Impartiality in boxing journalism is dying a slow and painful death.
It’s hard to trace where this new phenomenon has come from but it’s a modern development.
When Harry Carpenter momentarily let his mask slip as Frank Bruno cannoned a left hook off Mike Tyson’s skull, Carpenter shrieked, “Get in there, Frank.”
Carpenter kicked himself for that, for allowing the veil of professionalism to drop, but a nation shrieked with him rather than at him because they were something of a double act. They were a UK version of Ali and Cossell and their names were so synonymous with one another that they appeared together in TV commercials, and one of Bruno’s go-to lines was, “Know what I mean ‘Arry.”
Carpenter knew what it was to be a pro, and he knew what he did was not professional.
You can be all for being caught up in the emotion and theatre of this wonderful sport, moved by the drama, sickened by the sadness and still fight the urge to leap from your chair when you witness something spectacular.
But some of the content that regularly appears on our newsfeeds is partisan tripe, ridiculously biased, clickbait or all three.
Some with high-profile jobs may only have those gigs because they dance to a certain tune.
This is not all, but it is some, and more than those who like their news impartial would appreciate.
The number of journalists who were in Saudi Arabia for Oleksandr Usyk rematch against Anthony Joshua across all platforms was high; TV, radio, online and print.
Many of them went in a professional capacity and in some cases that bled over. Some were publicly supporting the British fighter, which would have been taboo in Carpenter’s day, or even just a few short years ago.
Those who were not so vociferous in back Joshua or those who felt Usyk might win again were deemed ‘haters’.
That’s perhaps not always the case either, but there was a kind of siege mentality, born about by so many willing AJ to do well. And if that’s the case in the media, where do we now go to consume our objective boxing media from?
Maybe some even made the trip to Saudi Arabia because they are friends with Joshua and because they have a shot at some pre- or post-fight week access, and maybe many are selected to deal with Joshua because they ask the questions he is happy to deal with.
I actually felt for Spencer Oliver, the former European bantamweight champion, who was recorded trying to fill up Joshua’s destroyed soul. When Joshua started boxing, he went to Finchley ABC and was trained by Spencer’s late father. Spencer has known Joshua as long as anyone else in the sport has. That doesn’t mean he is a yes man, but on a human level it means he wants to pick his friend up when he’s down. The questions should then be directed to talkSPORT, should they have sent Oliver out if he’s a friend, or did they send him out because he’s a friend? They were damned if they didn’t and were damned because they did.
Joshua is so big he’s become a cottage industry within boxing. He greases all of our wheels with hits, subscriptions and alike and some people are in business – or at least in this business – simply because the Joshua business exists.
The waters are so muddied that there is very little transparency in any of it. Publicly endorsing a fighter to win is different to predicting a fighter to win based on merit. But we go back to the same thing, if you aren’t seen to be drinking the Kool Aid brand of one particular fighter, you’re a detractor. Impartiality be damned.
In the aftermath of the event, many in Joshua’s circle were condemned of being ‘backslappers’, ‘hangers on’ or ‘yes men’.
It’s impossible to know what goes on behind closed doors, especially with a brand that’s doors are as closed as brand Joshua.
But there is a wave of sentiment from more objective positions – not from many of the fans who now cover the sport due to boxing’s always open door policy – that people tell Joshua what he wants to hear rather than tell him what he needs to hear.
And maybe deep down they’ve created something he’s not. That is not a criticism, either.
Maybe that’s why we got an inflamed Joshua post-fight, or at least why the shock of what we saw was so jarring. It was such a significant departure from anything we have seen, or been allowed to see from Joshua, that it shocked us. I’m not condoning the belt tossing or many of the things he said but you couldn’t take your eyes off it.
It was fascinating to watch and it was real. Good, bad or indifferent we want sporting role models to be real and relatable. The time for straight A students has come and gone, we like flaws, we love redemption but above all we love our characters to be real and to feel, and to say what they actually feel.
Given the gaudy nature of the millions involved and whatever else it takes for an event that size to take place in Saudi Arabia I’d say that was arguably the most real moment of the week. That is if we hold our hands up and admit that what we saw from Usyk was unreal.