Alan Hubbard

Angelo Dundee, the fistic guru who helped mould Muhammad Ali into The Greatest was once asked whether the three-times world heavyweight champion had ever used drugs. "No," he replied. "He only ever gets high on himself."

If only that philosophy had been adopted by fighters that followed then the sport would not have been enmeshed in the opprobrium it finds itself today.

The revelation that British boxer Conor Benn, welterweight son of former champion Nigel, had failed a drugs test which caused his catchweight contest with Chris Eubank Junior to be called off by the British Boxing Board of Control, has resulted in an hysterical assault on boxing itself with renewed calls to get it to be abolished.

Once again it has become an easy target for the doomsayers. Inevitably, Matt Dickinson, senior sports writer at The Times was quick to leap aboard the ban-wagon.

His is a familiar theme. Two years ago he declared he would never again watch boxing. "I could no longer engage in a celebration of brain damage."

This latest episode, which obviously reflects badly on boxing, has prompted another rant from a very readable writer, if something of a sporting snowflake, who under the headline "the whole sport has to be banned" argues "rarely has the case against boxing been made more eloquently than this week by the sport itself.

"For those of us who can no longer bring ourselves to watch two people smash each other in the head, ideally until one is rendered brutally and spectacularly unconscious, it has been an interesting week to see boxing supporters in the grip of a crisis of conscience. 

"Their angst has raised fascinating questions for me why I took a failed a drugs test to make everyone suddenly so fearful about damage, perhaps death, in the ring."

In The Times’ sister tabloid, The Sun, the chief sportswriter, Dave Kidd, labelled boxing "nothing but a cesspit."

Interestingly both newspapers are owned by Rupert Murdoch, a self-confessed sports buff who is on record as saying that boxing sells newspapers. So good luck with that one, chaps.

These are sentiments with which The Sun’s eminent boxing columnist vehemently disagrees, as do I.

A failed drugs test caused the postponement of Conor Benn's scheduled catchweight fight with Chris Eubank Junior ©Getty Images
A failed drugs test caused the postponement of Conor Benn's scheduled catchweight fight with Chris Eubank Junior ©Getty Images

Boxing a cesspit? What evidence is there of that accusation? I would suggest that far from being the ignoble art it is bottom of the league among major sports in wrongdoing which embraces drug-taking (athletics, cycling, both rugby codes, football, weightlifting, even tennis have far more incidents of doping), match-fixing and large-scale corruption. 

Nor has there ever been the abuse by coaches of youngsters as revealed in football and gymnastics.

When do you ever hear of a boxer on a rape charge, a drunken brawl or involved in other nefarious activities? As for racism, still alarmingly prevalent in certain other marquee sports, not least apparently cricket, it simply does not exist in boxing.

It is a safe bet that there are more pulled horses in racing than there are pulled punches in boxing - in the ring or out, while there are more brain damaged rugby players staggering around today than there are punchy fighters.

As I have written before, rarely does a week goes by without a press release from UK Anti-Doping, about another positive test in rugby.

By comparison, doping infringements in boxing are relatively rare. The real worry in the case of Benn is the new allegation that this was not the first time a positive test had been hushed up, and that the promoters of a catchweight contest that was simply a gimmick in gloves had known of the positive a sample for a fortnight.

Moreover, there is the mystery of the B sample, which needed to be requested by Benn’s people but wasn’t.

I am not springing to boxing's defence simply because I have earned a decent living off the back of the sport but I genuinely believe from what I have observed from ringside in well over a half a century that its benefits outweigh the negativity which surrounds it. 

My attitude has always been that while people are still pumping bullets or plunging knives into each other, not to mention bombing, a punch on the nose should be the least of civilisation’s worries.

Savannah Marshall, left, and Claressa Shields are due to fight in a delayed world title fight this weekend ©Getty Images
Savannah Marshall, left, and Claressa Shields are due to fight in a delayed world title fight this weekend ©Getty Images

Despite the current hullabaloo, boxing’s ills are no worse than any other sport, and a good deal better than some.

Interestingly, boxing resumes this weekend with the delayed women’s world middleweight title fight between Britain’s Savannah Marshall and the mighty American Claressa Shields on an all female bill at London’s O2. I am not a big fan of women’s boxing, but I support the right for them to do so if they wish.

Although she flopped, quite unexpectedly, at the Rio Olympics, Marshall, since turning pro has developed into the hardest punching female fighter, who goes under the ring soubriquet of the Silent Assassin.

Here’s a funny thing. If either fighter - or indeed any woman boxer - was to use the same drug, clomifene, which may have ended 26-year-old Benn’s career, it would have been perfectly legal.

For while it creates testosterone and promotes muscle building in men, in women it is permissible as an aid to infertility.

All this talk of banned drugs and banning boxing reminds me of a brief conversation with the Sports Minister Tony Banks some years ago. 

I was sports editing The Observer when I saw that a rival newspaper was reporting that a prominent Member of Parliament intended to process a Bill through Parliament which would ban head punches in boxing as a prelude to abolishing the sport altogether, and that this would have the support of the Sports Minister.

I immediately rang Banks, who I knew to be a boxing aficionado and asked him if this was so.

"Absolutely not," he said.

So I requested an on the record quote.

"On the record?" queried the ever-acerbic Banks.

"Effing bollocks!"