IN boxing, as in life, the truth can always be found somewhere in the middle.
Remember this: it’s never as great as the promoter tells you it is, nor as bad as the fan, the detractor, wants everyone else to think it is. Instead, the truth – admittedly, the very thing many seek to avoid – is typically right between those two points of view.
This becomes more apparent whenever there’s a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT, be it a fight, a television deal, a tournament, or anything we’re led to believe will change the game, or blaze some sort of trail, or make unprecedented and ungodly amounts of money for only a few. It’s then hyperbole is cranked to eleven. It’s then the backlash, naturally, races to keep up.
The latest thing to get people talking – promoters peacocking and fans cynically scowling – is the link-up between Matchroom Boxing USA and DAZN, and yesterday (July 18) this climaxed in the announcement of various fighters and fights ahead of the long-awaited launch in September.
The men behind it were quick to herald a new dawn, imploring everyone to join the revolution, while those averse to change, or simply averse to seeing people try and make money, rolled their eyes, shrugged their shoulders and scoffed at the very idea.
Essentially, for every star signing announced, a fan somewhere saw only a B-side in need of a shinier A-side to get them to part with their $9.99 (the DAZN monthly subscription price). And for every ‘monster event’ aiming to revamp boxing Stateside, a fan somewhere visualised empty seats and a desperate plea for more beef.
Only time will tell.
All we know at this stage is that Matchroom Boxing USA and DAZN are going to give it a good old go. Matchroom, arguably the world’s premier promotional company on current form, have more than earned the right to do that, and have also, to their credit, made all the right kind of noises so far.
But, of course, it will need more than noise. In fact, the project’s ability to sink or swim will probably depend on its ability to offer fans quality fights, as opposed to quality fighters (of which they already have a few). For if we know anything by now it’s that fights and not fighters make the boxing world thrive circa 2018, and Anthony Joshua aside, there aren’t many boxers you can attach to this Matchroom Boxing USA and DAZN juggernaut that will make the thing fly without an equal doing the same amount of legwork.
That’s why the acquisition of season two of the World Boxing Super Series is important. If lacking in big names, it will at least promise competition and some clear sense of order and schedule. There will be hiccups and pull-outs, but at least, for the most part, you know what you’re getting with the WBSS.
It’s the others, though, the roster announced yesterday, who will initially be responsible for steering the ship and making sure DAZN doesn’t fall victim to the pitfalls of other boxing-related TV and streaming ventures.
It all starts with Anthony Joshua vs. Alexander Povetkin on September 22 in London, a safe bet, and then the real stuff Stateside will get going, first in Chicago on October 6, then in Los Angeles on October 20.
The line-up, we’re told, will increase and improve in time. But, for now, it looks something like this:
The Promoter’s View: “Thank you so much to Michael Buffer, who we’ve been working with for such a long time. He’s going to be working exclusively now with Matchroom Boxing and DAZN and that’s a real honour in itself.”
The Fans’ View: He’s not a boxer! No, you’re right. He’s not.
Known as ‘The Voice of Boxing’, Buffer’s popular, iconic, and he’s very good at his job, so few will kick up a stink. There will, mind you, be one or two detractors wondering whether Buffer’s pay check, which we can safely assume is substantial, might have been better spent elsewhere – on fights, on fighters, on guys who don’t just tell people to get ready to rumble but actually, you know, do the rumbling.
The Truth: The signing of Buffer to an exclusive Matchroom/DAZN deal shouldn’t matter all that much, nor raise so much as an eyebrow, but it did, and it did so for this reason: Michael Buffer is the most famous American on the Matchroom/DAZN roster and, what’s more, doesn’t usually go for the whole exclusive thing. So that’s a coup of sorts, even if Buffer won’t be getting his hands dirty, or his white suit bloody, anytime soon.
