James Lawton, boxing correspondent of the Independent, didn’t pull his punches yesterday, on the sickening shenanigans surrounding the upcoming Haye -v- Harrison fight and the present state of professional heavyweight boxing in general:
“So what must we conclude, apart from the fact that it is ludicrous to to compare, as some have, the collision between Haye and Harrison with mis-matches of the past involving such great fighters as Marciano and Ali against men like Don Cockell, Brian London and Richard Dunn?
“It is that while those old fights at least involved a great champion who was claiming the rights of conquest over serious opposition, Haye, who presents himself as a serious champion, chooses as his third heavyweight opponent someone he is the first to agree lacks the credentials of even his past opposition in the division.
“In fact, Harrison might have been Haye’s fourth heavyweight opponent if the obscure Pole Tomaz Bonin had not scaled light for the fight that was supposed to mark the champion’s debut in that division.
“Bonin, Valuev and Ruiz, these are the victims from the dregs of boxing. If you put together all of their best qualities, you would still have a parody of what a world champion should be.
“Now there is Harrison, who according to Haye will provide a victory as one-sided as a gang rape. It is a disgusting way to sell a fight. But then it is also a disgusting fight, one that will remain so however it is dressed.”
All of which is undoubtedly true, especially in the immediate aftermath of Haye’s truly vile use of the term “gang rape” to whip up interest in this travesty of a “world title fight” against a no-hope has-been. But Lawton should have gone further: professional boxing itself is a disgusting so-called “sport”, which even at its best – in the fists of artists like Marciano and Ali, for instance – still revolves around two men (almost always working class and usually from ethnic minorities) trying to give each other brain injuries for money. The pathetic, shambling wreck that is what remains today of Muhammad Ali, is merely the best known and most obviously tragic proof of this.
Haye’s vile words about “rape” are, of course, a cynical bid to hype this particularly miserable bout, but it is also testimony to the brutal, sub-human culture of this ignoble “sport” and the depths to which some fighters and the money-men behind them will sink when ticket sales and media coverage are at stake.
There may be a case to be made for the efficacy of amateur boxing in keeping poor young men (and, these days, women) out of trouble, off the streets, and in the gym. I’m not convinced, but I’m willing to accept the possibility. But the case against professional boxing is surely beyond serious debate, and has been for a hundred years. The vested interests of the money-men, a craven media and the cowardice and hypocrisy of bourgeois politicians have effectively conspired to keep this barbarity legal. Once again, our old comrade James P. Cannon nailed it one hundred percent correct many years ago, when commenting in the aftermath of the death of Georgie Flores in the ring at Madison Square Gardens in 1951:
“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 outlaw prize fighting, as it was outlawed in most of the 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 aginst each other, to fight for money and the amusement of paying spectators…
…”Blows to the head never did anybody any good. And if anybody ever got any fun out of it, he hasn’t been heard from yet. The ‘sport’ in prize fighting is strictly for the spectators and the managers and promoters.
“The incomparable Joe Louis himself testified to this in a notable statement at a newsreeled press conference, when he renounced his title to turn promoter. A reporter asked: ‘which do you think you like best, Joe, fighting or promoting?’
“Joe, a man of few words, answered: ‘I like promotin’.’
“‘Why is that, can you explain it?’
“‘Sure,’ said Joe. ‘They can’t hit you when you’re promotin’.’
“Those words belong in the book of proverbs.”
(James P. Cannon: ‘A Dead Man’s Decision’, first published in The Militant, Sept 24, 1951; republished in Notebook Of An Agitator)