Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Fight Night

I'm not really into violence. Compared with other men my age I suppose I am a bit of a wuss. I don't like too much violence in films (particularly if it doesn't really add anything to the story and is just a gimmick or a chance to show off the talents of the make-up department), I don't watch any of that homo-erotic UFC nonsense, and if there is any sign of the real thing, an actual fight within my vicinity, I can make myself disappear.

Strange then that I chose to go to the David Price fight at the Echo Arena recently. Despite everything I have just said about violence boxing is something that I do have more than a passing interest in. It probably goes back to being brought up on Rocky films or something but there is something different, less immediately vicious about the noble art. It's called the noble art, for starters. Noble or otherwise, I can often be found tuning in to some scrap or other on a Saturday night when I am not belting out bad boy band tunes at the ever declining Springfield.

The more fights I have seen the more I have wondered what it would be like to actually be there. It's something I had never done before and I knew my cousin Alex would be up for it. He considers himself a proper boxing fan and he probably watches UFC. So I said I would sort us some tickets out for the Price fight. Besides, we hardly spend any time together these days as he is a very elusive individual with about thirty different addresses and probably a dozen passports. It is at this point that I should warn you that, if you are thinking of taking my lead and attending a boxing match in the near future, you should make sure that your bank account is sufficiently stacked. These things do not come cheap. It cost over £150 for the two of us which, as anyone who knows Alex will not be aware, can lead to a nervous few days wondering about whether he will a) turn up and b) pay for his ticket.

Happily he comes good on both counts. He really does love his boxing, you know. Unfortunately there is a problem on the morning of the fight. Someone has chosen this particular Saturday, the only Saturday in living memory that I have to get to Liverpool city centre, to die at Broadgreen railway station. Now, being the proud owner of some mental health issues myself I have every sympathy with anyone who might have felt the need to take their own life. But do they have to do it today, this way? Isn't that just a little bit beyond the pale? Because now all the trains are off and Alex and I are having a stupid argument about how best to get to Liverpool. I'm happy to slum it on the bus but he's adamant that he should drive us to Wavertree where he works and get a taxi from there. The plan being that I will drive him to Wavertree to pick his car up in the morning. I'm not enamoured by this idea. I intend to be in no fit state to drive by the following morning. I point this out but we still don't have an agreement until it transpires that normal service is being resumed on the railways at 1.30. They must have mopped up the dead person.

Everton are playing today. Alex is an Evertonian. All of which means that he is very keen when we get there to find somehwere to watch the game. We settle upon a dingy little place across the road from Lime Street and St.John's market. We're hungry and we can get a burger here, and it is across the road also from a bookmakers so we can have a bet on the Saturday football coupon. We don't get to see Everton, however. Though the pub has the highly illegal foreign channel which shows Saturday afternoon games live it is not Everton against Norwich City but Manchester United's visit to QPR which is on all the screens. If there is one thing that Alex and I agree on it is that if Manchester United were playing in our front garden we would each draw the curtains. So instead we concentrate on the bet, the burgers and obviously a few beers.

From there it is on to the Beehive, one of the least accessible pubs in the city which is a fact that had somehow managed to escape my memory when I suggested it. Funny how that happens. You would think a man in my position would know every single detail about accessibility in places that I have been to, but I seem to have forgotten. Maybe I have got this place confused with another pub I have been in. That's easily done. I have worked in Liverpool for five years but can still get lost on my lunch hour if I take the risk of having a wander through the city centre. Of course, wandering through city centres is a summer pursuit so I haven't done it for a while. Liverpool is a whole lot less scenic when the women are strutting about in winter coats, hats and scarves. So anyway our bet is going down. We have agreed that if either of us win we will share the winnings, but I have taken Hartlepool who are 2-0 down at Scunthorpe, while he is relying on Brentford to beat Walsall. By the time they don't we have progressed to Yates on Queen Square, watching the results go through on Soccer Saturday without having to listen to Matt Le Tissier climax every time the ball goes near to this penalty area or that.

Soon enough it is fight time. With hindsight you may mock us for paying £70 each for what turns out to be a very brief glimpse of David Price. However, to do so would be to reckon without the fact that there are no fewer than 11 fights on this card. Our view is fairly spectacular. We're high enough without being too far away from the ring. Down below us we can see Frank Maloney strolling around full of his own self importance. There's a secluded area behind a curtain where we can see tables and chairs laid out. Someone is entertaining. A succession of fancily dressed (as opposed to fancy dress) people are turned away by security staff as they try to pass through. Not Frank. One security man tries to stop him but he brushes him aside with a 'do you know who I am' hand gesture. All night there are intermittentn glances of Frank and his self importance. He makes me want to spew, frankly. No pun intended. Frankly. See what I did unintentionally there? Anyway, Frank and boxing promoters in general are everything that is wrong with boxing itself. Governing bodies should decide who fights who, when, where and for what. Not mega-rich capitalist playboys. Yes, I'm ranting a little.

