LOST TRA­DI­TIONS

List­ing some old ring rit­u­als and con­ven­tions that are no longer in use

Boxing News - - YESTERDAY’S HEROES - Alex Da­ley @thealex­da­ley His­to­rian & au­thor

SE­NIOR fight fans have seen box­ing trans­formed in re­cent decades. True, the fun­da­men­tals are the same – a ref­eree, a crowd and two gloved glad­i­a­tors bound by rules – but box­ing to­day has a dif­fer­ent feel than it had years ago. Ring card girls, flam­boy­ant ring en­trances, boom­ing en­trance mu­sic and spite-fu­elled press con­fer­ences are things young fans take for granted, while vet­eran devo­tees will re­call a sim­pler, purer ap­proach to pro­mot­ing. In the dig­i­tal age, the gar­ish­ness has moved up a gear. Fighters now rou­tinely en­gage in so­cial me­dia jousts, mis­be­liev­ing that bouts can­not be ‘sold’ with­out bad taste and an­i­mos­ity. This is just the lat­est trend in an ever-chang­ing sport. But what about the old ring rit­u­als and con­ven­tions we’ve lost? Below, I’ve picked out a few.

Resin trays

Any­one who has stud­ied pho­tos or film of pre-war fighters will know that box­ing boots then reached barely above the an­kle. The soles were leather and the box­ers shuf­fled their feet in a resin tray, kept by their sec­onds, to help their boots grip the can­vas. The aroma of resin was fa­mil­iar to ringsiders. In the 1970s and ’80s, how­ever, rub­ber-soled boots re­placed leather-soled ones and resin trays were jet­ti­soned.

Towel-flap­ping

Watch old fight footage shot at the Covent Gar­den Na­tional Sport­ing Club and you’ll see cor­ner­men fran­ti­cally flap­ping tow­els be­tween rounds in front of their fighters’ faces to cool them down. This seem­ingly pru­dent prac­tice was al­ready dy­ing out by the 1950s. “If I was manag­ing a fighter, I would in­sist on the use of a towel dur­ing the in­ter­vals be­tween rounds,” ex-world cham­pion Fred­die Mills told Box­ing News in 1954. “It’s very re­fresh­ing, cools down a heated body and slows the heart ac­tion.” When asked the rea­son for the de­cline of towel-flap­ping, Mills cited the in­flu­ence of Amer­i­can train­ers. “Our sec­onds get think­ing that per­haps they are old­fash­ioned and drop a good and longestab­lished prac­tice merely in im­i­ta­tion of peo­ple who know no more than they do.”

The ‘pivot punch’

The ‘pivot punch’ (or ‘swivel punch’) is a foul un­der the rules of box­ing, but in prac­tice it prob­a­bly hasn’t been seen in a ring within liv­ing me­mory. To pull off this un­usual punch the boxer swivels round 360 de­grees, keep­ing one arm out­stretched, the mo­men­tum of the swivel cre­at­ing enough force to knock a man out. But since the boxer turns his head away it is dif­fi­cult to judge where the punch will land, which is prob­a­bly why it was out­lawed. Canada’s Ge­orge Lablanche used the ‘pivot punch’ to knock out Jack Dempsey (“The Non­pareil”, not the “Manassa Mauler”) in a world mid­dleweight ti­tle fight in 1889. But Lablanche’s claim to the crown was dis­missed be­cause of his use of the blow.

Small hall at­mos­phere

At­mos­phere is what older fans seem to miss most about the old-time small halls. Nowa­days, foot­ball-style chants fill box­ing halls, along with in­con­gru­ous blasts of elec­tronic mu­sic in the in­ter­vals be­tween rounds. Years ago, part of the charm of fight-go­ing was to hear the wise­cracks and wit­ti­cisms that echoed round the hall. This and the buzz cre­ated by the book­mak­ers and gam­blers who swarmed round the ring all added to the am­bi­ence. Train­ers and sec­onds wore white clothes and pre-war British ref­er­ees of­ten worked out­side the ring on a raised ring­side chair. If a fight was good, the crowd threw ‘nob­bins’ (i.e. money) into the ring and the box­ers went round with a hat each to col­lect the cash. This sup­plied a much-needed sup­ple­ment to their mod­est purses.

To­day, the no­ble art is not what it was. There are too many weights, too many world ti­tles, too many mis­matches and too many phoney quar­rels. But wade through the non­sense and box­ing is still box­ing; a sport that can be beau­ti­ful or ugly, can in­spire or sicken, but one whose ca­pac­ity for ac­tion, un­pre­dictabil­ity and sheer vis­ceral thrill is be­yond com­pare.

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