PERHAPS the only thing less surprising than perennial underdog Maxi Hughes being robbed in a headline fight in America against a former world champion is the performative, I-care-more-than-you-do outrage that has inevitably followed it. For surely the nature of the beast is clear to us by now. Surely we know that by avidly following an inexact science of a sport, which is precisely what boxing is, we leave ourselves susceptible to moments like this – again and again and again.
That’s no consolation for Hughes, for whom I have lots of sympathy, yet he of all people will know the nature of the beast. This, let’s not forget, is not the first time the Yorkshireman will have felt hard done by in a professional fight. Nor is it a shocking outcome when one considers the context of tonight’s (July 22) fight in Oklahoma and indeed Hughes’ part in the event.
Sadly, and maybe even unknowingly, Hughes, in being offered a fight against George Kambosos and then accepting it, was setting himself up to be treated this way from the very outset. That, again, is just one of the unwritten rules of boxing. As underdog, and as someone whose Cinderella Story has been well-documented, Hughes was tonight deemed the perfect opponent for Kambosos, 21-2 (10), to not only steer his career back on track but, should it all start to go awry, rob of victory.
Ideally, that would not be the case, but the point is, Hughes was and is an easy target. A thankful foreigner, he was just happy to be there, apparently. He was just happy to make a career-best payday and leave having given a good old account of himself as the ones who tend to rob these men like to say. The other line they use is this: “Even in defeat his reputation has been enhanced.” That’s as painful to hear and as pointless to say as any other back-handed compliment and Hughes, when hearing it tonight, will no doubt have wanted to run a mile.
Yes, it’s true, his reputation will have been enhanced by his performance, yet that means nothing on a political stage; which is precisely where boxing at the top level takes place. Hughes will be aware of this now and he will return to Britain either on Sunday or Monday and have to come to terms with the fact he lost a fight simply because it was a fight he wasn’t ever meant to win. That he ultimately lost it could be due to any number of reasons: for instance, pure incompetence on the part of the judges, or, alas, something a tad more sinister and predetermined. Either way, it doesn’t really matter in the end. Boxing, in being a sport in which three men or women decide a winner should the bout go 12 rounds, will always deliver moments like this and followers of the sport, as if either as blind or as stupid as the judges themselves, will always then kick up a fuss in the aftermath.
Yet it’s a moan most futile, for what exactly do they expect to change? This, unlike a Wimbledon final, is not a sport of numbers and line calls. It is instead an unserious sport of opinions and mostly guesswork. Moreover, as the sport becomes increasingly infiltrated by blaggers who talk a good fight but have no insight or depth of knowledge whatsoever, surely instances of incompetence are going to become more and more commonplace. To read a fight, after all, requires experience and patience and intelligence, three ingredients boxing, as a sport, appears determined to eliminate in order to get away with the things it can then get away with.
Now, because of this, we are left with issues like tonight. We are left to sympathise with poor Maxi Hughes, a boxer who performed out of his skin against George Kambosos only to receive no reward at the fight’s conclusion. We are also left asking the same questions we have asked before and the same questions we will ask again in the future, for some reason expecting something to change.
But of course, it won’t. In fact, until boxing becomes an entirely different sport, this will forever be part of the intrigue and the chaos; which, by the way, whether people like to admit it or not, is what gets their heart racing and, nowadays, their fingers twitching. To complain of it now therefore, in 2023, is akin to marrying a porn star and feeling a little put out when she returns from work smelling of other men. It is, in other words, a complaint wasted on a sport in which such problems are part of its very DNA. “Love me for who I am or don’t love me at all,” it might say if it were a woman. “You knew what I was like when you married me.”
Hughes, no fool, does not need to be told this. Nor does he need to be told that he made a fine start to the fight tonight in Oklahoma, soundly outboxing Kambosos for three of the first four rounds, and that he fought intelligently for much of the remainder of the fight, mixing in back-foot boxing with spells when he planted his feet and dug in well-picked body shots. On reflection, too, Hughes, now 26-6-2 (5), likely won’t need to be told that by taking round 12 off, always a danger in a fight, he essentially left the door ajar for three people eager to get inside and steal his goods; these things he had worked so hard to procure. That, it’s true, should not have been enough to give Kambosos the fight, but an experienced campaigner at world level, which Hughes is not, will have been more alert to the possibility of being robbed on a night like this and will have known that in boxing winning is sometimes not enough to actually go home a winner.