Boxing: Frankly, it is high time to end the brain drain: Martin Johnson reasons that Frank Bruno should now bow out gracefully

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The Independent Online
IT is not uncommon to see people staggering around Cardiff at 1.30 on a Saturday morning with glazed eyes and rubber legs, largely the result of going several rounds with a local brew by the name of Brains. The difference for Frank Bruno is that while he gets paid for having his own brains scrambled, it is not a condition that can be alleviated by reaching for the Alka-Seltzer.

If you climb into a car when you are several sheets to the wind, the authorities rightly take the view that your driving licence should be handed in; if the British Boxing Board of Control has any sense of duty, it should demand the same of Bruno. Likewise, if his handlers have any sense of compassion, they should advise him that even to consider taking further blows to the cranium in exchange for money is a sign of brain damage in itself.

Boxing is a much nastier game from the ringside than it looks on television, and there was a brutal difference between this punch-up in the Welsh national rugby stadium and a couple of prop forwards having a swing at each other. No one is quite sure why this event took place where it did, but with one eye closed, and the other one registering nobody at home, Bruno would not have known whether he was in Cardiff, Las Vegas or a spaceship to Mars.

One more fight like this one, and big Frank will not be making any more TV commercials (unless they want someone pouring HP sauce all over the tablecloth rather than the plate) nor any more panto appearances (unless they are short of the back end of the horse). As for the one-liners, it will not so much be: 'Know what I mean, Harry?' as (assuming he can recognise him) 'Know who I am, Harry?'

Bruno has made a lot of money out of boxing, but Bruno has also made a lot of money for other people. What, therefore, makes boxing such a dangerous game is that the likes of Bruno, who has a punch that could be more quickly delivered by Red Star parcel, footwork more suited to a telephone kiosk, and a chin manufactured by a glassware company, can be hyped and packaged into credible contenders to fight the meanest men around. Every time Bruno has stepped up in class, which is where the big money is, his cerebral fluids have been flung around like a washing machine on fast spin.

Bruno earned pounds 1m on Saturday morning, and something similar awaits the next man who can be found with a steady stream of ticket-selling one-liners, bulging biceps, and the ability to knock the head off the shoulders of an opponent who will obligingly stand still while the big punch is being airmailed.

Several years ago, a lumbering heavyweight from Hackney called John L Gardner was launched as the new white hope, largely by raiding every downtown gymnasium in the United States to locate an opponent incapable of disturbing the skin on a rice pudding. This marketing exercise worked pretty well, before inevitably coming to grief when the time came to take the plunge with opposition that unchivalrously felt the inclination to hit back.

The fight itself was hilariously described, among other things, as the 'greatest event in the history of Welsh sport', although judging by the number of empty seats, one or two people had formed the judgement that it was slightly less significant than Cardiff versus Llanelli the following afternoon. It was a surprise that the hype merchants did not try to sell the bloke called Lewis as Welsh, even though there are those who might challenge his claims to be described as British.

Frank was the local boy (sporting the words 'True Brit' on the back of his trunks) and his challenge went the same way as it usually does for true Brits. As Bruno launched an assault, one of his cornermen screamed: 'He's gone, Frank] He's effing well gone]' At which point, Frank had his lights extinguished. Hopefully, for the last time.

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