Sliding doors; Donaire and Burnett move on

There is no luck in life. Things happen. Things don’t. Some expected. Some not. Fighters don’t always get what they deserve, sometimes they get things they don’t – if anyone is qualified to make the determination.

If there are individuals of the required integrity and absence of ego to adjudicate, as yet, they haven’t found employment amid the racketeers running the sport’s sanctioning bodies, but I digress.

The coincidence of Ryan Burnett retirement announcement, a unified champion at 118 pounds before injury stole his prime, aged just 27, in the same week Nonito Donaire boxes Naoya Inoue in the final of the World Boxing Super Series Bantamweight competition seemed inescapable. But boxing is too cold a science to contemplate the ethereal presence of a hand of fate or any misplaced sense of destiny. Continue reading “Sliding doors; Donaire and Burnett move on”

All that glitters is not coal; Doncaster heavyweight Dave Allen and a century of struggle

By David Payne

When popular British heavyweight Dave Allen ambles to the ring on Saturday as the unofficial headline act in a show far removed from his Doncaster home, he will, as all of us do in some shape or form, seek to step in to the spotlight and beyond the shadow cast by his forefathers and the whisper of self-doubt amplified by their deeds.

Across the ring will stand the Liverpudlian giant, David Price. A man who denies the presence of such demons, with fighting pedigree the Yorkshireman can not yet requite and tangible advantages of height, reach and experience too. The O2 Arena in London plays host to this battle of could, would and should. A venue repurposed from inauspicious and self-conscious beginnings as the Millennium Dome and therefore an apt stage for the pair to find out a little more about each other, themselves and the realism of their respective ambitions.

It is a heavyweight contest with much to endear it to the boxing fraternity, the thousands promoters Matchroom Sports will urge to make the pilgrimage to the gate and the wider public too. Fighters like Allen and Price, flawed, with the bruises of life’s slings and arrows evident but not ruinous, with opportunity or obscurity waiting for the victor and the vanquished, often provide more entertainment and are more relatable heroes than those garrulous fellows of untainted preserve. We can admire Floyd, but we love Arturo. Continue reading “All that glitters is not coal; Doncaster heavyweight Dave Allen and a century of struggle”

Moving on up. Ali, Mayfield and Joshua’s all too familiar crossroads

“We planned and worked hard, from the very start
Tried to make him better, than all the rest
But the brother proved to be so much less.”

‘Eddie Should Know Better’ by Curtis Mayfield (1972)

Curtis Mayfield would’ve been 77 today, like his friend Muhammad Ali he was born in 1942, and the “gentle genius”, as he was often referred, passed away on Boxing Day in 1999. His legend, as one of the greatest musicians, songwriters and innovators of the century, was secured long before being struck by falling rigging while performing in Brooklyn in 1990. An accident that would paralyse him from the neck down.

He and Ali were both powerful social commentators, transcending their area of excellence in lives in the public eye that ran in parallel and through some of the most turbulent episodes in modern American history. In 1958 a 15 year-old Mayfield joined The Impressions a short two years before the then Cassius Clay flew off to the Rome Olympics, the musical pioneer’s passing came just three years after Ali’s iconic opening of the 1996 Atlanta games. An event that marked the beginning of the end for the century’s most famous face, for one last time he was able to demonstrate his courage and defiance, fighting, inch by inch, the symptoms of Parkinsons to deliver the Olympic flame.
Continue reading “Moving on up. Ali, Mayfield and Joshua’s all too familiar crossroads”

Fury, Wilder and Joshua; the normality of avoiding risk

Coincidences can prove jarring, awakening us from the mundanity of our rituals, sometimes they’re not evident without the spectacles of hindsight and occasionally the happenchance of concurrent events or unexpected meetings of people, things, occurrences pass by unnoticed. Just such serendipity brought together two different eras in the heavyweight division for me today and in doing so offered a salve to my throbbing suspicion that Tyson Fury’s alignment with Top Rank and ESPN will steal away a heavyweight era barely rediscovered beneath a layer of Ukrainian dust. Continue reading “Fury, Wilder and Joshua; the normality of avoiding risk”

The night the Raging Bull fell

“You can’t think about the past any more.”

Jake LaMotta, 1922-2017

No hush fell within the domed ceiling of the Miami Coliseum, the crowd’s hub-bub continued neither interrupted nor escalated by the sight of Jake LaMotta slumped to the canvas for the first time in his then 103-fight career. Referee Bill Regan, his once Welterweight frame thickened by twenty years of retirement, took up the count as LaMotta, 31 and fighting at a career high of 173 pounds, pawed for the bottom rope with his right hand.

Danny Nardico rushed to a corner, the adrenaline pumping through his body, the enormity of what he’d just done with a thunderous cross-cum-hook, the last of a flurry of clubbing shots, writ large before him. Whether he mouthed through his gum-shield; “stay-down” was never asked, all eyes were on LaMotta, the man who had once, if only once, beaten Sugar Ray Robinson but was now desperately over-reaching for the second rope, his spatial awareness scrambled by fatigue and the weight of the shot that put him there.

Regan’s fingers splayed wide in front of the bruised fudge of his face, “FIVE, SIX!”. Continue reading “The night the Raging Bull fell”

Fury returns from the abyss

“when you stare into an abyss for a long time, the abyss also stares into you.”

