Conveying the sheer brutality and ethical implications of sport’s most decisive moment, Andy’s highly-anticipated debut book The Knockout explores themes, such as male vulnerability, that even non-boxing fans can resonate with.
Emotions that are central to fighters, whether they land a bone-shuddering punch or are on the receiving end of it, translate to the adversities that people face in everyday life.
As Sky Sports’ lead boxing commentator, Andy has covered ample fights where a knockout has, for the most part, sparked either controversy or enthralment. But now, stepping away from his microphone, he delves into a subject that has more layers than what people might think.
“With almost everything that anyone does, a lot is wrapped up in ego; we care enormously about our reputation, our status, and what other people think about us,” Andy said.
“Fighters all say that the worst thing about being knocked out isn’t the physical pain, it’s the embarrassment they feel. So male vulnerability has a lot to do with handling failure.
“It’s like when someone builds themselves up to get a job or promotion, but then it doesn’t happen. How they respond to that is absolutely crucial.”
Speaking with the likes of Ricky Hatton, who famously lost to Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao in devastating fashion, Andy has collated interviews that will not only offer readers a greater insight into these iconic moments, but also give them a different outlook on boxing more generally.
Andy said: “These stories are still positive. Hatton got knocked out twice and had terrible mental health problems, but he managed to move on.
“There’s a reason why the Rocky films are so popular, and it’s not because of the boxing.
“In the book, I used the quote – ‘it’s not about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward’ – because it’s about human spirit; it’s about how you confront fears and respond to setbacks.
“It’s not some kind of self-help book, but I think that, when people read it, they will be surprised at how life-affirming it is.”
With an openness to discuss what is, for most, a traumatic experience, boxers are well ahead of the curve when it comes to relatability. This has lent itself to a deeper look into what a fighter feels during the split second when they get knocked out.
At the tail end of his career, former world lightweight champion Anthony Crolla suffered a knockout defeat to Vasyl Lomachenko in a fight where he was stopped in his tracks and, when the Ukrainian’s swift right hook landed, fell face-first onto the canvas.
But Crolla, recollecting that his head was still clear, could not move his body during that moment.
After speaking with British boxing medical advisor Neil Scott, Andy learnt that fighters will often convince themselves that, despite being unconscious, they were still aware of their senses seconds after being caught by a shot they did not see coming. From a commentator’s perspective, it is vital that these moments are handled with sensitivity and caution, as no one can be certain what will happen next.
This is why a chapter in the book is dedicated to discussions surrounding the coverage of a knockout, especially given that, after he commentated on Callum Smith vs Lenin Castillo – which resulted in an emphatic finish – Andy spoke with Sky’s TV director Sara Chenery about the broadcasting decisions that largely determine how he calls a fight.
He recalled: “[Castillo] was on his back, his leg was twitching and you’re thinking to yourself: Am I watching someone die here?
“There’s often a difference between UK and US coverage. When Hatton got knocked out by Pacquiao, Sara decided to cut away from the American pictures, which were zooming in on Hatton’s face.
“[For Smith vs Castillo] I was working for Sky and next to me was DAZN commentator Todd Grisham, who treated the knockout quite differently to me. I’m not criticising him, but I wouldn’t have said what he said.
“It can feel like the air has been sucked out of the room when someone is in trouble, because you go from wanting to see a knockout to immediately wishing that it hadn’t happened.”
It is not just fighters who have a direct involvement in a knockout, though. Referees and trainers can stop a fight at any moment, which is why Andy spoke to Victor Loughin – the third man in the ring for Jamie Moore vs Matthew Macklin – about what he felt during one of the greatest British title fights of all time.
“Macklin got knocked out cold and, when he’s lying there on the canvas, Victor doesn’t know what’s going to happen; he could be dead for all he knows but, sometimes, you have to be prepared to let fights go on and come to what, in boxing, is a natural conclusion,” Andy said.
“I spoke to trainers and asked what it’s like to have a responsibility where you don’t want to stop a fight too soon but, equally, you don’t want to let it go on too long and see your fighter get knocked out.
“They’ve got to know what their fighter is and isn’t capable of, which is a very conflicting thing both mentally and emotionally.”
Before he ever considered writing a book about boxing, Andy studied classics at Cambridge University, where his academic background gave him the skills that are required to tackle a long-term research project.
“I managed to get the classics in the book, because one of the earliest descriptions of a boxing match is in the 23rd book of the Iliad,” he said.
“There were some funeral games for Patroclus who, before he got killed, was one of Achilles’ warriors, and the book describes, quite graphically, a knockout that took place in a fight between two Greek warriors.”
With so many components, including one that will appeal largely, but not exclusively to Ancient Greek literary buffs, The Knockout – set to be released on May 30 – promises to give an original take on one of the most divisive aspects of sport.