Dooley Noted: Boxing – Defending the indefensible

Boxing is a weird sport and its fans are weirdoes — and with that said I’ve reached the end of my first point.  

Still, there is no other sport like it when it comes to the ups and downs. We just seem to get more downs than ups due to how it is structured. Football games can provide end-to-end action and they are set in stone when the season kicks off. Boxing, on the other hand, often fails to provide any meaningful action whatsoever and if you grumble about it the powers-that-be generally respond with: “What’s your fucking problem?” 

It used to be far simpler to be a boxing fan. Your main concern would be bumping into people who asked what you are into then dismissed you if you replied: “I’m a boxing fan.” When I was at university, a fellow student who I got on well with asked me what sports I was into. I replied, “Boxing”, and they said, “That’s horrible. I’m not sure how I feel about being around you and talking to you after hearing that.”

The funny thing is that my fellow student took a backward step to get away from me. Even funnier is that fact that I’m a southpaw with a longer reach so the other student was still within punching range. 

I’d have cleaned her right out if I wanted to. 

If she knew a bit about boxing, she would have taken two steps back and one to the side. We never spoke again.  

A few years later, I was at work and was once again asked what I was into. The conversation went pretty much like this. 

“Do you like sport?” 

“Yes, I’m a boxing fan.” 

“What a disgraceful, barbaric sport. I’m so glad that my two boys are into rugger instead. How can you justify watching that barbaric violence? It should be banned.” 

And on it went. Well, off she went. She launched a tirade about the sport that was so vicious you would have thought someone within the trade owed her money. We get that a lot. Over time, I developed a coping strategy. Someone would ask me what I was into, I’d reply and then they would make an unsolicited negative comment about banning boxing, which according to books on etiquette is a terriblefaux pas and makes you wonder if these so-called civilised people have ever read a decent book about acceptable conduct.  

However, I digress. I should have followed the books and given a generic response such as: “That’s not actually in line with my opinion.” Instead, my stock answer was honed over time until it developed into the following: 

“You really think boxing is barbaric? That is interesting because the word ‘Barbarian’ was applied to anyone living outside of civilisation and/or were lacking in faith. Boxing has rules and regulations, barbarians didn’t. We bomb people using drones, so I think that in this current world two men stripping to their waist and fighting for money in front of a crowd is the most civilised thing in the world. 

“But while you’re going on about banning boxing, I wondered what the legal precedent would be, given that you’ve obviously given it a lot of thought. Boxing is a consensual act. Speaking of Acts, which Act of Parliament would you use to ban it? If there isn’t one what would be the basis of creating one? Apologies for asking so many questions, but you did raise this issue in the first place. 

“Acts of Parliament are the foundations of our legal system, as you are no doubt aware, so you cannot use the Licensing Act of 2003 as Schedule 1 talks about the Provision of Regulated Entertainment and one of the forms of Regulated Entertainment mentioned is boxing. This gives it a legal foothold as it is a form of licenced entertainment in the eyes of the law. 

“As you no doubt know already, because you are very clever, the Gambling Act 2005 S.6 Part 3, Sport Governing Bodies section lists the BBBofC among the likes of the FA when naming the UK’s Sport Governing Bodies. The Board was inserted via a Statutory Instrument, so it was recently passed into the hierarchy of British sporting bodies. You’d have to overturn that one as well.

“I’m sure you will succeed where politicians like Lady Summerskills, Lord Taylor of Grye and Mr. Jim Callaghan failed when they tried to put a ban on boxing before the House of Commons. You are definitely the person for the job. You can change the world. In fact, you should go into politics. My only concern for you is that you’ve changed Parliamentary law — that’s boxed away — but then you’ve got to try some cases under that law. 

“Will you go for a manslaughter charge if someone died in the ring? A boxer was charged in 1789, but that did not become a point of law. A ringside doctor called Ezio Pimpinelli was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter in 1978 due to his personal failings. Oh, I forgot that you are training to become a GP. Let’s park that one for a moment.  

“Over in Australia, the Supreme Court of Victoria rejected an attempt by a boxer to sue the Australian Alliance Boxing Rules body following eyesight damage sustained during a bout. The case was Pallante v Stadiums Pty Ltd and I’m sure you looked into it when doing your extensive research into banning boxing. 

“It all goes back to consent, you see. Take Dann v Hamilton, please. When the discussion turned to the issue of consent, they ruled that boxers consent to their participation so it is hard to file and make a charge stick. You must have been to the dentist — although I’d say it was a fair bit ago — and the dentist harms you. Do you sue them for the pain you endure? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. 

“You would have to prove that the aim was to maim or kill. Fighters say they want to do this pre-fight — well some of them do — yet it is hard to prove that this was their goal and doubly hard when you factor in consent. Think of it this way. A case that mentions boxing and consent was seen before the House of Lords. Over the course of a decade, from 1978 onwards, a group of men consented to sadomasochistic acts, ‘including genital torture’, for the ‘the sexual pleasure which it engendered in the giving and receiving of pain’. It was R v. Brown and other appeals, and the encounters were recorded and shared among the group.