Nietzsche, 1886

As the thick black oil of sleep flooded through Tyson Fury’s gigantic body, the crackle of nervous energy that had powered his wit and reflex silenced, his senses immersed in unconsciousness; time, possibility and life all fell silent too. His body and mind in a temporal abyss, a place he had travelled close to in the darkness of the past three years, a destination boxing, until that moment, at the fists of her purest puncher, had saved him from.

In those moments, those precarious and precious seconds, Jack Reiss’ two palms and six digits casting a pale shadow over his blank, peaceful expression, something inside the 30-year old former champion stirred. Defining or quantifying the force or personal quality that drew Fury from the depths of the slumber Wilder’s right cross and left hook had plunged him in to is as close to impossible as the act itself. Continue reading “Fury returns from the abyss”

Ciao Enzo. Another boxing giant departs

Article first appeared in issue 22 of Knockout London Magazine

Biadu quie ischeddat in palas anzenas*

Sardinian Proverb

It is a sign of the passing of time that the heroes we hold most dear are leaving. The great talismanic figures we revere; totems within their chosen landscape, their accomplishments and influence reaching far beyond the lives they physically touch, are, one by one, beginning to depart. Earlier this year, boxing bade a sad farewell to the beloved Irish sage Brendan Ingle and now, with the autumn barely upon us, his death is compounded by the loss of a similarly diminutive colossus; Enzo Calzaghe. Continue reading “Ciao Enzo. Another boxing giant departs”

Brendan Ingle. Some things are meant to stay.

Some things are meant to stay, to remain, to defy. Offering an unconscious, if often illogical reassurance to the otherwise transient chaos of our day-to-day human experience. The things themselves, they’re different for all of us. They may be a person, a principle, perhaps a place, a truism you clutch or a collage of them all but regardless of their form, or on which premise they were collected, they provide foundation for the sandcastles of our lives. When one of these tumble and succumb to the tides of time to which we thought them immune, it resonates more deeply than ever we may have anticipated it might.

A few of these manifest in the relationship I have with boxing. Some are vague, abstract concepts like my belief that boxing’s gilded stories of redemption and salvation outweigh the physical damage and tragedies it facilitates, others are more tangible and, as in the case of late Brendan Ingle, an individual figure. Continue reading “Brendan Ingle. Some things are meant to stay.”

Worn out tools and the last If of David Haye’s career

Introspection can be a dangerous folly in your mid-forties, leading as it does to the contemplation of regret, of the unfulfilled, of the opportunity missed. All of us seek to resist the intrusion and the creep of negative thoughts; realigning our index of success to reflect the wisdom accrued in triumph and disaster or, perhaps, less constructively, by dismissing those failures as the fault of others or a conspiracy of circumstance. Neither is a panacea, and even for those enjoying the conspicuous fulfilment of their life and professional goals, irrespective of how well they aged into adulthood, there is no absolute protection from the often withering darkness of middle age.

For those of us not tied to a profession dependent on our physical supremacy, the battle is just as real but nevertheless softened by the elongated nature of our careers and the extended opportunity for achievement and respect that offers. Strikingly less acute than the challenge facing professional sports people, for whom the denouement is played out in the public eye, and worst still for boxers for whom the fall is frequently irreversible and often manifestly stark.

There are few grey areas in a boxing ring, where binary outcomes are most common, after all.

Continue reading “Worn out tools and the last If of David Haye’s career”

Archive: Old man Thompson stops Unbeaten Haye in 5

With yet another David Haye comeback appearing on the horizon I’m always nudged to remember the night he lost his unbeaten record. It is staggering to consider 13 years have lapsed since Carl Thompson did what Carl always did better than anyone – survive a shelling and then win by stoppage. It was a pulsating evening, hotly anticipated and perhaps the beginning of the golden era we are now enjoying. After all, only ‘flat-earthers’ could deny Audley, Haye, Hatton and Amir were the forefathers of the sport’s  current popularity and the inspiration for many of the Amateur champions and emerging professionals superstars fans flock to see.

David Payne reports from Ringside (10/09/2004):

Veteran cruiserweight Carl Thompson tore up the script last night, knocking out British boxing’s pin-up star David Haye in the fifth round of a tumultuous, absorbing and often punishing contest at Wembley Arena, London.

The baying crowd loved every second of the most eagerly awaited all-British encounter of the year.  Imaginatively billed as ‘Don’t Blink,’  the contest pitted two of boxing’s biggest punchers together for the IBO belt Thompson secured with his characteristic last gasp, fight saving knockout of Sebastian Rothmann in February.

But the fight meant much more than the peripheral belt. This was a battle of generations, of styles, of pride. A crossroads bout, the gnarled old champion, the photogenic young buck. Name the cliché and you could hang it on the fight.

Continue reading “Archive: Old man Thompson stops Unbeaten Haye in 5”

Dreaming, Believing and Achieving with Wayne Elcock

An interview with then British title challenger Wayne Elcock proved of sufficient interest to feature in the venerable British publication, Boxing News a fortnight ago. It was a moment of great personal satisfaction to appear on the pages graced by the great and the good over the past 98 years. Should it prove the most read piece I ever pen, it will represent a satisfactory pinnacle. Of course, I hope it will not , but in years to come the words committed to the page will remain in tact long beyond features I’ve written for the web. In an act of self-indulgence the unedited interview is included below. Continue reading “Dreaming, Believing and Achieving with Wayne Elcock”

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