By James Wilkinson @Wilkinsing
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be at the Manchester Arena awaiting the ringwalks of Tony Bellew and Olexander Usyk – the first arena fight I’d ever attended.
The anticipation was at fever pitch. Anthony Crolla has just won a points decision in front of his home crowd, I’d waited for 20 minutes at the bar and a further 15 minutes for the toilet at the only event I’d ever seen where the men seemed to be taking their time in the cubicles, in pairs, ‘powdering their noses’, instead of the women.
I got back to my seat just in time to see the one and only Michael Buffer, climbing through the ropes into the ring. The lights went down and then…
“Where it began, I can’t begin to know it…”
Oh Christ. My ears and body recoiled in unison as I turned to my mate and said “I hate this fucking song.”
“Haaaaaands, touching hands…”
“Creates a fucking atmosphere though”, he confidently replied. He was right. As Buffer improvised various hype statements down the mic like the coolest wedding DJ of all time, something changed within me.
There were cracks forming in the dam of my musical snobbery.
I knew this moment would come and I was convinced that I wouldn’t give in to Mr Diamond’s dulcet tones but the atmosphere was incredible, the volume of 19,000 people packed in tight and singing in unison was deafening and the 5 or 6 pints of very expensive but very shit lager might have helped too.
Oh fuck it.
“SWEEEEEEET CAROLINE! BAH BAH BAH…”
It got me. The dam came crashing down, overpowered by an unexplainable human need to enjoy that fucking song by the time we got to “SO GOOD! SO GOOD! SO GOOD!”
There is some debate about how that song came into boxing. Rocky Fielding claims it. Eddie Hearn certainly played his part and Frank Warren says that he invented music at boxing shows including the use of ‘Sweet Caroline’ at one of his early shows in the late 1800’s.
Whoever is responsible probably still can’t answer why a song which was just a ‘guaranteed to be murdered’ at karaoke can now instantly create an atmosphere throughout an entire arena or stadium. The power of music or the power of context? Probably a bit of both.
If you hear that frustratingly catchy melody in any live music bar, in any city on a Friday night, you won’t, necessarily, be expecting a fight in the following five minutes (depending on the bar) but at a Matchroom show, it’s fight time. And on the other hand, why (Christ almighty, why) did that song, out of all the blokey singalong songs, land just right?
What makes a boxing banger?
It’s pretty straight forward. Pick a song that the crowd relate to on a personal level. People take a lot of pride in things that have come out of their city. It’s probably the reason that they’re at the fight in the first place – someone from where they grew up has made something of themselves and gone on to bigger things. Take Ricky Hatton as a perfect example. He famously walked to ‘Blue Moon’ at the Etihad Arena in front of 50,000 of his fans, a healthy percentage of which would have been Man City fans too. The song combined two passions for those people and built the atmosphere perfectly.
Cheerleaders, marching band, James Brown. Apollo Creed rising from the stage amidst the carnival that was his ring walk. Ok, that’s a film but my point is valid, some theatrics can go a long way for the right fighter – Prince Naseem was theatrical in and out of the ring and that suited his personality perfectly. Although theatre doesn’t have to be cheerleaders and star-spangled banners, Josh Warrington combined theatrics with local involvement when the Kaiser Chiefs played ‘I Predict A Riot’ live as he walked to the ring at Elland Road. 20,000 Leeds faithful watching a gig and a fight simultaneously created an atmosphere that proved unbeatable for Lee Selby that night.
A song will mean more to a fighter and their fans if it has been personalised for them. It helps them to connect to the music and means that no one else can use it. This was exemplified by Mike Tyson when he walked to the ring to face Frank Bruno. The song, ‘Road to Glory’ by 2-Pac was written specifically for the fight with lyrics that describe how Tyson is going to beat Bruno. Considering 2Pac is one of the greatest rappers of all time, that’s quite the accompaniment for a ringwalk.
It’s just got to be a great song. ‘Ain’t No Stopping Us Now’ is a great song. It was first used by Larry Holmes. At the time, it’s significance was more than the music. It’s lyrics were used as a metaphor for the struggle for black equality. With that historic weight behind it, the song was used more recently by David Haye. It has political importance, the lyrics are motivational and reflect the invincibility a fighter needs to feel at exactly that moment… And it’s a BANGER!
I don’t believe that there is a perfect ring walk song because a song can be transformed by its surroundings and it’s relevance to any given boxer but you can’t go wrong if one of more of these factors is in play. Anthony Joshua perfectly combined all four for his ring walk against Dillian Whyte. Stormzy, a Londoner that had recently gained mass popularity turned the ring into a stage and performed his breakthrough hit, ‘Shut Up’, deftly altering the lyrics to include ‘AJ’ right before the grudge match. Locality. Theatre. Personalised. Banger.
On an unrelated note, does anyone want to buy two tickets to Neil Diamond in concert? I may have got carried away.