The Promoter’s View: “Now I’m going to welcome one of the best talents, I believe, in world boxing. Every now and again you meet a fighter who you feel has so much potential, but we just haven’t seen him exposed to an audience that can follow this kid.
“He has personality, he has skill, he is a former Olympic captain, a former amateur world champion. He is a two-time world champion. He is the current ranked number one middleweight in boxing right now. He’s going to be challenging for the world title very, very soon.
“This is his coming out party today because this young man is a star and he’s going to show it with Matchroom and DAZN.”
The Fans’ View: ‘Boo Boo’ who? That’s perhaps unfair, but certainly there’s the sense Andrade’s profile doesn’t correspond with his skillset and that the last few years have left him dawdling in the wilderness when he should have been making a lot more noise. (For instance, if tuning in oblivious yesterday, a fan would have been forgiven for thinking Tupac Shakur had been resurrected to convince punters to part with their cash.)
The Truth: A two-time world champion, Andrade, unbeaten in 25 fights, is usually impressive whenever he sets foot in the ring, only he doesn’t do it enough. Moreover, what’s interesting, based on his appearance at yesterday’s DAZN press conference, is that the middleweight also seems quite a character, someone well-versed in the art of talking, selling, flogging his wares. If that’s the case, Andrade, an undoubted talent, could be quite the find.
The Promoter’s View: “I’m delighted to be working with ROC Nation with the WBO super-lightweight champion of the world Maurice Hooker. He’s a fine young fighter who has just won the world championship. He’s got a mandatory defence against Alex Saucedo. It’s a great fight we’re looking to add to our October 20 card.”
The Fans’ View: Hooker’s a good fighter who scored a good win over Terry Flanagan in June. But is he anything more than good? Can he excite? Can he get people out of their seats on fight night? Can he entertain people pre-fight? Those are the pertinent questions. For now, the jury’s out.
The Truth: Of all the imports who have ventured to Britain for world title fights recently, Hooker, 24-0-3 (16), was one of the ones who stood out. Composed, assured, and well-schooled, he controlled Flanagan for most of the 12 rounds they shared in June and never seemed in any real danger of losing. It was sharp. It was impressive.
That said, there are limitations. Maybe not in his boxing ability, which is considerable, but perhaps in the 28-year-old’s ability to project, thrill, sell main events and generate interest. He’s a boxer, plain and simple, someone accustomed to going the distance to get the job done. And most of the time, he does this with aplomb, proving too good for his opponent. But sometimes you need more than that.
The Promoter’s View: “A big heavyweight who is always, always late. He’s late again today. And it’s not Anthony Joshua. It’s ‘Big Baby’ Jarrell Miller, straight out of New York and Brooklyn. He’ll be here shortly. Maybe he’s running from Anthony Joshua. We’ll see.”
The Fans’ View: As well as late, Miller, 21-0-1 (18), is a loudmouth who has only been signed because Joshua needs an American opponent who isn’t Deontay Wilder but is willing to talk himself into a world heavyweight title shot at some point next year. For this reason, and only this reason, the acquisition makes sense. Just don’t tell us he’s any good, let alone a threat to Joshua.
The Truth: The 30-year-old Miller is a loudmouth, certainly, and he’ll no doubt be able to sell a Joshua fight if and when it happens (prediction: next summer). But he also has a lot of work to do, both in terms of his career resume (Mariusz Wach is perhaps his biggest win), and his profile, not only in the UK but Stateside, too. He might be a ‘Big Baby’ but he’s far from a big name.
The Promoter’s View: “A guy who will be headlining that October 6 show in Chicago. A guy I’m very pleased to be welcoming to DAZN. He’s a former two-time world champion, two-weight world champion, and currently top five with every governing (sanctioning) body.”
The Fans’ View: He lost to Manny Pacquiao. He lost to Tim Bradley. He almost lost, but didn’t quite lose, to Adrien Broner in his last fight. Basically, the 29-year-old’s a solid enough contender, sure, but he won’t be winning a world title at welterweight any time soon. Shrug.
