When fight becomes farce!

By now you’ve all heard the news. On 26 August 2017, Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor will square off in Las Vegas. It’s the fight we’ve all been waiting for apparently; the most eagerly awaited bout of the modern era. Or is it? The promoters and publicists are queuing up to tell us how significant and historic this event is, so it must be true, mustn’t it? Actually no. This is more farce than fight. But how has such a worthless event (money aside obviously) come to pass?  Have the sporting public suddenly succumbed en masse to gullibility and unquestioned hype? Or are we all merely being taken for a ride by two extremely smart, if controversial, sportsmen?

You see, the problem with this contest is that it has no substance. It’s the ultimate triumph of hype over real, substantive sporting endeavour and achievement. That’s why it must be resisted by genuine sports fans. Unfortunately, it won’t be. Both the antagonists are big enough personalities to ensure that bums are firmly welded to ludicrously expensive seats and sell enough pay-per-view subscriptions to justify the purse.

That’s not the point, though. Where is the merit, the logic, the justification for this contest? Hype and promotion aside, here are the facts. Floyd Mayweather is an accomplished, multiple-time world champion; unbeaten through an illustrious and unblemished professional career. The very embodiment of boxing class. Conor McGregor is a superb MMA fighter and the biggest name in his own sport, but the Dubliner has never laced a professional boxing glove in his life.

And we’re supposed to accept the claim that this is a mouth-watering and enticing contest? Give me a break! It all has a touch of the WWE about it. Only that’s doing the WWE a massive disservice, to be honest. If Vince McMahon was in charge of this hype-fest, he would at least ensure that the contest lasts more than a couple of rounds. Mayweather may be 40, but you don’t lose class. And where’s the real, reputational risk when your opponent is a complete and untested rookie? You don’t have to be Mystic Meg to work out how this one’s going to go. Maybe I’m missing the point, though. Maybe we should accept that this match-up is all about the money and rejoice in the unprecedented bounty both stars will glean?

There has been much talk about the obvious danger arising from a rookie stepping into the ring with one of the greatest boxers of all time. And yes, it was indeed one of my main concerns when I first heard that McGregor-Mayweather was a genuine prospect. However, danger is palpable and omnipresent any time a boxer climbs through those ropes. It’s the same with any contact sport. Both men are experienced and self-aware enough to know the risks. Moreover, any man is entitled to earn a crust in whatever manner he sees fit as long as no laws are broken. The astronomical numbers involved shouldn’t distract us from the fact that this fight is merely a professional engagement that suits the vested interests of both parties and their respective money men. Good luck to them, right?

While all the above is certainly true, we don’t, as consumers, have to buy it. Unlike the multi-millionaires involved, are any of us ordinary punters wealthy enough to justify spending our hard earned dough on a glorified circus? Surely, the integrity and legitimacy of professional sport is still something worth salvaging, even in this money-obsessed era? We can refuse. We can resist the hype and nonsense. Its consumption isn’t mandatory.

I’ve a lot of respect for the individuals involved. Which only makes me feel worse. As a boxing fan, I’m a long standing admirer of Mayweather and have nothing but deep admiration for his achievements in the sport. McGregor, meanwhile, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but his ascent to the top of MMA is an inspiration for the millions of young people who idolise him, both at home and abroad. And there’s no doubt that he’s put his home country on the international sporting map in a way few others have come close to emulating. The Irish always cherish their own.

For all that, I can’t get into this fight. It leaves me utterly cold and more than a little apprehensive. It’s rumoured that August’s super-fight could earn the boxers as much as $100 million. That’s a colossal figure and certainly makes the appeal of this bout easier to understand from a fighter’s perspective. But when did it become all about the coin? Surely professional achievement and reputation mean so much more? In the final analysis, what will either man gain from this flawed enterprise apart from vastly inflated bank balances? They’re already wealthy men, after all, and neither need the money. Maybe it’s a sign of our times. The almighty dollar transcends everything; meaning the most insubstantial contest can be sold to a ravenous public. It doesn’t make it right, though.

