What with the critical acclaim of the Micky Ward biopic, “The Fighter” and FX channel’s new series, “Lights Out,” one could think that boxing’s gone mainstream again.
After all, there was a time when Friday night fights were as ubiquitous as Friday night football in big towns and little towns across America. The recent renaissance of small venues coupled with the play that MMA is getting on local and national television, however, does seem to be fueling a groundswell of renewed interest in the sport that has been growing since the phenomenon of “White Collar Boxing” in the 1990’s.
More to the point, boxing continues to be a “working class” story. Talk to any young boxer trying to make it and hear a story as old as Horatio Alger: young man or young woman determined to “make-it” through the sweat of his or her brow. In boxing, however, that’s a literal thing. It literally takes sweat and a lot of it to gain the conditioning necessary to fight a round of boxing never mind 12 — all while being pummeled with the ever-present threat of serious injury or worse. Those are some kind of odds — and yet boxers take them.
As “The Fighter” shows, the desire to “make it” can also be “fought out” against the dynamic of family madness or personal demons. Ask anyone why they like to hit things and believe me, you’ll get a story.
What’s interesting is that the kind of “truth” that’s being explored in the latest media incarnations of the sport are attempting to work through the genre elements to arrive at a statement about who we are and where we are as a people at this particular point in time. A lot of our old middle-class dreams are falling away — and in that instance, what’s left? Strip away mortgages, high-priced dinners and all the other trappings of the middle-class life and one is faced with a sort of raw truth of life on the margins: of making it or not based on family relationships and one’s own gumption.
A return to boxing seems to imply a reglorification of the ring as a stand-in for our own sense of what we’ve lost and what we can find. Boxers as heroes and demi-Gods has a potent place in the mythology of the sport — and as a pointer for the new reality of folks facing displacement from their dreams, it offers an alternative stream of what life can offer. That’s certainly good for all those young kids preparing for the Golden Gloves this year, and as a marker for the “grown-ups” in the crowd, offers a kind of hope for redemption from the ills of economic debacles and all the rest that happens when dreams fade and die.