Let’s start with the obvious statements of intent. I love boxing, particularly British Boxing. I want Boxing to be as good as it was; as good as I remember it. But let be honest, it isn’t anymore and no amount of love, yearning and nostalgia is going to help its cause with the British sporting public. The sporting masses have moved on, too much choice now – from Premier League Football to MMA to Superbikes. Other sports have upped their game with accessibility, revenue, hype and mass appeal it’s all Super Saturday, Super League and Supermarket Killing Spree. They’re all sexy and modern, like airbrushed, live streamed internet porn to Boxings hirsute, creased paged, Razzle Rompers. Pugilism used to be Super Sexy, now it occupies the same shelf as the old dames of Snooker, Horse Racing and Darts. Like a miasmic mix of an ageing supermodel, a retired stripper and an alcoholic, shambolic elderly member of your extended family whose burden you all have to share at Christmas. Relegated to that category of hangover telly that leaves you with the Hobsons choice of Curling on BBC2, horseshit Friends re-runs across the Channel 4 stable or Boxing on Eurosport. A very poor state of affairs all round.
To put it in context, I grew up in the late Eighties, three miles up a dirt track, directly Northwest from Nowheremuir in the Scottish Borders. Amongst many other things, we were restricted to two and a half TV channels of varyingly poor reception. From sheer necessity the radio became my only link to the sporting world and so the seeds were sown for a lifelong love affair with the peerlessly professional 5 Live from the BBC. As if by perfect example, I sit here now listening to the podcast of 5 Live Boxing, the stations bi-monthly cap-doff to the now minority sport of boxing, it serves as a reminder of the faded glamour of the monolith that was once the sport of Boxing.
Growing up in the Eighties I enjoyed the massive fights of that era featuring Leonard, Duran, Hagler, Hearns, Benn, Piper, Eubank, Bruno, Tyson, Lewis, McGuigan...the list goes on and on. Memories attached to each. Sitting with my Dad at 5 in the morning listening to Frank Bruno’s brief world halting moment against Tyson live from Las Vegas, the unsurpassed epic that was Benn v Eubank that seemed to last an eternity and still continues in their heads and mine.
Even as I moved to London to study English in the Mid-Nineties and amongst the distractions of Marlboro Lights, Urban Hymns and The Bricklayers Arms, boxing on the radio followed throughout my life. Evander Holyfield v Michael Moorer, 4am live from Las Vegas, bottle of Jamesons. Herbie Hide v Tony Tucker whilst trying to ignore an essay on Angela Carter, the antidote to an ordeal no man should have to endure. Boxing was always there, always exciting, always producing. To this day, I still retain more knowledge from the Boxing books of Norman Mailer, George Kimball and Hugh Mcllvaney, than I do from Shakespeare, Keats, Hardy and inevitability Angela Carter. My degree might sit pointlessly and doughy on my CV, studies and essays long since disappeared from my cortex but my knowledge of the Heavyweight era of the Seventies still sits very much in the frontal lobe. An era in bloom before I was born, I might add.
It’s not like there’s no good boxers anymore. The likes of Amir Khan, Ricky Hatton, Joe Calzaghe, Carl Foch and James DeGale are as good as any but the current leading light tells the real story. David Haye is the first British Heavyweight Champion since Lennox Lewis but he’s king of a hugely reduced kingdom. His fight with Audley Harrison will go down in history and an indicator, an embodiment of these times of sparseness. We will look back, shake our heads and remember one of the worst. Even taking into account they are both southpaw counter punchers, a combination never likely to produce anything other than an awkward clumsy fight, especially at heavyweight, it was awful. Audley Harrison, a man who flinches when his opponent so much as rolls a shoulder should never have been a considered opponent. And no matter what happens when Haye finally meets the Klitschko brothers, I know, deep down in my heart it won’t ever reach the heights of the big fights of the past.
So it’s left to Steve Bunce, the Tim Westwood of British Boxing, to keep flying the flag and pimping the sport to a largely apathetic group of punters. Whilst I indulge in football, rugby and all the other usual suspects, nothing gets my heart racing, my pupils small and my fists clammy like the build up to a big fight. For that, boxing will always be my sporting first and although I miss the glamour and mass hysteria that once enhanced the whole experience, I’ll still find myself listening to a fight, live from Vegas at four in the morning without ever once questioning why.
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