There’s even something a little vulgar about the way potential profits outweigh all other considerations in these matters. Mayweather calls his inner circle The Money Team and the former champion has proved to be a formidable businessman outside the ring. McGregor is no slouch himself in the world of  self-promotion and sporting enrichment. There’s no doubt that this contest will fulfil a lifelong ambition by making him wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. Fair play, I suppose. We can only hope and pray that neither man comprises his health or dignity in the process. Please God no-one gets hurt.

This isn’t really sport. It barely qualifies as entertainment. The wrestling angle is quite apt, because in preparing for this bout, Ireland’s most famous export might ask to borrow Vinnie Mac’s entrance music for the occasion. “No chance, ‘cos that’s what I’ve got.” Fingers crossed both men come through unscathed and we can all chalk this unfortunate episode down to experience. I’m sure plenty of eager fans will rise early on 26 August, keen to see sporting history made and having paid a pretty penny to do so. Unfortunately, I won’t be one of them. I’ve a prior engagement to watch paint dry.

 

File:Sports Model John Quinlan Autographed Muay Thai Boxing Gloves.jpg

By Julieb2768 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

 

Time for Ireland to shine!

It’s that time of year again. In these tough times we’re living in, it’s hard not to succumb to cynicism and negativity. After all, you only have to watch the television news or read a newspaper, to be bombarded with a relentless stream of woe and bad news. Yes, doom and gloom are everywhere, and there seems to be no escape from the consuming madness. Recent political decisions have only served to compound feelings of despondency and despair. And yet, in the midst of seemingly interminable darkness, the light of spring always brings a welcome infusion of happiness to our slightly beleaguered souls.

For rugby fans, this can only mean one thing: the Six Nations Championship. It’s fair to say that the much derided tournament has delivered much hope to an Irish nation that’s suffered its fair share of gloom in recent years. The Six Nations has been good to us. What wonderful memories we’ve been given by this great tournament. BOD’s hat-trick in Paris, ROG’s famous drop goal to seal the long awaited Slam and so much else besides (for those wondering what on earth I’m on about, Irish rugby fans have a strange tendency to speak in acronyms and abbreviations. And yes, I understand how irritating this must seem!).

Regardless of what else is happening in the world, the Six Nations always provides a welcome antidote to the harshness and monotony of everyday life. The competition itself is a mass of contradictions: a commercial powerhouse but one that is deeply rooted in history, tradition and Corinthian values that belong to a bygone age. In that sense, the grand old tournament is something of a sporting anachronism. A thoroughly professional competition that retains the quaintness and old-fashioned appeal of an amateur era long since consigned to the history books. Needless to say, the fans love it. What’s more remarkable, however, is that the Six Nations retains its enduring appeal despite a lack of spectacle and consistent entertainment value.

I appreciate there are those who may disagree on this point, but ask yourself the question: how often in the last ten years have you been blown away by a Six Nations match and the rugby on display? How often have you thought: “The occasion’s great and it’s nice to have a few pints in the spring sunshine; however the match we’ve just watched was pretty crap?” Of course, there have been exceptions and the business end of the tournament is never less than captivating, but the rugby itself has rarely sizzled in recent seasons. Instead, we’ve often been subjected to bore-fests, with defences dominating and teams adopting  win-at-all-costs mantras. Given the traditional format of the tournament, the absence of entertainment has hardly been surprising. Up to now, the Six Nations has predominantly been about survival and winning by any means possible.

That’s why the belated introduction of bonus points has been so universally welcomed. The initiative not only standardises the Six Nations with every other major rugby tournament on the planet, but opens up the possibility of a competition where attacking rugby is at a premium; with teams focusing on scoring tries and accumulating scores rather than shutting down opponents. One can only hope. Change was long overdue and it’s now up to the teams to show the same level of innovation on the pitch that administrators have shown in the boardrooms.

