A sport seldom offers such a wide spectrum of emotion that boxing continually produces. The isolation of such an individual sport allows us as fans to truly connect with the fighters we pay to see, following their journey’s, adopting their dreams as our own in a quest for glory inside the squared circle.
Such emotion allows us to share heartbreak and elation in equal measures as we follow the careers of our heroes. As kids, we are immune to the politics that drag our sport down, safe from contractual concerns between the suits of the sport and blissfully ignorant to the drugs, weight cutting, and health issues boxing often becomes tangled in.
Despite having half an eye on the glory years of the 90s, I was too young to fully appreciate the sport booming under the frenetic reign of Mike Tyson, too young to completely gauge the level of stardom Lennox Lewis and Frank Bruno reached on British shores, and too young to be swept up in the wave that was the Nigel Benn vs Chris Eubank rivalry.
My love affair with the sport blossomed on June 4, 2005: Kostya Tszyu vs Ricky Hatton. It was a natural trigger. Previous to this fight I had no real passion for the sport, no identity within in; no obsession, although I had the fundamentals of knowledge and ‘fandom’ which had allowed me to appreciate the sport more than most.
This fight had it all. Eleven rounds of brutality, culminating in one of the stars of the sport being forced to quit on his stool with just three minutes remaining. Tszyu - once undisputed having never lost his belts in the ring previous - was the star of the junior welterweight division, a king of the sport arriving in Manchester looking to deflate a 22,000- full Manchester Arena as their hometown kid went for glory. Make no mistake: this was a huge upset. The Soviet-born Australian reached breaking point against one of the most loved personalities of the sport in the UK; Hatton was left in floods of tears on the canvas having realized his biggest of accomplishments.
Hatton’s work to the body was unavoidably eye-catching. Now, having followed the sport for nearly two decades, there is still nothing more beautiful than that perfectly timed body shot, crippling an opponent to the canvas with their senses still intact, just unable to find their feet, writhing in pain.
This fight holds an undeniable sentiment too, which has perhaps clouded my judgment. Sitting down on the sofa to watch this fight as a 15-year-old was the last Saturday night that I would spend with my late father. I couldn’t claim that he was the biggest of boxing fans, however, what a fight to witness as being your last...
My connection with the sport has been facilitated by some incredible writing on the stars of yesteryear; a continuing inspiration for any work I have done since. Tales of Kid Chocolate and Cuban boxing in “In the Red Corner”, the incredible life of Emile Griffith as told by Donald McRae in “A Man’s World” and the overwhelming struggle endured by Jack Johnson in “Unforgivable Blackness” have all shaped my understanding of the sport, allowing me to appreciate the long decorated, yet tainted, history of pugilism.
Boxing literature has always been head and shoulders above a majority of other sports. I’m a huge football (soccer) fan as well, however, there is a depth to boxing that can’t be reached elsewhere.
This translates to art and photography as well. Endless archives of black and white prints starring Muhammad Ali enable you to form your own opinions on the great champion. His infectious smile and enlightening personality shine through the photographs from the 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond.
The history of the sport is something I’ve found myself engrossed in for quite some time now, however, the modern day sport still keeps you clinging on. Alphabet titles, corruption, fights not getting made: all of these faults pale into insignificance when fight night comes around.
Since my earliest memories of the sport, there is still nothing better than the feel of fight night; from the smell of small halls with sweat dripping off the ceiling to the glitz and glamour of the arena and stadium fights, blinded by the strobe lights and deafened by the sound system. TV viewing also gets the pulse racing. As the camera pans in on the ring after the opening bell and the two fighters engage for the first time; this is the cue to shuffle towards the edge of your seat in anticipation.
Writing about the sport for the past seven years has slightly altered my connection. For the better, or for the worse, it’s hard to conclude. I’ve found myself staring at footwork for round-after-round, missing punches, treating a fight like an exercise in dance practice. I also find myself scoring every bout in my head, waiting for the moment I can argue with the judges, commentators, and media on the slightest of detail. I’m sucked into defending the indefensible of the sport against those who view casually, I am forced to engage on arguments over the comparisons to MMA in search of a mythical ‘right or wrong’, and then, I am mandated to fill column inches and spiel over the farcical events that come around yearly: most recently Mayweather vs McGregor.
But this is crucial. We were all casual fans once, and some may still be. All it takes that once trigger to get you hooked on the most absorbing sport of all.
It has its faults, but that’s what makes it human. That’s what makes it the best. If you ever feel like boxing has knocked you down, make sure to rise again before the 10 count. You won’t regret it.