In the relative tranquility of midweek, a peace I enforce rather than receive from boxing by default, when the memory of the preceding weekend is flushed of emotion and the fights ahead do not yet submerge them into shadow, I often grow reflective and thoughtful. Boxing’s busyness is welcome, as I’ve written before many of us remember the wilderness years of leisure centres and the WBF, but as with all things in society these days, there is barely time to pause for breath.
Within that loss of stillness and opportunity for reflection there is a danger we’ve begun to view fighters as entirely consumable objects, like a lightbulb or, to lean on idiom, yesterday’s newspaper. As swiftly as a fighter piques the interest of the masses, the fight is completed, the carnival and camera moves on to the next event and our interest is suspended until the winner, and often only the winner, steps back on to the stage.
When the hubbub leaves the fighter’s ears, in the darkness left behind by the passing spotlight, fighters reconcile the purse, their progress and the diminished remains of the whole they began with. On completion of that process, they become, more ostensibly, one of us again; fathers, husbands, sons and perhaps lonely, scared, content, depressed, doubtful, hopeful, skint, happy or sad too. Maybe bits of all.
Just like the rest of us.
My love of boxing and fighters has always been entwined with the internal monologue of my childhood. Via the connection to my lost Grandfather, his passion for the sport inspired my own, and the assumption fighters represented everything I wasn’t as a small boy and younger man, and everything that same Grandfather had been; brave, confident, self-assured, dedicated, hard-working, respected, strong.
Maturity and the necessities of fatherhood, as well as a couple of years invested at my local Amateur Club as a 30-something, has brought happy salvation from some of that self-doubt and changed the lens with which I viewed those unknowingly burdened with my childhood assumptions.
The weekend’s boxing brought these evolving conclusions in to ever sharper focus, notably in the heart felt comments of Sam Sexton about the death of his mother and the playground remarks made to his six-year old daughter about his absence from her life. He swallowed hard on his emotions as he cradled the Lonsdale belt he’d just secured in a rousing and messy victory over Gary Cornish, a belt he had craved but had had to forgo pursuit of to attend to those family issues and his own injuries, “you can tell them now you do have a proper Dad and he’s British Heavyweight champion.”
As Buncey might have said, it was brutal stuff.
Into this contemplation of the humanness of fighters, a truth the populist and relentlessness of modern day boxing promotion increasingly ignores, the release of Frank Bruno’s updated memoir, ‘Let Me Be Frank’, was a timely intervention. Reminding us just how vulnerable our heroes are, in both success and failure.
As I sit and reflect on the difficult images of Avni Yildirim’s feet stretching for a floor they were already on, Robbie Barrett push himself back to his feet to tackle a man he didn’t have the tools to beat and Tom Farrell risk his long-term health to punch with Ohara Davies, I have been struck by a more telling insight.
The more like me, the less super-human, the less perfect these fighters prove to be the more heroic their actions and the greater the esteem I hold them in becomes.
With that in mind I’ve vowed never to begrudge a fighter opting out when the going gets too tough and to not judge from a position of ignorance when pointing to a fighter’s inactivity or loss of motivation.
I’ve grown to realise that those demons of the human condition; self-doubt, anxiety and distraction, not to mention lost love and loneliness, can befall any of us whether the spotlight is there or not.