What do we think about boxing? A couple of opinion forming images have probably snagged on all our consciences.
The first – of the reports in 1997 of Mike Tyson biting Evander Holyfields’ ear in the third round of a heavyweight fight. The second – of British boxer David Haye and Zimbabwean-born Dereck Chisora attacking each other on air during a television interview in February 2012.
Not a lot to admire in either image but they are hard to forget.
I have jigsaw images of my first taste of live boxing. The military crowd, majority male, were in mess kits. The shouting was intensely masculine and partisan with each rank cheering on its man. Between bouts women, of the seductive drape variety, swayed on needle heels around the ring carrying helpful numbers. It was a noise-filled, flesh- and-bone sort of evening.
Three weeks ago I met a different kind of boxing at a family boxing show at the Heart of Portsmouth Boxing Academy. The ring stood right in the centre of the brightly lit gymnasium. On each side stood a long table with three smartly dressed judges. Around them families, local boxing club coaches and their champions came and went. Tracksuits flashed the names of the clubs being represented: Guildford City Amateur Boxing Club (ABC) , Crawley ABC, Heart of Portsmouth ABC, Spit ‘n Sawdust, Windrush Valley ABC, The Royal Navy, Oxford University ABC and others.
This was the business end of boxing. There was a mix of anticipation and nerves in the disciplined crowd lightened by the excitement of those young enough not to fight. For others it was their first chance to step inside a ring in front of an audience and judges. The evening ran like clockwork – 11 year olds sparred with 11 year olds, girls fought girls and young men took each other on.
One of the young men was from Oxford University – it was his first fight. They called him Archie. His opponent from Portsmouth was Sam – taller, quicker, slicker. It was brutal for Archie but, nose pumping blood, he never stepped back from the punishment.
“He did good,” was the verdict of a young boxer. “He’s got heart – that’s what you need,” added his blonde, ringletted sister. “He just needs to keep going.“
Earlier this week I met yet another version of boxing – this time ‘Town V Gown’ in a sold out Oxford Union debating hall. The mood was mixed and the average age, including boxers, was student. Most of the females watching had a sort of “must-I-eat-this-horsemeat burger” look on their faces while the males seemed keen for more – with ketchup.
Archie fought again that night. His opponent, as before, was taller and possibly quicker but this time Archie was harder to find and the Gowns were on his side. There was blood in the ring but it wasn’t his.
What do I think of boxing now?
The event in late January at the Heart of Portsmouth Boxing Academy taught me something. It showed me a room full of highly disciplined, respectful youngsters taking themselves to their limits. I’ve only ever found that atmosphere once before and it was at a community rodeo in Ralston, Alberta in Canada.
Boxing is a blood sport and, as with the young bull-riders, the danger is jaw-smashing and personal … with nowhere to hide.
What do I think? I can’t think but I can feel. My son is a boxer.