THERE was a time when Caroline was actually sweet. She would come round, touch your hand, lift your spirits, be nice to your parents (“an old soul,” they used to say), and always leave you wanting more. For a few years, in fact, good times never seemed so good. She made you smile and made life fun, even when you fought.
Then, sadly, Caroline for some reason began to sour. Bored, perhaps, of seeing just you, she started to see other people and soon provided the same service for them. She touched their hand. She lifted their spirits. She left them wanting more. After a while, to both your surprise and disappointment, Caroline became almost unrecognisable. Cheapened, it seemed, by her own desire to be popular and please people, her words no longer carried the weight of old or even much truth in them. Now, whenever you heard them, you rolled your eyes and told her to hurry up and get on with it.
Still, though, you listened to Caroline. You took her back. You believed her lies. You pretended she had remained loyal to you, despite knowing better, and you pretended you weren’t bored of her if only to delay the inevitable silence of letting go.
Yet you accepted, too, that she was sloppier now, both in terms of appearance and time-keeping. If she came round at all, she would come round later than planned, by which point you were either in bed or wishing she hadn’t bothered, and when she tried calling to apologise, you felt justified turning off your phone, rolling over, and pretending you never met.
Now, just to get along, you must be one of the following: with her in public at an event, or drunk, or both. Otherwise, you can’t help seeing her for what she is. A big flirt. An attention-seeker. Someone whose time has passed.
Indeed, to look at her today you’ll find someone reduced to posting bathroom selfies, plugging an OnlyFans account, flogging CBD oil online, flying to the Middle East for “work”, fighting Twitch streamers on Misfits shows, and preaching to people she calls “followers” via basic Instagram haikus. She now fits right in, in other words. She is, like seemingly half the population, grifting and attention-seeking and showing no signs of abating. Which is why her dad, Neil, really needs to get hold of her and bring her back home.
Until that happens, we, the boxing fans, continue to tolerate Caroline and, if in her company, sing and dance to her tune. To hear her, after all, still usually means something good is on the way, even if the wait for it has been punishing and prolonged.
Last weekend, for instance, when waiting for Katie Taylor and Chantelle Cameron to finally enter the ring, the sound of “Sweet Caroline” inside Dublin’s 3Arena was both welcome and annoying, with one’s experience of it influenced entirely by their vantage point at the time. For those in attendance, it seemed to reenergise them and arouse them just enough to ensure they stayed upright. Whereas for others, like me, watching, waiting and wilting at home, it had the opposite effect. To me, horizontal on a sofa, it was foreplay by way of a kick in the balls; correct area but wrong execution.
That’s no fault of Caroline’s, of course, for she is just a name in a song. But hearing that particular name and that particular song at around 11 o’clock on a Saturday night does not have the same impact as it would if heard during an afternoon at football, or rugby, or when watching any other sport that has over the years lured her away from boxing and sold to her the perks of a polyamorous relationship. It is, by that time of the night, an infuriating reminder of just how backwards boxing is as a sport and why it has fumbled Caroline, its first love.
At 11 o’clock you need something special to keep you awake and neither Caroline nor many of the fights we wait for can be considered that anymore. Even Taylor vs. Cameron, despite its undoubted excellence, was a test of one’s resolve, and typically, in support of a fight like that, you will find an undercard which only further tests this resolve; asking you throughout, “How much do you really want to watch the main event?”
Thanks to the likes of Matchroom, the event experience in the UK has never been better and there is something to be said for the part Caroline herself has played in that. However, a private party enjoyed only by those in attendance kind of negates the effort to sell the virtues and appeal of boxing to a wider audience. Meaning, it’s all well and good having fun in the arena but if half the audience at home are either asleep, watching Match of the Day, or irritated by the sight of you having fun, something has perhaps gone awry.
What’s more, I found that the double-header involving Taylor vs. Cameron and Devin Haney vs. Vasiliy Lomachenko last weekend carried an issue going into it I just couldn’t shake no matter how hard I tried. As exciting as both those fights were, on paper and in reality, my anticipation of them was impacted negatively by a 99.9% certainty that both would go the distance.
That, I’ll admit, is often an issue when preparing to watch a women’s fight, especially when the boxers are at an elite level and well-matched, and one that persists for obvious reasons: female boxers are not as naturally powerful as their male counterparts and two-minute rounds frequently leave them feeling as though they have run out of time. But this expectation was the same before Haney vs. Lomachenko, too, a fight involving two men rarely associated with quick finishes or even finishes, which, as a realisation, forced me to appreciate that much of the beauty of boxing – the real beauty – is found in the potential for drama and the potential for it to all be over in the blink of an eye. That, ultimately, is what keeps tired eyes open and makes the sound of Caroline that bit more bearable. Otherwise, if you are simply watching the inevitable play out at an ungodly hour, having been cruelly teased all night, you start to experience a level of frustration and impatience which only the final bell can remedy. As well as that, if you’re anything like me, you start to imagine a world in which “Sweet Caroline” is replaced by that famous Beach Boys song: “Caroline, No.”