Scott Kelly Of Neurosis On Boxing

Gravel voiced post metal icon, Scott Kelly of Neurosis and Shrinebuilder tells Toby Cook about his love of pugilism

Live shots courtesy Maria Jefferis/

My love of boxing comes from my father

My dad was an amateur boxer and he taught me to box when I was really young, like dads do; he was obsessed, in some way, with sharing it with me. I’d head home after school and he’d teach me how to take care of myself and punch people in the nose and stuff. I did a little bit of boys club boxing when I was younger and I was always mystified by it in a strange sort of way. I’ve always found fighting to be really exciting – nothing draws a crowd like a street fight – but beyond that as I stared to get older and wonder why I was attracted to it and why people are attracted to it, I found that I wanted to delve deeper and eventually I started to see some of the parallels between what a professional fighter goes through and what I’d been through as a musician. It seems obvious when you start to consider the amount of dedication and sacrifice that these guys go through in order to perfect their craft. When you see somebody like Muhammad Ali or like Anderson Silva – who’s fighting in mixed martial art’s right now – or Fedor Emelianenko, I mean these guys are so far beyond where people have gone before with the training and the heart of it, you can sit back and you can almost hear the music playing, y’know?

That said, my father and I disagree a lot about boxing

My dad hated Muhammad Ali. My dad’s very right wing and he really thought that Ali was a piece of shit for not fighting in Vietnam and I remember not really understanding why, or how, he could hate this guy who was so obviously amazing – I mean his style, especially at his size, was – and is still – pretty mesmerising. When you look back at old fights, and I do (quite often if I get sick or something I’ll just watch old fights and try and heal myself, kind of like checking out – mentally – and just tripping on Ali, Tyson or Joe Lewis). But, he put the bug in me and it’s come and gone with me over my lifetime and as I settled down it really kind of fell back in to being one of the things that always keep up on; it’s something that I check everyday to see what’s going on and I watch at least one fight a week but often much more.

I don’t watch many fights live

I’ve been to fights, but I mainly just go to the local ones. The only time I’ve ever actually paid money to see a professional fight was a UFC event about five years ago and that was just with a friend of mine. We just decided we were going to do it, so drove down to Las Vegas and did it. But it’s pretty expensive, I mean really expensive, so it’s not one of those things that you do very often – not me anyway!

Speaking of UFC, Mixed Martial Arts is most definitely The Good Shit!

At this point that’s mainly what I’m watching. My first love was boxing and so I mean if there’s a big fight on I still want to watch it, but the thing about mixed martial arts is that it’s much more like an actual fight, there’s not the limitation of only being able to use your hands, so it’s imminently more dangerous in terms of that you can be hit from any angle or have joint manipulation from someone who knows what they’re doing with ju-jitsu. With boxing it’s hard to deny the kind of damage that is done to guys who box for along time and take shots like that to the head constantly, although it is their choice. I know a lot of people who can’t watch boxing anymore because they’ve seen what happens to these guys. I prefer the mixed martial arts because I believe that the damage done is much less long term; the size of the gloves in boxing kind of makes it so that you can get punched 150 times in the head during a fight. In an MMA fight you’re not going to get punched in the head that many times and in fact there’s a lot of one punch knock outs as opposed to knock outs that happen after someone has been beaten senseless.

Sometimes I just see things in MMA fights that blow my fucking mind!

Fedor Emelianenko, he’s like ‘the guy’ right now and could easily be the best professional fighter ever. He does things that blow my mind; I can’t really even understand some of his moves – I mean I can see them, and I can understand what he’s done – but I can’t really understand how he can get himself to the point where he’s able to literally see and react to these things. And he picks up on these little things, it’s weird, it’s like poker, sometimes you see these players that can tell what somebody has in their hand just by the way that they’re holding their hand and the facial expression that they have. It’s the same sort of thing with Emelianenko.

Heavyweight boxing especially has slowed down considerably over the years

The best fights in boxing are happening between featherweight and middleweight, all the best fighters are at that weight. For example, a guy like Manny Pacquiao is a fucking world class, hall of fame boxer, for sure. I do enjoy watching both of the Kiltschko brothers though – because they are very, very good at what they do – but their style is very conservative and all I can think of when I’m watching them is “What would they do with an un-caged, 20 year old Mike Tyson?” Answer? They wouldn’t know what to do, I think they would be in deep shit really fucking fast.

…Although what really killed it was the fall of Tyson

For me that was when heavyweight boxing died, when Tyson fell. The whole time that Tyson was on the rise in America there was this cable network that used to have Wednesday and Friday night fights and it seemed as though – although I’m sure that it wasn’t actually true – but it seemed that Mike Tyson was on every month. It was during that time when he would literally come out and just annihilate the guy he was up against, I mean nobody ever saw such pure rage and skill combined. He was such an enigma, he still is. Tyson has always been the one fighter that has really fascinated me because he’s so intelligent with absolutely no education, he’s this really weird combination of ultimate savagery and at the same time he’s got this aura about him that is unmistakably mystic at times. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched interviews with him but he’ll blow your mind sometimes with some of the shit that he says, he is a unique human being. Everybody wishes that there could be another Discharge – well there can’t be – and I don’t think that there can be another Mike Tyson either.

