MIKE COSTELLO, the brilliant BBC 5 Live commentator, has joined Matchroom Media and will be their lead boxing commentator on DAZN as the UK launch gathers pace. His first show will be on August 14 at Matchroom Fight Camp when he has returned from Olympic duty with the BBC.
Costello’s co-commentator will be Andy Lee, the former WBO middleweight titlist, who has won widespread recognition as one of the best analysts in the sport since his retirement in 2017 and has regularly worked alongside Costello at the BBC. Tony Bellew will also be involved in the commentary, though Costello and Lee will be the leading duo for all English-spoken broadcasts.
Another name sure to be a popular choice among the boxing aficionados is Chris Lloyd, who has been working as a freelancer in the industry for several years as a writer, presenter, podcaster, filmmaker and commentator. Lloyd will fill in for Costello during the first two Fight Camps (July 31 and August 7). Former IBF middleweight belt-holder, Darren Barker, is another top choice.
Laura Woods, currently of Sky Sports and Talk Sport and named the Sports Presenter of the Year by the Sports Journalists’ Association at the British Sports Journalism Awards this year, also joins the team as a presenter.
It’s a stellar line-up of talent.
A name sure to raise some eyebrows among the notoriously hard to please hardcore is the signature of Maya Jamah, the popular TV and radio presenter with 2.2m Instagram followers, who will also take on presenting duties. If Costello and co speak of the channel’s dedication to boxing, Jamah underlines their plans to cross over.
But it is the acquisition of 61-year-old Costello that will surely generate the most discussion among the hardcore. It should all be positive, too; Costello is a rarity in boxing in that it’s impossible to name a single person who doesn’t respect him nor recall a single word of criticism about his work.
Costello’s rock solid relationship with the sport can be traced back to the 1970s when he joined the Lynn Amateur Boxing Club as a 10-year-old. He would go on to win ‘around 40 of 60 bouts’ and compete in the Senior ABAs in 1978. He also worked alongside Charlie Tucker as a trainer at the famous gym.
Before that, when only 16, Costello managed to snare a job with the BBC and so began his journey to the top. He had roles as a runner for the World Service and writer for Ceefax before he secured a position as athletics commentator in 1995. Ten years later, when John Rawling left the BBC to join ITV Sport, Costello became 5 Live’s leading boxing commentator. In the 16 years that followed, Costello’s reputation has grown immeasurably thanks in no small part to his knowledge and integrity.
“One thing we’re looking for is impartiality and honesty,” Hearn said. “We don’t want ‘yes’ men. I don’t want it to be a Matchroom love-in. I want it to be a panel of quality operators who tell the truth.
“Mike Costello was the person I wanted when I knew we would be recruiting the talent for DAZN. He is the gold standard in every way.”
Costello insisted the impartiality will remain. “Why would I change now? It is one of the main reasons why Matchroom wanted me on board,” he said. “I will continue to play it down the middle and I won’t be changing that philosophy now. It has served me so well.”
Always honest, insightful and empathetic in a way that few can be, Costello has won numerous industry awards and, alongside Steve Bunce, is one-half of the most popular boxing podcast in the country, 5 Live Boxing with Costello & Bunce. At this stage, given the BBC rules on impartiality, it looks unlikely that weekly podcast will continue though Costello hopes there is scope to work with Bunce, his long-term broadcast sparring partner, with a BBC Greatest Fights series. Costello has not given up hope of covering the athletics either, but the hectic scheduling at Matchroom – there is at least one card per week already in place between July 31 and October 16 with the regularity set to continue – may mean that is unworkable.
“It was a difficult decision [to leave the BBC],” Costello said. “I always said it would take something really special to drag me away from the BBC because of the number I had there covering boxing and the athletics.
“There is energy and passion around this. There’s also the challenge of television commentary as opposed to radio commentary. I thought that opportunity had passed me by at this late stage. I had been offered one-off fights here and there but never enough for me to leave the BBC or jeopardise my position there. That is why this is so exciting.”
That move from radio and television is also a daunting one for Costello.
“The first lesson for me is to learn to shut up,” he said. “The silences are as important as what you say when building the drama.
“The difficulty for practising for television is that I don’t have Tony Bellew or Andy Lee alongside me here. I can practise for radio commentary whenever I like. I just sit down in front of the iPad, play an old fight and rattle on for three minutes… But I’ve thought about it a lot. About pauses, silences, and when to bring the expert in. Over time we will build a relationship and that will be really important.
“Right now it’s a case of fastening the seatbelt and here we go.”