TELEVISION / Fight nights and pay days: Giles Smith watches Naked Sport pull no punches

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The Independent Culture
NAKED Sport (C 4) took us to the boxing and then led us backstage, where the promoters do their business. It was like touring the bottom of a pond. Horror and fascination slugged it out, with fascination winning an overall victory on points, but with horror looking good for a re-match in the very near future.

This documentary series comes from the people who gave us Naked Hollywood, and it's similarly nifty on its feet - no voice-over, just a batch of voluble interviewees and lots of fancy camera-work. Either we were in Las Vegas during the build-up to the Holyfield / Holmes heavyweight title fight, or we were in New York where Michael Marley was trying his hand at promoting a new hopeful, Shannon Briggs. By way of pointing him in the right direction, Marley took his fighter to meet Mohammed Ali at some sort of reception in New York.

These days a slow man in a big suit, Ali is not the best advertisement for a life spent getting clobbered about the head. He put up a hand for Briggs to fling a couple of jokey hits at, fingered Briggs' dreadlocks and leaned into his ear to call him 'pretty lady'. Later, the camera found Ali sitting alone and watched him from across the room as he carefully lowered a cup to the table, unable to keep it straight. For promoters, the money comes more slowly than it does for fighters, but the compensation is that in their twilight years, they can still handle a cup of coffee.

'Boxing,' said one contributor, 'is like war - no difference, except perhaps the rate of exchange.' This may have been overstating the case. Boxing's policy on the involvement of civilians, for instance, remains considerably more refined than war's, however high the stakes go at Vegas. And boxing has yet to develop chemical weapons, or to soak off large quantities of public money, or be used indiscriminately to shore up waning governments. Still, otherwise the analogy seemed perfectly sound.

To get a tilt at the big time, you need a hot track record, a string of wins. And to get a string of wins, you need a manager like Marley, who will do some smooth phone-work and get you into the ring with a succession of complete no-hopers. In this grim nether-world, it's virtually impossible to spot the gap between fixing up a fight and simply fixing one. And yet this is, as Marley put it, 'the time dis-honoured tradition'.

The art is to find someone capable of passing the necessary medical, who nevertheless remains, in the ring, about as mobile as a sedated gibbon. It seemed to take Marley about three calls. On the day of the fight, Briggs thought he was starting to come down with something. It was going to be some contest. In the blue corner, an unproven fighting machine with the flu: in the red corner, a sack of rubbish in a pair of comedy shorts.

Those shorts spent the first 20 seconds of the bout being driven backwards round the ring, while Briggs came snorting after them, trying to decide where to hit first. In the event, he chose the right-side kidney region, the shorts hit the canvas instantly, and the job was done. It was hard to know what was more pathetic - the 'fight', or the sound of Briggs' trainer afterwards, trying to convince him that this had been a worthwhile career experience. Still, it was certainly a victory for Naked Sport.