The Beltline: The exploitation of retired fighters is an example of a lack of compassion and a lack of respect

By Elliot Worsell

IT’S hard to imagine the kind of person who looked forward to, and perhaps enjoyed, the sight of retired boxers James Toney and Donovan “Razor” Ruddock sharing a boxing ring in 2023, but there must have been at least one. After all, there can be no other reason why the fight, which took place on Saturday (November 11) in Jamaica, would happen, what with Toney now 55 years of age and Ruddock even older at 59. Ignore the fact both men are desperate, which is a given, the only real reason a fight like this would ever become a reality is because there is a market, albeit niche and perverted, for it to become one.

That’s not to say there was a legion of boxing fans calling for this fight in 2023 – far from it. But if nobody was paying for a ticket, as well as in this case paying to watch it on FITE TV, we would soon enough see that these fights make even less sense than they already do. For once there is no money to be made from them, what, then, is the point of their existence at all?

With that in mind, the blame should probably be placed at the door of either the organisers or the people who gave the organisers something to organise from the outset: the paying public. Because without being granted access to the kitchen and the fridge, which is chock-full of foods both men have long been advised to avoid, retired boxers like Toney and Ruddock would have a far greater chance of steering clear of everything that has always been damaging for them but never more so than now, with them both out of shape and in their fifties.

Like any addict, to somehow expect them to exhibit self-control when the opportunity to relapse is not only ever-present but encouraged is naïve in the extreme. Indeed, one could go so far as to argue that it is not their job to stop themselves from going back, not when boxing has conditioned them to believe they are forever defined by what they did in the ring as younger men and has them believing the ring can offer the same experience as a time machine.

This, let’s not forget, is all the likes of Toney and Ruddock have ever known; perhaps all they are good for. Never do they feel more alive or young, in fact, than when wearing a pair of boxing gloves standing in a boxing ring. It is, in that sense, a form of body dysmorphia; we see one thing and they see, or feel, something else. In other words, whereas the ones watching it are bummed out by the immense sadness of the spectacle, and worrying about what it means for the boxers’ health, men like Toney and Ruddock are stalling the inevitable passing of time and simply huffing on their own nostalgia in an effort to get high and numb the pain of it all being over.

It goes without saying that this is a dangerous habit, not just for old men in a young man’s sport but for the sport itself. It is dangerous because this is not football, or tennis, where old athletes can still roll back the years doing what is ostensibly “play”. It is also dangerous because an open door for this type of fare sends a message that boxing, as a business, is struggling to let go of its old heroes for fear of them never being replaced.

Certainly, for some fans, that is the appeal of fights like Toney vs. Ruddock. It is, if nothing else, their opportunity to hit the same nostalgia pipe as the two fighters involved and remember when they too were young and hopeful and of the belief that their youth would last forever. In that respect, then, there is perhaps no stronger drug. Such is its nature, it never goes out of fashion. It never gets old.

But of course that still doesn’t mean it should be readily available, nor promoted by people in boxing who should know better. That goes for Triller (the event promoter) and FITE TV, and it also goes for some of the current boxers, legitimate or otherwise, who occasionally call out retired boxers to try to capitalise on both their name and the weakness of boxing fans when it comes to nostalgia.

Idris Virgo (James Chance/Getty Images)

A recent example of this saw Idris Virgo, an untested, inactive British light-heavyweight whose profile was built on Love Island rather than in a boxing ring, call out Andre Ward, the unbeaten former super-middleweight and light-heavyweight champion who has been retired since 2017. Apropos of absolutely nothing, the 30-year-old Virgo, with an apparently straight face, for some reason posted the following to social media: “One fighter I’ll (sic) love to fight on Misfits Boxing would be Andre Ward.” Ward, 39, then answered by saying, “Stop it,” followed by a laughing emoji, to which Virgo, whose last pro fight was in 2021, replied: “I wish I was joking. Seen a few of your fights and I see so many ways to beat you. But it will be best if you stay retired. Wouldn’t want to ruin your legacy.”

Now, had this been a joke, while still not in the least bit funny it would have been easier to stomach, understand, maybe even forgive. However, if, as he wants us to, we take Virgo at his word, then we must accept that he is serious and that he not only feels the idea of boxing someone like Ward is a sensible one but that the fight is one he would win, thus ruining Ward’s legacy. That, as a concept, is unhinged on so many levels it doesn’t even warrant further investigation, yet what should be touched upon, briefly, is how ignorance is becoming pervasive in boxing – from the boxers to those who advise them – and how this ignorance is almost being used as a selling point, or at least an accessible bridge to reach the masses, many of whom are similarly ignorant.

Those with any sense will of course be able to ignore Virgo mentioning Andre Ward, just as those with any sense ignored Jake Paul when he expressed a desire to fight Canelo Alvarez, or when KSI backed himself to beat Ryan Garcia. But how many of these clued-up boxing fans is boxing trying to satisfy, respect, and retain in 2023? Moreover, in a sport seemingly content to neglect its core fan base in favour of peacocking to the ignorant masses, should we even be surprised by the nonsense being both delivered and spouted by its most desperate and popular clowns?

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