|Last night, a vat-grown Samurai warrior virgin saved my (boxing) life
||[Jun. 21st, 2012|04:20 pm]
Boxing is like a bad love affair. Once it's wormed its way into your heart, you'll happily haemorrhage money, sanity & peace of mind just to taste it again. Life dwindles & contracts about a point, so that you measure out your span in the distance between big fights. Daily life seems a mundane chore. Your self-respect flies out the window. Your friends tell you that your lover's no good; you deny them. Your family disapproves of the liaison. Your mother probably won't talk about it in public. You know it's going to break your heart, you know it's going to disappoint you & let you down. You do it anyway. "Never again," you tell yourself, zipping yourself up & wondering vaguely why you itch down there. |
But you come crawling back.
Just lately, boxing fans have, more than usual, been crying about "the state of the game". Harsh words are being bandied at the prospect of Dereck Chisora & David Haye finally squaring up & the endless related shenanigans spinning off from it.
The revelation that popular heavyweight Larry Olubamiwo has been so chock-full (for years!) of so many performance-enhancing drugs you could drain off some of his blood & open up a chemist's--yet still couldn't beat the Adonis that goes by the name of John McDermott--has caused furore amongst Britain's hard-core. People feel that the personable Larry O. has somehow let them down personally, & the fatalistic shrugging that normally accompanies a "dirty" fighter being outed has been largely absent.
There's the continuing soap opera saga of Manny Pacquiao & Floyd Mayweather, given recent further spice by the latter being beaten by Timmy Bradley & the former whining that life in jail is not pleasant (I, for one, am outraged that a wife-beating scumbag might be losing muscle tone whilst incarcerated).
Then this weekend, novice heavy Richard Towers appeared to get more than a helping hand from the ref whilst being clomped around the ring by the big Frenchman, Gregory Tony.
On & on: drug cheats, blood-dopers, contract-breakers, Mickey-takers. Fighters who don't fight & other fighters who fight on too long. Terrible mismatches. Evenly matched fights that turn out to be bloody awful. Head clashes stopping fights. Heavyweight Prizefighter. The continued existence of the sanctioning organisations. No-one but those who get in the ring with him wants Julio Cesar Chavez jr. drug-tested. Joe Goosen still has a striking resemblance to Gary Busey.
As rap-sheets go, it's longer than your average WBA light-middleweight champion's, but myself, I"m not concerned, or disillusioned, or even vaguely upset (Heavyweight Prizefighter can naff off, mind).
Maybe it's because last night I saw a truly great fight. This is always the best tonic for boxing-related ills, though usually limited to those fights that take place within one's timezone. However, thanks to those kerray-zee Japanese & their insistence to having a big fight on a Wednesday lunchtime (& thanks of course, to the magic of the Interweb), I got to see the WBC/WBA unification fight between Japanese strawweight titlists Kazuto Ioka (10-0, 6 KOs) & Akira Yaegashi (15-3, 8 early).
& it was bloody great. There were swings of fortune. There was back-from-the-brink action. Ioka, despite looking like he hasn't gone through puberty yet, (in fact he resembles some sort of vat-grown Samurai warrior virgin), fights like a... Well. Like a vat-grown Samurai warrior virgin. I keep expecting his mum to shout loudly, between rounds, that she wants him to go home & finish his homework. Last year he knocked out the unbeaten Thai champion Oleydong Sithsamerchai, who was 35-0-1 at the time. It was Ioka's seventh fight. Ioka has all the physical grace of a new-born foal, but he hits incredibly hard with his gangling straight punches. Something about him reminds me vaguely of a very young, very raw Alexis Arguello.
Contrary to appearances, he's actually twenty-two!
