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 brutally brilliant.
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 amid fanfare and hype. They will proceed to hit each other’s head and body, attempting to knock their opponent to the floor. This is scary but 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, 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 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 here. The chance of someone being knocked out dangles tantalisingly with every fight. The bloodthirsty mob yells, desperate for damage. It’s seductive and hard not to get sucked 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 of flying fists, a boxer successfully lands blow after blow after blow, their opponent buckled over in futile defence, leaning against the ropes, at that point the fighter on top can lose themselves. They roar as they windmill in the punches. It looks almost feral, primal, possessed of something animalistic, channelling some of our basest 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.
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