There is no other sport built on contradictions as great as boxing, where unimaginable bravery leads to indefensible brutality; where the spirit displayed in the center of the ring has always been corrupted by those who profit from the shadows beyond. It’s an endless conflict or response that has drawn audiences for as long as morals have shunned it, leaving it in a compelling gray area where it’s impossible to reconcile right and wrong.
It can make boxing hard to justify at the best of times, when every great act of triumph or tragedy is open to warning. At other times in its history, it has regularly reduced the sport to something almost irredeemable. Another such rash occurred last week when Daniel Kinahan, now a pervasive influence at boxing’s highest levels, was sanctioned by the US Treasury for being the alleged leader of a cartel responsible for “smuggling deadly narcotics.” to Europe”.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has offered rewards of up to £3.8m for information leading to the arrest of Kinahan, her brother or their father. Shortly after the sanctions were imposed, Tyson Fury promoter Bob Arum claimed that he had paid a no less staggering amount to one of Kinahan’s companies because of the Irishman’s role as an adviser to the heavyweight champion. Kinahan, who has cultivated a Robin Hood-like reputation among a large group of die-hard boxers, has no criminal convictions and has always denied any wrongdoing.
With the cloak of complicity removed, boxing sizzled in the furious process of betrayal and hand-wringing that it has had plenty of opportunity to perfect. Promoters who previously booked fights with Kinahan pursed their lips and vowed to distance themselves. The governing bodies insisted that there had been no such relationship in the first place. Meanwhile, many of the fighters who spearheaded campaigns to purportedly clear Kinahan’s name and smear the accusations against him as media fiction have remained silent.
But of course, the accusations against Kinahan were not a secret when he co-founded in 2012 what is now one of the largest management companies in boxing. She also had no illusions about the danger posed by his presence when hitmen disguised as police officers entered the Regency Hotel. during a weigh-in in Dublin and opened fire. Indeed, apart from a few brave journalists whose insistence has been met with harassment and threats, the strongest response to Kinahan’s increasingly powerful and public role in boxing has been voices of support, often intent on rewriting the history. It has been a sportswear wash at its most overt, insidious and orchestrated to such great effect that world champions publicly thanking a fugitive hardly provokes surprise.
There has never been a moral arbiter in boxing, no place where money stands still or power is held accountable. No one is welcome at the dinner table as long as they agree to break bread. Kinahan would not have been able to cultivate such an indulgent sanctuary within the sport had his harrowing machinations not left so many desperate for shelter. Deserving fighters from the toughest corners of society are ripped off and forgotten, ulterior motives trump honesty, and prejudice betrays what should be a level playing field. When the escape through that glove is presented, it’s easier to understand why boxers have been so willing to grab a helping hand, regardless of the blood supposedly attached to it. It begs the question: how remorseless and ruthless does the business of boxing have to be in order to make a hero out of Kinahan?
It is a shocking reality but hardly a revelation. Those shady figures have taken over boxing since its inception and the horror of the present is written in the past and exalted in Hollywood scripts. It is a tale as old as time that seems destined to repeat itself without ever learning to repent.
When Tyson Fury and Dillian Whyte step out on Saturday night for one of the biggest British heavyweight fights in history, they will light up Wembley and cast a shadow over those silhouettes lurking in the fringes. But as always, getting to this point will have revealed as much about boxing as the punches yet to be thrown.