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The art of coming up smelling of roses

Back in the day when I was a kid at boarding prep school our access to television was restricted to the whim of a bachelor assistant headmaster, who’d previously been in the navy, who used to operate an ‘open house’ on Saturday afternoons in his disorganised study which gave off a ‘twenty years’ worth’ smell of pipe tobacco.

A few years ago now my younger brother caused me pause for thought when he alleged that the master concerned was a paedophile, on what evidence I know not, but (while I suppose the possibility exists) said gent was never spoken as such by any of my then-young peers in what was a highly gossipy school atmosphere and – though this could say more about me than about him – I can testify here that he never laid a finger upon me personally or gave me any cause for concern in this regard.

I can still recall in a trice his study room particularly because one Friday evening in 1963 – after the senior boys (myself included) had been marched off in a two-abreast crocodile to another prep school nearby (and later back again) to witness their production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar – we were greeted upon our return by the truly staggering news that JFK had been assassinated. Said master then invited the school prefects, myself among them, to stay up instead of being sent off to bed in order to watch the BBC’s blanket news coverage of the unfolding of this ‘moment of the century’ event.

Kendo Nagasaki

Kendo Nagasaki

Be that as it may, I want to return for a moment to the many Saturday afternoons that I and my pals ‘misspent’ in said room, arranged on the floor, seated in the odd chair or even standing, watching the BBC’s football results on Grandstand (or its predecessor sports programme if I’ve got the year(s) wrong) but before that ITV’s coverage, commentated upon by the legendary Kent Walton, of the antics – I hesitate to call them bouts – of such iconic exponents of what might be termed ‘British wrestling’ of that era as Steve Logan, Mick McManus, Jackie Pallo, Big Daddy and of course Kendo Nagasaki, who wore a mask and was supposed to be a Japanese Samuria warrior but in fact was Peter Thornley, a lad from Stoke-on-Trent.

My point here is that deep down every onlooker, even those hysterical middle-aged ladies sitting ringside rather as if they had front row seats at a French Revolution guillotine spectacular – not to mention those of us watching on a tiny black-and-white television set in the wilds of east Sussex – knew that the action concerned was more pantomime than genuine competitive sport.

Even today’s globally-successful (is it called?) American ‘WWE’ wrestling – which stages and broadcasts huge indoor stadia events to the world, in which its stars notionally ‘compete’ for world titles etc. – makes no attempt to pretend that what it is offering the public is ‘sport’. Even as it is putting out mega-hyped ‘build up’ propaganda, in which its wrestlers call each other out and threaten untold destruction of the planet, it always refers to itself as ‘entertainment’ and nothing more.

In comparison, the world of professional boxing has got off comparatively lightly in the minds of the public.

John L. Gardner - Britain's greatest-ever boxer

John L. Gardner – Britain’s greatest-ever boxer

I say that because whenever those of us who would describe ourselves as fans of boxing, particularly professional boxing (in its purist sense), get misty-eyed about ‘the good old days’ – as a Brit I’m here referring to the period roughly between 1965 and 1990 when the likes of legends such as Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns (and in the UK Alan Minter, Lloyd Honeyghan, Dave ‘Boy’ Green and John L. Gardner) were operating – we tend to regard it as less murky, disreputable, political, corrupt and untainted  by scandal than what might be termed ‘professional wrestling’.

However. Throughout its history, from the days of John L. Sullivan and ‘Gentleman Jim’ Corbett through the alleged ‘thrown’ fight when by Jack Johnson lost his world heavyweight  in Havanna to Jess Willard, to the Long Count’ of the Tunney-Dempsey clash in the 1920s, the Mob-influenced days of US boxing from the 1930s to the 1950s … right up to today … the world of professional boxing has been as ‘iffy’ as wrestling has ever been.

The only difference is that at least these days wrestling openly acknowledges ‘what it is all about’, whereas the world of professional boxing continues to maintain – despite the Everest-sized mountain of evidence to the contrary – that it is lilly-white pure, above board and regulated with total integrity.

How boxing has got away with this for so long, to the point where even though we all know that it’s basically a cesspit in which there exist more ‘supposed’ world and inter-continental titles that I’ve had hot dinners, is one of the great mysteries of the world. It’s all about the money, folks, and it was ever thus.

Anyway. All the above is my rather convoluted method of introducing my Rust readers to a link to a rather good article by Kevin Mitchell that appears on the website today of – THE GUARDIAN


About James Westacott

James Westacott, a former City investment banker, acquired his love of the Noble Art as a schoolboy in the 1970s. For many years he attended boxing events in and around London and more recently became a subscriber to the Box Nation satellite/cable channel. His all-time favourite boxer is Carlos Monzon. More Posts