By Tris Dixon
Nice guys don’t always finish last, but neither do the bad guys.
Anthony Crolla and Ricky Burns shared 12 quality rounds in Manchester on Saturday, in a bout that will be remembered for the spirit in which it was conducted before, during and after.
It was a competitive battle, though the early lead Crolla amassed meant you never needed to watch it from the edge of the seat or through your fingers.
The boxing was classy, so was the behaviour.
The fighters had bumped into one another the day before. No hostilities were exchanged. No tables we overturned. They just took a picture together.
Of course, the purists loved it but had there been needle and a genuine grudge you could have made a case that the fight would have wound up on pay-per-view, or part of a box office card.
Hate sells. We have seen that time and again.
It shouldn’t. Certainly not always, but grudges have a hook that lure in unsuspecting casual fans who believe the amount of hatred one man has for the other will definitely, without fail, be translated into the amount of violence that is witnessed in the ring.
But much of what sets boxing apart from other sports is the people; the fighters.
There are good and there are bad.
The late Jake LaMotta, fondly remembered by so many, was a bad hombre. He mellowed, to an extent, over the years, but never fully, certainly not to the point where you’d place him in the civilised and friendly bracket you would cast Crolla and Burns.
He was from a different era, yes, but like the British duo he wanted to face the best. And he certainly wasn’t all bad.
Many years ago, before I’d raised a pen in anger to write about boxing, I saw LaMotta at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota in upstate New York. This was around the turn of the century.
LaMotta was on his own and a superstar to a kid like me, despite the transgressions that had made him notorious around the globe.
Knowing then that he did not give something for nothing and that he could be surly with fans, I asked meekly if I could take his picture.
“Don’t you want to be in it, kid?” he asked.
“I guess,” I shyly replied, letting him know it wasn’t a deal-breaker. He then asked some bystanders if they would take our photo.
He even half-smiled for it.
This could not have been the same LaMotta, surely.
Well, a few years went by and by this time I was working as a journalist. While in New York, I visited Jose Torres and spent the morning with him in his apartment and then called Jake to arrange an interview.
I had fond memories of him from Canastota, you’ll understand. And I also recalled that being broke, having very little to offer and not asking for too much brought out a compassionate side.
He picked up the phone.
I did not say that we had met a few years earlier, just that I was a boxing writer from England and I was in town - actually very close to his apartment, which I didn’t add - and would he be free to do an interview.
“How much money you got, kid,” he asked this time.
“Well, jeez Mr LaMotta. I don’t have much money.”
“Kid, if you ain’t got the money, you ain’t got the money.”
The dial tone clicked. The line was dead. Jake was gone.
I suppose I had been on the boxing beat for about three or four years at this point and it wasn’t the first time I had been asked for money.
Previously, and there was certainly more than one occasion with several fighters, Hall of Fame writer Nigel Collins commissioned me to write an interview for The Ring with Terry Downes, the Englishman who died last week - just a few short weeks after LaMotta.
I phoned Terry ahead of time and arranged to meet him at his house. As I approached his address that day, I called to double check we were still on and he responded positively, with a fee that required payment.
I can’t recall what it was, probably more than I stood to make, but regardless of that, when Downes saw the heap of a car I pulled up in he realised there was not much money in the pot!
He invited me in, though, and we must have spent the best part of two hours together. We stayed in touch for a while afterwards, too.
Downes was affectionately remembered by those who knew him well. But to those who did not know him he could come across as cynical, rude and hard to get on with.
Again, like LaMotta, he was from a bygone era.
Role models were different then. And let’s not forget, role models are required to show qualities that do not just reflect a kindness and generosity of spirit.
They have to demonstrate ambition, desire, heart, fortitude and courage. We want them to be winners and Crolla, Burns, LaMotta and Downes were all winners. They were all champions.
However you like your role models, you can take the worst of anybody and make them a villain or an anti-hero.
But even if there are flaws you can borrow from their best qualities.
Scratch the surface with any prizefighter and you will be able to find some.
Look for good and you will locate it. Seek out faults and they will be there.
Whether you class them as a good guy, a nice guy or a bad guy it doesn’t matter.
To quote Proximo in Gladiator, “We are all dead men.”