Introspection can be a dangerous folly in your mid-forties, leading as it does to the contemplation of regret, of the unfulfilled, of the opportunity missed. All of us seek to resist the intrusion and the creep of negative thoughts; realigning our index of success to reflect the wisdom accrued in triumph and disaster or, perhaps, less constructively, by dismissing those failures as the fault of others or a conspiracy of circumstance. Neither is a panacea, and even for those enjoying the conspicuous fulfilment of their life and professional goals, irrespective of how well they aged into adulthood, there is no absolute protection from the often withering darkness of middle age.
For those of us not tied to a profession dependent on our physical supremacy, the battle is just as real but nevertheless softened by the elongated nature of our careers and the extended opportunity for achievement and respect that offers. Strikingly less acute than the challenge facing professional sports people, for whom the denouement is played out in the public eye, and worst still for boxers for whom the fall is frequently irreversible and often manifestly stark.
There are few grey areas in a boxing ring, where binary outcomes are most common, after all.
The precipice a prizefighter finds himself on; as his thirties disappear to the bottom of the hour glass, must be frightening and, it appears, a bewilderingly unexpected reality. As the injuries occur more frequently, the damage accrues, the reflex dulls and the extravagance of youth, both physical and financial, begins to haunt rather than motivate, the realisation that they didn’t get ‘it’ done, whether ‘it’ is monetary or in terms of accomplishment, has to be a terrifying truth to discover for anyone. But within the confines of a ring, or in the climb to the apron? Perhaps even more so.
Boxing has a long and undistinguished history of leaving fighters as it too often finds them; alone, vulnerable and destitute. Its promise of maternal embrace and paternal guidance is, more often than not, a mirage for those fighters, even those blessed with skills, commercial value and intelligence, who realise too late that they must remain self-reliant beyond the affluence of a prime they are misled to believe is either elastic or unending.
This idea was brought to mind as the rematch between David Haye, 37, and Tony Bellew, 35, approaches this weekend. They arrive at the bout with entirely different career paths and contrasting perspectives on what this fight represents too, I suspect. Bellew is riding the crest of an unexpectedly high and lucrative wave whilst Haye, to continue the analogy, is desperately trying to stay on the surf board long enough to paddle back out to the really big ‘breakers’. The latter’s quest has become increasingly unedifying, no matter how good he looks in his Speedos, and, like the former, ever more transparent in its purely financial motivation.
Instinctively, and by habit, I would usually be supporting Tony Bellew this weekend; as the man perceived to be the underdog and with a mistrust and dislike, in the main, of the egotistical, of the flash and of the arrogant. Everything that the David Haye we’ve endured since the opening bell of his fight with Wladimir Klitschko has been proven to be.
And yet, as I contemplate life, her veils, layers and tribulations, as long drives to Torquay can often encourage me to do, I’m minded to be more empathetic to Haye’s cause than I have been for a while. He is, after all, just a man who has made mistakes, like the rest of us, who has flaws, who has belatedly realised he misspent much of his prime and his money, and is looking for redemption before its too late.
In the great if, and but, and maybe, of Haye’s career, as he places everything he has left in to this last game of pitch and toss on Saturday night, I hope he finds peace in at least filling the ‘last sixty seconds’ of his career with all the distance he can run.
Because in retrospect, when the crowds have gone, as retirement comes and the last microphone has been switched off, he may find more solace and contentment in the effort he deployed than in the triumphs or disasters.
A truth that unifies all of us.