World boxing has several ‘governing bodies’ (even after the 1998 merger of the World Boxing Association and the World Boxing Council), but British boxers who hold world titles at the time of writing include Lennox Lewis (heavyweight), Robin Read (super-middleweight), and ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed (featherweight). Other prominent boxers who have become national figures and appear on talk shows include Chris Eubank, Joe Bugner and Frank Bruno.
   Boxing in Britain has for many years been surrounded by negative publicity because of its health risks. With an influential official body like the British Medical Association campaigning for a government ban on the sport, it has been difficult to promote it, for example in schools. Attention focuses on periodic bouts where boxers are maimed or suffer brain damage. The latter has been associated, in American studies, with the effects of dehydration as boxers try desperately to get down to their weights immediately before a contest. In 1990, despite warnings, Nigel Benn was five pounds overweight forty-eight hours before the weigh-in for his fight with Chris Eubank. In May 1998, much adverse publicity was generated by the tragedy of Spencer Oliver, Young Boxer of the Year and defending European super-bantamweight champion, who sustained a blood clot at the Royal Albert Hall in his fight with Ukrainian Sergei Devakov. Despite a public outcry, Tony Banks, the Sports Minister, rejected calls for a ban. Interest in boxing as a spectator sport stems broadly speaking from the upper and lower classes, rather than the middle classes. At the National Sporting Club in London, the audience wear dinner suits and applaud only at the end of each round. At boxing matches around the country, on the other hand, audiences are largely male and working class. Meanwhile, despite qualms about health and safety, women have been pushing to enter the sport. Britain’s top woman boxer, Jane Couch, took the British Boxing Board of Control to a tribunal with a claim of sexual discrimination after it rejected her application for a licence to work as Britain’s first professional woman boxer. The license was finally granted in June 1998, clearly marking a new era for British boxing.
   The sport was also given a boost by Jim Sheridan’s 1998 film The Boxer, in which Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance in the ring without an understudy achieved universal accolades. Day- Lewis was coached by Barry McGuigan, the former WBA featherweight champion, whose official biography was written by Sheridan.
   See also: sport, racism in; wrestling

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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