Sport Boxing I’m breaking up with boxing

I’m breaking up with boxing

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I can’t remember life without boxing.

My dad used to put on a suit to go watch the fights at the St Andrews Sporting Club in Glasgow.

He’d bring home programmes for me that smelled of Paco Rabanne, covered in smudged signatures (Jim Watt, Herol Graham, Mark Kaylor).

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I remember the bloodstains on his dress shirts.

I was only seven when I saw the great Azumah Nelson knock out Pat Cowdell with a single uppercut on television. It was chilling.

Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard's 1987 fight rewrote the record books in terms of money. Photo: Getty
Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard’s 1987 fight rewrote the record books in terms of money. Photo: Getty

The following year (1986) my father and I caught the coach through the night to London to watch Frank Bruno challenge Tim Witherspoon for the heavyweight championship of the world.

We were Bruno fans, but Witherspoon stopped him in the 11th round at Wembley.

The 1980s were a glorious time to be a boxing fan.

The Four Kings (Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran) were still active and a young phenomenon called Mike Tyson was cutting a swathe through the heavyweights.

In Britain, Barry McGuigan was a regular on free-to-air TV and his relentless pressure fighting won him a world featherweight title.

The sport was still golden heading into the 1990s, with Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe slugging it out in three classics.

Lennox Lewis was rising, Oscar De La Hoya’s left hook lit up the lighter weights and a young Russian-Australian called Kostya Tszyu made the world sit up and take notice.

Come the new millennium there were still things to get excited about.

Tszyu remained excellent, while Danny Green and Anthony Mundine’s glacial march toward each other held Australia’s attention.

Elsewhere fighters like Roy Jones Jr, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, Diego Corrales, Bernard Hopkins, Kelly Pavlik, Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao gave us plenty of reasons to stay engaged.

But somewhere along the way, the romance started to wane.

Boxing’s always been a dirty business, but the lure of a good fight always overrode the dodgy dealings and scandalous decisions.

As I got older they became harder to overlook.

Perhaps I just can’t take the violence anymore.

Manny Pacquiao, aged 23, in his first fight on US soil. Photo: Getty
Manny Pacquiao, aged 23, in his first fight on US soil. Photo: Getty

In my time watching boxing, some men have been reduced to rubble and others weren’t so lucky.

Tommy Hearns fought so long he needs subtitles.

Gerald McLellan was left blind and almost deaf after a 1995 fight with Nigel Benn.

Leavander Johnson died following a bout with Jesus Chavez, and most recently Queensland boxer Braydon Smith passed away after a fight in March.

But if I’m truly honest, the real reason for my lack of interest is the lack of personalities.

Unlike the homogenised world of professional team sports, boxing was always full of personality. Men like Johnny Tapia, Prince Naseem Hamed and Ricardo Mayorga drew you in.

Floyd Mayweather, acknowledged as the finest boxer in the world, does nothing to engender devotion, and slowly but surely all the fighters I cared about left the game.

Tszyu never fought again after being beaten by Hatton. Jones Jr was exposed as human after all (although he still doesn’t realise it). Corrales died, Pavlik lost his edge, Hopkins got old. Morales and Barrera retired, Marquez waned.

It’s often said that the strength of boxing is in direct correlation with the health of the heavyweight division. The argument has some merit.

With the Klitschko brothers, Vitali and Wladimir – two hugely talented but uninspiring Ukrainians – ruling, there have been very few heavyweight title fights worth watching.

That leaves Pacquiao, whose ascent throughout the last decade was one of the most exciting in boxing history.

After emerging with a stoppage of Barrera in 2003, he spent the next nine years destroying everyone from featherweight to welterweight. (Morales beat him once, but Pacquiao twice exacted painful retribution.)

He seemed to be on a collision course with Mayweather, his only rival for the title of the world’s best boxer, but for a litany of reasons (none of them good), the fight took six years to get made.

Floyd Mayweather's win over Angel Manfredy in 1998 was one of his finest performances. Photo: Getty
Floyd Mayweather’s win over Angel Manfredy in 1998 was one of his finest performances. Photo: Getty

The delay was a hammer blow to interest in the sport.

And, as much as they try to sell this fight, it’s too little, too late to save my love for boxing.

As with the demise of a lot of long-term relationships, there’s been no cataclysm.

There’s been no infidelity. I haven’t started watching UFC.

Rather, it’s just been a gradual growing apart until one day you just think it best to pack your things and find somewhere else to live.

This weekend’s fight between Mayweather and Pacquiao will be the biggest, in monetary terms, of all time.

The way the sport is headed, it’s a record that may stand forever.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m looking forward to it.

Let’s hope it’s not as boring and one-sided as most Floyd Mayweather fights.

Let’s hope, with the eyes of the entire world on the sport for possibly the last time, it can behave itself and avoid controversy.

I’m going to shell out and watch it on pay-per-view, rather than squeezing into a crowded pub.

It’ll be the perfect way to say goodbye.

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