The first fight on the card is a Cruiserweight contest between local boy Louis Cuddy and a Hungarian man whose name escapes me. What I do know is that it is quite unpronouncable. Alex can tell me who it is because he has just shelled out £10 for a programme. It seemed like a good idea to him when he thought it might set him back £4 or £5, but £10? That's called being stung. I decline the opportunity to get my own copy and instead refer to his when I need to. Cuddy has a large enough following and he's fairly handy. Some of the nobility is taken out of boxing when you see it this closely. Punches which are hardly noticeable on television seem to thud into the recipient with infeasible force. And yet they stand there, unaffected for the most part. By the middle of the fourth round Cuddy is well on top of his opponent and forces a stoppage.

Next up a man named Sean Lewis, nicknamed the Ginger Mexican, earns a highly debatable points decision over four rounds against a Scotsman called Craig. Craig is a good deal better than the judges give him credit for and it is during this contest that we spot another difference between live boxing and televised boxing. Ring girls. Have you ever been watching the boxing and felt slightly cheated by the fact that between rounds you are listening to some trainer or other tell his charge how to avoid getting his face punched in when you could instead be watching some glamour model walk around the ring holding up a large card with a number on it? I have, but this is rectified here as two unspeakably glamourous women take it in turns to hold up the numbered cards. While it is true that they are not exactly overdressed, I have seen worse in pubs and clubs on a Saturday night. I really can't fathom why the television companies find it so tasteless.

From the Ginger Mexican we move on to see another fight finish at the round four mark, as David Burke is sparked clean out by Dean Mills. Now this is clearly a violent incident which, had it happened on the street would be highly unsavoury, but there is something exciting about it here, now, in this arena. It's up there with the ring girls in terms of fascination factor. It takes a good few minutes for Burke to come around but thankfully he does and manages to walk out of the ring. I would have hated for my first foray into the world of live boxing to have ended in a tragedy of some sort. Mills looks like he might do that to one or two more fighters before his career is out.

The well-knowns on the card (apart from Price and his opponent Tony Thompson) are up now. British and Commonwealth flyweight champion Kevin Satchell is up against Northern Ireland's Luke Wilton. If Cuddy's crowd were loud they haven't seen nothing yet with Wilton. To the tune of American Trilogy they bafflingly sing 'we're not Brazil, we're Northern Ireland' and monotonously chant 'East, east, east Belfast' throughout the fight. It goes the distance but Satchell is well in control throughout. Not that his fans agree. I go outside to pay a visit after the scores are read out and hear a group of his fans absolutely fume at the injustice of it all. No fucking way can those judges score that fight that way. They did.

Darren Hamilton is also a British champion, but at light-welterweight. He takes on and beats Wirral's Steve Williams which is not a very popular result. It's also a fight that is strangely devoid of ring girls. Perhaps they are taking a rest before the real business of the Price fight. When the giant scouser walks into the ring a little while later both he and his opponent have a ring girl in tow, each draped in the national flag of their fighter. Then they stand around looking lovely while the fighters are introduced. When Price walks in there is also a rousing, spine-tingling rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone. He's a big Liverpool fan and his fans seem to be too. They're into it. Alex is not and nor am I really. I'm more of a Saint than a Liverpool fan but Alex looks as though he is going to vomit at any moment.

The first round is uneventful. Thompson is 41 years old and is supposed to be just another name to be added to Price's unbeaten record. Neither men throw very much in the first three minutes, but if anyone has the upper hand it is Price who seems able to keep Thompson away with his reach and looks to be just sizing him up for a straight right. More of the same in round two until, about 40 seconds from the bell, Thompson unleashes a mighty club around the side of Price's head. He goes down and at first a recovery looks likely. He stands up, wobbles around a bit, then a bit more, before the referee decides he is in no fit state to continue. His eyes have glazed over and that is that. The main event is over, and Price's record has bitten the dust. Like David Burke before him he walks out of the ring unaided, and looks embarrassed more than physically hurt. The crowd are incandescent. Curiously, the event is not yet finished as there are three or four lesser fights on after the main event. But many of Price's fans are not sticking around to find out what happens. There's a good deal of booing going on, and dark mutterings about how much it cost per second for what we have just seen. Personally, I don't see a problem. That's sport. David Price may or may not lose again. He may or may not become a world champion. If he does, then we have seen something significant here tonight.

Adil Anwar follows, another light welterweight who is most notable for having won one of Sky's Prizefighter shebangs. That's an eight-man tournament with fights over three rounds on one night at one central venue on a knock-out basis. Boxing's equivalent of T20 cricket, if you like. Anwar is scheduled to go 10 here, but ends it in 7 with a classy display. It is the end for us too. One can only drink so much crappy arena lager after having been out all day. There is just time to see one man drunken man jump over a barrier in an attempt to get closer to the ring before being escorted from the arena. We get outside and search for a taxi. I am promptly sick in the street, something which invariably happens to me when I have spent the day drinking. My doctor could explain it to you. I'm not even that drunk. Alex is in a worse state. You know it's bad when he can't drink any more. There's always a story, some stag night or something he has been on which hinders his drinking. He's probably just getting old. Believe it or not, he's not 25.

The next morning I discover that Tony Bellew (an Evertonian who would be much more popular with Alex) is fighting at the Echo on March 30. I toy with the idea of booking but only for a few seconds until I realise that Saints are at Wigan on Good Friday, March 29 and so on March 30 I will have the kind of raging hangover that is totally incompatible with Fight Night.

There'll be others.


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