First published by Knockout London magazine’s May 2018 issue.
In these distracted times of ours, in which life is rarely experienced through the entire sensory system, people are too often unwitting passengers in their own existence. A desire to record and share, rather than touch, smell and witness is depriving many of us of the immersion required to properly capture or appreciate an event, however expensive the opportunity to access it proved.
At some future meeting point, when these memories are called upon, where rich descriptions of how it felt to be there once thrived, embellished and enhanced by the retelling, there will remain only video clips and a gallery of vacuous self-portraits.
Precious few phenomena, beyond the globally significant or catastrophic, prove capable of thrusting themselves through this curious and self-inflicted catatonia. Boxing, with her intoxicating cocktail of the scientific and barbaric, possesses the required equipment, as Raquel Welch may have described it, to reach viewers at a more emotional, primitive level than most other spectator experiences.
But even the oldest show girl, for all her resurgent popularity, fails to engross every one of her voyeurs, regular and casual, as exclusively as once she might.
It is true that ‘The Fancy’ that follows Anthony Joshua is of historic numbers, the brilliance of Gennady Golovkin has a timeless quality and that the career earnings of Floyd Mayweather are unprecedented. Their stories are rich in plot and laden with fights that should live long in the memory, if only superficially for those viewing through a four-inch, illuminated peep hole, but none of them bewilder or create disciples of the disbelieving. None of the trio force you to think, to ask, as a reflex; “how the fuck does he do that?”
In the lifetime I mention, which began in the summer of 73, I’ve seen many great fighters, watched dozens of incredible fights, comebacks, knockouts and master classes too. Not to mention a fair few career-long indulgences of contenders who were never as good, or as hard done by, as my romantic soul wanted them to be.
But only two rendered me speechless and slack-jawed ‘in the moment’. There have been better heavyweights than Mike Tyson, as there have been, and will be again, greater featherweights than Naseem Hamed, but those two stupefied and gasted people’s flabber in ways others never could.
The epitome of the ‘Show reel’ fighter, both Tyson and Hamed appeared to defy both the conventions of the sport from which they were catapulted into the conversation of the time and the wider laws of physiology too. They made you shout your Dad to ‘come and see‘, they were the playground and bar topic for days and in the former’s case, supplanted forebears to update the cliché; ‘you look like you’ve gone 10 rounds with Tyson’.
Over the past year, into the abundant opportunity of a post Mayweather world, the Ukrainian Vasyl Lomachenko has emerged, if less explosively, as a new member of this particularly exclusive club. Like Hamed and Tyson before him he has reduced boxing stalwarts to dumbstruck totems and even the advent of high definition viewing and super slow replays offers no simple explanation of the sorcery he’s deploying. In just a dozen professional contests, of which 11 have been 12 round title bouts, Lomachenko has won world title belts at three different weight classes. Three.
Others have relayed these statistics, the records he’s broken professionally and amassed across two Olympic cycles as an Amateur before and to do so again will be repetitive and fail to capture the feeling he engenders in the spectator. Remarkable though the numbers are.
Boxing is a sport that is felt not measured after all, more symbiotic with our primeval selves than the sanitised, superficial ‘us’ that grows increasingly holographic by the tweet. Perhaps the yearning for something tangible, something that creates a wonder, the type we experienced as children, has helped fuel the resurgence of boxing and our nostalgia for times gone by.
Like printed books, vinyl records, vintage tearooms and rustic fare, boxing is enjoying a new found relevance. We are all beginning to recognise the craving the opioid of social media creates rather than sates and the lack of nourishment afforded by the hollow materialism of ‘Facebook one-upmanship’ we all participate in. The wizardry of Lomachenko is a perfect, if baffling, conduit for this renaissance and an anti-dote to the numbing of our senses, self inflicted by our obsession with recording, not living. He draws more fans into his thrall with every passing contest; adorning, as he does, the old masters’ fundamentals with new angles and combinations and breaking the hearts of those he faces.
However implausible it might be that you are reading this having never seen Lomachenko fight, I would encourage you to do so. And tell a friend to come and watch too, whether live or by the miracle of YouTube, because together you may find a way to define the once in a generation genius of Vasyl Lomachenko and answer the question his methods, like those of Tyson and Hamed before him, pose.
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