InGoodConscience

Bruno's dilemma mirrors the many complex battles of today

Sometimes, when combat sports and the changing world come together, I fear we are fighting nature and none of us knows where it is leading.

Boxing is a regulated sport in which the consequences of legally traded blows may not be known until 20 years down the line.

Mixed Martial Arts, in which almost anything goes inside a cage, almost makes boxing look tame.

Both are on the menu for the Olympic Games. Both now involve males and females - not in the same ring, but the way things are going, that might only be a matter of time.

What is rattling my particular cage this morning?


Former world heavyweight champion Frank Bruno, 54, wants to box again, but British authorities have indicated their disapproval. PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

Two stories, apparently unconnected, have resurfaced. A few days ago, Frank Bruno, former world heavyweight champion, announced on breakfast TV in England that he feels the compulsion to fight again.

Bruno is 54.

He holds the affection of many Britons who pay to watch him as a pantomime "dame" or who contribute to the charities he supports.

He still works out daily, still has a body that his former manager, Terry Lawless, described as resembling something "chiselled out of marble".

That is from the neck down. Inside his head is the concern. It is not just the memory of his last fight in 1996 when he was beaten so badly in three rounds by Mike Tyson that doctors warned that one eye was so severely damaged that to box again would invite permanent blindness.

The danger now would be if (Frank Bruno) sought to fight outside the Board's control. He has talked of the USA, where different states have historically sanctioned what others outlaw.

Now, he wants to take that risk. "I haven't got no choice," Bruno said. "I train every day, I want to get back into boxing. I can't sit down and let these so-called promoters say that their guy beat me in two rounds. It's my job, it's my profession..."

Is this self-delusion? A cry for attention?

Bruno has gone through a well-publicised struggle with bipolar disorder. His mood swings can lapse into manic depression. He has been institutionalised in the past, and he made clear on TV that he feels the medication he has been prescribed is instead destroying him.

"They made me suicidal," he said. "They mess up your head, mess up your clock. You can't sleep. I feel like Superman, I'm going to the gym all the time, working hard - I don't want to end up in Broadmoor."

Broadmoor is a high-security psychiatric hospital, originally known as the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.

We might appreciate that Bruno would prefer the ring to the asylum, but hours after his broadcast, the British Boxing Board of Control made it known that any such application to get his boxing licence will be refused.

The danger now would be if he sought to fight outside the Board's control. He has talked of the USA, where different states have historically sanctioned what others outlaw. But when Bruno refers to George Foreman coming back at his age after a 20-year retirement, his memory plays games.

Foreman was 45 when he came out of retirement (and 48 when that ended for good), but it was after a 10-year absence, not 20 years.

To be sure, an older American - Saoul Mamby - fought when he was 60. Born in the Bronx, a light-welterweight dodging lighter blows, Mamby went to the Cayman Islands for his little piece of mundane (losing) infamy inside a ring.

Hopefully, Bruno can be dissuaded from making such a spectacle of himself. He may have to be content with landing verbal blows on the approved medical treatment for bipolar sufferers.

"They're filling up people with drugs," he said. "They're making them like zombies. The biggest drug dealers in the world are the government, and it's crooked."

Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee has ruled that transgender athletes can compete at the Rio Games without undergoing sex reassignment surgery.

The IOC guidelines on transgender athletes now come down to this: "If you change sex, you will have to have a hormone level below 10 for a 12-month period." That was how Arne Ljungqvist, a veteran of sports medicine in the Olympics, put it to the Associated Press last week.

"It is an adaptation to a human rights issue. We had to review it and look into this from a new angle."

The new angle being the changing global stance, driven from the US, towards gender discrimination. In sport, the former US decathlete Bruce Jenner is now acknowledged as Caitlyn Jenner. And courts have ruled that South Africa's 800m runner Caster Semenya and India's sprinter Dutee Chand are eligible for women's competition.

Fair enough. However, the most disturbing picture I have of these blurred lines takes us somewhere between the world of Frank Bruno and that of the female arena.

I looked back on the video of the contest two years ago between Tamikka Brents and Fallon Fox in a "Capital City Cage Wars" MMA bout in Illinois, USA.

"Boom Boom" Brents ended that three-minute bout with concussion and a smashed orbital bone that required seven staples into her eye socket.

Her opponent, who had served in the US Navy as a man and fathered a daughter, had sex reassignment surgery, breast implantation surgery and hair transplant surgery in Bangkok and presumably passes all the testosterone tests that sports now rely upon.

Brents is a tough lady, but not a happy one. She still feels that it is not a fair fight against transgender opponents. She said on WhoaTV:

"I've fought a lot of women and have never felt the strength I felt in a fight as I did that night. I can't answer whether it's because she was born a man or not because I'm not a doctor. I can only say, I've never felt so overpowered in my life, and I am an abnormally strong female. Her grip was different, I could usually move around in the clinch against other females but couldn't move at all in Fox's clinch."

Anyone who might side with Brents is now deemed to be backward, and outside the law. I suspect it describes me.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 06, 2016, with the headline 'Bruno's dilemma mirrors the many complex battles of today'. Print Edition | Subscribe