Well, they did for me anyway. At first, I was full of cynicism. Oh a green hill, and, oh, a hymn *shudders*. Then Kenneth Branagh doing Isambard Kingdom Brunel, whilst quoting Shakespeare, in a top hat and ‘scary facial whiskers’ (to quote my daughter) bothered my sensibilities somewhat and the grubby working classes, well worked… until, the five Olympic rings were forged before my eyes and raised above the stadium and then, you might say, we were all on the same page. That sentence took some writing. Not unlike the time (cubed) it took for me to catch up with the vision.
There’s no need for me to catalogue what came next is there? All I want to say really, is this. The time passed awfully quickly and when Muhammad Ali faltered onto the stage I cried.
I didn’t cry a little, I cried a lot. I have mentioned Ali on here before, mainly as a beautiful individual and a lyrical gangster. The night before the opening ceremony I had coincidentally waved his photo biography at a small audience and extolled his many qualities, lest they troubled to forget.
Then last night, as if by magic, there he was. He looks so different from his prime. It’s more than age, it’s the ravages of the cruel neurological disease that is Parkinson’s, a disease that afflicted my grandfather. Last night, I had to look and look again to be sure, ‘Is that Muhammad Ali?’ And then, when Ali moved to touch the Olympic flag, suddenly, time and space collapsed and so did I. In that Olympic moment I was a child again, watching Ali in black and white on the portable tv, listening to his patter and his press conferences. I was reading him, occasionally writing about or quoting him, over a lifetime. I was the age I am now, waving his picture to strangers and I was all I can ever try to be, somehow incredibly knowing shared humanity, connected through all our wondrous possibilities.
I am nothing to Muhammad Ali, and he is nothing and no-one and everything and everyone to me. How much easier for a man of his age, and frailty to stay at home out of the public’s gaze, than fly to London for a late night gig. But despite the disease, the age, the infirmity and confusion, he is the same as he ever was, because he was there. There, still fighting his battle, on the world stage. And to me, that is the Greatest Ever Inspiration any of us could wish for.
He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.
That’s what Audley Harrison threw for (by my approximation) £1.5 million in Manchester last night. His disinterest in actual boxing was eventually punished comprehensively in the third with a barrage of blows from Haye. I have also read somewhere that Harrison managed two jabs. I could not be sure if that’s the case without watching it again, but I am not interested in putting myself through that – once was enough. It was, without qualification, the worst fight I have ever seen. To all intents and purposes, Harrison did nothing. Oh, he did hold his gloves up a bit, in marked contrast to the victor who maintained an open stance.
Harrison simply did not show up. He insisted afterwards that there was a gameplan (to take it to the deep ends of the rounds) and that he didn’t get a chance to implement it. He also insisted that he “survived the count” and that maybe the ref had stopped it too soon. Audley, Fraudley, Audrey: that is pure bull.
Yet I wondered this, as we watched the broken man after embarrassing himself like a pussy: is Audley having a bubble? This is a man brought up in Harlesden, the meanest of streets. This is a man whose brother was a drug addict who died young. This man is more than the sum of the parts he brought to the bout. With no training at all, a kid hanging tough from the Stonebridge Estate could do a better job than the one Harrison came up with.
Haye said Harrison didn’t look him in the eye when they entered the ring. I suggest Audley was not even there. How about this? Harrison engaged with the hype, playing the game for the payday with no intention of seriously opening up and landing a blow. It’s not throwing a fight, it’s refusing to fight. You can’t be mentally broken if you don’t engage in the ring can you? The media this morning is full of Harrison’s humiliation, but what if he’s trained for that. Could you do that? Or did he really believe his own hype? Whatever, he’ll be back on the plane home to California with a lifetime’s earnings for some people and, in a delicious irony, perhaps the last laugh is on us.
Right-handed, followed by a banging left hook.
Don’t worry it’s not about some old geezer in a hat on the Rowley Mile, it’s theoretical.
I get to spar with a partner and pads sometimes and the pads are pretty static, only turning from full-frontal position to accomodate the hooks and face down for the uppercuts. I enjoy it. It melts stress and a connected uppercut is a joy. I’d like to do this for real I sometimes think. Then I think about actually hitting a person and, perhaps worse, being punched back and suddenly it seems like a really bad idea. I’m not boxing, I’m just throwing punches to get up a little bit of sweat. Ok, I am thinking about stance, technique, body weight, following through, but it isn’t the real deal.
That’s what I’m thinking about this morning. The real deal. Sport is a metaphor for life, but boxing is life and even death sadly. I have recalled Michael Watson walking the London marathon over six days after being severely brain-damaged in his fight against Eubank in 1991. Watson comes from Hackney, he was a shy kid who took up boxing aged 14 after being bullied. He took up boxing to defend himself. A practical solution to a problem. Not a metaphor.
I know the sport’s naysayers insist boxing exploits kids from deprived communities, often black kids, and by watching the spectacle we are somehow complicit in the deed. I think if you could learn to fight with your fists, within the rules and with honour, would you need to run the streets in feral gangs carrying knives and guns killing each other and pretty young girls in chicken shops?