I'm a fan of theater, books, art — and boxing

I'm a fan of theater, books, art — and boxing.

A few years ago, I thought boxing was a violent sport for thugs who had essentially been given legal cover to commit assault, battery and attempted murder in the ring.

Then I got drawn into HBO's "24/7" sports documentaries covering boxing. Before a major fight, HBO sends film crews into the training camps of the two opposing boxers.

Watch just one episode, and you'll see that boxers are among the hardest working athletes on the planet. They need not only power and strength, but agility, coordination, timing, stamina, strategic thinking and the willpower to go on despite pain that would stop most of us in our tracks.

The "24/7" episodes also reveal the personalities of the boxers and highlight the drama behind each match-up.

One of the most dramatic rivalries saw its culmination earlier this month when Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto faced Antonio Margarito from Mexico.

Their rivalry began in 2008, when Margarito beat Cotto's face into a bloody pulp, forcing Cotto to take a knee and give up in the ring.

But just before Margarito's next fight with another boxer, a plaster of Paris-type substance was found in his hand wraps, hidden under his gloves. Instantly people began to wonder whether Margarito had used hardened material beneath his gloves when he bludgeoned Cotto.

Cotto had to wait years for a rematch with Margarito. In the meantime, Margarito — seen by many as a boxing villain who had dishonored the sport — faced off against the boxing world's most popular hero, Manny Pacquiao. Beloved around the world, Pacquiao is a small, wiry boxer known for his generosity toward impoverished people in his native Philippines and his incredibly fast, powerful punches.

Pacquiao gave Margarito a sound beating in the ring, breaking Margarito's orbital bone. Margarito later required surgery on his eye. The boxing world had had its revenge against Margarito, but Cotto wanted personal revenge.

Still in mourning from the death of his father, Cotto finally faced Margarito again on Dec. 3. Using a game plan to target Margarito's previously damaged eye, Cotto dominated Margarito through 10 rounds until the fight was stopped by a ringside doctor charged with monitoring the eye. Cotto had earned a victory, according to the judges who scored the fight.

Boxers normally embrace after fighting, but Cotto — a thoughtful, loving family man — offered no hug to Margarito.

HBO will rebroadcast the fight on Dec. 29 as one of its picks for the top six fights of the year, in case you're interested.

As for me, I'm looking forward to the Jan. 20 premier of "On Freddie Roach," a new HBO documentary series that will follow Roach, a red-headed, glasses-wearing former boxer who is the trainer for Pacquiao and other top boxers. Roach recently added a new duty — helping to prepare up-and-coming boxers who want to fight on the United States boxing team in the 2012 Olympics.

Roach carries out the physically demanding job of training boxers despite suffering from Parkinson's disease. His speech is slightly slurred, but he can still do fast, intricate moves as his boxers practice their jabs, crosses, hooks and upper-cuts by punching into Roach's padded hands.

If you've never seen a documentary on boxers in training, perhaps the most surprising thing will be the intimacy shown in this world of men. In the gym, the trainer and his team wrap the fighter's hands, help him put his gloves on, towel off his sweat, pour water in his mouth. And when it's time to fight, they will be in the corner to give advice, ice the boxer's face, swab coagulant into his cuts and up his nose, wipe off the blood — and send him back into the ring.

Reach reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.