I was raised on “Kickboxer” and “Terminator” and “Robocop.” I eat rabbit and venison and veal. I think hunting is fine as long as you eat the animal afterwards and I do not necessarily equate sex with love. My brother and I affectionately beat the bejesus out of each other growing up; I should be able to cope with a little bloodsport. So why as an adult, can’t I watch a fight without knotted guts and a migraine?
I don’t think boxing is base. I recognize the instinctual enjoyment people feel when watching it; the rush, the vampirical attraction to blood, the hard-ons… OK, I’m grasping at straws, but I’ve made a self-diagnosis and maybe now I can find a workaround.
Boxing created a temporary bond between me and my dad. After the disappointment of one son that couldn’t (and still can’t) tie his shoelaces, a gay son (who wasn’t really into boxing but liked soccer for reasons that made my dad uncomfortable — sweaty shorts) and a traditionally feminine daughter, he got me. Seven years after he thought his sperm had ceased to be a threat to my mother’s quick-drying ovaries, he begat a tiny tomboy who loved DIY, Karate Kid and beer. If only all men found me adorable for the same reasons.
My childhood is a vague memory but there are some episodes I recall vividly; my mother menopausally smashing the good tableware, my brother’s broken nose and being told by my sister that I was adopted and had been found on the doorstep in a milk bottle. I also remember my dad preparing on the evening of a big fight. The TV had been forcefully reserved and he had stocked up on a brand of beer long discontinued because it was disgusting and solely purchased by the undiscerning alcoholics of West London. I was permitted a stubby can of Budweiser to myself (child-size), which may at first appear indefensibly bad parenting but both parents knew I just liked holding it because to the palate of a child, it tasted like shit. My dad was hyperactive in the hours before the fight, the way that dogs are when you rattle a leash. The tabloids spewed trash-talk and half-baked, fantastical bullshit that no one believed and everyone loved. It was 1995 and Gerald McClellan was going to kill Nigel Benn. Benn lisped his lack of concern. Benn had 32 knockouts under his belt. Percentage-wise McClellan had far more. My dad, lost for who to put his money on, was easily influenced and overexcited. He bet twice as much as he should have.
My dad finds it harder than most to communicate with his children but that night we were buddies, drinking beer. I mimicked his excitement. I don’t recall punch for punch what happened, but I remember the fear in the commentator’s voice when McClellan was still lying inert in his corner well after the fight was over. It was replicated in my dad’s voice when he thought about what the fuck I would say in school on Monday. Giving your prepubescent offspring her first taste of beer is one thing, but letting her watch a man get punched into blindness is another. But you know, children are resilient.
Years later, aged 17 and working illegally in an Irish pub in London, the same leash-rattling excitement was igniting the regulars. We closed the pub at 11, turned out the lights and turned the chairs upside down on the tables in case the police noticed that no one had left. I didn’t want to watch the fight but I didn’t want to miss the party either. I wasn’t a tomboy anymore. I was more Cosmo and Wonderbras by then but I faked an interest in sport because the pub came alive when there was any sort of game on.
I perched on the seat of an upside down chair, next to Barry. Another barmaid had recently slept with him and word was that his penis was as wide as it was long. This preoccupied my mind as we waited for the endless, British, build-up to subside and the ding ding ding to ring. It had been karaoke night before the doors had locked and I wondered whether I should tell Barry that people hadn’t been sniggering at his poor rendition of “Losing My Religion.” I had felt sorry for him and then remembered that he’d shagged the other girl in the bed he shared with his fiancée, while she was away on business. I decided his chode deserved all it got.
The fight started and I turned away, but everyone else was engrossed and I had no one to distract me. Every time a glove made contact I felt it in my head, behind my ears. Don’t think about McClellan. Don’t think about brain damage or the commentator not being able to get Benn to listen or Benn’s hypnotist and his degree of guilt. Think about the fun stuff: trash-talk, bitten ears, gold teeth, Rocky, David and Goliath and the achievement of working class underdogs the world over. Think of anything. Chode, chode, chode. I thought about McClellan kneeling in the ring, refusing to drop and had to run to the bathroom, where I dry retched down the toilet for 10 minutes.
I got home the next day and when I finally woke up the following one, spoke to my dad about the McClellan fight. I said that I thought it had affected me more than I had realized and maybe it hadn’t been a good idea for me to be exposed to so much violence back then. “Why?” he said, walking away from me, “McClellan was fine.” “What?” I asked. “He was fine. They found a good doctor for him. I saw him being interviewed a few weeks ago, so don’t worry about it.” Lies, lies, porky pies. I could have checked with someone else. I just chose not to.
Now I consider myself in training. For the next big fight I’m going to hang out with people that know boxing. I’m going to watch this fight, properly. I will drink beer. I will tell myself the nausea is adrenaline and I will ignore the weird impact I feel behind my ears. I will not vomit, because even though I may see a man get pummeled into mental deficiency, I’d much rather that than spend another 15 years thinking about Barry’s cubic cock.
Read more from Tina Squatley-Thurst here.