WHAT a difference six months makes. Back in April, Sky Sports and Matchroom managed to do the impossible and stage an event that the vast majority of boxing fans in the country were happy to pay for. Not only that, Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko delivered the kind of epic encounter that left no one feeling short-changed.
Those heady days must feel like a lifetime ago for Sky’s Adam Smith and Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn who this week have been forced to withstand fierce criticism in the build-up to Joshua’s next outing. Saturday’s bout with Carlos Takam is perfectly adequate on paper, not to mention necessary as a consequence of the IBF’s mandatory rules, and will likely be watched in Cardiff’s Principality Stadium by 80,000 fans.
But it is also the culmination of a series of unfortunate events – at least in the eyes of fans. Klitschko’s retirement ruled out a rematch, which had been expected to take place in Las Vegas, and leading IBF contender Kubrat Pulev subsequently pulled out of this weekend’s date with Joshua due to injury to leave Takam stepping in at 12 days’ notice. Not only that, the undercard has also been also hit by injuries – specifically the fan friendly clash between Frank Buglioni and Callum Johnson, and the heavyweight clash featuring Dave Allen and Lenroy Thomas – which has resulted in many fans voicing their criticism of the pay-per-view platform, and demanding the event should now come at no extra cost.
Talking to Boxing News, Smith responded to the criticism.
How difficult has the last week been?
We have a superstar in Anthony Joshua who gave us one of the greatest fights that we’ve seen over the last 20 or 30 years when he beat Wladimir Klitschko and suddenly he became the poster boy of boxing. Everyone was delighted, everyone was elated – we’ve got a new star and we hoped for a rematch with Klitschko in America, that was where we were all going to be in early November. But Klitschko retired, and in my view that was the right decision. Perhaps not for us fans, but for him, it was the right move.
Okay, so let’s go for the mandatory challenger with the IBF, you’ve got to take those. Kubrat Pulev was a big underdog himself on paper so for Anthony Joshua, there’s the feeling that he’s just got to go for whoever is out there. So with Pulev’s withdrawal you’re trying to find someone to fill the space and I actually think Carlos Takam, on paper, is a decent opponent.
We all want to see Deontay Wilder in a ring with ‘AJ’ or Dillian Whyte. Wilder was supposed to be fighting Luis Ortiz, then he’s done for drugs, and now he’s fighting Bermane Stiverne which we’re showing on Sky and is a great chance to see Wilder again. But is it the fight we were all looking forward to? No. These things happen in boxing.
Has it been a difficult week? Yes it has. Operationally it has. New opponent in, get over to Paris, get footage. But Takam has a great opportunity. Yes, it’s very unlikely that Carlos Takam will become heavyweight champion of the world on Saturday but we saw Bonecrusher Smith win the [WBA] title at short notice against Tim Witherspoon [in 1986], we saw Smokin’ Bert Cooper shake Evander Holyfield all around the ring [in 1991] at very short notice. Things can happen in boxing. You never know and that’s the appeal, but this is the AJ show, and that’s what you’ve got to enjoy.
Are fans expecting too much from every single Joshua outing as a consequence of the Klitschko fight?
We do want Joshua to fight Wilder, to fight Tyson Fury – let’s hope he comes back, we do want Joseph Parker, maybe even Dillian Whyte again in a rematch, we do want these fights but you can’t expect it to happen all the time. And it has been unlucky for AJ, he was going to fight Klitschko and Klitschko retired, he was going to fight Pulev and Pulev pulled out. This isn’t Anthony saying I don’t want to fight these guys, he wants to fight them, as I think Wilder does as well. But boxing has politics, it has injuries and ultimately the big fights do happen, but now and again you have to mark time.
The undercard has been crumbling around your ears too. What is your response to people who believe this should have been switched to a non pay-per-view event?
Anthony Joshua is a box office fighter. It’s all about the money, it’s about everything, he’s the biggest star in boxing. Floyd Mayweather has retired, Anthony Joshua is now the biggest star in boxing. Obviously we want the best possible fights we can. Eddie [Hearn] works night and day to get the deepest cards possible. Actually, if you compare this to shows a few years ago, this is a great card still.
Firstly there’s the young talent in Joshua Buatsi, Joe Cordina and Lawrence Okolie. Kal Yafai defends his WBA super-flyweight title against another unbeaten fighter in Sho Ishida, that’s a great fight. Dillian Whyte has a tough fight against Robert Helenius, who not so long ago was being declared the next big thing. Okay, Callum Johnson’s withdrawal was unfortunate but we’ve brought in an unbeaten fighter in Craig Richards to challenge British light-heavyweight champion Frank Buglioni. That’s a solid replacement with the time we had. Katie Taylor challenges for the world title against Anahi Esther Sanchez, so that’s three world title fights on the card, a British title fight and a world title elimator in Whyte-Helenius.
I do sense that the criticism has bothered you. Is that true?
I’m not sure actually. I’m a fan and you’re a fan. We all want the best fights possible to happen. Sometimes it’s not possible for the reasons I’ve already explained. But has the criticism bothered me? It’s been a difficult 10 days because we’ve had to change a lot of things and my team are on their knees, they’ve worked night and day to try and get round all of these changes. Not everyone sees that. All the countdown shows we make, it’s hard work and dedication on our front as well as the fighters’ front to get these shows out and try and build up an event as possible. We all love the build-up and then we see the fights and then it’s fingers crossed. We can’t do anything once that bell goes, and we’ve just got to hope the fighters put on something. Sometimes, as we saw with [Tony] Bellew and [Nathan] Cleverly the second time around, it’s just a terrible fight. Sometimes, and hopefully more often than not, it’s a fantastic fight and that’s what we got with AJ and Klitschko.
Who knows what we’ll get with AJ and Takam, maybe we’ll get a terrific nine or 12 minutes. Who knows what’s going to happen. Maybe the styles won’t gel. We don’t know. All we can do is do the very best we can, and I promise you we try really hard to do that.
We can take the criticism. The criticism is there because everybody wants everything all the time. I wanted to get Canelo-Golovkin, but we couldn’t get that on Sky [It was broadcast by BoxNation]. Did I want to watch it? Of course I did. Am I excited about Eubank and Groves [which will be on ITV]? I want to be ringside. I’m a fight fan, but I’m not bothered about it. I worry about my team and making sure we can give the best we can possibly give to Sky on all the different platforms. I’m confident that we do that, and each of these events is a big happening and that’s what we’re all in it for.