It’s difficult to disagree with the Graun‘s boxing correspondent Kevin Mitchell when he writes about the brawl that followed Dereck Chisora’s fight with Vitali Klitschko in Germany on Saturday:
“Dereck Chisora and David Haye live in the Land Of No Consequences. It is a strange place, peopled by cosseted individuals who refuse to live by the rules the rest of us take for granted. They have for neighbours footballers, politicians, various Z-listers, singers and wannabes waiting for a next headline.
“But Chisora and Haye are different from all of those. They trade in life-threatening skills. They are trained to inflict damage and do so willingly and for lots of money. They left their innocence at the door a long time ago and they have responsibilities to themselves and each other to help preserve the little dignity professional boxing has left.
“None of that, of course, entered their tiny minds in Munich in the early hours of Sunday morning.
“When these two men-children confronted one another with violent intent in a press conference at the Olympiahalle, less than an hour after Chisora’s sanctioned brawl with Vitali Klitschko, they knew exactly what they were doing.”
Of course these two morons knew what they were doing and fully deserve whatever penalties the British Boxing Board of Control decides to impose. You’re even less inclined to sympathise with either, on learning that in November 2010 Chisora received a suspended sentence for assaulting a former girlfriend, and has various other public-order convictions including possession of an offensive weapon. Haye surely knew this when he gate-crashed Chisora’s press conference in order to bait him.
But look at the video above and read the transcription of what was said at the press conference: it is quite clear that Bernd Boente (Klischko’s manager) and Frank Warren (Chisora’s manager) both helped provoke the confrontation. Warren even proposes a Chisora-Haye match – something that will now be all but inevitable due to public demand. For the record, I do not believe that the entire fracas was a cynical, pre-planned piece of theatre designed to boost a future Chisora v Haye bout – but that will be the effect and I doubt that Frank Warren is too upset about it.
Professional boxing has always been a “sport” for working class young men (often ethnic minorities) seeking fame and fortune: a very few achieve it, and even then, usually at a terrible price. In today’s pop-culture, characterised by over-paid footballers, X-Factor singers and famous-for-being-famous “celebrities,” the fight game probably looks more attractive than ever to poor black boys. But it remains what it always was: two men in a ring, put there by forces they don’t understand, in order to inflict brain damage on each other.
The hype and pre-and post-match theatricals are a necessary adjunct of the “sport” and Saturday’s performance was not especially unusual. Several commentators (including Kevin Mitchell) have suggested that the saintly Muhammed Ali would never have behaved in such a fashion. Oh no? What about his 1963 disruption of Sonny Liston’s victory over Floyd Patterson – a performance that in many ways presaged Haye’s on Saturday? Or his crude and cruel baiting of Patterson and also Joe Frazier, both of whom were and deeply and lastingly hurt by Ali’s taunts? (Ali’s record of hyped-up baiting and brawling is well described here).
Kevin Mitchell argues that “Boxing was not to blame for what happened in that room early on Sunday morning; Chisora, Haye and all those indulged by them were culpable.”
I beg to differ: shameful as the two main protagonists’ behaviour was, it was part-and-parcel of the fight “game” and, in fact, a lot less nasty and dangerous than what routinely happens in the ring itself. The great American Trotskyist James P. Cannon wrote powerfully and movingly about professional boxing, and his observations remain as true today as when he wrote them in 1951, in the aftermath of welter-weight Georgie Flores’ death from injuries sustained in the ring at Madison Square Garden:
“It is a commentary on the times and the social environment out of which the boxing business rises like a poisonous flower from a dunghill, that nobody came forward with the simple demand to out-law prize fighting, as it was outlawed in most states of this country up till the turn of the century. Cock-fighting is illegal; it is considered inhumane to put a couple of roosters into a pit and incite them to spur each other until one of them keels over. It is also against the law to put bulldogs into the pit to fight for a side bet. But our civilisation -which is on the march, to be sure – has not yet advanced to the point where the law and public opinion forbid men, who have nothing against each other, to fight for money and the amusement of paying spectators. Such spectacles are part of our highly touted way of life.”