In terms of national interest, Ireland look well placed to mount a serious challenge for silverware. While the holy grail of the Grand Slam seems as elusive as ever, there’s absolutely no reason why Joe Schmidt’s men can’t regain a trophy they’ve won twice in the last three years. If a tricky opening fixture against the ascendant Scots can be negotiated safely, Ireland have the form and talent to go all the way. As ever, momentum is the key to Six Nations success. Of course so much depends on fortune and factors beyond Schmidt’s obsessive control. Injuries are part of the fabric of the modern game, but there are some men that Ireland dare not lose in the weeks ahead. Schmidt will pray that Johnny Sexon, Conor Murray and Robbie Henshaw get through the tournament relatively unscathed.

In some positions, though, Ireland have an embarrassment of wealth. Consider the abundance of talent the back row, for example, where the form of Josh van der Flier and CJ Stander could keep SOB on the bench (I’m at it again!). With the year that’s in it, Lions selection adds another layer of spice to an already fascinating competition in prospect. While Wales and France can never be discounted, Ireland’s main adversaries for the title seem to be Eddie Jones’s England. In extolling Ireland’s championship credentials, we mustn’t forget that Jones’s men have gone over a calendar year without tasting defeat.

Already, that final game on 18th March has the look of a championship decider. England, in Dublin, the day after St Patrick’s Day. It doesn’t get much better than that! How exciting would it be if both sides were going for a Slam to boot? Remember 2003?! Stay tuned. There’s certain to be twists, turns, upsets, and incidents galore. It’s what makes this tournament the colossus that it is. I guess it’s prediction time. Who’ll win the title, then? It’s a tough one this year. Do I go with heart or head? Who am I kidding. Heart wins every time. Ireland!!

P.S. Although I didn’t stay up to watch it, I was sorry to hear that Carl Frampton lost his title last night. I know Carl will be devastated to relinquish his unbeaten record, but all great champions come back from defeat even stronger. What a perfect opportunity to show, once and for all, that he belongs in the pantheon of greats. We haven’t heard the last of Carl Frampton!

Image courtesy of Wikipedia: By Hoops341 (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAviva_Stadium_from_North_Stand.jpg

 

Twitter: @RoryMcGimpsey

Muhammad Ali: The Greatest

I woke early on Saturday to the sad news, news we were expecting, but no less awful for that. Muhammad Ali is gone. The most revered sportsman of all time. The Greatest. Despite having spent the last thirty years being ravaged by the debilitating condition that is Parkinson’s Disease, his passing still comes as a shock. Isn’t that the way it always works, though? Somehow, regardless of the relentless inevitability of death, we don’t expect our heroes to die. No matter how many times it happens, we find it hard to accept the mortality of heroic and iconic people.

It’s part of the human condition. Each of us are programmed to view our heroes as transcendent, quasi-immortal figures. Even the grim certainty of death is unable to penetrate this cruel illusion. Such deception of the mind is especially common with individuals as iconic as Ali. We just can’t accept they’re gone. It doesn’t seem right, plausible even, that someone so superhuman and powerful is as mortal as the rest of us. Even when we’re confronted with inescapable evidence of their fragility, as we had been  through Ali’s cruel, chronic illness, we find it difficult to accept the merciless truth. I suppose this syndrome is one of the reasons people still occasionally see Elvis in chip shops. Heroes just aren’t supposed to leave us. And that’s why it devastates us when they do.

I’m too young to remember Muhammad Ali fight. Instead, I came to him through my father. My Dad is the biggest Ali fan imaginable, Muhammad Ali is his all-time hero. Like many of that generation, Dad seemed to regard Ali as the personification of sporting perfection. Therefore, I grew up with stories of the legend. The iconic fights, the trash talk, the peerless record of achievement. As a young lad, I heard about Ali’s brutal three fights with Joe Frazier and of course the big daddy of them all: the Rumble in the Jungle when Ali dethroned the mammoth George Foreman to regain the heavyweight title. The Rumble intrigued me the most. Forget the amiable figure with the grill. Foreman was an utterly terrifying pugilist in 1974. My Dad would regale me with stories of this gigantic, intimidating man who seemed virtually indestructible.  And yet the immovable object was indeed defeated, Ali employing his controversial and innovative “Rope-a-Dope” strategy to fell the hitherto unbeaten Foreman. I subsequently watched the fight myself in later years, and the Rumble ingrained the Ali legend in my mind.

