Hugh MacDonald: The brutal truth? Boxing teaches us so much about life

FIGHT night in Glasgow. The air reeks of cologne, lager and an undeniable hint of menace. The city is up for a fight. It always was.

The bars slowly empty and the taxis fill up. It’s off to the Hydro for Josh Taylor and a fight for the undisputed light welterweight championship of the world.

Haud me back. It is a return to the ring for me after some years. When I say “ring”, I mean a seat so high in the stands that I have to hire a Sherpa for the last stage.

The climb, though, has a nod to history. My connection with boxing lurches back to the days when I won silver medals and lost dinner money. It continued as writer and observer.

Boxing is in my blood, the result of a dodgy transfusion from two grandfathers. My father’s only involvement was to buy the MacDonald brothers a set of boxing gloves and then feign surprise when we fought to the death over who had to go to the ice cream van. A sort of Thrilla in Vanilla, but with no need for raspberry sauce.

Pater did take me to the Ken Buchanan-Jim Watt fight in 1973 but only because Gentleman Jim once lived below my granny in Killearn Street in Possil.

This signalled a lifetime of watching and sometimes wittering about boxing. The Glasgow fight nights reeled off: Watt, Pat Clinton, Ricky Burns, Scott Harrison, among others.

Taylor, from exotic Prestonpans, had already been witnessed on the Clyde during the Commonwealth Games. Last Saturday was a reunion but the old thoughts resurfaced.

Hugh McIlvanney, greatest of the boxing writers (and, yup, I know about Liebling), once wrote after the death of Welsh bantamweight Johnny Owen after a bout in 1980: “The hardest of sports will be asking once again if the game is worth the candle. Quite a few of us who have been involved with it most of our lives share the doubts.”

It is, then, difficult to be wholeheartedly supportive of a sport whose primary ambition may be the art of self-defence but does include the option of knocking one’s opponent unconscious.

However, it is also impossible for this observer to regard boxing merely as a legitimised act of violence. It has other traits, some of them highly meritorious.

I would raise no impassioned objection to the banning of boxing though I would fear where that aggression would be channelled.

I would remember, too, the gifts that the sport bestowed on me, not only in excitement but in encounters with genuinely good men and women. I have met the humblest, sincerest and most respectful characters in my professional life in boxing. My son opted to take up the sport and his passion for it remains undiminished as he goes into the championship rounds approaching 40 years old. It has formed his life for the better.

Saturday night at the Hydro was a collision with the great and the not so good. It was a typical fight night.

There was the flash and the bling. Other cities may take their jacket off for a fight. Glaswegians put one on, occasionally affording the tantalising glimpse of a designer label. There was also coiffured hair, vertiginous high heels and lip gloss. But enough about the men.

The new world of Glasgow fight promotions has embraced women. Women, in turn, have hugged boxing, shouting and remonstrating with the same primal passion as the rest of us. They, like us, become instant experts.

The sexes joined in a sinuous, snaking line out of the arena as most of the 12,000 seemed to agree that our hero, Mr Taylor, had been given a decision that might be described as a tad generous.

Most of the arguments continued as the crowd headed into town. With taxis as rare as a talking unicorn and public transport options as poor as a church mouse with a crack habit, the walk took some time.

The chat was loud, accentuated by alcohol. It adhered to certain imperatives that are notably, but not exclusively, Glaswegian. There was the need to be both funny and original. This was mostly observed in the failure of said aim rather than in its execution.

But some truth was told. There was the observation that one would be as well to complain about WWE referees as to rail at boxing officials. There was the thought that a hapless heavyweight on the night would have to come up with a better tactic than sticking the heid on his opponent’s glove. There was the guy on the phone bellowing: “Geez, mate, how can I know where you are when I’m not sure where I am?”

There was also the old man replying to his son’s mate who was railing about the injustice of the decision to award the contest to Taylor. “It was just unfair,” the pensioner was informed. “Life is unfair,’ he replied.

Boxing can teach us many things, good and bad, sore and inspiring. But we are blessed if we need it as an example of injustice on a cold city night.

As we finally reached the car, my son lifted his eyes from his phone. “That’s Usyk off,’ he said of Oleksandr of that ilk, a heavyweight champion of the world. The boxer had headed home to Ukraine to fight for his country. Life is unfair.

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