The Truth: Vargas, 28-2-1 (10), is a very capable fighter, someone good enough to beat most welterweights outside the elite. Because of this, he will get opportunities, champions will fancy him as a decent opponent, and he will presumably be involved in some interesting fights. That, however, could be his ceiling, as a B-side rather than an A-side.
The Promoter’s View: “I’m delighted to agree a multi-fight deal with Yvon Michel (promoter) and Artur Beterbiev, the 175-pound world champion, who will defend his (IBF) title against England’s Callum Johnson on October 6.”
The Fans’ View: Beterbiev enjoys a mystique befitting a Russian destroyer with a 100% KO ratio. The fans like him because he knocks people out and does the deed in silence, with evil intent in his eye.
Which is why, for now, while unbeaten, they’ll go easy on him. Better yet, they’ll make a beast of him.
The Truth: At 32 years of age, Beterbiev, 12-0 (12), doesn’t have much time to waste and is always one lacklustre performance – or, God forbid, one distance fight – away from seeing his fearsome reputation dissolve. Unfortunately, when that’s your USP, and when English isn’t your first language, that’s a slight concern during the process of the big American sell. Then again, perhaps the IBF champion’s just that good.
The Promoter’s View: “Another world champion who has joined the Matchroom and DAZN platform and is a fine young fighter out of California. He’s the reigning WBA super-bantamweight champion. He’s going to be fighting on the October 20 card against Gavin McDonnell from the UK.”
The Fans’ View: Sorry, although I follow boxing, I’ve never seen this little Roman fight.
The Truth: After a patchy start to his pro career (a draw and a defeat in his first four fights), Roman, 25-2-1 (9), rose to prominence in 2017 when he travelled to Japan and beat the undefeated Shun Kubo to take the WBA super-bantamweight title. He then returned to Japan the following year, again to topple one of their heroes (Ryo Matsumoto), before conquering another unbeaten fighter, Moises Flores, last time out. So, in short, the 28-year-old can clearly fight and is on a fine run of form.
Being a super-bantamweight, however, means a constant fight for recognition and means you’ll frequently be overlooked and ignored. That’s why a fight against Britain’s Gavin McDonnell, scheduled for October 20, seems a sensible next step. It’s not in Japan, for starters, and it won’t go unnoticed.
The Promoter’s View: “It’s not just about reigning world champions and elite fighters. We also have to breed the next generation of stars coming through in the US right now.
“I’m delighted to sign three young amateur fighters – Golden Gloves champions, US team members as well – who are going to be boxing all around the US, following our shows on DAZN.”
On Nkosi Solomon: “A young heavyweight ranked number two across the US. He’s going to be turning pro in October with us. He looks like Anthony Joshua and I believe he can fight like him as well.”
On Reshat Mati: “Another young amateur out of Brooklyn, out of the same gym actually. This is a phenomenal athlete right here. This is a guy who has excelled in every form: boxing, mixed martial arts, jiu-jitsu and wrestling. He’s the ultimate fighter as far as I’m concerned. He’s the reigning Golden Gloves champion.”
On Nikita Ababiy: “Finally, from the amateur side, a phenomenal talent coming out of the US national team. Again, from right here in New York. A fantastic middleweight, this guy has been sparring with all the top fighters: Danny Jacobs. I think he’s going to light up DAZN in his first year as a professional.”
The Fans’ View: We’ll wait and see. Give me a nudge when they’re in a real fight.
The Truth: It remains to be seen if this talented trio are as good as advertised, but if they want exposure and a push – and who doesn’t? – they’ve probably come to the right place.
Interesting to note, too, that they’re all native New Yorkers. This would indicate they’ll be pushed as old-school ticket-sellers from the outset, before, hopefully, their talents and achievements do the grunt work right around the time DAZN has established itself as the Netflix of combat sports – or something like that.