IAN PROBERT’S first book about boxing, ‘Rope Burns: One Man’s Reluctant Obsession with Boxing’, was published in 1999 and has become something of a cult classic for its great humour and incisive insight into the sport. Probert’s new book ‘Dangerous: An Intimate Journey into the Heart of Boxing’ which is released today (September 15) sees Probert revisit many of the characters he portrayed so vividly in ‘Rope Burns’.
One man has an overarching presence in both books, and that man is Michael Watson. As a novice journalist and boxing writer living in a squat, Probert formed an unlikely but close relationship with Watson and his trainer Eric Secombe, a relationship that shuddered to an abrupt halt on the night Watson suffered life-changing injuries at the fists of Chris Eubank. Probert visited the hospital where Watson was held on the night of the tragedy, and perhaps understandably given the circumstances his presence was misconstrued by Watson’s friends who made it clear he wasn’t welcome. Equally understandably Probert felt he should bow out and leave Watson’s loved ones to take care of him. It was a decision that caused the author 25 years of regret, left him with a corrosive sense of having betrayed his friend, and prompted Probert to largely cease writing about boxing. ‘Dangerous’ begins with the first meeting between both men since that terrible night, and for Probert it is a deeply significant reconciliation with a man he revered as Watson tells him ‘I love you’, followed by a quizzical frown on the face of the ex-fighter and the question: “What’s your name?” As with much of Probert’s writing style, ‘Dangerous’ is profoundly and effortlessly tragi-comic.
Probert’s intensely personal book and also his return to writing about boxing was provoked by the recent loss of his estranged father, a man he describes as a monster, nasty and abusive, refusing to see or talk to his son while on his deathbed, and while it is left to the reader to draw their own conclusions regarding the nature of the abuse, it is this horribly fractured paternal relationship that underpins an often dark narrative. Only when watching boxing did father and son bond, and as his death sent the author into an unexpected downward spiral of deep depression for which he could not find a rationale, it was a reconnection with the sport and its many characters that helped Probert come to terms, at least to an extent, with what he was going through. As Leon McKenzie tells the author “boxing came into my life at a time when I’d lost everything”, and so it proves for Probert. It is against such a deeply pessimistic background that this remarkable book grabs you by the throat from the first page and holds you tight to an emotional ending.