`The manly art of knocking senseless'

The battering is bloody and brutal but there is nothing like the social life of the fight game, writes
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The Independent Online
If you're wondering if any violence is going on in Dublin during the ceasefire, let me tell you, there's just been a bit more than a little. On Sunday last, a July balmy Sunday, fists were flying at the venue called The Point, down at the mouth of the Liffey River where it begins to flow out into Dublin Bay. This once gloomiest part of Dublin. Of sad farewell to those on the night mail boat to England and where the mooing cattle on the hoof went sadly as well.

Along these bereft quays passing the moored ships was often a nightly walk I took from my rooms at a usually deserted Trinity College. But these days back up in the city, all is en fete. Dress codes a distant thing of the past. In the refined precincts of the Shelbourne Hotel, once the hang-out of the fox-hunting elite, there goes across the lobby, instead of our human hawthorn, a traffic of tourists tread. In this former claret capital where all the polite formalities were once observed. And if you walked through in a pair of pink shorts and blue baseball cap you'd be thought the balance of your mind was more than temporarily disturbed and you'd be gently arrested for your own mutual safety as if there were two of you.

Ah but on this Sunday where once the church bells rang out across the streets in the quietude, culture has taken over and nearly every inch of the fence around the green foliage of St Stephen's Green is covered in works of art. Long known as a writers' city, there are now brush-wielding artists everywhere. And none of them are half bad. Indeed there are nearly too many to be so damn good, that you'd have a long walk to find someone that damn bad. With bargains galore, these practitioners sit waiting calmly for a sale.

Anything is available. From pure abstraction to the Florentine academic to brushstrokes of naked nudity. And folks that latter says it all. Carnality is here and seems sure to stay.

But I am in town down from the country to witness the manly art of pugilistic self-defence. Or should this be better called, in these modern days, the art of knocking senseless. But blood sport though the fight game is, there is nothing quite like the social life it engenders.

At which this present great newspaper came nearly not to be represented. Frank Maloney, the distinguished promoter not realising that yours truly was a friendly and not a poison pen attending, my appearance much softened in the company of rock singer-composer Rachel Murray, Dublin's Dark Angel, her sombre voice known for her dirges and melodic anthems to doom. And following in the wake of her stately tall dark beauty, one was smilingly welcomed everywhere.

Able to close-up pick out the flattened noses of the retired pugilists, and to shake hands with the more unidentifiable collection of these appreciative gentlemen ringside who are aficionados of the sport.

At 8pm, America is waiting across the seas to watch the main bout on television. But first, lights flashing and booming out is the music of Shane McGowan, we are to see Kevin McBride vs Steve Garber.

McBride, six foot five and 17 stone, is the new Irish heavyweight and Frank Maloney's prodigy. Unbeaten in his string of 16 fights, his lungs whistle as he plunges in his punches. And unfolds a nonstop battle of punishment absorbing, energy spending, sweat flying from start to finish and a more bruising contest you've never seen. His opponent, Garber, nearly giving as good as he got, the brutal battering ending in the seventh round with an astonishingly intrepid Garber from Bradford finally on the canvas. If McBride or Garber had to prove they were tough enough to both endure long careers in this sport, this was their imprimatur.

Now let me put a few observations forward. Somehow English fighters and Irish one's too, seem to take pride in being hit. And now as Lennox Lewis's opponent, Justin Fortune, enters the ring and I can close-up see his tree trunk powerful legs holding up his chunky physique, I'm wondering wow, will he whistle upwards a lucky and fatal left or right on Lewis's jaw.

By his serious mien one knows this Australian's tough and that he can see in his own surname the prospect of being the upsetting underdog in this fight. And sure enough out he comes from his corner in fiery attack, his head like a charging bull. The strong man stares at the middle area of Lewis, as the taller attempts to adapt the poise necessary to hit such a smaller opponent.

Ah, but here is demonstrated the best of all boxing lessons called "don't let yourself get hit, while you wait to hit". And Lewis the calmest of calm expressions on his face, manoeuvring out of the way of the bull, was like a scientist examining a variant in a molecule.

Looking up from ringside where the bloody cuts, bruises and lumps from the thump and crush of punches is immediate to the ear and eye, one witnessed between Fortune's flurries Lewis's carefully selected punches. These aimed slicing through the air with the sleek power and purpose of a shark's jaws.

But there was no question that up against a tall tower of skilful strength, a fearless Fortune showing little sense of defence, is also his own tower of strength. And Lewis's almost leisurely but devastating final punches uppercutting and sending your man across the ring and down, but who, leaping to his feet, was ready instantly to go on. The contest stopped by the referee to the boos of the crowd who wanted to see more of this weightlifting tough Australian fighter.

And of course they will, courtesy of this referee's timely intervention in favour of safety rather than the cries of the crowd. And Frank Maloney, as he should have been, is well pleased.

But let us not overlook a sign of the boxing times. I found myself becoming aware that I was seated between two attractive women both of whom seemed to be experts on every nuance of the manly art.

To my left Cliona Foley, the distinguished lady reporter whose subtle fight opinions one listens to with awe as her fluent gems and acerbic observations arose from an encyclopaedic knowledge of the fight game. And on my right, Dark Angel's matter-of-fact summing up, who never at a fight before, accurately had already predicted the round ending the first two fights.

Between bouts I then went with the gracefully swan necked sultry star of doom and dirge, who nevertheless is never less than marvellously charming, and a stunning contrast to this night.

Then as one stood with her over a beer and popcorn, didn't one of the very nearby natives offer his two cents. Who with an amiable honesty said he was laggards drunk but that she mustn't think of him as just a thick Irishman because he had a PhD. And at this news one was glad, for at least it could mean this conversation might not end up in a fight as he had the intelligence to ask.

"Now what is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen doing at a boxing match."

Holed up high up in the old Shelbourne Hotel, the Dublin mountains to the south appear by dawn misted purple and always reminding Dubliners that they are near enough for their own two legs to carry them there.

And here in this comfort one has to be careful not to accuse the towels of not being fluffy enough or the toilet tissue sufficiently soft, as one is reminded of the now Sir Rocco Forte, who is no mean handler of his own fists and a marathon runner to boot. For an impertinence, he might pop you one on the snozzle.

But by God, he's got to know about the logjam at the check-out front desk to The Shelbourne, around noon next day, that would crucify you with anxiety if you had to catch a plane or train. But with my car parked nearby to take me home I wasn't troubled in the least.

It was my last Dublin treat, to witness an astute young man fielding the demands on this mob of customers and a constantly ringing phone.

And not, mind you, all the hotel's fault, for the crowd growing as it collected, there was a fluently English-speaking German gentleman reciting what he had from the mini-bar while he then went on to check every item after item listed on his bill and actually winning adjustments here and there.

Folk looking at their watches. The young astute gentleman, a prince of patience and diplomacy, continues to field this intrepid German's ad infinitum inquires as he chooses items he now wants charged to someone else.

Finally the prince of patience thanks me for my own, which of course to me isn't that much of a problem as I am busy scribbling some of these very words on a counter perfectly high for writing comfort.

"Hoping Frank Maloney will again come back to Dublin and bring the best in world fisticuffs with him." Remember now peace reigns supreme everywhere in Ireland except in the boxing ring.

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