Kris Shannon: The circus of boxing all part of the show

Sport is in the business of entertainment and nowhere is this better illustrated than in the fading world of pro boxing.
The Parker-Haumono fight night in Christchurch this week provided good examples of the sideshows at which boxing excels. Picture / Photosport
The Parker-Haumono fight night in Christchurch this week provided good examples of the sideshows at which boxing excels. Picture / Photosport

Several questions popped into the head of this correspondent as he covered Parker-Haumono in Christchurch on Thursday night.

For one, is there any crowd rowdier than a Canterbury boxing crowd? Another, after the gutsy effort of Kaino Kaino, brother of Jerome, how can we replicate that family's genes? But the chief query arising after a long night spent watching men - and two women - punch each other in the face: is there any sport quite like boxing?

I don't mean in the viscerally violent sense; mixed-martial arts has surely lapped the field on that front. Nor do I refer to the mano-o-mano aspect that holds such appeal; tennis and even chess are essentially the same.

No, what puzzled me in the bowels of Horncastle Arena was whether any other code pays as faithful a tribute to the circus, the spectacular side of sport.

That thought began cropping up while in the dressing room of the felled Solomon Haumono, maybe 15 minutes after he staggered to his feet barely too late to beat the referee's 10-count.

The Australian, you may by now have heard, believed he was in fact in time - and so did his entourage. In which other sport, I wondered, can a reporter immediately hear not from fans but friends and family that the event was fixed, that their man was the victim of a vast conspiracy to benefit the opponent and line the pockets of the referee?

In which other sport can the reporter then wander down a corridor and listen to that very referee not only defend his integrity but launch a stinging rebuke, suggesting any grievances were only part of the show, just a ruse cooked up and dutifully devoured by the hungry hacks in attendance?

In fairness, referee Bruce McTavish was probably on the mark. Short of a fighter ending the bout unconscious, the defeated man in boxing can often find cause for complaint.

And the reason for that is the same as all the pre-fight posturing at press conferences: they're simply selling the product. And, what's more, they're doing a damn good job of it.

Is this a bad thing? Of course not! Remember, sport is, now more than ever, firmly ensconced in the entertainment business, with new supporters to lure, shirts to sell and money to make.

What will be more effective in achieving those aims: cliches and platitudes that double as a cure for narcolepsy, or claims of deceit and dishonour that generate page views?

All codes know this but some refuse to play the game. Fair enough. Boxing, however, has little choice.

In this country and around the world, the sweet science is now a niche sport. It's fallen from the lofty pedestal to which it was once lifted by the likes of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, no longer a mainstream attraction but more an oddity for some and an abomination for others.

Boxing must sell itself, and the industry knows it. While the morals involved in that pursuit are open for debate, no amount of play-acting at the weigh-in is more problematic than two men attempting to inflict brain injury in the ring.

Haumono's protestations may have been deemed frivolous by the Kiwi camp - an accurate assessment given, after being poleaxed by Parker, Haumono had about as much chance as me of beating the champ.

But those dismissals must have hidden a wry smile. The opponent had perfectly played the villain's role, stoking the fires of controversy to ensure Parker and his promotion yesterday received more attention than they could have otherwise expected.

Some could call it grubby; I call it sport. Step right up, folks, and enjoy the show.

- NZ Herald

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