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Fallen heroes and reality checks

On a holiday weekend notable for pomp and ceremony, and for the respect paid annually to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the wars that have done so much to shape our existence, it is somewhat symbolic that what transpired on the night of Remembrance Day and into the early hours of Sunday may come to be recalled as a reverse form of Pyrrhic victory.

For it was at the Fairmont Southampton's Poinciana Ballroom that local hero Earl Derrick Nikki Harley Bascome tasted defeat for the first time as a professional boxer, throwing into question the future of a nascent career in the paid ranks that has more than a hint of stop-start about it.

The contest between Nikki Bascome and the largely unknown Fábio Costa of Portugal, which was wildly and successfully promoted as “Undefeated”, fit the billing of a war — with hardly a punch thrown missing its target during four thrilling rounds of a scheduled six. And, as is the case with such matches, it ended brutally — and sadly for our guy.

Bascome's defeat was not the only one of the weekend, but over a 24-hour sequence when fight night garnered more attention than events that have become established fixtures on the local calendar at this time of year — namely the World Rugby Classic final earlier that night and football's Dudley Eve Trophy final on Sunday — it was comfortably the most compelling.

Kudos to the Bermuda Boxing Federation for the job it has done in restoring relevance to the sport locally after a dormant period in the wake of the glory days of Clarence Hill and Troy Darrell that seem an eternity away.

In real terms, generations of would-be aspirants have come and gone since Darrell's last bout as a professional 26 years ago. Bascome, eight months old at the time, was probably just learning how to walk.

And, by way of boxing analogy, he is still learning.

Which is why in some quarters the promotion of Nikki Bascome events is being critiqued as a bit over the top, leading to unrealistic public expectation placed on the shoulders of someone of relative inexperience owing largely to long spells of inactivity.

It is some weight to carry.

The promoters are not to be faulted entirely here; they will look to make a fast buck as long as there is a market willing to buy into the product on offer.

And they have had a willing accomplice in the newly elected government, which literally made an unprecedented song and dance at the airport over a boxer merely returning home from a training camp.

Helping to drum up support for a big fight — again, literally — while making the island's lone professional boxer feel special is to be commended.

But when nothing of the same fanfare is afforded to medal-laden young athletes on their return from international competition representing Bermuda, you can see how the OTT brigade can be given an open goal to fire away at.

With only seven bouts under Bascome's belt before Saturday since turning pro, and no obvious endgame in sight, you would have to wonder where the justification could be found for $75 entrance fees, double the price for VIP seating, and $49.99 for pay-per-view.

The only obvious rationale is to pay for promises made.

Far from the “promises made, promises kept” slogan that David Burt launched in his defence of the Progressive Labour Party's first 100 days in government — or “promises made, promises not kept” if Michael Dunkley's riposte is to be accepted — pay-per-view ticketing had to be paid for, airline tickets for visiting fighters had to be paid for, the purse for Bascome-Costa had to be paid for, and an exceedingly popular Nikki Bascome clothing line had to be paid for.

Add to that a sold-out Poinciana Ballroom where fight fans paid significantly over the odds — when compared with international standards of similar fare — to see one professional fight between a pair with a combined 12 bouts' experience and a raft of amateur contests, including children's exhibitions.

It is enough to make legendary trainer Angelo Dundee turn over in his grave, envious that this country lacked such concerted support when he was in the corner of a genuine world-title contender in Troy Darrell in the Eighties.

But this is Bermuda. And this is the digital era. When the unlikely is made likely. And when what seems improbable is made probable. By force of will and populism.

Until reality bites.

The first bite sometimes can be the hardest, and Bascome will be experiencing that now — initially from the concussive blows landed by Costa and then from the frank assessment by the man who has been in his corner from the start that Saturday may prove impossible to rebound from.

Allan “Forty” Rego, who was a cornerman and confidante of Darrell's for most of his professional career, told us after the fourth-round stoppage that “as much as you want to come back, you may not be able to”.

That is a stark admission from a man of not inconsiderable gravitas in weighing up the prospects of an athlete who is supposedly on the rise; not so stark when you consider the bigger picture amid a lack of progression in a career that is three months shy of four years old.

For contextual comparison, Darrell had fought 18 times — all wins — in the corresponding time span after turning pro in September 1981; and Hill, albeit having bizarrely waited close to four years after his bronze medal-winning success at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, had 19 bouts under his belt.

Both men had long graduated from the six-round contests that Bascome is being booked for at present — and for a reported five-figure fee that would be considered obscene for a fighter of equivalent experience were he boxing out of the renowned hotbeds of Philadelphia, Detroit or New York — and both were based off island.

But, again, this is Bermuda.

With the “big fish, small pond” mentality well in play here, proportion and expectation are critical elements.

“Where to now for Nikki Bascome?” has to be steeped in sizeable doses of both. For, on his present schedule of boxing only twice a year, he would be in his mid-thirties before it could be reasonably determined that he is ready for a tilt at even a minor title. That cannot be the ambition, though, for at 27 he is too old to be looking to play the long game.

So what is the plan?

Turn pro in earnest or continue to gorge yourself on the largesse of a wonderfully supportive but hopelessly naive support base without ever joining the international conversation?

The answer to that question will largely inform the public so they can better have a feel for what indeed it is that they are watching and paying well above the odds for, and how much they should expect.

If Bascome and his camp are genuinely serious about making a fist of this pro thing, Bermuda cannot continue to be his base.

If, as appears likely, there is no ambition to reach the level of Keith Thurman and Errol Spence Jr in the welterweight division — or even that of Terence Crawford and Mikey Garcia, should Bascome drop down a weight to the 140lb limit as intimated — that needs to be clearly established.

It would then allow for realism to live happily with proportion, and for a cap to be placed on expectation for a public who are rich on emotion but poor on understanding the machinations of the professional fight game.

Beginning of the end: if Nikki Bascome and his camp are serious about making a fist of pro boxing, Bermuda cannot continue to be his base (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published November 17, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated November 17, 2017 at 1:28 pm)

Fallen heroes and reality checks

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