HOLLYWOOD is littered with stories of confused and often troubled protagonists stuck in either institutions they can’t leave or a headspace they can’t figure out and it’s no stretch to say boxing, this other factory of shattered dreams, boasts just as many.
In the world of make-believe, you might have something like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or Rosemary’s Baby, or Seconds, or Girl, Interrupted, or Shutter Island, all films in which the lead is unsure of their state of mind and therefore susceptible to gaslighting, whether by loved ones or enemies. In boxing, on the other hand, we have ‘characters’ or ‘entertainers’, men whose best days are behind them yet are convinced, either by clever matchmaking, attractive paydays, or the manipulative words of cheerleaders, both that retirement is a ridiculous idea and that brain damage is an old wives’ tale.
The latest of these characters needing to escape the asylum is Dereck Chisora, who continued the fight on Saturday (July 9) in London with a split decision victory over Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev. Cheered on inside the arena by doctors, fellow patients, and abusive former partners, his victory over Pulev was one rightly celebrated and his future plans were duly outlined, first by Dereck, and then by those who will watch how he gets on from afar.
It was, on paper, a good win for Chisora – a hard-fought win, as all of them now are. He did enough – just – to tip the balance in his favour after 12 rounds in the company of Pulev and showed flashes of the old warrior throughout. His right hand, for instance, can still be bowled over with surprising speed and his stamina, too, still ensures he reaches the final bell, even if his output has naturally decreased in recent years.
All in all, the 38-year-old Londoner gave the people want they wanted, or at least what his people wanted. He gave them what they wanted at the pre-fight press conference, when engaging Pulev in some verbals and dropping multiple F-bombs for seemingly no reason at all, and he also gave them what they wanted at the weigh-in, when a head-to-head became a carefully choreographed – therefore never likely to become something dangerous – kerfuffle on stage. Teasers at best, or perhaps just clips for the trailer, most cynics then fully expected to be let down by Chisora’s performance on the night, at which point they could say he was more bark than bite, or that his best days are over, or that, in simple terms, he should retire.
But, of course, Chisora didn’t let himself down on the night. He actually performed quite well and won – for a change. This not only quietened down those ushering him towards the exit door but, perhaps of greater concern for those people, it offered Chisora a chance to keep going, or just go again. For now, after all, he is not a man on a run of three straight losses, as he was before this fight, but he is a man who has just beaten Kubrat Pulev, someone who, despite being 41, had lost only to Wladimir Klitschko and Anthony Joshua beforehand. He has a right therefore to carry on. More than that, he has a right to call out names bigger than Pulev and maybe, with another decent win, even demand some sort of title fight, which seemed out of the question a matter of days ago.
He will be enabled, too, in this latest slog up the heavyweight mountain, by all who look to tear off the remaining scraps of meat and gristle from his tired old bones. There will, for example, be opponents willing to fight him, hoping to become the 13th man to beat him, and there will be promoters willing to promote him, hoping he will create CARNAGE! or do something CRAZY! before fight night or on fight night itself. There will also be those interviewing him and those commentating on him and those speaking about him in punditry roles, all of whom are knowingly or unknowingly pushing the agenda, one that varies depending on the day of the week. Pre-fight, for instance, the agenda will be this: Dereck Chisora is a mad man, nobody knows what he is going to do next – Crazy! Crazy! Crazy! However, on fight night, the agenda becomes this: Dereck Chisora is tough, he will fight anyone, he never disappoints, but also – Crazy! Crazy! Crazy!
Both statements can be true. That’s not the issue. The issue in 2022 is more that Dereck Chisora, without realising it or caring about it, is a wind-up toy of a heavyweight, a promoter’s plaything happy to perform for other people’s entertainment so long as he is being paid enough. That’s his prerogative, of course, but the worry when adopting such a role is that, in time, it can become hazardous to a boxer’s long-term health, especially if the idea of winning and losing becomes almost a moot point.
Losing, it’s true, is never nice. However, sometimes a fighter will need to be beaten to be informed as to the extent of either their limitations or their regression. Shrug it off, something they are advised to do in the early part of their career, and it could, in their later years, be considered not far off delusional, particularly if encouraged to behave this way by men in clean suits. It could also become dangerous.
Still, who’s got the time to worry about that? All that really matters is that Chisora, 33-12 (23), won. He won pro fight number 45 and now, because of this, he can convince himself to carry on – punching, getting punched, winning, losing – and others can feel free to try to convince him it’s a good idea to fight Deontay Wilder, perhaps the real fortune-teller Chisora needs. Certainly, all the while he is winning close fights and losing close fights, there will remain a sense that he isn’t yet out of his depth or faded beyond all recognition, which, in turn, means the cult hero fantasy of Chisora – a fantasy to all but him – can continue to be forced on the British public.
This is Dereck’s Choice, remember. Only in this case, rather than choosing between children, he is choosing between a fat payday and his future wellbeing. It’s a choice he and only he can make. He has every right to take his time.
They say the thing you love will ultimately be the death of you and it could easily be argued Chisora’s toughness is going to prove both a blessing and a curse. It has made him more competitive in the upper echelons of the heavyweight division than most will have ever expected, yet, unfortunately, the very same toughness also guarantees he sticks around, both in fights and in more general terms, far longer than is deemed healthy.
For so long sold as if the latest madcap contestant to shake up the Big Brother house (“Do you want another one?”), his toughness has become a commodity, and rarely a concern. Pair it with the ever-present feeling of chaos he promises before a fight and it cannot be denied Chisora still boasts, for a promoter and TV network, quite the package. Moreover, it’s a package easily understood by an audience with no understanding of the long-term consequences of punches, nor, for that matter, Chisora’s history (with many joining the cult presumably around the time of his first fight with Dillian Whyte in 2016).
But that’s just some of the audience, not all. Indeed, I can remember back in 2010 when Chisora sucked, gnawed and eventually spat out the bones of one Danny Williams, another popular London heavyweight, in a defeat that appeared to signal the end of Williams’ up-and-down career (his record was 41-8 at the time). Only Williams’ career wasn’t to end, was it? Instead, Williams went on… and on… and on… In fact, in March of this year, Williams, now presenting a record of 54-31, fought for the 86th – yes, eighty-sixth – time against a man called Djuar El Scheich, who stopped him in three rounds. That was Williams’ fifth defeat in his last six fights and, at the age of 48, he continues for the same two reasons a lot of damaged fighters continue to fight. One, because of the money, and two, because nobody can force him to stop.