Many small brooks make a big river.
The boxing podcast from the BBC, presented by Mike Costello and Steve Bunce, is an essential listen and has grown warmer and more meaningful as it has evolved. Such is Steve’s omnipresence across almost every conceivable platform and medium around, his yarns about the loveable rogues and lost souls he’s encountered along his voyage through the boxing world have become ever more entertaining and vital.
Beneath the repartee he clearly enjoys with Mike, there is a genuine care for the sport as a viable and healthy entity but also, and most keenly, for the men, and women, who climb between the ropes. In their discussion of Amir Khan’s future, which has been widely distributed by the BBC website, there was yet more evidence of the duty of care they feel to those who punch for pay and for our entertainment regardless of how well received that opinion might be by those about whom it is aired.
I watched the same fight they did at the weekend, variously witnessed the same losses and flash knockdowns and knockouts Amir Khan has suffered, survived and subjected others to, albeit from a good deal further away. Yet the suggestion Khan should call it a day and not continue to fights with Brook, Pacquiao or even the consensus top five of Garcia, Porter, Spence, Thurman or Crawford didn’t occur to me.
It is true that Khan has always retained the interest of fans as much for the vulnerabilities a procession of coaches, as Mike and Steve were correct to point out, have unanimously failed to overcome as his skill and pedigree. It is his calling card. An unfortunate one. Perhaps it is within the inevitability of him hitting the deck when ever the ‘chips are down’ that led me to overlook the significance of Saturday’s example.
Hung up on percentages
There are lessons contained in his need to continue fighting too. Too many modern fighters are hung up on percentages and hollow platitudes about ‘legacy’. The greater control fighters feel empowered to take over their careers should be embraced, on the whole. Failing to would contradict our collective outrage at many of the victims portrayed in Steve’s parables about the sport’s damaged ghosts, but in that control sometimes fighters over value themselves and follow a path of least resistance as keenly as their would be managers and promoters would’ve done.
That he is still in pursuit of Manny Pacquiao is sad, if reflective of a commercial acumen gathered across a decade in the business and the resulting relationships with all of the fight game’s foremost movers and shakers. It may also suggest greater awareness of his place in the welterweight opera at this stage than his staccato rhetoric often implies. For certain, is the sense his career lacks a signature victory. Regret, I once read, is the heaviest word in the dictionary.
Brook to shrink to Welterweight again
Of greater alarm, and further evidence of this phenomenon, that too many fighters find themselves in the twilight of their career with things as yet unproven, is the news would be nemesis Kel Brook, aged 32, is contemplating emaciating himself to make Welterweight one last time. This is, public record will show, a division he supposedly outgrew 5 years ago.
My day is spent in front of a blank white page. Or a steering wheel. This means I don’t have to be punched in the head to earn my keep, and as Paul Smith Jnr. might encourage me to remember, I cannot therefore understand how a fighter’s mind works. But wouldn’t Brook and Khan have been remembered ever more fondly were they now selling a ‘rubber-match’ at Light-Middleweight following a shared pair of fights at Welter in 2014 and 2016? And, vitally, maybe, have been better paid too?
As I’ve said about the trio of Benn, Eubank and Watson, the ultimate rivals, Frazier and Ali, or the more humble Gatti and Ward, their greatness and the fondness with which they are remembered is forged in their equality. Not in dominance.
In each other, Khan and Brook had a natural foe and it is a shame that the fight didn’t occur within the peak of their powers and we will now see only a facsimile of what that bout might have been and might have meant.
Seeing the wood for the trees
None of this sadness led me to consider suggesting Amir Khan retire, as both Steve and Mike venture he should. Perhaps it should have done. Perhaps, watching Amir, has blunted my reflexes too. Perhaps, had Amir been more durable in his prime his knockdown on Saturday may have proved more alarming, his slippage more conspicuous.
As it is, I’m minded to agree that in the end, the popular Welterweight will be knocked out again.
Hopefully, without long-term damage and no more than once more. It would be a popular wish that he secure his elusive signature victory first. Beneath some of the more lurid headlines of the past few years, he is someone who has contributed hugely to British boxing, his community and several causes around the world.