Proud as Punch
by David J. Baird
The other night I watched a TV documentary about the origin of the Olympic Games which featured two muscle-bound heroes slugging each other with nasty-looking leather straps on their fists.
The loin-cloth clad competitors were in for the kill - literally! They were not content unless they drew blood...lots of it, and knocked their rival totally senseless.
Centuries later, the sport of boxing progressed from a primeval bare-knuckle contest to a gloved match.
I'm not sure when the first men donned boxing gloves - and amateur boxing as we know it today was born.
Probably, in the notorious US boxing tents where seedy promoters invited members of the audience,usually the worst for wear for drink, to try to knock down the travelling champ.
It was a cash competition, and the promoters made a fortune as their "champs" sent their challengers reeling out of the make-shift rings.
Or, should I say staggering - as the sluggers from the audience,usually on a dare from their friends, were usually whisky-sodden!
Anyway, the boxing tents gave way to halls where promoters were able to pocket even bigger pickings as audiences grew larger.
The amateur slug-fests became so popular that it was only a matter of time before boxing became fully professional.
I was fortunate enough to meet perhaps the most famous of them all - Muhammad Ali - but I am jumping ahead in my story.
My introduction to the world of pugilism was as a young reporter in South East London.
My editor told me that a young bloke with the ideal name for boxing, David Proud, was punching his way from success to success in the amateur league.
I remember entering a sweaty gym in a less than salubrious part of London where I saw a good-looking young man, with a head guard,working out with his trainer.
The guy sure lived up to his name, darting his head,ducking and weaving ... and throwing punches left,right and centre. His jabs to his sparring partner's ribs were lethal.
During a break, I got out my notebook, and asked Punch,who took off his guard to reveal a mane of unruly blond locks, what his future ambitions were.
His trainer interrupted: "Dave-you don't mind me calling you Dave? - it's tough out there."
Punch nodded in agreement.
The trainer continued: "David Punch is a young welter-weight - and, I reckon, one of the most promising in Britain.
"He has loads of amateur titles under his belt," he added, pointing at the rows of trophies inscribed with Punch's name.
"Will David turn professional?" I asked.
The trainer hesitated: "As I told you, it's a very hard world-only the very best make it. "I reckon David has the talent. He's a natural. You saw him working out?"
"He looked good to me," I agreed. "What is his ranking as an amateur?"
This time, David Punch answered: "I'm climbing the ladder fast," he replied confidently.
"But, I have to keep on my toes all the time...and work out as much as I can."
Punch worked part-time jobs, in restaurants as a waiter mainly, when he wasn't in the ring.
He confided that, although he had a girlfriend, he had little time to socialize.
His trainer said: "To get anywhere in this world you have to practice your feet off.
Work continuously on those uppercuts, jabs, ducking and weaving ... until you learn to read your opponent's every move.
"Unless you are always one step ahead in the ring,you don't survive.
"David is 19 but learning quickly.
"He has won the last 14 of his 15 bouts - and should turn pro soon."
I chipped in with the remark: "Well, he's certainly got the right name for boxing: Proud!"
They both laughed.
The trainer commented: "Yeah-he may be named Proud...but he ain't a cocky sod.
"He knows he's got a long way to go before he reaches the top - but I'm confident he'll be a British welter-weight champ."
Then, it was time for Proud and another sparring partner to get back in the ring for another 60-minute work-out.
I left the gymn with Proud dancing around his opponent, jabbing away furiously.
I felt he was on his way to becoming a young champ.
My editor was pleased with my story.
He admitted he didn't know much about boxing, but said: "I didn't realise how hardthese young amateur boxers have to work.
"I thought they just got in the ring and threw a few punches. I didn't know there was so much training involving.
"And how they had to use their heads as much as their feet.
"You are right in saying he's got the perfect name to succeed.
I've already got the headline: 'Proud as Punch'."
I used to check by the gym to see how David Proud was doing, and was flattered to see my article with its big headline held pride of place in the run-down hall.
I never did find out how David Proud did in the boxing world because I migrated to Australia - but I'm sure he turned professional and worked his way to the top of the welter-weight league.
A career journalist, Baird was once one of Australia's best-known show business writers, and wrote the daily column Spotlight for Australia's highest-circulation daily newspaper The Melbourne Sun (now the Melbourne Herald-Sun) for more than five years.
Baird now writes his own blog about the entertainment industry, politics,social issues, and sports news. Catch him at The Rogue Report
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