Every competitive sport is a metaphorical fight. This is illustrated clearly when people talk about sports. Any sportsman who has been out of action for a while with injury is ring-rusty. A score against the run of play might be a bodyblow. A team struggling with superior opposition is on the ropes. Two great tennis players go toe-to-toe. Commentators give a blow by blow account. A decisive play is a knockout. If your opponent runs out of time to press home his advantage, you’re saved by the bell. Most obviously of all, someone who loses gets beaten, and if they lose badly, thrashed. And so on.
Yet the opposite is rarely the case. Boxing commentators rarely refer to good punches as home runs or touchdowns (Chris Arreola once said “in boxing, you can hit a ten run homerun in the last round”: which is another way of saying boxing is nothing like baseball). Why is this?
In any sport, the aim of the exercise itself is arbitrary, and not meaningful outside its context. Kicking a ball into a net or between two posts, knocking a baseball out of the park, running around a track or riding a bicycle around France means nothing much except as part of the relevant contest.
But boxing is not like this. The aim of boxing is not arbitrary, and does not lack consequences. The aim of boxing is so to damage one’s opponent that he becomes incapable of defending himself. This is why boxing is not metaphorical. Two men really do go toe to toe and dish out the punishment until one can fight no more.
Sport is what you do instead of fighting. A boxing match is not a sporting event. It’s a fight.
Yes there are rules, structure and a referee and judges. But all of that is true of duelling, too. And duelling isn’t a sport either. A duel is a fight, like a boxing match.
I think this has a number of interesting consequences. I’ll write about them another time.