The sad world of the online influencer

Walid Sharks is taking a nasty beating at the AO Arena in Manchester. It’s the second round of his fight against ‘Deen the Great’, and he has just been knocked down by a punch to the face. ‘His eyes are rolling right now,’ says a commentator. ‘He doesn’t know where he is!’ But Sharks doesn’t mind: he’s fighting before a sell-out crowd, with a million people livestreaming at home, and they’ll be loving the drama. ‘Hit ’is jaw off!’ someone in the stands shouts to Deen The Great, wishfully. Sharks isn’t a professional boxer, but a social media ‘influencer’. Being used as a punchbag is worth it to grow his internet

How sport helped shape the British character

Faith in state planning was central to Harold Wilson’s pledge to modernise Britain. It was his rhetorical vision of a country guided by strategic foresight and ‘forged in the white heat of technology’ that helped him win the 1964 election. But Wilson also displayed the same attachment to planning in his personal life. Back in 1934 he joined the Port Sunlight tennis club, not because he was interested in the sport but because he felt it would provide the right environment to approach one of its young female members, a shorthand-typist called Gladys Baldwin. Unlike his ‘white heat’ agenda, the policy worked. After a lengthy courtship, during which Gladys dropped

The faith of Tyson Fury

As soon as he had beaten Deontay Wilder last weekend, Tyson Fury gave thanks “to my Lord and savior Jesus Christ”. He said that he was going to pray for his fallen opponent. He has said that when he was recovering from depression and mental illness he “couldn’t do it on [his] own” and got down on his knees to ask God for help: I went down as a four hundred pound fat guy but when I got up off the floor after praying for like twenty minutes…I felt like the weight of the world was lifted off me shoulders. Most media reports glossed over these (admittedly eccentric) expressions of Christian

What Joanna Lumley and two cobras taught me about fist-fighting

Why do we box? It’s an almost ludicrously inefficient form of combat. The last thing the SAS suggests its soldiers to do is put their dooks up. But boxing is nonetheless the world’s leading combat sport — millions watch boxing in lockdown, and when we’re all allowed out, thousands will head first to the pub, then out into the streets and carparks, to throw punches at each other’s heads. Why? I have the answer. It came to me by a combination of Joanna Lumley and a fight I once witnessed between cobras. Boxing is not a great form of combat — not if your aim is to put your opponent

Is it time to consign VAR to Room 101?

Thankfully, Tyson Fury is as good at boxing as he is terrible at singing. But he really should pick on someone his own size: he’s a colossal 6ft 9in tall and 19st 7lb in weight. And he can punch. And he can weave. And he can feint and dip. And he is unbelievably fast. A three-stone advantage is just not on when the bigger man can fight. Quite often exceptionally big men can’t though. The Russian Nikolai Valuev, now a politician, was known as the Beast from the East when he boxed. He was 7ft tall and weighed more than 23st, the tallest and heaviest world boxing champion there has

Britain’s obsession with boxing is as deep-rooted as its devotion to cricket

Boxing has long been a British obsession, exported successfully to North America, but never widespread on the Continent. Mainland Europeans struggled to understand that in general there was no quarrel between contestants who assaulted each other so brutally. ‘Anything that looks like fighting,’ explained one bewildered French visitor, ‘is delicious to an Englishman.’ He might have said the same about drinking or gambling, pastimes embedded in the fabric of Georgian society to an ‘astonishing extent’. They were habits, moreover, upon which the popularity of boxing depended. The story of Daniel Mendoza, little known except to sporting historians, is fascinating on both a personal level and more generally. The man one

When content-creators fight

None of us is above YouTube, and nothing is beneath it. We have of course all long since submitted to a universal medium whose sole purpose appears to be the promotion of the universal below-average, but this doesn’t mean that there isn’t pleasure to be had from watching content created by so-called ‘content-creators’ whose created content is often pretty much content-free. Indeed,a large part of the obvious appeal of user-generated content is that it is generated by people who are just like you and me and who therefore make stuff that isn’t actually very good. We no longer marvel at skill. What we admire is chutzpah. The most recent example

Boxing not so clever

For Horace Hopper, the half-breed protagonist of Willy Vlautin’s bleak new novel, essential truths come slowly, and usually too late to do him any good. Abandoned by his Native American mother and Irish American father, he has exiled himself from the only people who love him, an elderly couple on a sheep ranch in deepest Nevada. His one idea for becoming ‘somebody’ is to transform himself into a world-champion lightweight boxer with a wholly fabricated Mexican identity. ‘Mexican boxers are the toughest… true warriors who never quit,’ he believes. Only well into the novel does it dawn on him that his self-inflicted loneliness is ‘a sort of disease’, not a

High life | 26 October 2017

I hate to say this, but the quality of life in the Bagel has crashed in a Harvey Weinstein-like way. The city has always had a sort of rollercoaster feel, its ups and downs driven by Wall Street and budget cuts, but its present state is the worst I’ve experienced by far. When I first came to New York, it was the true centre of the world. It was after the war and Europe was in ruins. What glamour there was in the world resided in the city. People dressed to the nines, women wore hats and gloves, and manners were far more important than money. It was a feast

The straight dope

It’s not easy to get hold of Ángel Hernández, the legendary Mexican chemist who for a decade provided illicit performance-enhancing drugs to numerous athletes, including, he claims, all eight 100 metres finalists at the Beijing Olympics. It took me just over a year of trying. The FBI also struggled. The story goes that when they eventually caught up with him in 2005 he had been holed up in a hotel room in Texas, living under an assumed name for two years. Presented with numerous incriminating wire-tapped telephone conversations and bank statements as part of the investigation that eventually sent three-time Olympic gold medallist Marion Jones to prison, Hernández became a

