The city of boxing is for addicts. If it wasn’t boxing it would be booze or women or crack cocaine. Often they can be combined. Not for nothing do boxing people say their compulsion is ‘in the blood.’ It is. From the first moment they see it as a kid, they are injected. Hooked.
To give one example, I know a guy who saw a famous heavyweight on TV when he was about twelve. This heavyweight fought Ali. The heavyweight and his fan lived on different continents. This did not stop the fan. In the course of the next 20 years, he not only became a professional boxer himself but also befriended the heavyweight and ended up housing him next door. The heavyweight was completely skint. The fan married him to his aunt, believing the heavyweight was worth millions. Indeed the heavyweight would often talk about his fabled wealth, all tied up “in investments.” The fan lent him money unquestioningly. He still does. He believes totally in the heavyweight.
Coincidentally I know another man who knew the heavyweight before he moved continents. He said of him: “If X ever saw a million dollars he’d be in a cardiac arrest unit. He has savings plans to buy a postage stamp.” He also said of X: “He thinks ‘illegal’ is a sick bird.
So, you see, boxing is all madness and addiction.
Take my story. Don’t worry, I’m not going to bang on about it. This is just by way of introduction. Until 10 years ago the city of boxing had me roped and tied and buried up to my neck. I had been an amateur boxer, got knocked out, been a boxing writer and then a boxing manager. My one boy made it all the way to a world championship. I was in Vegas about 10 times in one year. Then my boy got beaten and came back. Then he came back again. I was with him all the way barring one-bust-up when he tried to shake me down to 10 percent. Finally I was by his hospital bed. It always ends there. Addictions need certainties and the boxing game provides the same beautiful, doomed story.
I walked away from the heartbreak of my boy and left boxing entirely. I lasted about seven years. It was the plight of Frank Bruno that drew me back. Seeing him being carted off to a psychiatric hospital had me reaching for the fight magazines again. I saw or covered all Bruno’s fights. I started off adoring him but he was a bully and horrible to deal with. He once threatened to beat me up in Betty Boop’s bar in the MGM Grand. He thought he could control everything – his wife, promoters, managers, press – but they were always one step ahead of him. He ended up sleeping alone, outside, under the ring in which he’d beaten Oliver McCall for the WBC title. His wife took him for everything. I felt sorry for Frank. His next public appearance was at an amateur show. He had a blank look. Fellow addicts. You can’t get away.
Ali was the ultimate addict, and Tyson next. Tyson is a true sado-masochist, I think. And now his sadistic powers in the ring are gone, the only relish he has left is for his own destruction.
I used to think boxers and boxing people were different to the rest, and in a sense they are, but only in that their experiences are more compressed. Now when I think of boxing I can’t help thinking of some lines from the low-life poet Charles Bukowski: “the freeways are a psychological entanglement of warped souls, dying flowers in the dying hour of the dying day. All these represent humanity in general, totally enraged, demented…” Well, so be it, but my line about the city of boxing is the same as Bukowski’s about freeways:
See you there tomorrow!