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A fresh start for Sky Sports, but what does it mean?

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Chris Eubank Jr weighs in as Chris Eubank (R) looks on during the Weigh-in ahead of the IBO World Super Middleweight Title fight between DeGale v Chris Eubank Jr. on the 23rd February at the Intercontinental Hotel on February 22, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images)
Sky Sports announce their new schedule with Josh Taylor and Chris Eubank Jnr set to boost their UK profiles on the channel

EVER since Eddie Hearn signalled he was leaving Sky Sports to sign a new and exclusive deal with DAZN in June, fans wondered what would become of the former’s boxing output. Last week we got to see how their schedule looks and the immediate reaction from the hardcore, perhaps unfairly, was somewhat lukewarm.

Further context is required before being critical of a broadcaster tasked with starting all over again in a very short period of time. Considering that UK boxing has essentially been governed by two promoters in Hearn and Frank Warren for the last decade, anyone expecting Sky Sports to suddenly announce all-conquering showdown after all-conquering showdown, particularly in a sport finding its feet post-pandemic, were expecting way too much. For now, Hearn’s stars remain with him on DAZN. Warren’s likewise on BT Sport.

In the UK, it didn’t leave a huge amount of talent for Sky Sports to aim at. It of course speaks of a wider, long-standing problem in the sport, one that every network ultimately fails to solve; fighters being attached to one broadcaster or one promoter will naturally limit the amount of worthwhile fights that can be made across the board. The more channels and exclusive deals there are, the more pronounced that problem becomes. But in the shape of Top Rank’s Josh Taylor and Wasserman Boxing’s Chris Eubank Jnr, Sky Sports have arguably signed the two most marketable male British fighters who are not already aligned to either Hearn or Warren.

World super-lightweight champion Taylor, as part of Top Rank’s four-year deal with Sky, will take on Jack Catterall on December 18 in a good domestic showdown that will get all the benefit of the channel’s substantial marketing clout. Eubank launches Sky’s UK ‘comeback’ on October 2 at Wembley Arena when he fights Germany’s little-known Sven Elbir in a middleweight 12-rounder. The highlight of that card might turn out to be European welterweight champion David Avenesyan versus Liam Taylor.

As well as Top Rank, Sky will also work alongside Boxxer, headed by Ben Shalom and the vastly experienced and respected, John Wischhusen.

“Ben is the youngest promoter in Britain, he’s cool, he’s relaxed,” Adam Smith explained. “He’s different to Eddie, he won’t be front and centre. The message here is that the fighters will take the attention, and rightly so.

“He made a very good decision to bring in John Wischhusen. You have the experience there and the hopes and dreams of Ben. It’s a very good combination.”

Other British fighters who will appear on Sky Sports include Savannah Marshall, a belt-holder at middleweight and among the world’s most exciting female talent. She is challenged by Zambian’s Lolita Muzeya on October 16 in Newcastle, on a card that will also feature Hughie Fury (vs Christian Hammer) and Lewis Ritson. Caroline Dubois, who is ditching the amateur vest, and cruiserweight Richard Riakporhe also take their place under the Boxxer/Sky umbrella.

But it is perhaps the international offerings that fans should be the most cheerful about. Fighters like Naoya Inoue, Teofimo Lopez, Vasiliy Lomachenko, Terence Crawford and Artur Beterbiev all have links to Top Rank. The October 23 super-featherweight bout between Jamel Herring and Shakur Stevenson is already on the Sky Sports schedule.

There is of course one ginormous elephant still in the room: Anthony Joshua. His September 25 heavyweight battle with Oleksandr Usyk will be shown on Sky Sports Box Office and will signal the end of “AJ’s” longstanding deal with the broadcaster. Should they manage to negotiate an extension, Sky will have an impressive roster of worldwide talent to draw from.

“We hope so,” Smith said. “I’ve known Anthony for many years and he’s loyal. He’s been loyal to Eddie, he’s been loyal to Robert McCracken. I’m hopeful he’ll be loyal to us, too.”

Time will tell regarding Joshua. But with Sky Sports back in the game, and DAZN and BT Sport offering regular live boxing, these are interesting times for the British fight fan. Given it has only been three months since Hearn announced his decision to leave, Sky Sports have moved quickly while displaying an obvious commitment to the sport. At this very early stage, that can only be good news.

YOUTUBE

DAYS after the Sky Sports schedule went public, Eddie Hearn talked to IFL TV about the developments and namechecked Daniel Kinahan, the notorious boxing advisor. When talking about Lewis Ritson, Savanah Marshall and Hughie Fury – three fighters Hearn has worked with – Eddie said: “All different scenarios. Lewis, I think, is doing one fight with Boxxer. Those three in particular, obviously, are managed by MTK and I think their advisor, Daniel, spoke to us and Sky, and basically this was a massive opportunity for them.”

Sky Sports subsequently denied talking to Kinahan.

“These claims are untrue,” they stated. “As a broadcaster, we are continuing to work only through our promoters to secure fights to air on television.”

Hearn has previously been exceptionally careful when talking about Kinahan, particularly last summer when Tyson Fury publicly thanked the Irishman for his involvement in the proposed Anthony Joshua showdown.

Two things are clear: One, that Kinahan remains a highly influential figure behind the scenes even if, two, attaching his name to events and fighters is a public relations disaster.

PODCASTS

TRIS DIXON’S Boxing Life Stories served up another treat in the 150th show when Ricky Hatton discussed his career with typical good humour. There is a lot to enjoy here, even if you’ve heard/seen/read pretty much every other Hatton interview.

Hearing Ricky explain he’s happier than ever is a tonic but it’s the stories he shares about his relationship with trainer Billy Graham that trigger the biggest smiles. The podcast is also available in video format, on the Boxing Life Stories YouTube page.

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