No doubt those Rusters who are sports fans will have done a double-take over their muesli bowls and toast & marmalade this morning when chancing upon the media story that Rio Ferdinand, legendary former Manchester United and England defender, is switching sports to become a professional boxer at the age of thirty-eight.
Or perhaps not.
Further investigation apparently reveals that Rio – who achieved heaps of both acclaim and respect for making a BBC documentary Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad about the travails of surviving as a single parent with young children after his wife died tragically early from cancer – is apparently going to star in a TV documentary series about his quest which will conclude with the staging of his first-ever professional bout, rather in the style of cricketer Freddie Flintoff who did something similar a few years ago with only a modicum of success and plenty of ridicule.
By all accounts, Rio took up training as a boxer as a means of keeping focused and fit after retiring from football and has become something of an addict.
See here for a report by Martha Kelner that appears today upon the website of – THE GUARDIAN
Writing both as the boxing correspondent of this esteemed organ and also someone who as a young kid and teenager occasionally boxed at school and absolutely hated the experience, my only comment today – and heartfelt advice to Rio – is “Don’t do it, mate!”
Fighting in any form is not so much a sport as a vocation, if that is not too grand a phrase to attach to a pastime that has often been referred as the Noble Art, albeit possibly at different times with varying degrees of irony.
Firstly, there’s the old saying comparing the association with breakfast of a hen and a pig: “The hen [which contributes an egg] is involved, but the pig is committed”.
Secondly, there was the occasion described in Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom, Nik Cohn’s eccentric but brilliant tour of the world of pop music published in 1969, when P.J. Proby – after his trouser-splitting fall from grace and subsequent reduction to churning out middle-of-the-road pop ballads on the continent of Europe – was at a recording session somewhere in Italy.
On the day in question he gave an epic performance in front of a full 40-piece orchestra and a highly-impressed well-known local conductor who was musical director for the session.
Afterwards the conductor had approached Proby in the control booth and gushingly told him that, with a voice like his and some training, if he wished he could make a career as a leading opera singer – “… How do you do it?”
The big, laid-back Texan looked at him and drawled “Maestro, I don’t ‘do’ … I am …”
My point is that fighters – true fighters, those who are going to be dedicated and determined enough to make any sort of go of a fighting career – are born, not made.
Whether you’re talking a heavyweight like John L Sullivan, or someone like Henry ‘Homicide Hank’ Armstrong who fought at every weight from featherweight to middleweight … or even greats such as Carlos Monzon, Mike Tyson, Tommy Hearns and tens of others down through history who are (or deserve to be) in boxing’s all-time Hall of Fame … the common denominators between them are most often to be found in a combination of some or all of the following: dire personal circumstances, a bloody-minded determination to survive (to the point of desperation) and – above all – a fondness for scrapping and physical challenge.
Whether someone’s potential as a boxer extends to one day being a world-beater or never more than just a common journeyman, there is nothing half-hearted about someone seriously considering boxing as a means of making a living.
Or there ought not to be. It’s about commitment and monk-like devotion to the cause. There’s a whole world of difference between ‘boxing’ and ‘boxercise’ (a term sometimes used to describe undertaking elements of boxing training and routines as a means to keeping fit) – if you like, the clue is in the description.
Skipping, hitting the pads or shadow boxing is one thing, sparring another. But in terms of ‘breakfast’ [as I referred to it earlier] even sparring is still just ‘involvement’ in boxing, not commitment.
You may be practising certain skills when you spar in the gymnasium but – to adapt a legal analogy here – sparring is the equivalent of ‘actus reus’, whereas a real boxing bout includes the ‘mens rea’. In other words, the ‘intent’ to harm, to prevail, to defeat, to destroy, to render unconscious. And not just some of the above, preferable all.
Take some advice from an old man, Rio.
You cannot ‘play’ at boxing. By all means go to the gym, train like a boxer (if you can). Enjoy the physicality, the adrenaline rush and the after-glow of exhausting yourself.
Attaining these whilst training as a boxer may never quite compare with the feeling of reaching the changing room after a game of football at Old Trafford or Wembley Stadium, but at least it may give you a flavour of it now and again.
But don’t try to become a professional boxer, mate.
If you want to ask me why you should not, I guess I’d give you the following reason.
When you were 16, 17, 18 or 19, the fact is that you didn’t become a professional boxer and make it your life path.
Because that’s what it takes to become one. Trying to become a professional boxer at the age of 38 is ludicrous. Think about it. It would be like someone of 38 who has never played football – except perhaps in the odd park soccer match – waking up one day and deciding that he wants to be a professional footballer.