Boxing can make you cry. Boxing can make you shout. Make you sing. Excite you. Demoralise you. Inspire millions. Save a lonely soul. A single prize-fight can evoke all of these emotions, bring communities together, even unify the divided, if only temporarily. Since the 1950s the pioneers of commercial television realised the potential boxing had to provide enthralling action and, soon after, the draw the men in each corner could become if their stories, their characters were revealed.
It is why, alongside the practicalities of a sport viewed through the monochrome of the early television sets, champions wore white shorts, the challenger black. Just as their contemporary storytellers in Hollywood depicted good guys with white Stetsons and evil landowners in Black ones. Boxing wanted you to care, to ‘pull’ for one guy or the other. And to watch the adverts too of course.
Along the way, with the evolution of television into Technicolor and ultimately high definition, to giant screens and back to tiny ones we can carry in our pocket, the power of these narratives has been forgotten. As has the superficial innocence and simplicity of coronating only one champion per division. Engulfed by opportunists, spivs and tawdry snake oil salesmen with their dirty hands and compromised morals, these vital tenants of what makes boxing, well, boxing are too often overlooked.
This ugly, if occasionally lucrative, new world would be unrecognisable to a fight fan of the 1930s, perhaps for the better, perhaps not. Beyond dispute is the unhelpful deluge of dispute it creates. An unfathomable maze of fights that never materialise awaits all new attendees, a labyrinth of conflicting ratings, where contract riders can sink multi-million dollar showdowns quicker than a Joe Louis left hook could fell that month’s bum. A world where four significant sanctioning bodies co-exist with half a dozen insignificant ones, each of whom recognise 17 weight classes and frequently contrive to classifying a dozen different fighters as World Champion within a single division. A world away from the admittedly problematic but oh so simple days of yore.
Fight fans, the good old Joe Public, fell for much of it along the way and when they did have moments of clarity and see through the bluster and bull shit, they always crossed the moral line they redrew in the sand, whether it be ticket prices or the advance of pay-per-view. There was no solidarity, they didn’t coordinate, nor mobilise or recognise their collective power.
In the UK, the hardcore boxing fans has been similarly engulfed. Swallowed up by the far greater number of casual sport and event fans Matchroom Sports has drawn to the fights. Boxing is first an entertainment. A night out. Boxing is an event. Not a league. Not always the meritocracy purists argue for.
All this led us to Moscow, 21st July 2018. A place, a moment in time, when the seemingly endless tease of disputed championships, Silver belts, eliminators – the soap opera where there should be theatre – would come to a thundering and satisfying crescendo.
In light of the historic outcome, it was easy, despite the oxymoronic truth at the heart of all ‘unification’ bouts, for the panel to elect Oleksander Usyk as the My Fight Tickets Boxer of the Month for July. His unanimous victory over Murat Gassiev of Russia allowed him to collect all four of those sanctioning belts, The Ring Magazine belt and the glittering Muhammad Ali trophy too. More importantly it removed the word disputed from all conversations about the division, returning Cruiserweight to a romanticised by gone age in which it wasn’t originally present and allowed boxing fans; casual and pathological to enjoy boxing as one. No qualifications were required to understand the meaning of the bout nor was it merely a populist indulgence without historical importance. It was both fun and important.
An all too rare communion.
The belts, at least for a while, are now redundant. Usyk is THE Cruiserweight World Champion. His performance in securing the win was masterful and reduced the 24-year-old Russian with a dynamite left hook to the role of passive spectator in his own life, if only for 36 minutes. The tournament has made a star of Usyk, although I could muster an argument that Usyk was the star that made the tournament, such has been the masterpiece he’s painted on the blank canvas the concept provides.
Our panel of three did enjoy the performance of Dereck Chisora the following weekend too, not to mention the pluck and no little quality of Doncaster’s Dave Allen knockout win on the same card, but the gravitas of Usyk’s achievement proved irresistible.
2018 June – Lewis Ritson
2018 May – Josh Warrington
2018 April – Tommy Coyle
2018 March – Lewis Ritson