Absence makes the heart grow fonderIsle of Beauty, Thomas Haynes Bayly, 1797-1839
Any pursuit elicits frustration and apathy in even its most ardent admirers from time to time. The pursuit and the follower are both a composition of variables that insist their relationship is one of ups and downs. Of sunshine and darkness. Boxing, in all her blood splattered chaos, is inherently inclined to frustrate more than most endeavours.
Among the excitement and wonder boxing engenders, the Cinderella stories and greatness it is crucible too, the ugly sisters of cynicism and sarcasm are the tones struck when otherwise monogamous devotees articulate their despair. A chorus of mismatches, marination and muddle cheats on the affection extended to it by its fans.
No other sport brings together its leading participants together as infrequently as boxing does. As January unfurls and the year’s early schedule is revealed, it is possible fans clamouring for the best to fight the best as well as those willing to moderate their own expectations and embrace the not so goods versus the not so goods, could finally be rewarded.
The sport is too often a work of the mythical, as much fiction as it is fact. A pantomime of promise, tease and half truths. However, with the schedule shared, there are reasons to be hopeful. Not because a utopia is within reach, but because compromise, between fans, fighters and promoters and a greater appreciation of each other, is beginning to grip all parties. A realisation that there is an interdependence between them and that their goals need to be more closely aligned.
In recent times, the story of a fight to be, or a fight never made, often consumes fans more than those that do. Into the vacuum created by these ghost ship fights has stumbled the nonsense of celebrity haymakers and, most recently, the crumbling castles of Tyson and Jones trundling through an exhibition. One for the new audience, one for the old. Neither important.
A global pandemic, and the hiatus it inserted into this peculiar landscape, has, for this crusty cynic at least, proved a cathartic period. Suddenly, the eyes are refreshed and the mind focussed on those bouts on the calendar rather than those yet to appear. Conor Benn tangling with Samuel Vargas, Ortiz and Hooker mooted and the first exploratory whistle for Wilder v Martin. None of those are A-list attractions and yet, I will be seeking all of them out with enthusiasm.
I just want to watch boxing. Be a bystander to the individual’s story and watch their part in the wider narrative of each weight class. Maybe I’m reflective of fans, and the promoters, fighters and managers, perhaps there is a mutual compromise occurring. A revolution of sorts. Fighters also seem a little more eager to fight, a year with similar outgoings and lowered income will motivate even the reluctant warrior, but also because the pause encouraged a reappraisal of their goals. Their twenties roar in their excess, but soon give way to the depression and hang over of their thirties.
In those short careers the loss of 2020 is significant. It has been a sobering experience for fighters not able to remain active and with a perception of their worth way beyond their accomplishments. Whilst innovation enabled some fights to occur behind closed doors, the product without fans is not the same product at all. If that truth is acknowledged, competitive and progressive match ups may become more regular. Certainly, the right hand side of the bill being populated by 20/1 shots cannot continue. Main events have to be stronger.
But equally, the evangelicals have to accept the odd Yildrim nestled among the better fights, especially if the busyness Canelo, who is penned to fight Yildrim next month, is to become more widespread. As in all things, a balance, a compromise, needs to be struck. Ali had his zeniths of Liston, Frazier and Foreman, but there was a sprinkling of Blin, Coopman and Wepner too. No offence Chuck.
Fans will be willing to accommodate such indulgences, if the promises of Spence and Crawford, Fury and Joshua, Canelo Golovkin 3 or, did I say ‘or’, I meant and, Lopez v Garcia are fulfilled. In order for those to be made, fighters may need to park their egos, at least in part, promoters need to countenance the risk of defeat and both will need to relish the pursuit of redemption if it has to be sought.
Me, I’m compromising too. I’m reengaging my dormant Maurice Harris muscle, stop it, to revel in Trevor Bryan v Mahmoud Charr, watch the fight not the belt, and the whispers of Ruiz Jnr. and Chris Arreola intrigue me too. I’m keen on the British Light-Heavyweights fighting each other. Seeing Carl Frampton go again. Fabio Wardley v Eric Molina? Count me in, Povetkin and Whyte? Recycled? Sorry, rematch? Yeh, even that.
Boxing, life, relationships, isn’t it all a compromise.