The Price of Loyalty

I wasn’t intending to write this article.

I’m not sure entirely what I was intending to write instead. Anyone can see the lack of updates over the past few weeks and I assure you, I did want to write something. I just couldn’t find much that intrigued or excited me and I didn’t want to write about something “just because”. I was going to write about Mike Perez and his excellent bout on HBO… and then the adjective “excellent” turned into “tragic” and any article celebrating Perez while Magomed Abdusalamov lay in a coma seems like bad taste (at best) to me.

boxing glove

Then it was going to be about Andre Ward and his bout with Edwin Rodriguez but like so many bouts in recent times I simply couldn’t be excited by the bout itself, let alone enough to write in detail about it. Ward was always going to win (especially once Rodriguez’ weight issues became apparent). Just as Bernard Hopkins was always going to beat Karo Murat. Just as Kell Brook was always going to beat Vyacheslav Senchenko. Just as Peter Quillin was always going to beat Rosado. Just as Golovkin was always going to beat Stevens. Just as Afolabi was always going to beat Lukasz Janik. Just as Donaire was always going to beat Darchinyan (despite being made to work harder than most expected) and just as Perez was always going to beat Martinez. The only bout that ever really excited me was Segura vs Marquez… yet even as a boxing fan who tries to watch a lot of the lower weight classes it’s somewhat difficult to get too excited about a bout between two 112lbs boxers happening half a world away which I imagine only a few dozen people here in the UK watched live.

Then the article was going to be about David Haye and his recent injury which will likely force him into retirement. That melded with a story in the Guardian about a boxer who we all wish would retire and with some comments there about how Haye may have dodged a bullet by getting out of boxing before any apparent head trauma.

And then it sort of hit me.

Is there any sport that makes its fans hate it the way boxing does? And the more one is a fan, the more one pulls aside the curtain, the more one hates it?

It’s not that difficult to find sporting performances that depress fans. In football (the “kick the ball” kind) I support Southampton FC and while we’re riding high now for the majority of my life that’s been a pretty depressing experience. In rugby I support London Irish and they’re the opposite… a few years ago we were doing well yet now we’re fairly depressing to watch. And going back to football, I support the English national team… that’s about as depressing as it gets.

But none of those make me hate the sports in question, just the performances by the teams I support.

Boxing doesn’t do that. It seems to make people hate the very sport itself.

I’ve previously expressed by admiration for Thomas Hauser and the work he does writing about the dark side of boxing and in no way do I intend to detract from that. But when discussing his work with a fellow fan, my peer expressed that he didn’t care for Hauser because he preferred writers who appear to actually enjoy the sport. I don’t think anyone really thinks that Hauser doesn’t like… or even love… boxing but it did get me thinking. To be pretentious for a moment, there’s that classic Nietzsche quote; “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.” Hauser has spent years looking at PED abuse in boxing… is it not surprising that he at least comes across as disliking the sport when his efforts focus so much on the dislikeable aspects of it?

I watch a lot of boxing. I watch domestic British cards, I watch the show piece events from America, I watch tiny Russian cards, I watch even smaller Indonesian ones. If a boxing bout is televised there’s a good chance I’ll watch it either live or when it pops up on youtube. I enjoy doing so. But because I watch a lot of boxing I also end up watching a lot of mismatches, of development bouts, of contests where one guy is there to win and the other guy is there to be a mobile punching bag. For a long time I didn’t mind… I simply used it as a chance to see what I thought of the guy who was meant to win. But recently I’ve started to think about it more. Head trauma has long been a major topic in boxing. Only only has to look at a tragic toll it has taken on so many of those who took part in the sport. We’ve long known about the effects of pugilistic dementia. And yet it is only in recent months when the UK press has focused on head trauma in other sports (notably football) that I really started to think. When I’m watching a 12-0 ex-amateur star with fast and heavy hands trap an opponent who has no hope of winning on the ropes and land clean punch after clean punch I’m not just watching a young star develop. I’m watching someone’s quality of life diminish.

Howard Cosell is probably the most famous example of someone who once loved boxing but ended up hating it. For a long time he was the voice of boxing, it’s lead commentator and interviewer and a man who’s chemistry with Ali went a long way to establishing Ali’s personality and prose. And yet while watching Larry Holmes outclass and frankly, beat up, Texx Cobb he declared he would never broadcast a bout again because he was so disgusted by the spectacle. And sometimes I know how he feels.

We know boxing has issues with PED’s and regardless of how often certain media figures or boxers themselves try to dig into the topic we keep our heads in the sand. We know about the devastating effects of head trauma and yet people still show up and watch a badly slurring James Toney attempt to rekindle his old magic. We know about the dangers of mismatches and prolonged beatings but still prospects around the world are given bout after bout where the only real question is how many rounds it will take them to knock out their opponent. We know about the dodgy behind the scenes deals and what at least appears to be corruption. And I haven’t even touched on controversial decisions or underwhelming, over hyped bouts.

I can see why the more someone watches, the more someone researches and the more someone discovers the less they enjoy boxing.

Am I that bad? Do I hate the sport I once loved? No. I still love boxing. I may not have been excited by it but I still stayed awake till the early hours to watch Ward dissect Rodriguez… having already watch James DeGale have another underwhelming performance in a bout I was equally unexcited by. Next Saturday I’ll watch Froch and Groves go to battle. I wouldn’t put myself through that unless I still enjoyed boxing. But Froch vs Groves is a bout I should be really excited by and I’m not. And I hate that. I want to have some of my old enthusiasm back but for whatever reason it’s been drained away from me.

And I hate that boxing… the sport I love… has done that to me.

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