How boxing lost its poetry
Camden New Journal 12 July, 2012
IN his distinctive grave in Highgate cemetery, guarded by a giant, albeit napping, stone dog, celebrated Victorian boxer Tom Sayers might have turned in woe a little yesterday.
His funeral was by all accounts a spectacular occasion way back in 1865, with 100,000 people turning out in Camden High Street, close to where his home is now marked with a heritage blue plaque.
He was perhaps Britain’s first hero boxer.
Fast forward through more than 150 years of the sport – past Cooper and Ali, Bruno and Tyson – and then walk just a few steps up the street in Camden Town and the scripted circus that his trade has become was played out in all its gory glory yesterday.
What would old Tom have made of David Haye separated from rival Dereck Chisora by the prop of a metal fence as they met for a pre-fight press conference?
The location was upstairs at the luxurious Gilgamesh bar near Camden Lock, where a throng of writers and cameramen were kept waiting for almost an hour before the two heavyweights appeared for a pantomime that Camden Town has not seen the like of since one-hit wonder Blu Cantrell turned on the Christmas lights a few years back.
At times, it wasn’t a press conference, it was a show; questions were replaced with the two men struggling to find a witty insult for the other.
Chisora, smacking gum against his teeth, wore a Union Jack bandana around his mouth when he arrived.
Asked the significance of using the British flag as a mask, he claimed it made him “feel like John Wayne”, that non-British cowboy actor.
Haye sat on the other side of the fence sneering, scrunching up his face, “I don’t care” eyebrows jumping every two seconds, and insisting he would not look at the “bitch” on the other side.
“There’s no need to swear,” Chisora replied in mock surprise.
“I’m chilled out. I’ve taken my medication today but I’m going to go crazy on you in the ring.”
It then had to be laboriously explained that this did not mean he had taken banned substances.
A disco glitterball, which usually lights up the parties held here when the sun goes down, hung above the fence.
And ahat fence really was prop.
Either man could have sidestepped a couple of feet to avoid it if they really were burned by uncontrollable rage.
Instead they stared at each other through the metal mesh like two EastEnders characters who had just realised they wanted to step out with the same barmaid.
The fence itself was a reference to what their fight is hinged on for boxing’s minted marketeers, a past dispute which many seasoned boxing fans felt shamed the sport.
Haye laughed several times about thwacking Chisora during a press conference (not a boxing match) in Munich earlier this year.
Haye had been over there as a media pundit when Chisora, who trains with runs over Hampstead Heath, lost to one of the Klitschko brothers.
In a way, the storyline of that scramble in the press centre has earned them the payday of this fight.
Haye told the Gilgamesh dancefloor yesterday that Chisora had already lost a “street fight” to him.
Reporters asked him if he regretted that “street fight”.
He insisted not.
The two men meet in the ring at Upton Park, West Ham United’s home in east London, on Saturday night where promoters, including the ever-enduring Frank Warren, will be hoping to advance the current sale of 29,000 tickets and seduce many more through a lucrative pay-per-view TV audience.
Warren insisted this was a “real fight” and that his man Chisora had a commendable record to defend.
But every time the discussion turned to tactics, strategy and strength, one of the leading men would say something mindless.
Chisora: “Pretty boy look at me.”
Haye: “The only thing you will look at is my fists in your mouth.”
And so on.
The poetry of Muhammed Ali seemed lost in the past.
The legend of Sayers lost in his tomb.