I have always had a fascination with boxing. I’m a fairly casual follower in general, I’m not overly interested in the undercard or amateur scuffles. I’ve always enjoyed the headline shows though, particularly when they are worthy of the billing. When it’s two fighters at the top of their game, on an equal-footing, everything at stake. Or maybe when there’s a plucky underdog that few realise has a genuine shot at the crown.
I’ve loved Muhammed Ali forever. His career was all before my time but close enough for me to grow up in the aftershock. It would have been impossible not to have become aware of this larger-than-life bombastic giant as a kid in the 80s. He is, of course, one of the biggest icons of our lifetime. In time, I’d learn more about him as a man (flaws included) through documentaries, films & books. There are few better examples of an individual standing up for exactly what they believed, in the face of enormous adversity. A man willing to give almost everything up, the spoils of what he had fought so hard for, to do what he felt was the right thing. I often look to Ali for inspiration. His poster has hung above the desk in my office for many years. You’ll know the one (it’s the picture at the top of the page), Ali vs Sonny Liston, first round, first minute, Liston flat out on the canvas. Ali staring right into Liston’s eyes, as if trying to terrify him – a mixture of daring him to get up for more & warning him to stay down. Perhaps he said something in the moment, the poster is silent, however you can see it’s over, you can see Liston is beaten no matter whether he gets up or stays down. Liston got up. But not for long.
I look at that poster on bad days, I’ve always looked at it to remind myself of the air of Ali’s indomitable determination, hoping a little might rub off. As I looked this morning, however, I realised I’m not Ali, I’m Liston. Too often I’ve been Liston. This year I’ve been Liston. Beaten. On the floor.
The thing though with boxing is, there’s always a shot. Ali was a 7-1 outsider in the first fight vs Liston. He turned out to be “The Greatest”. For all the Tysons & Holyfields, Marcianos & Fraziers there’s always a Buster Douglas or a Hasmin Rahman or a Randolph Turpin.
2015 has been a rough year. Those of you who know me best know I’ve not had the greatest of times. There have been good moments. To stretch the boxing analogy to breaking point, I could say I even recently had what could be described as a shot at the heavyweight championship of the world. I wasn’t quite first round/first minute, I got through the first couple of rounds. Inevitably though, I lost. I’m a little bruised & battered. My pride has taken a bit of a beating. I’m getting on a bit so thoughts of retirement are inevitable but I’m not ready yet. Perhaps, against the odds, I’ll get another shot at the title.
This cursed year is almost gone. I’ll not remember it fondly. As always, a new year is a chance to renew & refresh. To wipe the slate clean & go again. I’m prone to reflect at these times, on what has gone before, what is missing, what is lost. There’s no doubt I’ll do that too. Circumstances mean I’ll not feel a whole lot of cheer around the bells themselves. There’ll be no first foot at my door this year. However I’ll look to Ali & Liston for inspiration. In the first couple of days of January 2016 I’ll get up & I’ll face another year determined for it to be better than the last. I’ll find a little swagger again. I’ve been down before, I’ve never been beaten. You have to get up. You have to keep going. You have to believe better times are ahead.
In case anyone thinks I’ve become some new age optimist living solely on a diet of inspirational internet quotes, Liston died just 5 years after that fight. No one really knows what age he was when he died, he never knew himself but safe to say he was somewhere around 40. I turn 40 in 2016. So there’s that.
On the other hand, Ali is 73. He’s lived with Parkinson’s for 30 years with the same indomitable determination & spirit he always had. Next year I intend to be Ali.