In the 1976 classic Taxi Driver, the protagonist Travis Bickle experiences just one moment of fleeting joy, the kind more commonly associated with the sort of person he can never be; the sort of person he watches from afar and envies, sometimes even hates.
Its spark is Betsy, a girl he spies on from afar before one day confronting in her office. It’s Betsy he takes out on a lunch date and it’s Betsy he then charms with his off-kilter view of the world and his strange sense of humour. He achieves all this in a café, rather miraculously, and does so by suppressing his true character and beliefs and by essentially pretending to be a human being for once. Betsy, knowing no better, says to him, “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone quite like you,” shortly after Travis has joked about wanting to get one of those signs that says “one of these days I’m going to get organizized.” The date then concludes with Betsy telling Travis he reminds her of a Kris Kristofferson song: “He’s a prophet and a pusher, partly truth, partly fiction. Walking contradiction.”
While in any other film this may represent a typical meet-cute moment, in Taxi Driver Travis proceeds to undo all this good work the next time he and Betsy hook up. Now acting out his true nature, and this time unable to locate the human mask he wore first time around, Travis winds up not only buying for Betsy a Kris Kristofferson record she already owns but somehow believes she will have no issue visiting the cinema with him to watch some pornography.
She does have an issue, however, and leaves no sooner than she sits down. Travis, meanwhile, is left dumbfounded by her reaction. This, after all, is common practice for him, something he does often, and something indeed he has seen “other couples do”. It is in that world he belongs – the only world he knows – and evidently a girl like Betsy, a girl who is too good for him and, by his own admission, otherworldly, is a gift he was destined only to ever drop or break.
Similarly, it would seem Terence Crawford and Naoya Inoue were two gifts boxing, as a sport, was destined only to ever drop or break. They were, it would appear, too heavy, and too precious, and too pure for the awkward, calloused and occasionally abusive hands of this sport historically prone to doing so much damage and creating so much disappointment. They were, if anything, only to act as cruel reminders of what could have been rather than, say, any impetus for change, improvement, or better days. Like Travis, whose violence and bitterness and prejudice were all suppressed only briefly and only by the possibility of love with a girl way out of his league, boxing, in the end, found it far easier to revert to type and its old ways than to try to continue becoming something it is not. Like Travis, it sought again a perverse kind of comfort in screwing up, for at least in that scenario it could then blame the world for its woes rather than either do better or look inwards; an inquisition far more painful to endure.
Now, because we are back where we were, expectations are once more low, reassuringly so, and we laugh rather than cry. When, for instance, Dillian Whyte returned yet another (his third, for the record) adverse analytical finding in a performance-enhancing drug test yesterday (August 5), it felt more normal, as far as days in boxing go, than the previous Saturday (July 29), when Crawford produced something masterful against Errol Spence, or even days before that when Inoue did the same against Stephen Fulton. It felt, when looking at the Whyte news through eyes that have seen too much and been swollen too many times by punches, a lot like the punishment we deserved for getting our hopes up and expecting boxing to change and be different this time. “You never learn, do you?” they might say to us, and it’s true, we don’t. We see cracks of light, as we saw during that glorious stretch between July 25 and July 29, and we think once and for all that he has learnt his lesson and will be honest with us from now on. But then, of course, it’s almost as if he preys on this hope and takes great pleasure in again knocking it out of us.
The Whyte news, despite Whyte’s track record, certainly did that. Equally, the so-called fight on Saturday night (August 5), televised on DAZN Boxing, did little to alleviate the feeling that the sport has returned to its old ways and given up on the ludicrous idea of trying to improve itself, fix up, and perhaps appeal to an audience of Betsys rather than whatever it is presently aiming to seduce.
In the night’s main event, Jake Paul, a YouTuber/influencer still pretending to be something he is not, huffed and puffed his way to a sloppy 10-round decision (scores: 98-91, 98-91, 97-92) over Nate Diaz, an out-of-shape former mixed martial artist. During those 10 rounds, which possessed the same artistic merit as the porno Travis Bickle watched – alone – in Taxi Driver, Paul cuffed Diaz to the floor once in round five before in the last then having to endure Diaz’s attempt to lock in a standing guillotine in what appeared a tribute to the days when Diaz was a little less desperate and competing in a domain in which he was actually relevant. All in all, it was messy, meaningless fare and, like every one of Jake Paul’s fights to date, belonged somewhere other than in a boxing ring and, for that matter, on either a boxing channel or a boxing website.
But, alas, here we all are in 2023 “covering” it. We previewed the fight, too (even giving it three stars, the same number we were going to give the ill-fated heavyweight rematch between Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte), and not long ago we ran an interview with Jake Paul, focusing on the fact he is trying really hard to be a boxer as if that is somehow enough; as if trying really hard when super rich and super entitled is a feat worthy of either praise or distinction. The truth is, of course, it’s not enough. It’s not enough to pretend Jake Paul is a boxer, as so many choose to do, and it is not enough to pretend the reason for covering Jake Paul is anything other than duplicitous and predicated entirely on the fact he attracts attention and that attention these days is apparently all that counts.
That’s why boxing let him in, after all, and now continues to indulge his desire to play dress-up. It’s also why various publications, whether website, video, or the ones still in print, continue to report on what he does in gloves, if doing so with disclaimers and a scowl, and even occasionally rely on him to bring eyeballs to their work when the good stuff – the true stuff – doesn’t have quite the same impact anymore. At least, if nothing else, then, he’s good for that, I suppose.
In fact, you might say the same for Dillian Whyte, too, whose transgression yesterday inevitably led to a slew of people being interviewed over Zoom for the purpose of their base opinions later being posted on social media to capitalise on all the noise. More than that, the news and the drama of it all instigated a nice little Twitter exchange between Eddie Hearn, the Joshua vs. Whyte promoter, and Simon Jordan, chief agitator at TalkSport, which, by all accounts, will be resolved on Tuesday when the pair meet in studio. See, it’s not all bad. So long as Hearn and Jordan get the opportunity to have some banter and perform some self-serving pantomime on a Tuesday morning, who really cares if yet another fight in Britain has been cancelled due to a failed drug test?
I guess, in a world of content and clicks, and when dealing with a sport whose audience becomes less discerning by the hour, we must accept that social media stars and failed drug tests seems to be the way to go in terms of broadening the sport’s popularity (albeit on a wholly superficial level). It gets people talking at the very least; that is, gets their fingers tapping. If in doubt, just look at the numbers. Look at the engagement. Look at the algorithm. Proper content, that.
Perhaps the truth, sadly, is this: in the end, much like Travis Bickle, although we all want to be something else, and although we all want to be better, it is very hard to defeat our true nature. Jake Paul, having attempted to become a boxer, will surely know this by now, and what is worse, boxing, the sport happy to accommodate him, will in the last 24 hours have had no option but to concede this as well.