A long time ago – is two years a long time? – I used to write about Boxing. It was mostly always a paid gig, depending on the publication and the Editor, and the strength of the subject matter. Really though, when you lay the subject bare, there is only so much you can say about people punching each other in the head. I used to try and stay away from that sort of thing and aim for the off-kilter parts of the sport: the weirdness, the characters, the underworld, and the feeling of being covered with blood splatters while you’re sitting ringside watching the Doctor playing pool on his iphone instead of watching the fight. Nights of baying crowds, high on Cocaine and cheap booze, with me sitting next to the canvas with a notebook and pen, trying not to look the fighters in the eyes when they were getting punched senseless in the corner right in front of me. Some of them even whimpered. Say what you like, but you can see pain and fear when the punches rain in. I don’t care who they are, or how they tell a press conference about ‘desire’ and ‘courage’. I know Rocky doesn’t exist outside of a cinema screen. Just like I know that blood takes ages to remove from a white cotton t-shirt.
But, ah, those sweaty nights. Locked in turmoil. Earning a crust, hating the sport, writing hours of endless gibberish with mock sincerity. Avoiding the fights in the crowd, sitting next to scantily dressed ring girls who were barely able to climb into the ring on heels you could skewer a pig with. The background soundtrack of wolf whistles, shouts of ‘I’d fuck you!’ and the drunken jeering when the round starts. Blood-lust. The smell was tangible. Testosterone, earnest machismo. Barred teeth and pumping fists into the auditorium air. One glorious, unpredictable, human machine. A combine harvester ready to go at a moments notice. Anywhere. For any reason. Mob rule pressure cooker release valve, ready to test the limits.
Some nights there was need for the security cordon around the ringside area. The fearless few always lost in the end, carried out by men in black towards back entrances and a lesson in the alleyway that would leave an impression lasting beyond the life of the bruises. Other nights I was left alone in relative quiet between gangsters and many, many handshakes and faces eager for me to write the right things about their boy. I almost never did.
When I got home after an event I was always shattered. Emotionally spent. Covered in sweat and tiny freckles of blood. I’d go and shower, leaving my face lifted up to the shower head and thinking about the meaning of all that violence. The swollen hands and noses, broken ribs, the money changing hands, futures decided in the half a second of lapsed concentration. Sated violent desire, hotel rooms, come-downs, ice baths. The spectacle of it all; steeped in history and evolution. Satisfying the crowd, but not me. I always thought everyone was being fooled anyhow. Nobody ever won.