The Punch Line
[AN EXTRACT FROM A 22 PAGE FEATURE IN HAYEMAKER BOOKAZINE VOLUME TWO.]
Ever hear the one about the stand-up comedian that went twelve rounds with the world heavyweight boxing champion? No, neither had seven-time BAFTA, three-time Golden Globe and two-time Emmy winner Ricky Gervais, a man in no rush to find the punch line...
“I’ve told him to bring his training kit,” said WBA world heavyweight king Haye, as he prowled the ring on a damp Tuesday morning. The fighter was in the midst of preparing for a November 13 clash with challenger Audley Harrison, and sparring duties had yet to get underway. The five-feet-six, twelve-stone and 49-year-old Gervais would be the first slab of meat sent Haye's way in preparation.
The odd couple would convene inside Haye's secluded boxing gym in Vauxhall, located directly beneath a railway arch. The intermittent roar of passing trains reminded one of that nerve-jangling moment in The Godfather when Michael Corleone ponders when to pull the trigger on a bent cop and a knife-wielding Turk in a deserted Italian restaurant. As Gervais entered the gym that morning, at a tad before eleven o'clock, there's little doubt he could relate to Corleone's indecisiveness, anxiety and crippling sense of foreboding. The screeching trains wouldn't have helped.
Nevertheless, Gervais had pulled the trigger. He'd shown up. Many before him had failed to get even that far, spooked by the threat of sharing rounds with a fighter thirsty for flesh. Kitted out in shades and his customary black t-shirt, Gervais was refreshingly backed by zero entourage and no Don King. He rocked up old-school, as though aware the hollow compliments and backslaps would be redundant in this particular situation. He was about to enter the so-called 'loneliest place in the world', the room where nobody can hear you scream, but everybody can see you bleed. Of course, anybody familiar with Gervais' primitive ring history, would know this wasn't the first time he'd stepped through the ropes. In 2002, Gervais, competing in a higher weight-class, stood gut-to-gut with Grant Bovey in a charity three-rounder, screened live on the BBC. Gervais won by decision. He remains unbeaten, yet clearly haunted, to this very day. “I wasn't scared of my opponent, I was scared of having a heart attack,” explained Gervais. “The fight was totally real and we both took it extremely seriously. Despite that, the end result was something you'd see from two old drunks in a pub. I thought my head was going to burst with the adrenaline rush. I've never felt anything like it. I felt really bad afterwards and a little bit depressed. I wasn't able to sleep - the adrenaline was too much.”
Claiming it was “the hardest thing I've ever done”, Gervais made it to the final bell. He still doesn't know how and he isn't quite sure why he crawled back again for more. Despite obvious apprehensions, Gervais returned with a new regime, fresh appearance and without excess baggage. He's fighting fit again, having shed a commendable 20-pounds since the start of the New Year. Noticeably trimmer and fitter than the 'drunk' that swung for imaginary pints eight years ago, Gervais was ready.
words: ELLIOT WORSELL
photography: LEO CACKETT