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Seedy side of the fight game

PUBLISHED: 10:59 07 June 2003 | UPDATED: 13:59 03 March 2010

THERE is something surreal about the latest controversy over events at York Hall, Bethnal Green.

Not about the events themselves, which strike me as having been boringly, mundanely predictable and ordinary, but about the public reaction.

THERE is something surreal about the latest controversy over events at York Hall, Bethnal Green.

Not about the events themselves, which strike me as having been boringly, mundanely predictable and ordinary. What is comical and bizarre is the way the events were reported.

"This is disgraceful," spluttered the BBC reporter caught in the midst. "I have never seen anything like it."

Really? What exactly had you gone to see? A fight. And what were you seeing? A fight. Blimey.

It's all reminiscent of a great line from that corking satirical movie Dr Strangelove: "You can't fight in here – it's the War Room!"

Boxing is a seedy, uncivilised sport run by and for seedy people in seedy venues.

I used to defend it on the grounds that if watching people punching each other wasn't organised officially, it would simply go underground, where it might be even more foully violent.

That is undoubtedly true. But I am no longer sure it's a good enough reason for giving this shabby entertainment the stamp of official approval.

I will never forget my first in-the-flesh experience of boxing.

It was a "dinner show" – all rather posh, a rare occasion for a young hack to borrow a dinner jacket and frilly shirt.

Pure pretension, of course: the veneer of civilisation was thinner than the cotton of my suit.

So there I sat over my roast beef and two veg while a succession of lads in shorts and singlets got up in the ring and belted seven bells out of each other.

I certainly couldn't complain about the view. It's probably the closest I have ever been to sporting action – even, some might say, when I've been taking part.

Close enough, in fact, for a great frothing dollop of mixed blood and spit to land in my gravy.

Boxing, of course, is not the only sport in which people get hurt, or even die.

It is pretty well unique, though, in that the purpose of the game is to hurt your opponent and render him insensible.

It is a long time since the "noble art" threw up a genuinely noble spectacle, at least at the highest level. I suspect the last time may have been in the heyday of Muhammad Ali.

Even then, slogans like "Rumble in the Jungle" hinted at the savage, primitive nature of the entertainment.

Today we are asked to anticipate eagerly a possible match-up of an Olympic champion (Audley Harrison) with a pantomime dame (yes, Frank Bruno used to be a boxer).

Worse, we are offered moth-eaten old circus animals like Mike Tyson, or the ridiculous sight of performers dressed up as Roman slaves.

The sight of Ali today is even sadder.

It is a very long time since the one-time Greatest floated like a butterfly or stung like a bee. Today he shambles, stumbles and slurs as he tries to tell you he is suffering from Parkinson's disease.

Actually, he isn't. The real sufferers of that horrible condition (my father was one) do not bring it on themselves by having people keep hitting them about the head.

The worst thing about boxing, though, isn't what it does to the participants. After all, if you really want to commit slow suicide in public, go ahead.

It's what it does to everyone else that I object to. The glorification of violence. The testosterone-fuelled hyping of aggression.

As anyone who was at the confrontation between Harrison and Herbie Hide might say: "I went to see a fight and a fight broke out."

Staggering. Like Ali.

***

I AM among the 80 per cent of East Anglians who have not consulted their doctor in the last five years about marks on their skin.

What really amazes me about this supposedly shocking statistic, revealed this week, is that one in five of us apparently HAVE gone to the doctor with a mole or freckle.

Does this add up to a colossal waste of our hard-pressed GPs' precious time? Or should I listen to the Cassandras of skin cancer and show my doctor that little brown bump on my toe?

With so much contradictory advice around, how on earth are we supposed to decide such things?

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