Friday 23 January 2009

On boxing

This week I have watched again the BBC's excellent four-part documentary The Fight, a series of films about the history and development of professional boxing. I love a bit of that, you know. I love the simplicity, the combativeness, the total lack of any mitigating factors - it is sport in its absolute rawest form. I love the history behind it, too - the murkiness, the characters, the contests. To top it all off, boxing has provided some of the most staggering visual images of sport since the invention of photography and the moving picture. One particular piece of film - featured in the third episode of The Fight - sees Sugar Ray Robinson leaning casually against the rope during the count to one of his many felled opponents, occasionally silhouetted by the exploding flashbulb in the opposite corner. It's extraordinary - better than anything Martin Scorcese, even, got into Raging Bull.

As such, it may be unusual to note that I never watch boxing on the telly. I have seen the odd round in the Olympics here or there, maybe. But the dawn of satellite and pay-per-view TV has really put a crimp in my style. Put simply, I'm not interested in two men called Neil with arms like knotted pipecleaners, fighting to decide who is the third-best light-welterweight in Northern Ireland. I want to see the heavyweight world championship bouts. Preferably, whilst they are happening, rather than on Sportsnight 12 days later.

This was all brought into sharp focus by the fourth part of The Fight, a brilliant 50 minutes viewing for any sports fan, concerning the 1975 Thrilla in Manilla fight bewteen the Champion, Muhammad Ali and the challenger, Joe Frazier. This is as legendary, thrilling and brutal a sporting contest as the world has ever seen, and without wishing to come over all Des Lynam, Ali won after 14 rounds. The Beeb's man at ringside was Harry Carpenter, who claimed that the world stopped to see the outcome of this bout. Now, personally I doubt this somehow. But it is indicative of the kind of unifying effect sport is able to have, if only people would let it. At a time when the Government are looking at refurbishing the list of essential sporting events to be available free-to-air, it's perhaps an indication that flexibility, rather than thoroughness, should be the key. Who knows where or from what sport the next Ali will come? But I'd hate to think I'd have to miss it because I'm a skinflint.

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