Article first appeared in Big Write Hook Magazine: Round 2
Heart. Every successful fighter must have it. Not the pumping organ of all human kind. The intangible version; heart as the metaphoric adjective for the invisible and yet essential.
Other terms are coined to define this unquantifiable asset; courage, guts, balls. Words you will read and hear in the tumult of a boxing match and in the aftermath, when the cups and broken dreams are swept away. Beneath the spotlight of a more dispassionate scrutiny ‘heart’ proves an elusive quarry. What is it? How can it be proven, can it be measured, developed, lost or restored?
Greatness demands a fighter must summon this inner force, delving deep inside himself and if his career does not require it, does not insist on the demonstration of its presence, the fighter’s reputation is forever qualified by that absence. However luminous the career, irrespective of a fighter’s dominance, the question will always remain. The ‘heart’ question never stops beating. “Yeh, but has he had a gut check? Has he dealt with adversity? When has he had to dig deep and show heart?” It is why the untouchable Roy Jones Jnr. was maligned and why his successor Floyd Mayweather fails to touch us on a sensory or emotional level.
Perhaps this disconnection reveals more of our own weakness and vulnerability than ever it can of those on whom we impose the demand. Every fighter who steps between the ropes, the present day gladiators of our collective imagination, dares to venture to places we fear to tread. Faced with confrontation many of us, as nature decrees, will take flight or freeze and some will fight. Marching toward the danger, volunteering when most feel no such instinct.
Boxers claim our interest through this willingness to step forward, to compete in the furnace of a boxing ring. Most of us have kicked or thrown a ball or run a race but few have donned the gloves or even had a fight in the playground. Boxing is an absolute, in it’s individualism and the simplicity of it’s premise. By the solitary metric of one man (or woman) being better than his (or her) opponent. Stripped to the waist, beneath the glare of the lights, offering himself and what he has, what he is, to an unknown congregation. There are few escapes from the impeachment of triumph and loss. Boxing offers none of the hiding places afforded by team sports and the pain and suffering in victory can look remarkably similar to that of defeat.
And it is in the avatar of our best selves that a boxer inhabits in which the reverence afforded to them is forged. In their willingness to fight, to risk, to dare and to sacrifice, our hearts are captured in the display of theirs. It is why we loved Chris Eubank when he leapt two weight classes to fight the thunderous Carl Thompson and lost, why we adored the sight of Nigel Benn climbing back up the stairs to walk down Gerald McLellan and why Sir Henry, his face a veil of blood, was Our ‘Enry.
To go forward when all is seemingly lost, to persevere in the face of immeasurable odds, to resist the clamour of the body to stop, to continue in the most brutal of all sporting operas, that is where the heart of boxing is, where greatness and the associated awe is found.
It is why no fighter’s career is entirely complete until they’ve shown it, it is why Arturo Gatti is beloved in a way the technically superior Floyd Mayweather can never be.
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