In a week where the Sunday Times finally published a damning critique of the government’s preparation and handling of the Coronavirus pandemic – naming Boris Johnson personally and thus directly speaking to and holding power accountable – I caught up with Mohamed Mimoune for a piece which carries the same rebel attitude; for an exiguous, echo-rearticulation of the same bold sentiment, which, whether power in our pugilistic context ever reads or not, can serve as a proud, indelible testament, similarly giving a voice to one also betrayed and unfairly taken advantage of.
Unlike Boris Johnson’s, or the brave, embattled staff of the NHS, Mimoune’s exacting front line location was the black-matted, yellow-roped ring of Bethnal Green’s York Hall. In front of a capacity crowd, populated and buttressed by the standing, passionate, partisan, vociferous multitude of opponent McKenna’s traveling Irish support, this Golden Contract semi-final fight went the full 10-round distance at a compelling, ferocious pace. There were no official knockdowns, yet McKenna tumbled on several occasions; there was blood, from McKenna’s right eye, swelling, upon the face of Mimoune, and several warnings directed at the French fighter to keep his punches up. As the final bell sounded, the instinctive reaction of both men told the story of the contest: Mimoune ran to the corner, ascended to the second turnbuckle and raised his hands to the buoyant crowd, emboldened by feelings of expected victory. McKenna, initially chastened, was then held aloft and also raised his hands in celebration.
Matthew Macklin’s ringside scorecard totalled the fight at 98-92, Mimoune. I had the score 97-93 to Mimoune, generously giving McKenna the second round, unlike Macklin. As the official scorecards were read aloud – 97-93, 96-94 and 96-94, close but perhaps narrower due to home advantage – the result seemed a formality. Yet as Tyrone McKenna’s name was announced in shock conclusion as the winner, the mood visibly shifted. The referee, Victor Loughlin, bore a stupefied expression and articulated his eye-raising confusion in protestations directed at the ring announcer. The McKenna camp applauded, and Mimoune walked around the ring with his arms extended perpendicular to his body, his post-fight smiles and bonhomie replaced with a look of nonplussed astonishment, pleadingly to anyone sat at ringside who could meet his eye. So just what was going through his mind as he stalked the ring in this manner?
‘When McKenna’s hand was lifted, I was shocked and angry. It is not possible I said to myself. How can it be like this when I hit him for all 10 rounds? McKenna took a lot of blows during the fight and whilst he didn’t go down, he was hurt several times and nearly knocked out whilst stood upright.’
There are many reasons why a fighter may feel, or indeed actually be, on the receiving end of a poor (less slanderous euphemism for corrupt) decision. These can involve cosy relationships between judges and promoters, between judges and the rarefied personnel at the upper echelons of the various sanctioning bodies, or through pressures implied by various television companies; all of whom are capable of subtly buying a judge’s complicity through the funding of a comfortable international lifestyle and regular ringside tickets to ‘the big dance’. This is not overt bribery, but it’s hardly principled or virtuous, unless of course your principles are founded upon venality. (There is also, of course, the possibly of gross human incompetence.) But then in a world where moral fortitude would likely have you sitting and watching from home, how would you respond…? When the money generated per fight is not fixed but fluid and based upon sales, fighter popularity and advertising revenue, is it any wonder that the larger earners, whose pull lines the pockets of all those associated, and to a moveable, changeable degree, receive such favourable treatment? Though whilst these were musings for a separate time, they continued to work the background of my consciousness throughout our discussion, and I was intrigued to find out the explicable reasons Mimoune attributed to this injustice:
‘I think it was all towards having two British men in the final, especially with all the money that would be behind that. The whole world saw this incredible injustice. Even the fans in England watching did not want to see McKenna in the final. They wanted to see me fight and to try and win this tournament because I gave them a magnificent show.’
With the world now on lockdown and experiencing what is tritely and ubiquitously being referred to as either ‘strange’ or ‘unprecedented’ times, it did feel unusual to then converse on future plans. As are many, Mimoune is keeping in shape by working out in his garage. His coach is sending him programs and he has this spacious room sans voiture and equipped with all the apparatus he needs. But in a future where lockdown restrictions have been lifted and a sense of normality resumed, where would he – as the former IBO world super lightweight, EBU European, EBU European Union and France welterweight champion; 32 years old, a southpaw, and with a professional record of 22-4 – now like to go from here?
‘Josh Taylor vs Mimoune would be a great fight for the British fans. I need big fights. I have never picked or chosen opponents, so it is up to MTK to make these kinds of fights. I became champion of Europe against the very good Sam Eggington, in the Manchester Arena in front of 15,000 people. I need these big nights and these big events. I am ready for whatever and whoever at super lightweight.’
‘If McKenna wants me to fight him again, it’s not a problem. For a lot of money, I will take that fight again, no problem. McKenna will never be the same boxer again because of the blows he took from me in our last fight. All the blows he took to his body. I’ve already done half the work for Davies.’