I have a top six of boxers I admire

I have to put Ali one, Tyson two, Joe Lewis three… but it’s impossible to know who’s best as they weren’t in the same eras, and that’s one of those arguments that you can have with another boxing fan for a long time. I know people that saw Joe Lewis fight regularly who say that he would kill everybody. But god I wish we could see them square off in ultimate match ups; Ali verses Tyson, I mean, amazing!

I was always a big fan of [Joe] Frazier when I was growing up, he was the first guy that I really attached myself to – him and Roberto Durán – but I don’t think they’re the greatest necessarily, because of Ali and Frazier. Durán was one of the better guys of his time but I always just liked him because he looked like he would fucking kill you, all the time. I totally identified with him; he’d come in [to the ring] with his hair all shaggy and looking like he hadn’t shaved or slept in a week.

The last heavyweight that I really enjoyed was Lennox Lewis. I always felt that Lewis was underrated because he was a little bit conservative but I thought that he was just fucking great. He’s one of those guys that, if you want to learn how to box, just watch Lennox Lewis because he is doing it perfectly. He never got wild, he was just like this machine; his jabs were probably the best jab I’ve ever seen in the heavyweight division, his jabs would just be snapping peoples heads back making him a pretty hard guy to get to.

God, I want to see a Mayweather, Pacquiao fight so badly!

But I don’t know if it’s going to happen. I think that Mayweather’s situation is so fucked up that it’s hard to say whether that fight will ever come off, and I think that with all that bullshit that Roger Mayweather pulled, Pacquiao doesn’t really want anything to do with them, I think he’s basically just said, “Fuck you. I don’t need to fight you and I’m not going to”. Which sucks! It’s a fucking shame, it really is, I hope that somebody can make it happen but I don’t really know. It would really take one or both of those guys getting into financial trouble, and I wouldn’t doubt that Mayweather would end up in financial trouble, but I get the feeling that Pacquiao is really smart with his money, and isn’t buying tigers for his front yard and a shark tank for his living room. Floyd Mayweather is about as talented as you could possibly be, and he could very well beat Manny Pacquiao; he could definitely beat Manny Pacquiao, but the best thing about it is that it really is one of those match ups that is… well it is almost like Ali verses Tyson, I mean it would be a really good match. Pacquiao is champion at six different weights, and knocking people out! He knocked out Ricky Hatton! Is Ricky Hatton awake yet!? That was one of the most vicious boxing knock outs I’ve ever seen – he was snoring, literally snoring in the middle of the ring, he was that out. Ricky Hatton was maybe not at the top of his game for that fight, but Hatton is no walk in the park, he’s a fucking tough guy and has beaten the shit out of a lot of people, so I was stunned at that fight – I put money on Pacquiao knocking him out in the seventh round and 30 seconds into the fight I was like, ‘Shit! Fuck!’ The difference in speed was so obvious.

Mayweather is an awesome fighter, but the sport doesn’t need his attitude

I am a wrestling fan so I understand and love the heel, but in boxing, I don’t really know that it’s necessary. I know that it seems like it’s always pushed that way, somebody’s got to be a fucking loud-mouth, like David Haye; that guy’s got a big fucking mouth! He was doing that shit and you just got the feeling that it’s only to promote the fight – rarely does it come off as ‘real’. Now Mike Tyson, when he said shit, it was real. When he flipped out at a press conference and bit Lennox Lewis in the leg and threatened every journalist in the room – y’know, threatened to rape them – that was real. The difference with the Mayweather situation is of course that he is going to be like that because his two male role models are like that.

What else does he know? It’s hard to tell what he would be like without those guys as he obviously has an enormous amount of skill, but, I know that those guys have been teaching him every single day of his life. I think, then, that as fucked-up as those guys are that we have to give them credit for teaching him some incredible skill, because he does have a fluidity to his style that is really rare. In the [Arturo] Gatti fight, he landed three of four hooks, right to the face, straight in a row – he is so rhythmic, the guy has got some crazy, quick twitch, muscle action. Again, that’s why I want to see him against Pacquiao so bad, because Pacquiao seems pretty quick but you don’t really know until you see him against a guy who we know is quick.

Ali will always be the greatest, for much more than just his boxing

Athletes have shied more and more away from politics recently because they know that if they do become involved in political issues they are going to lose money, so I don’t know if there’s going to be another fighter who’s going to come out and make and stand on anything political. Looking back on it now, Ali was much more than just a fighter, he was really a catalyst for change – a lightning rod – the guy went out there and took a lot of heat and a lot of other people didn’t have to because everything was focused on him, and he was strong enough to do it, which is pretty stunning, really.

Shrinebuilder play London’s Scala on April 18. Times Of Grace by Neurosis and The Wake by Scott Kelly are available now on Neurot

More from Scott, Eugene Robinson, Joe Preston et al on Combat Music Radio.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today