By Elliot Worsell
THE RULES of the changing room were really quite simple. Like a child, you should be seen and not heard. You should speak only when spoken to. You should know your place and for the boxer provide little more than a familiar face and a sounding board; available if you are needed but never imposing or outspoken or overbearing.
These rules you will know only if you have been privileged enough to discover them, yet there is room, also, for common sense. After all, surely the last thing a boxer wants in the quiet moments before a fight is to have to talk when they don’t want to talk, listen when they don’t want to listen, and be entertained when they don’t want to be entertained. Yes, they’re all different, both boxers and their needs, but, in my experience, so long as the boxer himself is in charge of the atmosphere and what happens inside the changing room, all is okay in their world.
The second there is a threat to this, either by someone in their team or an outsider looking to invade, you will immediately notice a change in the boxer’s disposition. Call it a switch. Or a souring. It’s for this reason they often choose to be away from family and friends in such moments, despite the fact that ordinarily – that is, every other day of the year – these same people will be sources of company, comfort and strength for the boxer. It is also why, again in my experience, boxers and trainers do all they can to keep the television cameras away, as well as the “whip” and even the officials, unless it is absolutely necessary for them to enter.
For most except the boxer, the atmosphere in a changing room can be a strange one. It is so removed from everything we know and understand, as non-boxers, that it can create in some an outpouring of nervous energy or a need to somehow validate their presence in the room. Some occasionally panic when a boxer, or the room itself, goes quiet, for example. They may then feel the need to fill the silence for fear it will be interpreted as something uncomfortable or ominous. Yet the truth is, the boxer must always lead and if it’s silence they want, it should be silence they get. Always.
That, on fight night, is usually something easy to arrange. Because for the most part it is they, the boxer, who will be in control of everything by then, including the atmosphere of the changing room, and rare is it they have to entertain in that room, that most sacred of rooms, anyone whose face they would rather not see or whose voice they would rather not hear.
And yet, whereas friends and family members can easily be controlled and adhere to strict protocol and boundaries, the same cannot be said for television and the demands of those broadcasting the fight on the night. Increasingly, in fact, we have seen more and more boxers allow interviewers into their sacred space just minutes before they are due to walk to the ring, the purpose of which, on the face of it, appears a naïve attempt to garner last-minute insight before the first bell rings.
However, ninety-nine times out of a hundred there is of course no such insight to be found. Instead, what you will tend to see on your television screen is an interviewer ill-equipped to utilise the kind of access they have been granted, as well as the face of a boxer who would rather the person holding a microphone disappeared altogether. That’s nothing personal, by the way, but merely a reflection of the boxer’s mindset at that very moment. It could be the boxer’s best friend, or his own mother, for instance, and his reaction – or non-reaction – would still be the same.
After the fight, well, that’s different. After the fight, a boxer, especially a winning one, has no limit to the things they want to say and the familiar faces they want to see. That’s when they come alive. That’s when they return to being human. That’s when it’s safe to approach.
Yet to approach and unsettle them before the fight smacks of a lack of understanding. It seems the decision and behaviour of people who haven’t been in that situation themselves, either as boxers or bystanders, and therefore don’t understand the dynamic at play, nor the importance of maintaining that dynamic from the point of view of the boxer.
Also, would anyone really miss these interviews if they never happened? Take them away, save the boxer an unwelcome intrusion, and in their place suddenly there is again a bit of mystery and a sense of the unknown; two underrated and underused concepts when it comes to selling fights, or pretty much anything, these days. As hard as it is to fathom in 2023, we don’t need to know everything about everybody. We can sometimes just wait and see – patiently.
Indeed, interviewing a boxer beforehand is tantamount to asking a filmmaker what their film is about moments before it premieres at a packed cinema. It is a move inspired by impatience and a constant need for content or noise or stuff. It is, particularly in the wrong hands, content for content’s sake; a party nobody invited wants to attend.
Access, I understand, is something the world craves, but, equally, we don’t need everything spelled out to us. Moreover, are artists, boxers included, not allowed to work in silence anymore? Must we know everything, or try to know everything, before it happens? Must the pursuit of viral content be so strong as to invade even one’s most private and sacred moments?
The answer, sadly, appears to be yes. However, the correct answer, and one I have heard yelled plenty by either boxers or trainers in changing rooms over the years, is in fact this: “Get out!”