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Category Archives: Pugilism


The lads did well for themselves

In 1995 I led the Edinburgh University Varsity Boxing Team to Gold and Silver success as their coach. I had already boxed for a number of years as an amateur with Leith Victoria, Scotland’s oldest club with a little success. I find the boxing character a strong one and worthy of being in any kind of tale so I began a story about a boxer called Christopher (Tiffer) who show promise of being a champion but who falls off the rails for recreational drugs and women. This is an excerpt from that story.

When A Square Becomes A Ring

The only blood he wore was the leaking nose of his opposition. A once yellow, now crimson sponge was unceremoniously thrown against the swollen forehead of Tiffer. He sat slumped on the small stool, legs flayed out in front of him, elbows hung over the corner ropes. A mixture of blood and water running down his vest sodden by sweat and clots from his opponent’s nose.

Tiffer could detect victory as he looked over to see his rival sat similarly. At half a stone heavier, he had made it clear from the first bell of this amateur contest that he would ‘hurt and not be hurt’.

Tiffer’s experience and superior fitness was paying off,  at the detriment of his opponent’s health.

Tiffer’s coach John  who frantically sprayed  a fine mist of refreshment from a plant watering bottle onto the sweating brow of his champions face. Taking it off immediately with a towel. John spoke in a low disciplined tone, words of encouragement and tactics.

“Stoap gittin drawn in at close range. Stiy oaf um, use yer reach. Yer keepin the centre ai the ring. that’s sound!. Close um doon. Git um intai a corner and work tai ais nose, ais a bleeder so the ref’ll probably stoap it this round”.

Mungo, Tiffer’s friend and corner man stood in front of him. He reminded Tiffer of a native American indian by the way the thick heavy cigar smoke swirled as he waved a breeze with the towel towards his soaken face; the mixture of hot air and Havanas the inverted smoke signals.

There was another round to go and Tiffer felt quietly confident that after winning the first two, that this would be an easy final three minutes.

“Finish um! Dinnai make um suffer anymair than ai hus tai. Same again tri-pil-it”. John said. He was reffering to the beat of punches, left-right-left in the space of a second he had taught Tiffer  from the start. Then a 19 year old  man who’s flair, grace, agility and strength showed all the promise of the champion he had become.

The bell clanged twice.

Tiffer stood up as the aging overweight referee, signalled with a raised hand to each corner and a shout the “Seconds out”.

Mungo pulled out the stool, whilst John replaced his mouthguard.

“Remember, work ti his nose!” He slapped Tiffer hard on the cheek, before climbing out through the ropes.

Both boxers walked the diagonal across the ring to the centre where they exchanged stares. The first round had seem them exchange venomous stares whilst the referee asked them to keep it clean and reminded them about the rules of no hitting below the waist, he made a sarcastic remark about no biting ears too, which made Tiffer and his opponent smirk slightly. This was the final and a new even mutual respect now passed between the pupils of both of them.

The ref took a step back. Gesturing like a Karate expert, fingers outstretched he snapped the imaginary one plank that bridged between them. “Box!” he shouted, barely audible above the jeers and cheers of the 500 diners. His opponent smiling, slowly parried a high glove for Tiffer to touch. It was etiquette of the art they were partaking and had been laid down in the bible of boxing, The Queensberry rules.

Tiffer raised his glove to acknowledge the sportsmanship. Gloves kissed. They both skipped a step back from each other and prepared to battle. The crowd jeered and heckles lifted higher for each camp. The arena was once again full of hunting instinct, testosterone and adrenalin. Tiffer, spat two left jabs into the forehead, he dummied a third left jab and lined up his lethal right cross to finish the contest with a knock out.

THUUNK! He had over-estimated the flurry of punches he was delivering. The hand guarding his chin dropped.  Never had he anticipated the effects of a text-book upper cut to his own chin. It was followed by bone crushing hooks and heavy blows to the ribs. His head had rattled before in bouts before. Not today though.

His reflexes took over as he covered the target area running from his forehead, down past his ridged, taut stomach, the third pack of eight was covered by Lonsdale banded satin shorts. But it was too late. The sound of the crowd seemed distant.

A shower of solid punches whiplashed his head over the top rope. Everything looked as if it were in slow motion. Now, he could not hear the crowd. His head felt like it had on a two sizes too tight motorcycle helmet and the visor needed a clean. His vision blurred. His legs buckled. He went down on his right knee using his left glove for support on the canvas.

“Dinnai go doon! Git fuckin up! Git up! “Tiffer tried convincong his body to rise.

The ref had intervened after pointing his opponent to the neutral corner. Tiffer could see the old mans fingers popping up one at a time with a backwards and forward movement each time his hand came closer to Tiffer’s eyes as he counted the mandatory count above him.

He clumsily got on his feet and held his gloves to his face, looking straight at the ref who kept counting, ‘Six, seven…’

On eight the ref looked at Tiffer’s eyes then took his gloves and wiped them against his chest to remove any dust that can scratch when the next punches are landed with them.