Akira Yaegashi, on the other hand, not only looks like he's escaped from an Anime flick, he fights like he's escaped from one too. Compared to the gangling youth in the other corner, the short, stockily-muscled Yaegashi is all flash & bounce, & throws about a hundred punches a round. Ioka, though methodical, has a certain classical grace & balance; his punches thud home like distant artillery fire. Yaegashi has the quickest hands you'll probably ever see, & is one of those types who cannot take a punch without wishing to repay his opponent six or seven times over. He won his title in 2011 he was engaged in what many thought was the fight of the year, when he stopped another Thai, Pornsawan Porpramook.
Ioka started by circling & snapping out the jab, looking to slot his long straight shots home. Yaegashi responded by closing the distance behind a triple jab that flashed like heat-lightning, & raked his six-years younger opponent with flurries to body & head whenever he got close enough.
Definitely not the same Akira
It looked like an interesting tactical battle until halfway through the second, when an Ioka straight right caused an Elephant Man-size swelling above Yaegashi's left eye. As the rounds progressed & it began to develop into a vast distended shelf of flesh, the referee repeatedly stopped the action to check whether or not Akira could see. Yaegashi's response? Exchange his flashy pot-shotting approach for trench warfare. Ioka, after initially seeming surprised that the fella in front of him didn't want to run away crying after his entire eye-socket closed up like a wound, adjusted & raged back, mixing in deft boxing with violent trading of full-blooded power-shots.
It was magnificent, frankly, & instead of wasting any more time describing it I'm just going to give you the link to the video & hope the lawyers don't see it:
On the other hand, I should admit that I'm not as down as some boxing fans seem to be. I even found Prizefighter funny (though I loathe the format/idea of it), if only to see useless supersize heavyweights gas out after thirty seconds. I'm sure Kevin Johnson getting beaten had something to do with my enjoyment of Eddie Hearn's little tournament as well.
Perhaps though, I am sanguine about boxing's current woes because I am a heartless cynic, who regards boxing's bollocks to be much the same as it's ever been (only probably now more so). My old man & his older brothers used to go on about how my uncle's promoter (he was a pro back in fifties) used to rip him off, fuck about with matchmaking, put him into fights at short notice & generally act like a bargain-basement Bob Arum. He wasn't paid the money he was owed, he had dodgy decisions go against him, he got overlooked for title shots, opponents were changed at short notice, he had too many fights, far too many tough fights. Some days, he doesn't recognise me. Some days, he doesn't recognise his wife. Others, he talks to me like nothing's changed.
Unlike others, I'm not going to stop watching boxing. I don't think I could. Maybe I just grew up knowing it's a terrible, beautiful thing, maybe my relation to it was more visceral; maybe I never had any innocence to lose. The only thing I ever enjoyed was seeing what happened between the ropes, when two guys are left alone out there under the lights; all the rest of it, the press conferences, the interviews, the news stories, seemed unreal, staged, unnecessary.
The only reality is a punch to the face.
I'm sorry others are turning away from it, or that there is a perception that others are, but my habit's my habit & I'm certainly not going to mourn for what I see as their loss. I don't talk about my enthusiasms to most people, because their eyes glaze over & they shuffle away, check their watches, pretend they have something else to do. That's okay. My pleasure is furtive. It is secretive. It is my own. Most people don't care about things. I do, sad & pathetic as that makes me.
It's like doing drugs. You keep the company of those who otherwise you would not keep. You exercise your need amongst those with whom you have little in common. You don't speak of it out in the open, but occasionally you see the light behind someone's eyes & you just know.
I bumped into a kiddie down the pub the night of the England football game (no, I didn't watch it, my interest in sports in which no-one gets punched in the face is absolutely zero; I was press-ganged by some friends). He was the mate of a mate. I'd never met him before. Fight fan, it turned out. Sat there & talked boxing, Jhonny Gonzalez & Lee Haskins, Michael Watson & Mike McCallum. We sat there until everyone else had gone & the barmaid kicked us out. There's always going to be lunatics like me & my new mate. We'll find each other. We can smell our own.
We can't let it go & we don't really care if no-one else watches, or cares. The lights will go out, eventually. On everything. But it won't be until I'm buried, I'm sure.
& in the meantime there'll be great fights happening, all over the world.