Recently, I came to the conclusion that years of boxing could have both positive and negative effects on the brain. Excluding the damage that can occur when a boxer has been repeatedly punched hard in the head for 15-20 years, boxing is going to become interwoven into the neural fabric and reflect an aggressive history; the question being has this conditioned the boxer to be in control when faced with aggressive stimuli (keeping a cool head), or has it simply made them more reactionary?
This week seems to demonstrate the latter. Dereck Chisora, the British heavyweight who recently had a commendable loss to the WBC heavyweight champion, Vitali Klitschko, is clearly a very aggressive and somewhat remorseless individual (I am yet to see any indication that he regretted assaulting his girlfriend late in 2010, in fact his response at a press conference before he was due to fight Wladimir Klitschko, when Wladmir commented on the quality of a man who hits a woman, Chisora responded by trying to denigrate Wladimir’s girlfriend (Press Conference).
But still, you can’t use the behavior of one boxer when considering if boxing has a disciplining effect on those who practice. The only trouble is that Chisora isn’t the only boxer who has recently been accused of assault; so have Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather. So what does it mean for a boxer to say that boxing is a way to discipline oneself? Assault is either carried out as a reaction to a (perceived) harmful stimulus, or it is used as a means to gain control for a particular end (money/respect/sexual domination/revenge). The difference between these two types of aggression is control. This raises a serious problem, because if boxing disciplines (which puts a boxer in control of reactive aggression), then their assaults are more likely to be planned and callous attempts to achieve a particular goal.
Another strike this week against boxers being in control came from the Welsh up-and-coming Nathan Cleverly, who defends his WBO Light Heavyweight belt against American Tom Karpency tomorrow in Wales. Cleverly has recently commented on the Chisora-Haye debacle by promising to be a model boxer, but he also made a surprising comment that almost appears to be a back-handed slap towards boxing: “Fighters are fighters, they are naturally aggressive and in the heat of the moment can flip out. So it’s important security is stepped up.” This remark, while on the one hand is not surprising, on the other hand it is. Fighting is aggression, and fighting is also violence, so to become a skilled fighter is to become skilled in the use of physical aggression and violence. But the difference between being able to use skilled aggression and being aggressive surely brings us back to the problem of control? As a boxing fan, I hope this distinction exists.