By Tunde Odesola
In the sunlight of man’s civility lurks a shadow of beastiality called boxing. Though British sportswriter, Pierce Egan, in 1813, coined the term ‘sweet science’, Jewish-English prizefighter, Daniel Mendoza, stapled the term to boxing in the late 1700s.
However, on Saturday morning when I watched the videos of the 2016 UFC welterweight grudge fights between Irish superstar fighter, Conor McGregor, and Mexican-American mixed martial artist, Nate Diaz, I saw no sweetness. I saw blood, bitterness, beastliness. Boxing’s surname, ‘noble art,’ is also a cast-iron irony just like its middle name, ‘sweet science’.
I daresay two adults, most probably fathers, tearing at each other with gloved fists, ain’t a noble spectacle to behold. Promoted by mega-million spinning bodies like the World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association, World Boxing Organisation and International Boxing Federation, I love boxing, though. I also love to watch its younger and deadlier brother, mixed martial arts aka cage fighting, promoted by the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Nicknamed ‘The Greatest’, Muhammad Ali, and his vegetative degeneration, catalysed by Parkinson Syndrome, epitomise the irreparable damage the ‘noble art’ does to the wellbeing of fighters. Going by the biblical definition of man being the temple of God, would ‘sweet science’, which injures and destroys, be acceptable in God’s sight?
I really can’t stop wondering why two adults, who had no issues with each other, would fight to the death. I had thought it was only among lower animals that might is right. As much as jabs, crosses, hooks and uppercuts feed man’s primitive satisfaction, I think in the name of decency it’s high time man had a rethink on organising fights for money and fame in peacetime. I think the damage done by boxing outweighs the bucks it attracts.
By Saturday night, two awaiting grudge fights had been settled – one in Nigeria, the other in France; but both outcomes were unpalatable to me. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Barcelona FC buff, I must confess. And writing this eulogy to Real Madrid’s superlative 1-0 UCL triumph on Saturday is very, very difficult for me, but journalism teaches me to be fair, objective, truthful and accountable.
In France, two club football powerhouses, Real Madrid FC of Spain and Liverpool FC of England, had engaged in an explosive contest at the St Denis’s Stade de Paris – to determine who goes home with the 2022 UEFA Champions League trophy. Though both teams never openly admitted it, the match was a grudge fight as Real Madrid had beaten Liverpool 3-1 in the 2017-2018 final of the competition just as Liverpool had pipped Madrid 1-0 in the 1980-1981 final. Of the seven meetings between the two clubs before Saturday, Real had won four times while Liverpool had won thrice.
Unlike Nigeria’s wobbly ship of state that is drifting into anarchy, the destiny of the final match was changed from warring Russia to peaceful France after the Kremlin invasion of Ukraine attracted sanctions, making a change of venue inevitable.
How I wish this cup can pass over me, and I be spared the pain of praising a team I notoriously refer to as RealMad. Though I’m yet to fully shake off the 4-0 second leg humiliation Liverpool inflicted on Barcelona in 2019 – against a 0-3 first leg win by Barca – I still pitched my tent with Liverpool because of the rivalry between the inimitable Blaugrana and the never-say-never Los Blancos. Chelsea are another club I despise because of their fans’ noisomeness. Despite Chelsea’s irritating noise, however, I’ll still support the Pride of London against Real Madrid, anytime.
From the very first round of games, I was praying for Real to crash out of UEFA’s most prestigious tournament since Barcelona failed to advance beyond the qualifying round. When Real topped Group D with 15 points, edging past Inter Milan, Shakhtar Donetsk and Sheriff, I was glad they were paired with French giants, PSG, in the Round of 16. It would be enough satisfaction for me if the world’s greatest footballer of all time, Lionel Messi, inspires PSG to dump Real out. But that was not to be, Real sent Messi and PSG out of the competition in a 3-2 aggregate win.
A quarterfinal pairing against Chelsea saw me rallying behind Chelsea, my much disliked team. Chelsea fought gamely like the defending champions they were, but lost 5-4 on aggregate.
So, Manchester City came calling in a semi-final crunch two-legged affair, and I fantasised it won’t be a bad idea if a former Barcelona player and later coach, Pep Guardiola, got me a pound of flesh against the rampaging Los Merengues. But of all Real Madrid’s wins en route to lifting the trophy for a matchless 14th time, the defeat of Manchester City was too much for me to take as the Los Vikingos rose from the dead and turned the tables on the stroke of 90 minutes, forcing the game into extra-time and winning it on 6-5 aggregate.
Former Sunday PUNCH editor, Mr Chiawo Nwankwo, daily needled me with jibes of Barcelona’s underwhelming season, calling my darling team, Barc‘alika’, ‘alika’ being an Igbo name for lizard, and I would respond by saying ‘Ofor’ is greater than the La Liga and Champions League titles put together. ‘Ofor’ is an Igbo market day, but I used its rhyme as a veiled reference to the 0-4 humiliation Barcelona forced down the throats of Real Madrid at ‘BernaBOO’ in a league match in March.
Because my former boss has ceaselessly rubbed in Real’s UCL victory, I came up with a new strategy to ward him off. I sent him a text, it read, “Oga mi, RealMad na yeye team wey never win treble for dem life before when Almighty Barcelona don win six, seven titles in a season.” Never to let any barb from me go unchallenged, my oga wrote, “The 2016-2017 season saw Los Blancos triumph in La Liga, UEFA Super Cup, UCL, and FIFA Club World Cup,” and I responded with citations from football authorities such as Goal.com, which say that Real Madrid has never won a treble. A treble is achieved when a club wins the national league, main national cup (ie FA Cup or Copa del Rey) and main continental trophy (UCL) in a season.
As I battled the pain of Real’s victory, my mind went to Nigeria’s political class. I asked myself if Nigeria’s political leaders were watching the match and doing a mental calculation of how much an 80,000 capacity stadium would generate with fans paying between €690 and €70 – as it’s the case in France – even though some of the seats were freely given to the finalist teams’ FAs. I wonder how successive state and federal governments cannot explore the massive economic potential inherent in sports but can invest in arming the youths for religious and political violence, and dishing out nepotistic Trade-Moni peanuts.
Many thoughtless Nigerian leaders would have excitedly watched the match – ohing and aahing – in the midst of their concubines, and regretting why the final was fixed for the same weekend when primaries were being conducted nationwide. They would’ve been in France to watch the match if not for the primaries.
Surely, the lessons inherent in the Real team would be lost on most Nigerian leaders. I saw all the virtues Nigeria’s political class lack in the Real team. I saw a creative leader in Coach Carlo Ancelotti, a focused and determined captain in Karim Benzema, and a committed goalkeeper in Thibaut Courtois.
I saw the hunger for success in Vinicius, who has raised his game to the galactico level just as Arsenal and Barcelona legend, Thierry Henry, disclosed in a post-match commentary, that Benzema, sometime ago, was caught on camera whispering to Real players not to pass the ball to Vini Jnr because he wasn’t playing well. Blind Nigerian leaders won’t see the lessons.
Published by Tunde Odesola and first published in The PUNCH, on Monday, May 30, 2022.
Facebook: @tunde odesola