For me, as a patriotic Englishman, there has to be a fellow-countryman involved, and that narrows it down: baseball, American football and ice hockey have never really caught on here.
So, in the grand tradition of saving the best 'til last, it has to be December’s welterweight fight: Hatton v Mayweather.
You might ask, wasn’t it spoilt when Hatton lost? Well, we were speaking about tradition. This fight had distinguished precedents—Minter vs. Hagler, Cooper vs. Ali, Cockell vs. Marciano, and any number of others.
There’s a certain way of doing things in such matters, and it goes all the way back to the War of Independence. The noble, earnest Briton tries gallantly, but fails. The Yank always has too much of something—strength, speed, ringcraft, sometimes sheer luck.
And even if we do win, there's no need for our transatlantic cousins to get depressed. It’s strictly temporary. A British boxing champion is, a la Randolph Turpin, a short-term tenant. A Briton with a title belt is like a rock chick with her virginity: you just know it won’t last.
Does that mean the English fans who swamped Las Vegas were deluded? If they were, it was all part of the fun. After all, boxing is bearing a closer and closer resemblance to pro wrestling: the pre-match confrontations, the war of words, the extravagant outfits, the ballyhoo.
And don’t the 'rassling fans all love to cheer on the clean-cut, honest hero, even though his defeat is usually written in the script?
In any case, you have to remember the British sporting psyche. “As for Liston,” said one U.S. sportswriter wrote after Sonny’s fights with Ali, “who cares what happens to a loser?”
No Brit could have penned those words. Bertie Wooster and Noel Coward may be gone, but this side of the pond, we still have a sense of proportion.
Winning isn’t really polite. Boxing or any other sport is—forgive the blasphemy—only a game. Success is the American Dream; over here, we just hope to get by.
So everyone’s happy. You have your winner. We have a hero whose undefeared record made us a little uncomfortable anyway. Now he’s fully human (somebody tell Joe Calzaghe.)
Shed no tears for Hatton, nor for his fans, and that includes me. I don’t mind losing. I’m a Brit: in sport, it’s what we do.