With 153 confirmed dead in Paris at the weekend (at the time of writing) and doubtless more to be added it was difficult to summon much enthusiasm for my weekly 1-2000 word boxing article. Every time I sat and conjured with Fury and Klitschko, Cotto and Canelo, Abraham and Murray, Joshua and Whyte, I kept thinking of Friday night revellers at a heavy metal gig getting mown down by Kalashnikovs, of suicide bombers in cafes and explosions in stadia. They aren’t easy images to banish.
I have two kids and I fear for their futures. What sort of Europe, what sort of world will they live in?
All of us must accept the realisation that we live in dangerous times and if this is, as some say, the start of World War 3 (and French president Francois Hollande seems to think so), it is an entirely different war to any we’ve faced before. It’s a war with no clear enemy. The next attack could come from anywhere, beyond or within. It could come from your next-door neighbour. Our era has become precarious, heavy with the potential for mistrust.
Where do we turn? Is it avoidable? Can we help ourselves? These are questions too huge to answer.
It is certainly true that any individual who studies the history of the human species since its emergence from the evolutionary spiral some 200,000 years ago cannot help but be struck by one fact. Namely, that throughout our time on this planet we have invested the largest part of our effort and energies in forms of warfare.
Is this what people call ‘human nature’? To give a definite answer to that would take years of research and a thought process so long it would result in a book, or several, but my instinct says yes, it is. We come from nature and the natural world is steeped in aggression. Animals fight, kill and devour each other as a normal part of life. This is not negativity, it is reality.
We are violent beings. Even those among us who turn up their noses and proudly say they have never had a fight have it within them. They may be ashamed of it, they may suppress it, but it’s there. And we ignore this side of our natures at our peril.
This is why, for me, the sight of two men in a ring taps into a seam of truth about who we really are. There can be despair, joy, pain, beauty, struggle, redemption or even death. It is the human condition distilled into a performance. And it is that which makes it so compelling and absorbing.
Boxing is life.
And I think it is this that binds me, that means despite the condemnation of doctors and the nagging of my own conscience, despite the injuries and fatalities and all the bullshit that surrounds it, the greed and the smug bastards in suits getting rich, I keep coming back to boxing and I always will. For me there is no other spectacle that reassures me who I am, who we all are, as much as a fight.
And what of those two boys, whoever they may be, whenever it may be, dancing beneath the lights, bleeding, breaking each other down? They know it too. They might not verbalise it, but they do. They share something overwhelming in their struggle with each other. And they never forget it.
That’s why in a boxing gym you can have a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian, white, black or Chinese and behind the gloves and the busted lips and the fat ears there will be respect, even if they don’t speak the same language. In the end, there always is. There has to be. Because they have shared their nature with each other and exercised their mutual need for blood.
This for me is the value of boxing, the beauty. It is a way to vent rage without hate, a way to engage with our true natures without war, to live with ourselves and each other.
Boy, do we need it now.