilla, going to help improve Malaysian football?
This is in contrast with the national hockey team that plays against the top hockey nations at the annual Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. The tournament being an invitational tournament could be a feel good event for Malaysia, if they choose to invite only weaker oppositions, instead of the likes of Australia, India, Pakistan and the Netherlands.
Malaysia making a clean sweep in the diving competition at the SEA Games may have added to the overall gold tally, but it was against much lesser opposition and does not add much to the credentials of the divers.
Research has found that athletes perform at a more optimal level when they are up against stronger opposition. Usain Bolt’s record breaking runs had always come at top-notch events against the cream of international runners. Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novac Djokovic have all performed their best, when they were up against each other.
The euphoria of winning against lesser opposition is temporary and does not help when you are up against stronger opposition where the demands to perform increases.
But, there are also benefits of playing against lower ranked opponents. Against the weaker players, it’s an opportunity to practice and incorporate the new things into the game that the players have been working on in training. However, it also depend on how much weaker your opponents is.
When Cheng Su Hui-Cheng Su Yin won the junior badminton doubles title in Dhaka last week, they played only three matches. They defeated their Bangladesh opponent 21-4, 21-6 in the quarter-finals and their Nepali rivals 21-8, 21-7 in the final. They did have slightly tougher match against a Thai pair in the semi-finals. It would be surprising if their coaches can claim that such one-sided results were beneficial for the players’ progress.
To be fair, no matter what sports you are involved in, the ideal scenario would be to get an equal proportion of matches against oppositions who are weaker, or of equal standard or stronger.
When the American women’s football team thrashed Thailand 13-0 during the World Cup earlier this year, they were duly criticized for showboating. The team did go on to play much tougher opponents and lift the coveted Cup, defeating the Netherlands 2-0 in the final.
The USA playing against Thailand at the World Cup was not pre-determined by the Americans, it was based on a stringent qualification process. The questions are asked only when teams pick easier tournaments or opponent to boost their own image or faltering ego.
Boxing great Floyd Mayweather once admitted that his undefeated record was partly built on the back of handpicked opponents who didn’t always provide the toughest fights and that it had helped him become the world’s best paid athlete.
Just because Mayweather took advantage of the system does not mean that it was the natural way to move forward.
Being challenged by tougher opponents and targets are very important part of what sports is for top athletes. Without Lee Chong Wei, pushing him, Lin Dan may not be a legend he is now. Chasing Jack Nicklaus’ record was what made Tiger Woods the phenomenal golfer he is. Without the looming threat from his rivals, including Sebastian Vettel, Valteri Bottas and Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton would not be at the cusp of more Formula One success.
While the likes of Lin Dan, Woods and Hamilton are also equally capable to challenging themselves to reach greater heights, most athletes need someone else, especially their coaches, to provide the guidance to succeed.
It is therefore the duty of the coaches and their sports federation to put them in the situation where they are challenged constantly and correctly. Picking easy opponents or tournaments is not going to cut it.
There is no need to rush athletes into situations that they have no chance to survive because they do not have the confidence or skills to compete at too high of a level. But constantly sending them into situations where their own skill levels were at a much higher level than their opponents would also be career breakers.
Winning alone is not success. Quality wins must trump quantity.