John and Mungo could be heard in the distance screaming orders of defence, retreat.

The ref looked at him. Took his gloved hand and brought them to the centre of the ring.  Again the ref took a step back used the same Karate gesture, “Box!”.  Again another flurry of punches bus stop style as he remembered a comedian calling them. You wait on one to arrive, but four or five come at the same time!

The ref sent the opponent to the neutral corner and started counting. Indicating again the second he was on with straightened fingers. Tiff realised that if he recieved another count he was finished. “Fuck this” He mumbled, throwing a right hand to the top of his head guard. The ref let him go on six and they resumed the bout.

His clarity had come back slightly, but he dared not let himself fall into the danger zone once more. He was being stalked around the ring. Tiffer’s careful footwork keeping him out of reach of the danger of this underestimation.

Powder punches caught him in the stomach. Counterpunching intuitively as his opponent came forward Tiffer’s pugilistic repartee bled the already swollen nose with a combination he had rehearsed well in the gym. A long left to the stomach, right to the chin and a left hook for balance. Every punch had landed with near perfection.  His opponents eyes showed the pain of each of those punches and it looked like he wouldn’t make it to fight on. It was time for him to face a count of eight. The frenzy around the hall was ecstatic, everything seemed surreal to Tiffer to see the bulldogs and Dobermans bark viciously. The corners were slamming hands on the canvas and hysterical gesticulations flew everywhere.

As Tiffer started to the centre, he could feel the bruising of his own face but he could see the hurt coming towards him, tired, defeated he knew another good head shot would finish this. He ducked low to slip an oncoming left, put his weight behind him almost like pushing something heavy and connected with the solar plexus of  his opponents stomach. He heard the gasp as the air left the lungs instantly and he knew it was a hard punch because he could feel it through his knuckles. His opponent buckled but the disappointing clang of  the bell signalled the end of the bout. His opponent was still double over unable to straighten up and struggling with both hands on his knees, blood spattering from his nose, more heavily than before.

They exchanged an open glove to each other and a boyish hug. Words of respect passed between them.

John appeared behind his prodigy. “Dinnai worry son. Ye’ve goat that in the bag” John assumingly tells him whilst wiping his face heavily with a wet towel. Tiffer thinks about a spit stained hanky his gran used wipe his face with as a child. He objects, ‘Gid dap fuppin ding oot ma pace!’

“Take that moothguard oot, A cannai hear a word yer sayin” John pulls the towel of his face.

“Here? Spit it oot in there. He indicates with a nod towards the bucket containing the wet sponge and raspberry stained water. Tiffer obeys whilst John lifts off the gloves, sticking the first under his arm.

“ Geez a drink?” Mungo passed him a sports bottle with a straw in the top. Tiffer looks around the hall whilst pulling at the juice. The angry dogs have returned to being old men sitting like penguins in there dinner suits at the ringside tables. The majority of them puffing indignantly on cigars, sipping whisky, coffees and cognacs.

Behind them are younger men in their twenty-something’s, also in dinner jackets, but looking uncomfortable with their fits. They don’t hold themselves quite like the ones nearer him do.

Waitresses, slim, high heeled, wearing tight black mini skirts, with white blouses, rush about with trays of drinks, all look pissed off.

Tiffer remembers hearing that the catering company had to pull out at the last minute. The company handling the new arrangements were also sponsoring one of the bouts.

For Eighty quid you got a ringside seat for two. The company name emblazoned on the boxers’ vest and free drinks in the upstairs bar. Only this was the Masonic Club and no females are permitted to drink in this particular bar. A woman owned this company so when at the half time mark for the evening the M.C had made an announcement that all ‘Womenfolk’ should not enter the upstairs sponsors bar. Tiffer smiled as he remembered the scene she caused. Climbing through the ropes in a pencil skirt, which nearly split. Grabbing the microphone, then announcing that she would scream unless a show of hands voted to let her drink there. It hadn’t quite worked like that she still had a bullshit form to fill out giving her permission to enter on this one-off occasion.

The drink finished he handed the container back to Mungo.

“Cheers! What’s the hold up John?”

“A donno Tiff, somethin ti dai wi the scoresheets”.


I’m no Sugar Ray, Lynch or Ali

But I return to the ring in Trondheim’s valley

The same faces (and haircuts) adourn the hall

The punch bags, skipping ropes, medicine ball

The aged, hieroglyph cheeks and faces, watch and nod

The fighters taking aim on where to place their thuds

Whilst I pretend I am a decade behind my shell

Unfortunately, the trainer’s circuit is a telling hell

I hope to be fitter, stronger, faster, soon

But muscles elastic is agreeing ‘next blue moon’

I kill this big bag with a flurry of punches

It doesn’t fight back from my pounding crunches

Thank Jedi I say, that this is just play

And no championships to train for again, nay

Those days are over and the gloves are well hung

The battle is over the last bell has rung

From here on in, boxing’s for fun

To keep old warrior keen with less tum


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