When contemplating attending a boxing match, I did not consider the shame and fear in the eyes of the defeated. Had I done so I would not have gone.
Of course I know that I dislike violence but I imagined that I’d be more of the mind that boxing provides opportunity and discipline for young men that would otherwise be forced into careers as rat-catchers and rent boys. But as I watched an undercard bout at the MGM Grand before Ricky Hatton and Manny Pacquiao took to the ring I saw in the eyes of the lad on the ropes an identifiable dread.
The emotion that I’d feel if I found myself in a glittery, over-lit cavern, swirling moths lost in the abyss, greased and sweating whilst highly calibrated blows lanced my consciousness? Dread. A dread that would be exacerbated further if, through the headache being pummelled in from without, I glanced down to see I was wearing awful satin trunks.
Boxer shorts – the type of pants that bear that name are bad enough but at least they’re comparatively succinct next to those gleaming bloomers that actual boxers wear, which never cease. They begin at the ribs and merrily resolve only when they’ve transgressed the knee. Given that they’re called trunks they ought to be a little more truncated; currently they maraud across the pugilist’s form like Nazis.
Before Ricky Hatton enters, the chanting rolls down the raked seating, a tide of English din. The overtly American atmosphere of Las Vegas is temporarily rinsed away and with the belligerent “Kiss me quick – squeeze me slow” rancour of the horde I am reminded that really this place is not so different from Blackpool. “Walking in a Hatton wonderland” they sing, and their anthem is self-fulfilling for with each rendition the utopia is further augmented.
Amongst them I feel an uncommon surge of fraternity and patriotism. The people I was with were confident Americans but few would be reckless enough to challenge the sovereignty of the venue, so damn British that when, on Ricky’s arrival, the actual national anthem was played, I bloody well sang along. As much as I could because the lyrics are a bit obtuse. I get all the “noble Queen” and “send her victorious” stuff but the bit just before the first “God save our Queen”, which I just discovered is “long to reign over us”, has never breached my cognisance till now.
How many times have I been subjected, literally, to that bloody song and still the words are a mystery? I just looked them up: verse two includes the line “confound their knavish tricks” – that’s berserk. Do we really, as a nation, have to confound knavish tricks so frequently that it needed to be incorporated into our country’s theme tune? What a lot of rhubarb.
“The Dutch are planning a series of knavish tricks – only God, in conjunction with the Queen, can confound them. Stick it in the anthem.”
Nonetheless, in the highly jingoistic atmosphere of the MGM Grand I stood and sang along; I suppose because abroad one’s primal need to belong is enhanced and if boxing as a sport is one thing, it is primal. Men standing punching each other’s heads till one of their brains turns off.
Ricky Hatton is a lovely man and so it seems is Manny Pacquiao, the latter almost a statesman through his sport, and through their endeavour both men have achieved stature and dignity. For them to then become the hollering focus of a bawling, vicarious mob hate-wank is on the whole not a positive step for our spiritual evolution as a species.
I felt so sorry for Ricky as he went down, his pride temporarily undone. When I voice this most people gurgle up some cunk about the millions the fighters receive. I’m glad they’re well remunerated because in the moment where darkness closes in around the battered mind perhaps the money provides some compensation.
I don’t think I’ll go to boxing again. I’m not suggesting it be banned or that nothing positive comes from it because I know people whose lives have been positively touched by the sport. But I do think it celebrates aspects of our nature which ought be handled with caution and respect because we are ultimately animals and if we do not regard that then, oddly, our humanity is compromised.
That is why I love football – unifying, exciting, beautiful, significantly less violent (with one or two obvious exceptions) football. When football is played by the rules the only people who get hurt are the fans.
First published in The Guardian, Saturday 9th May 2009