Let’s have it right. This is one of the most intense and demanding battles I’ve ever watched. When the title match was announced I was among those that doubted whether Shox could stand toe-to-toe with Soul and live to tell the tale; after one round all the doubts faded away.
Soul’s recent form has been nothing short of otherworldly, somehow improving battle to battle, since his second round against Raptor I haven’t been able to imagine anybody besting him; Soul’s ferocity and inimitable, complex haymakers have made him unstoppable over the last year. Shox has also been going from strength to strength and his title shot was cemented after he emerged unscathed from an incredibly tight match with Uncle Tone, his aggressive style and impressive punch count are punctuated by schemes which demonstrate Shox’s ability. In Shox we have a battler that knows where others go wrong scheming: too esoteric, too long or not tight enough, we see none of these in Shox’s scheming. Comparing the two styles and form books it is no wonder that the battle has been dubbed an instant classic. Let’s break it down.
Round One – Shox
Soul said it best when he took to viewpoint to discuss the match: “I…judged what he was going to do completely wrong”, I also misjudged the approach Shox would take. If you’re going into a title match you need to demonstrate why you deserve the title over your opponent, these matches require specific approaches geared toward this, if we look back at Soul vs Cee we see Cee come with some of the best stuff of his career but he doesn’t match Soul’s convincing case as to why he should be champ. From round one we saw that Shox did not approach this like any other battle, he set out his case for the championship, this was first seen when he spat his string of one bar multi punches (it sounds so tekken when you type it out). This is the point in the first round when I realised that Shox wasn’t here to just earn his stripes, he was in with more than a shout, even finishing with a nonchalant “that shit ain’t hard”. Shox was very clever in following these bars with his atomic “gas trick by pass the ban” punch. This multi string was impressive but I was left thinking that Soul does it better (see round 2 v Raptor), this thought was banished due to one of Shox’s most important traits – intensity. By not letting the crowd rest or the levels drop as he goes from one section or theme to another he builds an impression for the audience they are on some sort of IV drip of fire – that wins battles. Shox’s first is a good mix of flexing and reminding the audience that he is on a level with Soul – “Your first three years battling, nobody fucked with you – I ain’t been battling three years and I’m stood here in front of you”. There is too much to talk about in his first, the Shakespeare/MacBeth scheme was something else, LIFE OF PI also. Aggression and delivery ensured the crowd were immediately hyped up.
Round One – Soul
The opening flip seemed premeditated and if that is the case then I feel it needed more, it fell a bit flat and I think that’s because it revealed Soul’s main angle too early with too little impact in comparison to what was coming. Then Soul did what Soul does: intricacy, precision, delivery and wordplay all coming together…WAKE IT UP INSIDE LIKE EVANESCENCE. The next string of punches was hard but suffered from having gone after Shox’s. These punches served well to set up the big punch coming by referring to Shox as “flavour of the month” and a “URL clone” – if you want to hurt anyone that stepped to the foreground in the last 18 months – 3 years just call them a URL or Lunar clone and you cause some sort of damage at least. Following this with “you’re not the next one up you’re just the last one left” hit very hard and is reminiscent of the approach taken by Soul vs Cee Major, telling the crowd and judges that your challenger isn’t even worthy of a shot is a good way to cast doubt over their credibility as a champ. Soul’s consistency didn’t falter and his “if he’s Shox then you’re thunder” bar was a jaw dropping of the things that only Soul can do with a pen. Soul did well in the first round to counter what Shox came with, he replied to all of Shox’s “we’re on a level” stuff by patronising his challenger and placing himself on a pedestal – “how’s it getting peak for me cus this is the peak for you”. The patronising continued with reminders that Shox earned his shot by nearly beating Tony, even calling Shox “the physical embodiment of the Fiddler’s Elbow”. Quite like the Fiddler’s myself but that’s by the by. The first round was too close to call.
Round Two – Shox
Shox continued with the right idea, he made sure everyone knew that he could do what Soul does and then some, he did this by rewriting one of Soul’s schemes but better, how else do you prove you’re more capable than by literally taking something they did and improving it? Very smart by Shox. “You went out on a limb to stitch it all together”. Jeez. Again, the intensity didn’t drop and Shox continued with his punch a second aggression, “boot in your grill – tailgater” – what did Soul do to you bro? Again there is just too many of Shox’s punches here to commend, “have him runnin out the blue like a cold tap” is just a madness. Soul nodded along, appreciative. Then Shox spat “it’s the flow that carries Soul like the river Styx” and I almost booted my nan; simple, direct and heavy punches like these are what gave Shox the fanbase he has. He has an accessibility that we haven’t seen the likes of since Lunar, an accessibility that matches how battle rap has evolved since Lunar’s departure: the rise of bars and delivery over jokes. Shox got personal, showing he can switch up his approach, “break up the monotony of solitaire or wash his hair”, this is funny and it scores points for versatility. The “dome a guy” scheme worked well with the crowd, I personally don’t think we have to go for the gay ‘angle’ anymore and should start letting it peter out.
