Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:
Boxing is an ugly thing. The outcome is considered a great success when one combatant has beaten the other into unconsciousness. Old boxers are a sad lot, a compound wreck of irreversible physical and mental damage. The details are well known. Yet no one seems to care all that much. As someone once quipped, “Sure, there have been deaths and injuries in boxing, but none of them serious.”
Underneath this fundamental ugliness is a greater wretchedness still. I think, for instance, of the opening of Ralph Ellison's novel Invisible Man, where a group of young blacks in the South are made to fight one another to the drunken joy of the white crowd in order to collect their “scholarships.” Muhammad Ali summed this ugliness up with his typical forthrightness. “Boxing,” he said, “is a lot of white men watching two black men beat each other up.”
And yet, it compels. Not always. Not even all that often. Not in a way that makes it possible to defend the sport of boxing in any rational way. Nevertheless, it compels. Perhaps it's the simplicity of it, the literal way in which one either beats one's opponent or is beaten by him. Whatever it is, there is no greater testament to boxing at its most compelling than When We Were Kings, the documentary by Leon Gast about the fight in 1974 (often referred to as the “Rumble in the Jungle”) between then-world champion George Foreman and an aging Muhammad Ali.