We watched Michael Mann’s Ali on the TV. We love Muhammad Ali in our house. He’s such a huge figure – an Elvis, a Churchill, a great big, Shakespearean hero/maniac.
So I found myself looking up boxing stuff: an amazing (and, I don’t doubt, very accurate) boxing records database, maintained by enthusiast-editors around the world. A superb 1992 review of Ali books from the sport’s most eloquent fan Joyce Carol Oates and Ian McNeilly’s moving first-person account of the awesome and heart-breaking 1995 Nigel Benn/Gerald McClellan fight during which McClellan’s brain was damaged beyond repair.
Boxing’s a difficult enthusiasm. I’ve never been better than a half-hearted fan but I’ll always defend the game’s right to exist. I was in the second row at the Benn/McClellan fight and came home to find my white shirt spattered with McClellan’s blood. Anti-boxing types say that it’s base, animalistic, immoral – two men reduced to lethal physical aggression as spectacle.
The truth is that modern boxing is the opposite of an animal pursuit. It’s all about constraints, about an elaborate legal code superimposed on and countermanding the pre-legal, pre-human nastiness of unsupervised physical combat. Boxing is about the triumph of the human over our unevolved, animal selves. Ali represented (represents) some kind of pinnacle of that evolution.