Round 2 – Soul
This is where you decide who you think won this battle. This is the turning point where I think Soul lost the battle. The “Shox the psychologist” angle was well written but completely misplaced in the grand scheme of the battle, the pacing was a little slow because of how intense, rapid and aggressive the punches had been coming until this point and when this led into the “how excited Shox was” angle it seemed to lose some momentum for Soul. Having said this, there was plenty of heavy punches throughout these angles: “death on his sims” and “Face in the plank” stand out in particular. The rest of the round was more of what we expected from Soul, however, the complexity of some of the bars limited the crowd reaction which was much needed after the comparatively slow start. “Third eye open I’m stark raven”. Jeez. I feel that despite Soul getting more direct in the second half of this round it needed to get the crowd more whipped up like Shox had been doing throughout, the Ed Ed and Eddy punch set the peak in crowd reaction a bit too soon.
Round 3 – Shox
You know that scene in The Wizard of Oz where you see behind the curtain? That’s what Shox did to Soul when he spat “you just pick an angle and multi / that’s why the gassin never bothered me / bringing two elements to the table only gets reaction periodically”. I feel one of the reasons a lot of people have seen Soul as unbeatable of late is this almost mysticism behind what he does, the multi schemes and consistent punching throughout them seemed so otherworldly, Shox tore this down throughout this battle through his mimicry in the earlier rounds and by giving the crowd transparency in this one. He pointed out the emperor has no clothes on. This is not to say that what Soul has been doing isn’t phenomenal but Shox takes it out of this unbeatable realm, rationalises it and reproduces it with his own style. This is ultimately what won him the battle, doing what no other battler had tried to do against Soul – use Soul against Soul. Shox then goes on with an almost Lux’s 3rd vs Calicoe approach, I say this in the precision with which the personals are delivered – “how you still using the name Soul when you sold yours”…Jeeeeez. This was followed by “witness intimidation…just lie in the box”, at this point I questioned whether I want to live in the same city as Shox. The intensity didn’t drop and the punches got heavier and heavier, Shox’s “silent partner” punch went a long way to demonstrating that he can match Soul for complexity. Shox even through in a “what’s your life like” / “When I was in rikers” sort of punch when he told Shox that when his dog died he had to comfort his mum, another heavy bar from The Rebel. It was a really strong third from the contender and enough to take the battle as the levels didn’t drop once.
Round 3 – Soul
At the start of this round I thought this was heading in the direction of Dante or “once upon a time your boy was lost in the night”. It was mainly the former. Soul stated on Viewpoint that he thought this was the wrong approach for this round, he was probably right. Against anybody else this approach would’ve worked but it suffered for the same reason his second opening did – Shox’s intensity. The momentum that Shox builds in his rounds means that his opponent has to match it or face sapping energy from the crowd. Although this concept was innovative, beautifully written and relevant – it asked too much from the crowd after they’d been getting a punch every 2 bars for 5 rounds, it demanded a lot of concentration and completely switched the energy of the battle. I want to make it clear that I can watch the opening to this round an infinite amount of times because of its genius but it was strategically misplaced and was enough to tip the balance to Shox. But Christ – that “sin and salvation” punch, I thought the Pope was going to drop a Don DeMarco. “This is a pen versus a paint brush” – this hit so hard with me as it does accurately describe what makes Soul so so different from human battlers and it fits with the concept of the 3rd round, he adds that element of art (literally in the case of his hell imagery) where others do not. The round continued with some heavy punches and revisited the idea that Soul is too good to be even battling Shox but ultimately I don’t feel Soul did enough in this round to retain the title.
So, he only went and bloody dunnit. Shox proved everyone wrong in this one. He beat the unbeatable. This was a boxing match won on punches and strategy. Shox won by tearing down the image of Soul as unbeatable and by demystifying his style. In recreating Soul’s style and delivering well crafted personals whilst constantly punching – Shox did not give the crowd time to doubt him or reason to for that matter. The barrage Shox delivered meant that the only way Soul could retain his title would be to match him, however as Soul pointed out, he got his approach wrong: some of his better angles and schemes were out of place in the battle due to the intensity that Shox brought to it which demanded matching. When Shox is in that mood the only thing you can do is match him punch for punch, Soul’s long intricacies (round 3) seemed inefficient in comparison to this consistent punching. Could Soul have beaten him? On a different day, yes. Is this the end of Soul? Far from it. I feel material such as the start of round 3 is testament to the fact that he is still at the peak of his form, I feel that his 3rd could’ve been tweaked and saved for his inevitable battle with Tony which it would be much more suited to. This battle was won and lost on strategy and Shox deserves the title for what he came with, Soul will come back stronger than ever.