Magazine article The Spectator

Fight the Good Fight

Magazine article The Spectator

Fight the Good Fight

Article excerpt

Boxing takes our fallen human nature, our love of aggression, and elevates it into something noble, says Luke Coppen. So why are US evangelicals pushing a nasty rival sport?

A few Saturdays ago a stocky 32-year-old went to mass at the quaintly named Gaylord Texan Convention Center in Dallas, Texas. Later that day he had an altercation with a 34-year old Ghanaian. Records show that he threw over 1,000 punches at the older man during a half-hour scuffle. Countless bystanders witnessed the brawl but not one called the police.

Why not? Because the violence was sanctioned by the World Boxing Organization.

The welterweight title fight between Manny Pacquiao and Joshua Clottey attracted almost 60,000 spectators, the third-largest audience in boxing history. Days earlier a raucous crowd had filled Oxford Town Hall for the 103rd Varsity boxing match. The event drew one of its biggest ever crowds, despite ticket prices as high as £60. Should we worry that our finest young minds are forking out to watch medical students wallop economists and chemists pound the skulls of historians?

It's still slightly embarrassing to admit to liking boxing in nice, middle-class circles. It's like confessing to a fondness for steak tartare at a meeting of the Vegetarian Society. But perhaps that's about to change:

the sport is undergoing an unlikely revival, just as observers thought it was going the way of bear-baiting.

My love affair with boxing began, like many a young nerd's, at the cinema. In Rocky IV the plucky but ageing Sylvester Stallone takes on the seemingly invincible Soviet fighter Ivan Drago. The film had two basic messages: communism is evil and boxers represent the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. I absorbed them both eagerly.

I could barely contain my excitement when I first pulled on a boxing glove. It was at a pierside amusement arcade in front of a machine that tested punching strength. I wound up what I hoped would be a devastating blow, swung, and missed the target completely. A toddler was sitting behind me in a coin-operated car. As I span around I accidentally grazed his back with my fist. After a shocked silence, he began to cry. That's when I noticed his father: a big man with tattoos and spiky hair. I can't deny that it looked incriminating: I was standing over his weeping son wearing a boxing glove. The father blinked and, to my surprise, jogged over to comfort his son rather than to chin me.

I needed some training. So I joined the local boxing club, which met in a glorified shed with a ring and a few punch-bags. I learnt some important lessons there: being punched in the face hurts; punching someone else in the face isn't as fun as it looks;

and after a few rounds of sparring your brain gets slightly scrambled. My trainer soon decided I was ready for a bout. To pass the medical you needed near-perfect vision.

The trouble was, I was so myopic I had to hold Ring Magazine in front of my nose to read it. Unless they were going to create a division for Woody Allen lookalikes, my career was over.

It was only later that I realised boxing had a dark side. It was 1995, to be precise: the year of the Nigel Benn-Gerald McClellan fight. I enjoyed it right up to the tenth round, when McClellan dropped to one knee, blinking, then staggered to his corner and collapsed. Eleven days later, he woke from a coma, blind, deaf and unable to walk. …

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