By Morak Babajide-Alabi

If you are a boxing or wrestling fan, you will be familiar with the pre-fight hypes and publicity. It is not unusual for boxers or fighters and their promoters to do some out of the ordinary things in their bid to publicise fights.  I am usually enthralled when the boxers/wrestlers look menacingly at each other, eyeball to eyeball, toe to toe, breathing hard as they try to intimidate each other

To be honest, it is not only about intimidation, but also publicity gimmick to sell out the fights arenas. The explosive the weigh-in sessions are the more interests is whipped up prior to the main fight. The boxing legend, Muhammed Ali was reputed as the greatest sports showman in history. He talks his opponents down before fights and thereby winning a psychological edge over them.

In fights with so much at stake the individuals involved try all the gimmicks in the books to bring attention to them. For fights to sell arenas, fans must “sense” that it would be explosive, rough and skull-crunching. Apart from this, the fighters believe (maybe wrongly) that the more aggressive you are towards your opponent, the more chances you have to win the first step of the fight – the psychological war.

If you are a fan of Anthony Joshua, the current unified world heavyweight boxing champion, you would definitely have read about what happened between him and his next opponent, Jarrell Miller. It all went down in New York at the press conference to announce the June 1 contest for Joshua’s WBA ‘super’ and IBF titles. Although the fight is still months away, we had a raw taste of what is coming when Big Baby Miller caught Joshua off guard.

What Miller did at the conference was to send a signal to Joshua that he is not a pushover. In boxing or wrestling, fighters do not have to be provoked into doing silly things. There are so many weigh-in sessions that have degenerated into brawls. This is the life of boxers and wrestlers. They live on pumped up adrenaline that makes them think they are infallible.

This is the world of sports. But nowadays, there is a thin line between the reality of sports and politics.  The world leaders are sparing each other for fights. The United States of America calls out Russia; Israel makes Iran very hot under the collar, while India breathes down the throat of Pakistan.  It is a cycle of harassment, intimidation and arm twisting tactics.  Depending on what side of blocs the leaders belong to, they line up to condemn each other. Only diplomatic etiquettes have restrained the leaders from exchanging physical blows when they encounter each other.

Imagine Iranian President Hassan Rouhani without the dignity of diplomacy alone in the same room with Donald Trump of the United States of America.  The brawl between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury would be a child’s play compared to what Rouhani and Trump would do. Close your eyes for a minute and visualise the Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko in a cage. Let your imagination play the game.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. While old wounds are festered and left to rot, arch enemies, on the other hand, are surprisingly making up. It is noteworthy that some hitherto sworn enemies have turned the table around and now describe each other in flowery and flattering words. This has de-escalated many situations.

Last week Trump and the North Korean Leader Chairman Kim Jong Un met at the Hanoi city of Vietnam. It was a well-publicised meeting in follow-up to one held last year in Singapore. The first meeting in June was regarded as a great success by Trump despite the fact that no concrete resolution was reached on the Korean Peninsula crisis.

The more concerning issue of disarmament of the North Koreans nuclear weapon was glossed over. The two were too besotted with each other and were more concerned with the historic handshakes in front of the camera than sorting out the main issues, such as human rights etc. We could argue that the background to the meeting had featured a few consensuses here and there. The destruction of a few of the Koreans nuclear plants was a prerequisite to the hosting of the meeting.

To Korean diplomacy observers, the meeting was a disappointment. They argued that the only thing achieved was the legitimisation of Jong Un. Trump was accused of failing to learn from the history of North Korea and US dialogues. Professor Ryu Yongwook, of International Relations, National University of Singapore said: “Remember, despite all the meetings and negotiations since the beginning of 2018, North Korea has not yet made a single meaningful step toward denuclearisation”.

The world waited with bated breath for a follow-up meeting, hoping for better success. In his characteristic manner, Trump whipped up much publicity for the meeting. At every opportunity, he stated his country’s readiness to meet up with the North Korean leader.  Jong Un also in his New Year message had stated his desire to shed the image of the rogue state by stopping nuclear tests that he is noted for.

A meeting between these two is always a box office show. So it was quite an effort not bait eyelids as every second of the event is crucial and cannot be missed. The two are heavyweights in their own rights. In one corner was Trump – the leader of a free country while on the other side was Jong Un, a successor in the line of autocrats in a communist country.

For the North Koreans, this meeting, like the first one between the two was a key to an improved fortune and future development of their country. While for Donald Trump, there was desperation for the world to believe that he has achieved what his predecessors tried but failed in the Korean region. This is understandable, especially considering the fact that his Presidency has continued to move from one controversy to another.

It is not surprising therefore that the meeting did not end as expected for both parties. The two are hard nuts and failed to crack each other. Jong Un is not used to being dictated to, while Trump is a deals man who would use any tactic to win. While Trump was pushing for full disarmament, Jong Un pulled out the trump card and demanded that full sanctions be lifted on his country.

This is a smart move on the part of the Korean leader. If Trump had thought Jong Un would be a walkover, especially with the flowery words he had showered on him, he was disappointed. The North Koreans did not yield their ground as they wanted to seize the opportunity of an “irregular” US administration to gain as much ground as they could at the earliest time.

The Trump administration has been accused of not really interested in the Korean peace, but more concerned with stopping Jong Un using his nuclear heads that can travel to the US. Now the peace meeting has technically been called off no one knows the direction North Korea will be travelling next. Will Jong Un go back and continue in the “family” tradition? Or will he turn a new leaf? The peace process was an opportunity for the US to rehabilitate this “rogue” leader and make him conform to world standard. But Trump once again has failed to get a deal.

As written for the Diaspora Matters column, Sunday Vanguard March 3, 2019.