Oct/Nov 2004  •   Spotlight

Something Pure

by Fleur Chapman

The big feller was detained in the secure unit after eleven Monday night, quite a bit behind schedule. His reputation went before him of course, so they sent in the heavy mob. They aren't that daft are they? He didn't disappoint, either. Came out swinging and roaring like he'd always done. Giant haymakers, left hooks, right hooks flying this way and that. One landed right on the button, too, and bingo, this lad was flat out, sparko.

It would take more than a squad of goons and a few restraint techniques to make old Paddy come quietly. But they were hurling themselves on him, one after the other, no respite, and eventually they had him pinned. The white coat was trying to talk him down, and in the end they jabbed him with the elephant gun. It still took a while, mind, before he was subdued. In a mad way it was one of his best fights for years, and a passer-by, a neutral spectator if you like, might have enjoyed the action. Apart from the noise he was making: half bellow, half moan, like a bull in the ring stuck with dozens of those darts, waiting for the mercy blow.

Me, I thought it was a terrible thing. A sad, undignified way for a dignified man to go down.

Paddy was the proverbial contender, gallant loser. He was noble in defeat, had a huge heart. People chuck those phrases around like confetti nowadays, but applied to Paddy, they really meant something. He would have to be half dead before he'd go down, and in the end that pride helped to do for him. He had a massive punch, and if he hit the target, then it was Goodnight Irene. That's how he beat the number one challenger back in '78, how he almost became light heavyweight champion of the world a year later. Almost, so close, but that Rodriguez feller was light on his feet, knew how to bob, weave, dance about a bit. He saw it coming just in time, twisted round so the blow connected at maybe 70 per cent and took an eight count till the stars went out and the bells stopped ringing.

He bided his time, worked away patiently with that jab, till he wore Paddy down. Then let loose with a few flashy combos, shaded it on points.

That was Paddy's nearly night, his almost moment of glory. But although he came pretty close a few more times, the top guys all had his number. Ride out the fire storm, then jab away and close out. That was the formula. And to tell the truth, it was a sure fire winner. The jab, you see, it saps the strength. Just a little with each blow, but over the course of a fight it does more damage than your powerful right, your uppercut. And over a career, a lifetime...

Yeah, Paddy is punchy, but that doesn't make him less of a man in my eyes. Some of the time you can hardly tell there's anything wrong, and other times he's gone, away. That bewildered look that says he's searching for something, something important. The right word, perhaps, or a memory to hold onto. It's sad to see, but there's something beautiful in that look, something pure.

When he hung up his gloves, Paddy did the usual, bought a nightclub, ran a string of doormen. All too predictable, how it looked set to make a mint, then fell apart around him. Bad advice, I was told, but your man Banksy heard about some sort of trouble with the law, one too many run-ins that got him closed down. It doesn't really matter. What counts is that in the end, it all went belly-up.

But it wasn't the big disasters that really hurt. Financial ruin he could brush off with a shrug of those broad shoulders. "They can knock me down, Frank, but I get up again. I always get up," he'd say. Then he'd nod to himself, like, and jump back into the fray. Same thing when his ma and pa went. Underneath all that muscle, that brawn, he was a fragile man, just like the rest of us. But he had this ability to weather the blows, keep on going, even if he was carrying extra weight.

No, it was the little disappointments that got to him in the end. Finding out a friend, an associate, had done the dirty in some business deal. Getting his access visits to the kids cut back to twice a month. My God, he doted on those children, missed them like hell, but even worse was seeing the small, satisfied glint in Elaine's eyes.

And the fans, the people. Maybe their blows stung the most. Feeling the adulation, respect, love even, turn bit by bit to indifference and contempt. A thousand little hits, each of them wearing him down a tiny bit more. Stories in the tabloids about the "thick Mick." That's when he gave up altogether, I reckon.

So now he lives in some disheveled old doss house of a flat, when he's not inside, in the nick or a lock-up ward, more likely. And these days, when he's gone, he's really gone. Away in another world entirely. That bewildered look is there most of the time now, truth be told. But I was his corner man for seven years, and I still see something beautiful, something pure.