Book of the Week: Rope Burns: One Man's Reluctant Obsession with Boxing

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The Independent Online
Rope Burns: One Man's Reluctant

Obsession with Boxing

By Ian Probert Headline, pounds 14.99, Hardback

AS THE one sport in which the fundamental objective is to render your opponent unconscious, boxing cannot avoid coming under fire from the medical lobby and people who insist it has no place in a civilised society.

While there are more hazardous activities available to mankind, boxing is so explicit that any reporter with a conscience finds it difficult to suppress a sense of complicity whenever a grim incident occurs in the ring.

Everyone who writes about the most basic, natural and uncomplicated of athletic competitions conspires in boxing's madness. The writer's dilemma is how to justify an activity that enabled Ian Probert's hero, Muhammad Ali, to become the most identifiable personality on earth yet consigned him to a shadowed middle age.

Woven into the autobiographical fabric of Rope Burns is the conflict that arises between Probert's enthusiasm for boxing and the realisation that he is on dangerous ground.

There is no small amount of vanity in Probert's apparent belief that some pretty squalid personal experiences will hold enough interest to justify a boxing theme, but he is never less than honest when confronting bleak verities about the sport that should never be referred to as a game.

Since the high point of Probert's brief career at ringside was a stint at the Sunday Sport, he can hardly have felt on course to emulate the outstanding authors who have written about boxing. However, there is no doubt that Probert had more to offer than the interviews he conducted for his former employers.

A friendship formed with the ill-fated Michael Watson, who came close to death after losing to Chris Eubank, eventually brings Probert to the realisation that "there can be no place in a civilised society for an activity provided exclusively for the entertainment of the masses which places its main protagonists in clear danger of losing their lives."

Some of us who have written about boxing for many years know where Probert is coming from. We've been there. The quarrel here is not with Probert. It is with the professional sob-sisters of press and politics who rage against boxing to parade their own nobility.

Ken Jones