Don’t waste your money on Mayweather-McGregor

This weekend boxing will be the centre of attention as Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather steps into the ring for the 50th time to take on debutant pro-boxer and UFC fighter Conor McGregor. It is a bizarre match-up that has been made purely with dollar signs in mind – millions of them. Much of that money will be made in these final days before the two men step into the ring in Las Vegas. The TV companies will do a roaring trade as people rush to book the fight on pay-per-view and bookies will hardly be able to keep the smiles from their faces as the cash rolls in for McGregor, from

The age of Joshua

Every so often comes a moment that can set the history of sport on a different trajectory. I believe we will witness such a moment on Saturday when Anthony Joshua, of Golders Green no less, fights the veteran Wladimir Klitschko for the Heavy-weight Champ-ionship of the World. At Wembley Stadium, not a Las Vegas car park. This is a battle of the ages and for the ages, and it is right here in London. For those of us who were glued to barely audible radios at 3am to hear epic US fights or flogged around seedy London cinemas for a live transmission, the romance, the magic and the brutal beauty

Fighting chance

Middle age is OK by me. National Trust membership, a Waitrose loyalty card, lying on the sofa drinking red wine and yelling at the telly — since I turned 40, this stuff all just feels right. But by a mile, the best consolation of middle age I’ve found is the cagefighter Conor McGregor and living vicariously through his kicks, punches and verbal smackdowns. How dull my previous enthusiasms for cricket, tennis and football now seem by comparison with the heroic derring-do of this 28-year-old killing machine, a former plumber from Crumlin in Dublin. Damian Reilly is joined by Matt Christie, editor of Boxing News, to talk up McGregor’s chances: It’s

The truth about the fox hunting ban

During my years at the League Against Cruel Sports, the one single message we impressed upon people at every opportunity was that a ban on hunting with dogs was popular, simple and inexpensive. And animals, of course, would be saved from a cruel death. This belief was encouraged by a Tony Benn quote, which refers to everyone suddenly being on the winning side after any social change: ‘The change happens and you can’t find anyone that doesn’t claim to have been fighting for it with you.’ It was echoed shortly after I had left the LACS (having become disillusioned with the campaign and doubtful that any genuine animal welfare benefit would

Camilla Swift

Are hunt saboteurs simply out to harass people?

Boxing Day is the one day of the year when people really come out en masse to support their local hunts. Over a quarter of a million people are expected to show their support wherever the meet may be – in town centres, country pubs or the local stately home. It won’t just be hunt supporters going out, though. Twelve years after the Hunting Act, hunt saboteurs will be out in force as well. This is despite the fact that in the past two years, no registered hunts have been prosecuted under the Act. Surely, many people would argue, this means that hunts are sticking to the law, making hunt

Banning shops from opening on Boxing Day is a terrible idea

Britain was once a nation of shopkeepers. But one wonders for how much longer. As if the combination of Amazon, councils’ parking charges and above-inflation business rate rises wasn’t bad enough, we now have a petition. Of course, we do. The petitions wants all large shops to be shut on Boxing Day, as they are on Christmas Day. It argues that the people who work in shops toil very hard in the run up to Christmas. This is true. It then argues, ‘retail workers [should] be given some decent family time to relax and enjoy the festivities like everyone else’. Why? Why should the government legislate to ensure we can all relax? Because this is an ‘Up The

Barometer | 6 October 2016

Tenement Scots John Cleese referred to the editor of this magazine as a ‘tenement Scot’. Do more Scots live in tenements? — The term tenement became associated in Scotland with 14-storey blocks built in Edinburgh in the 18th and 19th centuries. One collapsed in 1861, killing 35 residents and leading to an Improvement Act which largely did away with the old blocks. — Today, 38% of homes in Scotland are flats or maisonettes, markedly higher than the 21% in England and Wales. But only 14,900 (0.6%) are ‘buildings in multiple occupancy’, with shared facilities like the original tenements. More than a landslide Hungarians voted by 98% to 2% to reject

Kids’ stuff | 6 October 2016

When a new TV channel calls its flagship food show Fuck, That’s Delicious, we might surmise that the Reithian ideals are not foremost in its corporate philosophy. You probably haven’t heard of Viceland. You certainly haven’t watched it. It seeped on to the airwaves with little fanfare and few viewers. Viceland is the new 24-hour TV channel of Vice Media, the Canadian-American outfit that describes itself as the ‘world’s preeminent youth media company and content creation studio’. Vice began in 1994 as a magazine but now encompasses a news division, a record label, a film studio and myriad digital ventures. It prides itself on being ‘alternative’, ’disruptive’, sticking it to

The horrors of French colonialism

We can all share the anguish in the downfall of a simple soul — for movie-goers Brando’s despairing ‘I coulda’ been a contender!’ in On the Waterfront still resonates — but I have a problem with heroic thickos: Othello, so easily duped; purblind Lear… So I’m ambivalent about the leading character in the new novel by the French-Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra — his wife’s name, adopted by Mohammed Moulessehoul to evade the military censors when he was an officer in the Algerian army. The award-winning author of more than 20 novels, most notably The Swallows of Kabul, he now lives in France but retains the pseudonym. The Angels Die is

A gentleman among players

I once played in something called the Writers’ World Cup. A lot of people in publishing (novelists, journalists, editors, agents) like to think that if their lives hadn’t been poisoned by books, they might have really made something of themselves — as ballplayers, among other things. This is probably one of the more pleasant delusions. The star of the tournament was a stocky bull-chested essayist who, rumour had it, used to play in some Hungarian minor league. Nobody could take the ball off him. Afterwards the writers got together in some theatre that the organisers had hired and talked for several hours in turns about the meaning of football. I