Boxing doesn’t often crop up on my radar as a sports’ fan or as a photographer. But a local opportunity was recently presented in the form of a Cyclone Promotions ‘Enter The Dragon’ boxing event at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff. I had never photographed boxing before but the idea appealed, if only to have some boxing material in my image library.
Not having considered it that much beforehand, suddenly being there and seeing and hearing people punching each other’s faces, the crowd shouting encouragement, actually baying for blood, it was shocking. Also fascinating, dramatic and sort of stunningly, brutally brilliant.
[Images are available to license from the following contests:
Ashley Brace v Nevenka Mikulic
Fred Evans v Najim Fennane
Jermaine Asare v Malik Zinad
Chantelle Cameron v Karina Kopinska
Andrew Selby v Cristofer Rosales
Craig Kennedy v Matty Askin
License images on the Composed Images photoshelter website]
Now I could understand why so many boxing films had been made. The dramatic theatrical narrative of a boxing match is undeniable. Two people will enter a ring amidst some fanfare and hype. They will proceed to hit each other head and body, attempting to knock their opponent to the floor. This is scary but oddly intoxicating to witness and photograph: the focus of fighters in finding their targets, the flying fists, the defence, the bobbing and weaving, ducking and diving, intricate dancing footwork, shouting from coaches ringside, the glove-cushioned impact and the spray of sweat and water.
Everything has a vivid visceral concentration, harsh oppositions and embedded tension. It’s pure and timeless, ugly and beautiful.
As distasteful as many find it, the heightened senses of being present at a fight is exciting, even if you find it uncomfortable. Perhaps especially if you find it uncomfortable, if there is that tension in you, that natural opposition to physical violence, if you are at heart a pacifist.
Boxing is like a large playground for grown-ups, except there is nobody acting as peacemaker and trying to argue that ‘they’re not worth it’. Because they are all totally worth it. Blood, sweat and tears are actively promoted; the chance of someone being knocked out dangles tantalisingly with every fight. The bloodthirsty mob yells, desperate for damage. It’s seductive, hard not to get lured in.
Less so perhaps with the women’s bouts. These felt even more shocking, especially as both of the two bouts seemed one-sided. One woman took a pounding from the other, retiring to her corner between rounds looking beaten and tired and like she badly wished it was all over already.
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When a one-sided rhythm builds in flying fists and boxers are successfully landing blow after blow after blow, their opponent bent forwards in futile defence, buckling against the ropes, the fighters on top can momentarily lose themselves. They roar as they windmill in the punches. It looks almost feral, primal, possessed of something animalistic, channelling some of our deepest instincts. We are not so far removed from those barbaric ancient coliseums. It does not appear civilised. It barely seems human at times. But it is utterly mesmerising to observe and to photograph.
When there is an even clearer winner, when one fighter gets knocked to the floor and appears dazed, out of it, or even completely unconscious – as happened one time when Malik Zinad floored Jermaine Asare – the sense of righteous glory is arguably more powerful than any other sport. There isn’t the faintest ambiguity between winner and loser.
On a commercial note, boxing proved as tough as most sports to make money from. While the event promoter, boxers and their teams were prepared to take images shared on social media and use on their social platforms with a credit (although one did remove when asked, and one asked before taking) none were prepared to part with even a modest fee for paid usage, up to now.
It’s predictably depressing and symptomatic of an increasingly tough industry, and of a world in which professional photography has been seriously devalued.
Freelancers and small marketplace operators are commonly marginalised by subscription deals between media outlets and big agencies like Getty Images and Rex – together with their numerous supply chain intermediary agencies. They are also marginalised from the other direction by pure hobbyists who are happy to give away their images for nothing. Those of us stuck in the middle needing to make money are squeezed more and more. These less literal but similarly heavy punches never get any easier to take, but you battle on.
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