Sunday, 30 June 2013

Nigel, champion of the world

[a belated response to digital ben's post]

Boxing has always divided opinion, but the '90s offered up plenty of evidence for the prosecution. Money dominating even more that ever, ludicrous 'faces offs' and puffery. More seriously the very ugly side was in plain view: the terrible ends to Michael Watson and Gerald McClellan's careers, and, of course, the deterioration of Mike Tyson (and its racial framing) ending in the ear biting scandal.

Tellingly, it began one of the most successful periods in UK boxing. With honourable exceptions such as Barry McGuigan, during the golden age of the American fighters the UK had to settle for national or European titles. No shame there, but also not the pinnacle of sport.

British fighters now won and defended world titles. Lennox Lewis unified the heavyweight belts (the last man to do this). The promotion of Frank Bruno as a Henry Copper figure was a bit of a misstep therefore. From the Eubank/Benn fight on British boxers showed that they understood the coming pay-per-view era all too well. They didn't want to be plucky contenders; they wanted hype, big money and titles. This included the managers, especially Barry Hearn and Frank Warren. A touch of the Harold Shands about both men (Warren survived a shooting in 1989) they were now doing the business with Don King et al.

This success was embodied best by 'Prince' Naseem Hamed. American fans (and the British old guard) never really trusted him and, in a classic boxing narrative, were relieved when he finally got his comeuppance against Barrera. However, Frank Warren and TV knew they had found an entertainer: not just an arrogant, showboater in press conferences but actually in the ring.

But as British boxing Americanised itself, so outward expressions of Britishness increased. Benn vs McClellan, Hatton vs Mayweather etc. became UK vs USA. The overlap between boxing and football fans, encouraged by the promoters, produced increasingly fervent atmospheres. Significant away support began to turn up in Madison Square Gardens and Vegas.

Both the Prince and Chris Eubank were rather glam even camp figures, in what is supposed to be the most straightforwardly masculine of sports. Unlike Frank Bruno, they didn't wait till retirement to do the panto work, but took it into the ring with them. The involvement of British sports entertainment was vital then in killing off the idea of the 'noble fighter', which American sports writers and Hollywood had invested so much in. We helped to remind modern boxing of its true origins in aristocratic gambling and the music hall.

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wohnungsraeumung said...
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