Round 14 - Modern Times
American journalist A J Liebling (1903-64) openly acknowledged the Boxiana influence: [Sugar Ray Robinson v Randy Turpin, 1951] 'One more punch like the ones Robinson was throwing might have ended the boxing days of any fighter – even Turpin, who is what Boxiana would have called a “prime glutton”. Boxiana is one of my favourite books […and] I had a refresher glance at it […] On the night of the fight I started out early, in the true Egan tradition'.
Liebling consistently alluded to how Egan ‘would have styled’ something, also claiming that, compared to Egan, Hazlitt ‘was a dilettante’. Similarly, commenting on Byron’s sparring sessions with Jackson, Liebling gives the impression that he is bringing the reader into his confidence over a piece of previously concealed information: ‘Jackson conned his lordship into thinking he had a hell of a right hand; he advised him never to let it go at a husband or he might have to marry the widow’. In 1962, Liebling spent some time with an unusually astute and loquacious boxer, Cassius Marcellus Clay, as he prepared for a fight against Sonny Banks. In the subsequent commentary, the Boxiana influence is again prominent: ‘Standing straight up, he boxed and moved – cuff, slap, jab and stick, the busy hands stinging like bees […Banks] kept throwing that left hook […] but he was like a man trying to fight off wasps with a shovel’. This raises the question whether Liebling inspired the ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’ slogan that later became associated with Clay (Ali), and suggests that Egan’s brand of flash would have been conducive to generating an array of similarly ‘snappy’ mottos.
An example of the transferable nature of Boxiana-style qualities in sports reporting is evinced in a piece by Michael Henderson recording his impression of unfolding events at an exciting Arc de Triomphe (Paris, 6 Oct. 2002). The report of the afternoon is split into time bands, which fulfil a segmental effect similar to the rounds of a prizefight. The ‘Five o’ clock’ dispatch commences: ‘Excitement mounting […] It’s fascinating, this enclosed world, with its rituals and customs. And then there are the horses’. This mirrors Egan’s enthralment at the activity surrounding a sequestered sporting kingdom, with the actual fight, ironically, almost an afterthought. The account proceeds by echoing familiar theatrical allusions: ‘The prelude is over. The actors take the stage’. At ‘Five-thirty’, the scene depicted matches the spectacle and sense of yearning conveyed by the Boxiana treatment of a major contest:
'The sense of anticipation sharpens the appetite for any top-notch event, and there are 40,000 spectators here, appetites sharpened, hungering for this annual feast […] When the horses come round the final bend, and the punters respond with one resounding voice, it feels like one of those special I-was-there moments. Frankie Dettori is there, all right, a 16-1 shot nipping in as roars stick in a few thousand throats' (Daily Mail, 7 October 2002).
The common notion of the crowd propelled by a communal impulse is reinforced. Interestingly, Henderson’s concluding instalment of the account is headed ‘Postlude’, thus accentuating the sense of the event, and the report itself, as an uninhibited, artistic composition. Overall, the piece demonstrates the creative licence typically enjoyed by such sports-writing ‘visionaries’.
The reproduction of techniques honed by Egan can be discerned in other sporting fields, essentially, far removed from pugilism. The television commentator Phil Liggett has, since the 1970s, reported on the Tour de France cycle race and beguiled viewers ‘not least for his habit of lapsing into obscure flights of fancy when describing the action’. Observe the imaginative slant deployed in these mock-heroic allusions: ‘To wear the yellow jersey is to mingle with the gods of cycling’; ‘Once you pull on that golden fleece you become two men’. Such flourishes have been dubbed ‘Liggetisms’, but it might be argued that they are steeped in the tradition established by ‘Eganisms’. Similarly, if we recall Egan remarking on the plight of a frustrated pugilist; ‘[“The Nailer”] sat down like the great ALEXANDER, weeping that he had no more heroes to overcome’ (Boxiana I), and compare this imagery to that employed by Sid Waddell at the World Darts tournament in 1985: "When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer – [Eric] Bristow is only 27". The parallel is almost exact.
UPSETTING THE TWENTY-FIRST-CENTURY 'KNOWING ONES'
English super middleweight Carl 'The Cobra' Froch travels to Connecticut, USA, and strikes very, very late to salvage victory against Jermain Taylor (25 April 2009).
'Beaten to the punch for much of the first two thirds of the bout, knocked down for the first time in his career in the third round and insurmountably behind on points, Froch rallied over the final few rounds and produced one of the sport’s great climaxes by stopping Taylor with 14 seconds left.
The 31-year-old from Nottingham simply willed himself to this dramatic win. However, there was nothing fortuitous about Froch’s victory, despite his dangerous flirtation with the clock. His American opponent may have landed the cleaner, classier, more effective punches for the majority of the bout, but Froch showed an iron jaw in spite of the knockdown and his heavy hands wore down Taylor until the 30-year-old challenger’s resistance crumbled and he collapsed in a helpless heap.
“He was a beast in that ring, as strong as an ox, he just kept coming and refused to lose”, Lou DiBella, Taylor’s promoter, said. “Carl Froch is my kind of fighter"'.
[The Times, 27 April 2009, p. 69]
Tactical advice from Bruce Lee:
'success in "milling on the retreat" takes good judgement of distance and the ability to stop in your retreat quickly and unexpectedly.'
It is reasonable to conclude that Lee's personal library of over two-thousand 'fighting books' included a volume of Egan's Boxiana.