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BOXING: Bully for you as the shy types make it in the ring.

Byline: Carolyn Hitt

B oxers are the most docile men in sport, Henry Cooper once said in the era before Mike Tyson liked to supplement his diet with a little fresh earlobe. It's one of the many paradoxes that make boxing such an intriguing sport.

Other ironies include: 1. Women who love boxing. Nice girls don't surely. Wrong. You may think two men rearranging the alignment of their jaws is anathema to the feminine instinct but a surprising number of females love it.

It's proper pugilism, not like that nancyboy wrestling your nan used to love Dickie Davies introducing on a Saturday.

Yet there was a time when boxing rated alongside kittendrowning and Jim Davidson on my disgustometer - that was before I actually watched a live fight.

Within five minutes, the bansheelike scream of ``Knock his brains out Chris!'' mysteriously emitted from my person, as the lisping one went in for the kill.

Like it or not, watching boxing can arouse something rather primeval in one's nature.

2. Promoters who promote themselves. How can you keep your eyes on the boxer at the prefight press conference when he is totally upstaged by the flamboyance of his management entourage?

Don King set the standard with a look that could only be emulated by attaching yourself to a couple of jump leads.

The suave Frank Warren, meanwhile, prefers the immobile barnet and country gent chic of a character from a 1960s cult British television series. One of these days, he'll turn up with Diana Rigg on his arm in a leather catsuit.

As for the assorted minions and hangerson, you'll hear them before you see them as they arrive sporting more chunky chains than Jacob Marley. Bling Bling Round One.

3.

Boxing and Posh Writers. It may be the sport of the ghetto, but boxing has inspired the most highbrow heavyweights.

From poetry to fiction, essays to drama, no other sport can boast a similarly prestigious literary lineup.

In the blue corner we have Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates and William Hazlitt. In the red corner we have...er Nick Hornby?

But it's still the paradox summed up by Henry Cooper's comment that ``boxers are the most docile men in sport'' that is the most difficult to comprehend.

Our Ennery certainly practised what he preached. Outside the ring, he revelled in his mildness, imploring us to ``splash it all over'' with a kind of sleepy charm. Inside the ring, the great smell of Brut gave way to the scent of brutality. It's a weird one. How can the nicest men pack the hardest punches?

Tyson apart, Cooper's verdict is still true of many modern fighters. Particularly Welsh ones.

I interviewed Steve Robinson several years ago on the topic of women boxers. ``I've nothing against ladies who box. I just hate the thought of them getting hurt,'' said the softvoiced Robinson with genuine concern.

Nicky Piper looked like someone who would approve your bank loan rather than knock your front teeth out.

Going further back into Welsh boxing history, Howard Winstone's humility was as legendary as his right hook, while Johnny Owen's fragile frame was matched by his shy and gentle nature.

The current crop are continuing the trend. I met Joe Calzaghe and Jamie Arthur, the young Commonwealth gold medallist, this week at the press conference for tonight's big fight at the CIA.

Again, two perfect gentlemen who, if you didn't know better, you could never imagine inflicting serious pain. They both cited bullying as the motivation for becoming boxers - as did Calzaghe's opponent Byron Mitchell.

``It's quite common in boxing,'' an American sports photographer told me.

``I know a fighter who took it up because he was bullied so badly in school, his sister had to fight his battles for him. Then she'd hit him too because she was so frustrated that he wasn't sticking up for himself.''

And whatever Henry Cooper reckoned about mildmannered fighters, from the second Joe Calzaghe steps into the ring tonight it's no more Mr Nice Guy.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 28, 2003
Words:671
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