When We Were Kings

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” – Winston Churchill

I remember as a kid of about 10 or 11 years old and visiting a local boxing gym in the town (née shithole) I grew up in. At the time, it was in a community centre and it didn’t have much in the way of equipment, bags, or a ring for that matter. It was mostly improvised. There were plenty of jump ropes, a few guys were being shown how to spar, and there were 2 boys going toe-to-toe in the makeshift ring.

The guy who was running the club was an ex-boxer himself and came across as tough as nails (as you’d expect). I remember him telling us that boxing wasn’t for everyone and that it took a huge amount of dedication, practice, discipline and self-sacrifice to get anywhere in the game. He sensed that most of us wouldn’t be back to the club after we’d had a sparring session later that night on our first visit. He wasn’t wrong.

All I remember (and I don’t mean that as a pun) was that I didn’t really like getting smacked around by my opponent who seemed to make a lot better use of the big gloves. Nor did I enjoy all the ducking, diving, weaving and constant movement that’s required when you’re in the ring. I was, to put it mildly, shit. Totally clueless, an uncoordinated mess, and definitely destined for a career outside the world of pugilism.

That said, I’d always followed the sport with some interest and to this day prefer it to the more popular MMA or UFC fights that are frequently on in my local bars of an evening. I don’t know, there was just something about the big fights that always got you going. I remember watching Muhammad Ali fight Larry Holmes and (Ali’s last fight I think?) and listening to my old man and uncle say how sad it was to see him take a whopping like that. Or Jim Watt’s World Title fights (he was from about 4 or 5 miles from where I grew up) and was the palest man I’d ever seen, even for a Scot, but he was a really gutsy, lightweight fighter. Barry McGuigan was another one who was a smashing wee fighter. There were also some local guys from Condorrat who fought professionally, Drew and Wilson Docherty and did very well. You were probably more than likely to see these guys fight on free-to-air channels where they usually brought in big audience figures.

Then there was Tyson. His fights from the US were always on at mad hours, usually in the middle of the night. Or you saw highlights the following day(which in the early Mike Tyson era were always very, very short) as he was nonchalantly pummeling his way to fame and fortune. As we all saw his subsequent fall from grace, and the shady shenanigans of Don King (the promoter) who turned the whole ‘event’ into nothing more than a pantomime (for cheap crooks and gangsters was what it really looked like), boxing never really seemed the same to me after that.

Today, however, I’m reading my way through the news from the last day or so and I come across a Youtube clip highlighting last night’s WBC heavyweight title fight between Dereck Chisora who lost to Ukrainian Vitali Klitschko on points. Not a huge surprise he lost, but in fact he’s being credited as having put up much more of a fight than fellow-Brit, show pony, and all-round gobshite, David Haye did against Klitschko last year.

The first clip was disgusting enough when Chisora (who?) spits water in the face of his opponents brother, Wladimir. What a charmer, eh?

Dereck Chisora (L) exchages blows with David Haye during post fight press conference

It was then followed by this, what can only be described as a piece of surreal theatre, where Haye (who, remember wasn’t fighting) and Chisora start a huge brawl with punches being thrown, cameras, bottles, it was all kicking off.

Then, 3:41 minutes into the clip came the knockout punch – “I swear to God I’m going to shoot you. I’m going to shoot David Haye”, proclaims Chisora to a packed (and somewhat shocked and stunned) audience. There then follows scenes of sheer pandemonium where (it has to be said) a very scary Chisora further threatens to ‘burn’ Haye, inside or outside the ring. It also transpires today that the German Plod want to question both men over the incident, but Haye has yet to be located.  I’m sure he’ll turn up soon enough. Afterall, he does like talking…

It seems to me that this is either the most elaborate of stunts to build up some more tension for another fight between two fighters, who are frankly not very good. Or, it’s going to lead the sport somewhere just shy of the gutter where it already sits precariously next to. Hype is one thing, and sure, everyone likes a bit of theatre before a fight. Some trash talking never did anyone any harm, and we know it’s all in the name of getting more bums on seats. Or in the case of boxing today, more bums to spend $40 on an event package from HBO or Showtime.

Nobody did the self-publicity game quite like Muhammad Ali, and nothing quite captures him in his prime (in my opinion at least) as the excellent “When We Were Kings”, that documents his classic “Rumble in The Jungle” fight  in 1974 with George Foreman. Of course, almost forty years later, the game has changed, but I’d like to think that somewhere out there we can return to heady days of the ‘Sweet Science’ and leave chumps like Haye and Chisora where they belong – the playground.

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Author: From a Late Night Train

Teacher. Musician. Ponderer. Had lived in Seoul, South Korea since 2000. Moved back to Glasgow, Scotland in May 2017.

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