“These lads hammered nails into each other’s cocks, basically, and were slapped with assault and actual body harm and unlawful wounding descriptions taken from s.47 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861. They pleaded guilty after the judge argued that the consent of the ‘victims’ did not make for a viable defence as s.20 of the act argued that: ‘Whosoever shall unlawfully and maliciously wound or inflict any grievous bodily harm upon any other person, either with or without any weapon or instrument, shall be guilty of [an offence] … and shall be liable [to a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment].’ 

“The cock thickened. Sorry, I meant plot, not cock — it has been a hard day. The verdict was later flipped on appeal as the physical harm was intentional but consensual — blimey, this boy’s a poet and he doesn’t even know it. As I said, dentistry and surgery fall under the same wider remit, and they are all lawful activities.  

“Boxing is the keyword. It would be different it was prize fighting as that was fairly brutal and attracted the attention of the law. In Reg. v. Orton in 1878 it was decreed that in boxing a blow is not struck in anger or without consent so is not an illegal act and there is a framework of rules. What I’m taking from this conversation is that you want to ban boxing, ban S&M and ban homosexuality. Do you hate homosexuals? Are you homophobic? That’s a barbaric way to look at the world. What has the gay community done to deserve this?”

By this point, my wife would usually elbow me in the ribs and usher me away. Before the DHOTYA mob chime in, this is also an amalgamation of conversations I’ve had over the years. However, the points remained the same and stood the test of time and logic.

Boxing is a complicated sport. There are those who will still argue that the consent aspect of boxing is that both agree to engage in a process in which the aim is to bludgeon the opponent to defeat by inflicting as much blunt force trauma as possible, which does happen. However, as long as boxing remains a game of skill, with all the checks and balances entailed, then it is hard to see how a fighter can be prosecuted for a crime should they injure an opponent during a fair encounter.

I have never struggled to defend boxing in any way, shape or form. Some other writers and people in the trade agonise over their involvement in the sport, and I respect that, yet I had never had moments of doubt despite all the stuff I’ve read and written about concussion, depression, financial wrongdoing, the out-and-out shithousery and whatnot. I enjoy watching boxing and have never felt the need to second-guess myself. 

Lately, though, I am struggling to defend it on certain levels. Not in moral terms, just in general terms as both a sport and a business. The fallout from the fallout of the failing to make Tyson Fury against Anthony Joshua is a case in point. My days of acting like a pretentious prick at parties and dinner parties are over — I don’t seem to get invited to them these days anyway, even prior to Covid — but I still work with people who know I’m into boxing. This is the type of conversations I have.  

“Terry, you must be excited about Fury-Joshua!” 

“It isn’t happening. Fury is rematching Wilder due to an arbitration ruling in America so I reckon Joshua will fight Dillian Whyte again after giving up the WBO title.”

“I thought they were fighting for all the titles at Wembley — I was up for that! So what you are saying is instead of fighting each other, they are fighting people they’ve already fought? Why do you bother with it? I do like boxing when it is a big fight, though. I’ve not seen a big fight for ages. I always watch the big ones. When is the next big one?”

“There was a four title unification fight on Saturday.” 

“I missed that. Where was it shown?” 

“It was on an app and you had to pay for it.” 

“Do you mean you can’t watch it on TV?” 

“Yes, via the app and once you’d paid. Would you like to know who won and what it means for boxing?” 

“Nah, just give me a shout to let me know when Floyd Mayweather defends his titles against that funny bloke from YouTube.”

“Mayweather hasn’t got any…you know what, I’m going to take an early lunch.” 

That is the decline we are facing. The big disconnect. I used to get a bit gnarly when people talked about banning boxing, now I look back and think that at least they were talking about boxing. In previous columns, we’ve talked about what is going wrong with the sport — I’ve even been called a ‘Boxing writer who hates boxing’ — yet it is really difficult to accentuate the positives when a fight as big as Fury-Joshua falls apart. If you try to explain it to a non-boxing fan, you realise how ridiculous you sound as the words spill out of your mouth.

Being a boxing fan used to be exhilarating, now it is becoming embarrassing. The temptation is to quit, to jump ship, but to where? Boxing is a niche, cult sport that has crossover potential if the circumstances are right. That crossover potential brings in the so-called casual fans, the ones who put money into boxing’s purse and enjoy watching a few fights a year while saying to their friends: “Who wins, Ali or Tyson?” 

These fans don’t care about the machinations, they just want the event fights and can go elsewhere if boxing doesn’t deliver. The hardcore fans cannot do this. The word ‘Boring’ stems from ‘To bore’, a repetitive action used to make a hole in something. Boxing cannot be boring as it can lead to a feeling called ennui, a sense of listlessness or drift that leads to a lack of caring. Boxing needs a lot of care and attention. If we start to drift away from it, we might as well just turn it in.  

Boxing used to be both exciting and divisive. If we continue to go down this current path it might just end up being completely irrelevant in a wider cultural sense or, worse, boring. Now that would be criminal.  

With all that said, I’ve completely forgotten my original point. Hopefully there is one buried in there somewhere.