There is no other sport built on such great contradictions 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. It is a conflict without an end or answer that has appealed to audiences for as long as morals have rejected it, leaving it in a compelling gray area where it is impossible to reconcile the right from the wrong.
It can make boxing hard to justify at the best of times, when every great act of triumph or tragedy is open to caveat. At other junctures in its history, it has regularly reduced the sport to something verging on irredeemable. Another one of those eruptions occurred last week when Daniel Kinahan, by now an ubiquitous influence at boxing’s highest echelons, 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, his brother or his father. Shortly after the sanctions were imposed, Tyson Fury’s promoter, Bob Arum, claimed he had paid an amount no less eye watering to one of Kinahan’s companies owing to the Irishman’s role as an advisor to the heavyweight champion. Kinahan, who has cultivated a Robin Hood-like reputation among a staunch and large group of boxers, has no criminal convictions and has always denied any wrongdoing.
With the cloak of complicity removed, boxing sputtered into the furious process of back-peddling and hand wringing it has had plenty of opportunities to perfect. Promoters who have previously negotiated fights with Kinahan pursed their lips and pledged to distance themselves. Governing bodies insisted no such relationship had existed in the first place. Meanwhile, many of the fighters who’ve fronted the campaigns to supposedly clear Kinahan’s name and smear the allegations against him as media fiction fell silent.
But of course, the accusations against Kinahan weren’t secret when he co-founded what is now one of boxing’s biggest management companies in 2012. Nor could there be any illusions about the danger his presence entailed when assassins disguised as policemen entered the Regency Hotel during a weigh-in in Dublin and opened fire. In fact, other than a few brave journalists whose insistence has been met with harassment and threats, the loudest response to Kinahan’s increasingly powerful and public role within boxing had been the voices of support, often with designs on rewriting history. It has been sportswashing in its clearest form, insidious and orchestrated to such great effect that world champions publicly thanking a fugitive barely provokes surprise.
There has never been a moral arbitrator in boxing, nowhere for the buck to stop or power to be held to account. Nobody is unwelcome at the dinner table so long as they agree to break bread. Kinahan would not have been able to cultivate such an indulgent sanctuary within the sport had its cut throat machinations not already left so many desperate for refuge. Deserving fighters from society’s harshest corners are fleeced and forgotten, ulterior motives outweigh honesty, and bias betrays what should be level playing fields. When escape is presented through that gauntlet, it is easier to understand why boxers have been so ready to grasp a helping hand, no matter the blood supposedly attached to it. It begs the question: how sorry and remorseless must the boxing business be for it to be able to make a hero out of Kinahan?
It is a shocking reality but hardly a revelation. Such murky figures have been seized on boxing since its inception and the horror of the present is written into the past and glamorized in Hollywood scripts. It is a tale as old as time that seems destined to repeat itself without ever learning regret.
When Tyson Fury and Dillian Whyte walk out on Saturday night for one of the biggest British heavyweight fights in history, they will illuminate Wembley and cast a shadow over those silhouettes lurking on the fringes. But as ever, just getting to this point will have revealed as much about boxing as the punches that are yet to be thrown.