Victor Manuel Amaro Lopez watched anxiously from his home in Merida as the Tecate Girls circled and the decision was read out. 115-112, 116-111, and a preposterous 118-109. He felt his nostrils flare and began to roar along with the 39,247-strong crowd, united in the triumph of a shirtless form adrift on a sea of executives. Self-worth and the warmth of affirmation rose to erupt from his chest. The screen flashed back a single wrapped fist and the convulsing legions of the Alamodome.
"Ca - ne - lo! Ca - ne - lo!"
He beat his chest to the cadence of the chants and slowly rose to his feet. As Saul Alvarez was carried from the ring, first on his brother's shoulders, then by the sheer energy of his maniacal countrymen, Victor Manuel Amaro Lopez left the glowing room. Making his way to the kitchen, he passed the exasperated figure of his wife, Isabel Carrilo, who not thirty minutes earlier had announced her intentions to seek a divorce. Reaching the knife draw, he could hear the crowd still ringing in his ears, the triumph lapping over him.
In as much as it is said to be the loneliest place in the world, boxing is equally a hotbed of nationalism, of that elliptical force both confounding reason and fulfilling our purest needs for communion and belonging. There can be no clearer or more ritualistic canvas on which to paint mutual struggle. Although many, if not all countries use the medium of sports as a route to actualisation, the ring is perhaps the most distilled vision available. It is the location on which we see our compatriots, members of our tribe, go to war against outsiders, against the finest battlers the invading hordes have to offer. What does this achieve, save for deepening the emotional validity of our perceived bonds? How can an observer be expected to react, if not to dig in their heels and salute with renewed vigour?
For we are each in possession of the right to hold a passport, as pronounced as parenthood and reproductive biology itself. Nationality is ours, and by virtue it does not belong to any other. It's something of which ownership is gifted, a faculty of the skull that must be coerced and shaped until its expression acquires purpose. Both limited and somehow total, it necessarily precludes the external en route to supremacy. Coherence is not a requirement, only a placebo to isolation. Thus in boxing, where one must necessarily overcome and shut out the other to advance, where pyrrhic victories are practically demanded, nationalism is able to find a desolate home.
When Victor Manuel Amaro Lopez cast his eyes over the crowds flocking to Downtown San Antonio, or twenty years earlier as Greg Haugen adjusted his Stars-and-Stripes gown amidst the whistles of 130,000 Mexicans baying for blood, the boundaries of nationhood ran as deep as the catacombs of Queen Mariana herself. On both occasions, the Mexican fighter stepped between the ropes not as solipsist, but spurred in defense of the honour of his people - those millions born within the same arbitrary, ever shifting limits, whose names he would never learn. Forget Guadalajara, Alvarez's hometown, or the lion's den of Culiacan, the triumph echoed from Sonora down beyond even the outstretched claw of The Gulf.
Alvarez may be wealthy in the extreme, with both youth and the establishment firmly on his side, yet he is able to command the emotional legitimacy of a nation state. When the crowds sing, hand on heart, of the roar of the cannon, they are symbolically standing their ground beside him, posturing as if to swat away any would-be intruders. When their avatar is defeated, so too must they succumb to the violent whims of the other. It is boxing as affirmation, as testament to the will and courage of the people, to their indomitable spirit and dedication to a ruinous ideal. It is boxing as warfare, quite literally in the case of Julio Cesar Chavez's victory over the aforementioned Haugen, when barbed wire was erected outside the ring and a trench dug to subdue the frenzy of the largest crowd ever witnessed in the sport.
A recent call in the UK seeking to inflict statelessness upon those committing treason abroad was met with incredulity by policymakers. Nationality is something we are born into, so it's said, and as such can never truly be lost. To rip it away from someone, however reviled they may be by their countrymen, is to violate something fundamental. The political currency of nationhood, once more set against the philosophical might it wields over so many. In boxing, where treason is expressed solely (and somewhat curiously) through acts of preservation and giving up, to fight and risk life is to exist as a citizen.
And so, just as the nation stands as an imagined community, one in which an image of togetherness is relied upon to counteract the absence of genuine proximity, so too boxing can be deemed an imagined fraternity, where the unique tribulations of audience members find their mirror in the violence on show. We see strength displayed by our own. We see the enemy hurt, then viscerally dismantled in full public view. While countries can be in possession of preferred styles and characteristics in their fighters - see the Mexican penchant for toughness and unbreakable will, or the British veneration of fair play allied to an anachronistic distrust of showmanship - a common passport is usually all it takes to stoke our sense of defiance.
Though we lack a modern day equivalent to the "good vs evil" manifested in fights between the likes of Joe Louis and Max Schmelling, national boundaries continue to define the boxing landscape. Just as no one nation can be elevated to encompass all mankind, no single fighter can satisfy the demands of all who look on. A counterpart is always required: something to resist, to push back against. Even the most ardent patriot could never wish the entire world be absorbed under their banner, just as every great fighter is beholden to a great opponent. When we rise as one in pursuit of glory, it can only be with the promise of oblivion at our backs.