March 21, 2017
March 21, 2017
conor mcgregor

Mark J Rebilas/USA Today Sports

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Last Friday took me up to Manchester for a new venture.

I’d been asked to commentate on the PBE card, the St Patrick’s Day Showdown, which was on at Bowler’s and being broadcast live on Unilad.

PBE is the creation of James Lindemann, who has recently started out in the tricky business of boxing promotion. This was his third show and the fact that it was going out on a platform like Unilad, which can boast a reach of 27 million on Facebook, is an achievement in itself. His October promotion attracted 600k views and they were hoping for a million this time.

Fight week generally appears to me to be something akin to Chinese water torture for promoters, especially at this level. They have to be very hands on and as James was driving myself and co-commentator Paulie Malignaggi to the arena at about five he was still having to solve some last minute problem regarding the scales they needed for the fighters to weigh in, without which there could be no show.

I’ve worked with Paulie before and it’s always very enjoyable. This was his first commentary job since he announced his retirement so it’s a strange time for him really. He knows it’ll take a while to sink in but he was, he told me, relishing the fact that he’ll never have to make weight again and that mentally he’ll never have to take himself “to that place again.”

The Magic Man is low maintenance but he couldn’t quite believe how cold it was in Bowler’s so we decamped upstairs to the gym where I had a good chat with Joe Pennington.

Joe takes fighters up and down the country every week and has run his own gym, Northside, for 22 years. There’s very little in the amateur and professional ranks he hasn’t seen. William Warburton’s one of his fighters and was on that night in a six rounder against the undefeated Stephen Danyo. You’re not really supposed to have favourites as a commentator but Warburton has long been one of mine. If you follow boxing closely then you’ll be aware of the crucial role that he and plenty of other fighters like him perform. If you don’t then you’ll look at his record (post Danyo) of 140 fights, 23 wins, 108 defeats and 9 draws and draw the conclusion that he’s rubbish. But he isn’t, far from it. I’d seen him three weeks previously in Hull on the McDonnell vs Vargas undercard when he stopped the then undefeated Connor Seymour in the second round.

When he’s in the mood he’s more than capable of getting the “W”, scorecards permitting, but in his line of work it doesn’t pay to do it too often. Joe told me that since the Seymour win Warburton hadn’t boxed; he’d had a couple of fights lined up but the opponents’ interest cooled after his performance in Hull. Pennington’s had countless fighters pass through his hands but when he talks about Warburton there’s a real warmth and a devilish grin when you remind him of his man’s past conquests. “Willie” has been sparring Jack Catterall in preparation for Catterall’s fight against Martin Gethin which speaks volumes. I don’t want to get carried away; I’m not saying that had circumstances been different then we’d be finding the name of the Atherton man in the pound for pound rankings but if he’d had the backing earlier in his career that most of the lads he fights enjoy then I think an area title (he challenged for one in 2010 but was stopped in the ninth by Chris Johnson) or even an English title would have been perfectly possible. He’d beat Conor McGregor, I’m confident about that.

When I got back downstairs we were pretty much ready to go; I found Paulie standing by one of the heaters in the company of the ring card girls and sponsors’ models so he was certainly OK. Our MC was Dom McGuinness, an old mate from my Talksport days, and exactly the man you want when you’re probably going to have to work a few things out as you go along, as is always the case when you’re doing something brand new. It’s a situation that can be fraught with imagined danger for anyone of a nervous disposition but the production team were calm which always helps.

The fights were all prospect vs opponent and if I’d had to predict the outcome of the seven bouts beforehand I’d have got all seven right but that neither makes me clever nor the format wrong. Promoters have to sell tickets so they need to find fighters who can draw a crowd and who they can then build into bigger attractions, and you don’t do that by throwing them in too deep too early and getting them beaten.

Mikey Gomez Junior and Artif Ali both won at Featherweight and then called each other out which is good for business whilst there was a polished performance from former footballer Matty Mainwaring, who’s trained by Matthew Hatton. Stephen Danyo edged the win, 58-56, against Warburton before Sale Cruiser Sam “Nowhere2” Hyde stopped Tomislav Rudan in the second. Promoter Lindemann manages Hyde and has an IBF Youth world title fight planned for him in early June.

Top of the bill was Anthony Leak, who as an amateur notched wins against Callum Smith, Tommy Langford, Antony Fowler and Sam Maxwell. At the age of 26, and with just 2 pro fights before Friday, he’s making up for lost time but he can definitely fight as his stoppage win vs an awkward Georgi Valevski showed. And me and Paulie weren’t the only ones who thought so; Francis Warren had made the trip to Manchester and there was no doubt who he’d come to see.

It was a fun night so I hope the numbers online were good and that Unilad were happy because, as always with a small hall show, you can see how much graft goes into it. I love working on the big events for Sky, it’s amazing, but I love the smaller ones too; they’re boxing’s lifeblood and without them the nights at the 02, the Manchester Arena and Wembley Stadium would quite simply never happen.