When I discovered more about the man, though, what really interested me was his life outside the ring. I’ve always been fascinated by Ali’s activism; the name change, his strident opposition to racism in all its ugly forms, and his courageous refusal to be conscripted into the Vietnam War. For me, these convictions and crusades truly illuminate Ali the man. His conscientious objection to  Vietnam, moreover, defined Ali’s career as much as anything else. His opposition to the controversial war cost Ali three years of championship bouts at a time when he was entering the peak of his athletic powers. The enforced sabbatical undoubtedly had a detrimental effect on the ascendant star. How good would Ali have been otherwise? It’s a sobering question! That Ali came back so spectacularly from this fighting exile to enjoy the most celebrated moments of his career in the 1970s tells us all we need to know about this remarkable man.

What about Ali the campaigner? Societal achievement can be hard to quantify, but the champion arguably did more for African-American rights and equality than any other individual. Long before Barack Obama, Ali was often a minority voice in the wilderness, shining a light on America’s inequalities and providing a vision of pride, integrity, and achievement to which millions of African-Americans could aspire. The champion had his faults, but I think it’s difficult for the modern mind to appreciate just how courageous and prescient Ali’s fearless stance against racism was. Of course one can be churlish and suggest that the sometimes vitriolic nature of Ali’s activism actually fostered division, but this view fundamentally misses the point. In becoming a global hero to millions of people of every class, colour, and creed, Ali promoted an inclusiveness that transcended petty human division. Ali’s mass appeal, in fact, helped eradicate prejudice in a way that legions of elected representatives can only dream of. And his vocal, unapologetic opposition to racism and inequality paved the way for the integrated American society millions take for granted today. This inspiration was felt throughout the world. That is Muhammad Ali’s lasting legacy, as far as I’m concerned. 

In sporting terms,  Ali boasted an aura and charisma that matched his supremely electrifying talent. Many have since imitated, but no-one has come close to generating the box office appeal so effortlessly exuded by the legendary  fighter. Boxers like Chris Eubank and Naseem Hamed attempted to captivate the sporting public with a crude simulation of Ali’s theatrics, but their performances were less than convincing. When it came to charisma, charm, and humour, there was only one Muhammad Ali. If illness hadn’t reduced him so savagely, this man could have done anything. Movie star, lecturer, President, who knows what he might have been if Parkinson’s Disease hadn’t intervened? I think that sense of loss one of the reasons Ali’s illness and death are so galling. We know we’ll never see his like again.

As if all that wasn’t enough, any fair summation of the man must also account for his humanity and character. For all Ali’s unprecedented exploits in the ring, the three-time Heavyweight Champion’s later years proclaimed him as a universal role model who set the bravest of examples. The proud and dignified manner in which the great man handled his illness speaks volumes for Ali’s character: he had integrity, fortitude, and humility in abundance. How ironic that Parkinson’s robbed him of that priceless ability to speak out, to elucidate his thoughts in the articulate way we were used to. In a strange way, though, Ali’s more muted appearances in recent years highlighted  the bravery and humanity of the man in a way that words simply cannot capture. Sometimes there are just no words capable of defining the human spirit. It’s horrible to think that any person should suffer the cruel symptoms inflicted by a degenerative disease like Parkinson’s. Nevertheless, patients of this cruel illness-and others like it-couldn’t have had a better advocate and role model to highlight their suffering. The great man has gone. How sad we’ve finally lost him. He has left us with a tremendous legacy, though. Muhammad Ali was the greatest. In more ways than one.

Twitter: @RoryMcGimpsey