Combat sports 

I’ve always had a fascination with sports.

In the right mood and at the right time I’d happily watch anything sporty.

I’m as comfortable watching bowls, darts or sumo wrestling as I am football. A fact that has caused me to endure much derision from my friends over the years.

There’s something about the statistical nature of sport which seems to appeal to my brain. Perhaps this is why I’m so taken with US games like basketball and American football which are dominated by numbers.

I’m obsessed with the figures. Who’s done what the most times? Scored the most runs? Kicked the highest percentage of penalties? Made the most tackles? They’re all rattling about in my head somewhere.

There’s probably not too many people who trouble themselves to worrying about whether Paul Foster will ever match Alex Marshall’s record of six World Indoor Bowls titles, but that’s exactly the sort of thought which goes through my mind when I can’t sleep at night.

It’s all gloriously inconsequential and that’s the attraction for me.

The legendary football manager Bill Shankly said football was much more serious than life or death. But his tongue was firmly in his cheek. All sport is merely the gloss we put on the grey wall of life to make it more fun to look at.

People who read my blogs regularly will know that I’ve spoken before about my obsessive personality traits.

When I was a teenager I applied all my obsessive powers to the sport of boxing. I immersed myself in it.

I suppose I used it as some sort of comfort against all of the ravens which constantly circled me at that time.

I spent every penny I had amassing a huge collection of tapes of grainy black and white fights (remember this was before the Internet). I bought every book or magazine that was available.

I sat up in the middle of the night to watch fights taking place in America and I spoke passionately in defence of the sport at school debates.

At that time my mind had the capacity to store huge amounts of information and I took great pride in knowing every fact that could be gathered about every fighter.

Even though most of the knowledge has since seeped out through the ever widening holes, I can still at any moment recite in chronological order every fighter who has ever held the World Heavyweight Championship stretching back to the original Boston Strong Boy John L Sullivan.

I even fancied getting in the ring myself.

But it didn’t go well.

I’m a pacifist by nature and when you have the gloves on and the bell goes, I found that saying ‘Let’s talk about it’ didn’t get me very far.

Nowadays I don’t care so much. I still know most of the main fighters but I have nothing more than a casual fan’s interest.

In truth I’ve got a major problem with it now. I can’t watch a live fight anymore. I get too nervous. The capacity that someone could be hurt scares me too much. I’m not comfortable with witnessing the aggression.

I’m not going to be a hypocrite and say I don’t follow it anymore. I still check out the results. I might even watch the fight later when I know both men or women are safe.

I just don’t feel very good about myself when I do.

The last time I was at a live boxing event was several years ago. My friend and I were watching a Belfast fighter.

At one point during the bout the local man gained the advantage, hurting his opponent. The noise from the intoxicated crowd swelled as the opponent was battered against the ropes.

I remember my friend, a wonderfully gentle man, rising to his feet to urge the local fighter on. I did the same. Roaring him on to hurt the other man.

Later that night I felt ashamed.

Recently it’s been quite hard to avoid all the attention surrounding the upcoming crossover fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor.

Mayweather, a boxing champion, will fight McGregor, a mixed martial artist, in the richest fight in combat sports history. Both men are expected to earn in excess of $100m.

Perhaps this is the point where my silent shame finally transforms itself into open disgust at the repugnance of the spectacle.

The cynicism involved in the marketing of the event is breathtaking. The trumpeting of hatred, aggression and greed as showbusiness virtues for young men to ape is now running unchecked.

The naked venom that these two men display towards each other while being cheered on by baying crowds is unsettling. Frankly I find it upsetting.

And yes, I know that much of the poison is staged and built up to increase audience interest, but doesn’t that just increase the cynicism even more?

I’m not here to tell anyone what to do or to preach. I believe entirely in freedom of expression and action within the laws.

I’m not calling for anything to be banned or even reigned in. I’ve no right to do that and frankly it’s none of my business.

Combat sports have been going on for thousands of years and will always exist. They clearly fulfil a need for some people and there’s a huge fascination with them.

My point is about my journey. How I’ve changed. Moved away from what I once loved.

Yes I do believe that the sport has changed too, for the worse, but the bigger transformation has been mine.

Maybe it’s growing old. Maybe it’s being a father. Maybe it’s the idea of trying to explain to my son in a few years why two men are being paid to shout insults at each other while others watch.

Maybe it’s my own feelings about standing on my feet cheering while one man beat another with his hands.

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