In 1977 Muhammad Ali said: “It’s just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand, I just beat people up.” I think we can all learn from this.
Of course, that’s not all he did. Ali was one of sport’s great showmen, a man possessed of wit, intelligence and an acute ability to deliver knockouts as psychological as they were physical.
His pre-match banter with opponents was a crucial component in shaping his victories.
It was also a big-time crowd pleaser, which generated major media coverage and delighted the promoters, who sold out houses on the back of it.
The pre-fight fight turned each contest into a mass spectator event before it began.
The wind-up and posturing has become an essential element in the showbiz of boxing.
The industry’s very own Nutty Professor, Don King – a carnival huckster barely bettered since the days of PT Barnum – is firmly established as the ringmaster supreme.
Inevitably, the pure gold of Ali’s currency has been devalued.
We are now served a sad pastiche of the subtle provocation so expertly managed by The Greatest.
Lesser mortals have adopted the style, without understanding or having any ability to replicate the original function.
So last week the goodies and baddies lined up. Mike Tyson’s team had, perhaps, advised him to provoke a bit of a ruck at the press conference because it was expected.
They’d done so without understanding that (a) these things have to be thought through and must then be carefully managed for maximum advantage and (b) Tyson is some kind of crazy.
They just wanted a pantomime – and they got it.
So what emerged from the mayhem? Tyson was still Evil Uncle Abanazer (now with even fewer marbles than before), and Lennox Lewis (the principal boy with the smouldering good looks and gentlemanly good manners) increased his stature yet further.
Tyson looked contemptible and ludicrous, Lewis appeared stronger by the minute.
Tyson wants to fight the world as well as the world champion. He would start the battle in a better position if his posse got their act together and manipulated the media, rather than playing to the gallery for cheap laughs and simple sensation.
Obviously Tyson’s team watch far too much WWF and Celebrity Deathmatch and think they can replicate Big Vince’s wooden-but-fascinating pugilistic backstage antics.
Or maybe they just want to appear as tough as those hard-assed pop pickin’ pundits, Waterman and Cowell, who had their own handbags-at-dawn battle in the tabloids.