Boxing is one of the rare public arenas where blind nationalism is not only accepted and appreciated, but actually encouraged.
Last December, Miguel Cotto filled Madison Square Garden with Puerto Rican fans who rabidly bayed for the blood of Mexico’s Antonio Margarito. Similarly, Irishman Matthew Macklin will fill the Garden with Irish patriots despite being a middling middleweight contender facing certain doom against pound-for-pound-rated Sergio Martinez.
At the end of the day, as fans we just want to be able to say, “That’s our guy.”
Some nations, like Puerto Rico, Mexico and the Philippines produce a steady stream of world-class fighters, others will be lucky if they get just one guy worth rooting for.
No matter how far its boxing fortunes have fallen, Panama can always say they produced one of the greatest of all time in Roberto Duran. And no matter how his future in the ring unfolds as he steps up in competition, Romanian fans will always remember Lucian Bute’s fast and exciting rise up the ranks of the super middleweight division.
Tonight, the most famous and successful Zimbabwean boxer of all time will be fighting for a piece of the heavyweight championship and I couldn’t be more embarrassed.
When Dereck Chisora (15-2 9 KOs) faces WBC titleholder Vitali Klitschko (43-2 40 KOs) of the Ukraine, he will be the first fighter of Zimbabwean descent in my lifetime to challenge for a world title.
He should be our guy, but has he done a lot to make sure no one can feel that way.
Fighters usually pride themselves on being consummate gentlemen outside the ring. Unfortunately, Chisora lives up to many of the stereotypes of the thuggish, classless ruffian held by the sport’s detractors.
Yesterday both fighters weighed-in for the fight, with Chisora taking to the scales with a Union Jack wrapped around his face like an old-timey train robber. During the traditional fighter face-off, the masked Chisora decided to betray tradition and cuff Klitschko with a heavy, right-handed slap.
Despite his surprise, Klitschko showed great restraint and class by keeping his cool, and Chisora made a bank robber’s escape from the scene.
News broke this morning that Chisora would be fined $50,000 for the slap. This comes four years after he was fined £2,500 and suspended for biting Paul Butlin during a 2008 bout.
Neither the slap nor the bite would represent the lowest point of Chisora’s career because while deplorable, at least the victims of both incidents were trained fighters.
Chisora’s rap sheet already included convictions for assault, assaulting a police officer and weapons possession before he was arrested on May 28, 2010, for assaulting his then-girlfriend after finding text messages from another man on her cell phone.
This is supposed to be our guy?
Boxing has been full of controversial and colourful characters. Duran was a wild man who berated opponents incessantly—judging from his interviews, the only words of English he knew in the 70s and 80s were “asshole” and “kill you”—and Mike Tyson’s behaviour inside and outside of the ring provided a lot of ammunition for critics who believed boxing to be a modern version of the Roman coliseum.
The salve that cooled all of that criticism for fight fans was that both men were winners. Winning is a cure all for that type of criticism. Chisora’s thin resume and average ability rob his antics of any sense of gravitas.
This isn’t the misunderstood, complicated rebel who channels his inner demons into spectacular performances in the ring punctuated by naked aggression. This is a petulant, immature man-child who rages spectacularly outside the ring but proves to be painfully normal inside of it.
As a Zimbabwean, I recognize that he’s the only guy we’ve got, but I just won’t be able to cheer for him tonight.
And it’s his fault.
Follow Mutaurwa Mapondera on twitter @fortyfourfores, or support his upcoming album at http://www.goingbackisnotthesameasstaying.com