Polite society’ gets nasty
Applauding Lennox Lewis' defeat of bad man Mike Tyson just isn't good sport.
For a boxing match to step out of the shadows of England’s victory over Argentina in the World Cup, it had to be a big fight.
What fight could be bigger than battle of the heavyweights – Britain’s own Lennox Lewis v ‘Iron Mike’ Tyson, the self-proclaimed Baddest Man On The Planet?
But was it a good fight? And was it good for boxing?
Mike Tyson, of course, is not just famous for his boxing ability. He is infamous, even among those who have no interest in boxing, for being a convicted rapist, for biting off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear in the ring, and for his out-of-the-ring attack on Lennox Lewis at a press conference earlier this year. Tyson is so mighty a devil, even Keyser Soze is scared of him.
Even minus Tyson, boxing has a history of bad press – it has been portrayed as a bloodthirsty spectacle, its fighters as mindless thugs. While there is no denying that boxing is violent, it is also an incredibly exciting and skilful sport, requiring contestants to be athletic, trained and dedicated.
Some argued that allowing Tyson to continue to fight after his misdemeanours was bad for boxing. I would say that the recent rejoicing in his battering has been far more damning.
‘The morality tale took its course. Lennox Lewis, polite society’s instrument of vengeance, savaged Mike Tyson’, wrote Matthew Engel in the UK Guardian (1). How polite are members of society who revel in someone else punching the face of their hate figure? The vicarious pleasure of many who applauded Tyson’s defeat embodies much that the sport is criticised for. But because he’s a bad man, we’ll overlook that, shall we?
It is one thing to applaud the best man winning a well-matched hard-fought battle, but this fight was hardly a contest. Tyson landed only 49 punches during the eight rounds, compared to Lewis’ 193. Tyson was, by many people’s admission, a boxer past his best who turned out to be ‘a shot-to-pieces has-been’ (2).
Had Argentina been a bad football team, and had Argentina not possessed half the skill they used to knock England out of the previous World Cup, then England’s victory last Friday would not have been nearly so cathartic. It was only because Argentina were worthy opponents that English fans could all fall out of the pubs overjoyed.
We are told that ‘boxing got the result that was right for its conscience’ last Saturday (3). But I would have to seriously check my own conscience if it were me jeering ‘he may still be a threat in taxis, hotel rooms and other confined spaces, but this marks the end of Tyson as a serious sportsman’ (4). As for the morality contest, it is worth noting that the fouls were committed by noble man Lewis – who used his elbows and then his weight advantage to lean on his inferior opponent and force him down.
I imagine that true fans of boxing want to watch fights that, although brutal, are also majestic and technically masterful – or at least good beat-‘em-ups, rather than echoes of kids standing around in the playground yelping while the school bully has his hair pulled.
Misogynist in the woodpile, by Mick Hume, Spectator, 9 February 2002
(1) Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide for Mike Tyson, Guardian, 10 June 2002
(2) ‘Lewis stakes claim to be the greatest’, Owen Slot, The Times, 10 June 2002
(3) ‘Lewis stakes claim to be the greatest’, Owen Slot, The Times, 10 June 2002
(4) Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide for Mike Tyson, Guardian, 10 June 2002
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