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Behind the scenes at boxing’s comeback

Brad Foster boxing
Steve Bunce on the complicated blueprint for boxing in post-lockdown Britain

THE first night of boxing was like a slick machine, trust me, and it had to be.

This is how it worked: Out of a cab, fresh from the bubble, strip off the mask, dump it in a bin, have your temperature checked, hand over your documents, get a new mask, get a changing room, get changed, don’t touch anybody, stand there, go there, get in there, fight, don’t kiss anybody, get out, stay inside the red line, get in a cab and go back to the bubble.

Easy.

There were red lines on the floor and yellow wheelie bins all over the place. The men from the bubble, those that stayed for two or three nights in the hotel less than a mile away, were the only ones allowed inside the red lines. They had all been tested: 104 tests in total, all negative and at a cost close to £20,000. Nobody moaned about being in quarantine, away from their family and job – not everybody is full-time in our business. Working men had to take three days off work.

There was a one-way system, a no-way system, a let’s-go system and definitely a no-go system. And, everybody was watching.

And then there was the odd noise level, which was never silent. There was always a buzz, the corner instructions were clear, the referee clear, somebody laughing backstage was also clear. It is amazing how noisy 60 people surrounding a ring can be even in a studio without a single fan. There were no jibbers, no hidden mums, dads, girlfriends, managers, advisors. This was closed doors.

It was possible to have conversations between fights with the house seconds, Johnny Greaves and Big Eddie Muscat (both bubble veterans). David Haye stood with me to watch Dorin Krasmaru – we got in trouble for being too close – and suggested that Big Dorin should try a body shot. In the corner, 30 feet away, Greaves instantly looked over and raised a blue-gloved thumb. Voices carried, that’s for sure. It resembled one of the sporting clubs from the Seventies and inside those relics some great British title fights (you would be shocked at the list) were fought in silence against a backdrop of chinking glasses and a heavy cigar fog.

The ring was cleaned between fights, a small crew of workers in full protective clothing swept through it; the referee went for a shower. The boxers for the next fight waited. Mask on, mask off.

And when the fights were over the boxers walked a route, never crossing paths with the new boxers. Each fighter stopped by my yellow box, my allotted space for the night – some were interviewed, some were not; Jimmy Beech had a massive gash on his eyelid, Phil Williams seemed happy to have gone four rounds with Dorin, David Adeleye was ready for three more fights and that is probably where he would be now without the lockdown. Hamzah Sheeraz lost more than fights during the break and dedicated his fight to his dead auntie. They were all happy to be fighting and earning.

And there were other benefits of being in the first party. Eric Teymour, part of the Peacock gym’s original band of brothers, was the translator for big Dorin. It was a good reconnaissance mission for Teymour and Martin Bowers; when they return with Daniel Dubois in August they will not be in the dark. There are a lot of things to know and knowing them is an advantage.

Sadly, under the Board’s current guideline I was not allowed to interview Beech and Brad Foster side-by-side and that’s a pity because they each deserved that. I would have done that had they just finished 12 rounds at Walsall Town Hall. We all love that end-of-fight double interview, both boxers cut, covered in blood and snot and both full of respect. I missed that, but there was not a lot else that I missed.

And when they were finished with me, finished with their fighting duties for the night, they had one last stop, one last yellow bin to fill. It was where their used and bloody gloves went and their sodden bandages and tape went in another bin. It was the final act by each boxer before they collected their bags from a sterile drop area, wrapped up against the chilly night and got in their cabs for the short journey back to the hotel bubble. And the bar.

Their fight was over, but the protocol was still heavily in place on a night when the sport danced a beautiful line between the biohazard perils of everyday life now and the haphazard nature of any and every boxing event. Fighters forget their cups, their music is lost, they warm up too late, they can’t find the toilet, they have the wrong shorts. That stuff will not change when we have fights on the moon.

When the lights came up in the studio at the end of the night, the cleaners went to work in the ring one final time. The yellow bins were collected, the last of the boxers had left and people were smiling. All symbols of this pandemic were thrown, the masks, gloves, aprons. A clean sweep means a clean sweep.

Robert Smith of the Board seemed happy and rightly so, his guidelines worked. It was not easy to make it run as smooth as it did and credit for that goes to Andy Ayling in Frank Warren’s office. I have known Andy since 1989 and I have never seen him so busy – I thought he had a twin there at one point and that is a disturbing thought. He also invented the garden-hose-spit contraption in the corners; each fight had a new one, the old one was dumped in a yellow bin. That is now an Ayling patent. It was a big win for the sport and the fear was contained, the concern was obvious and it needed to run smoothly. The business was under a microscope. That’s one down, there are now 15 more shows before September. It’s good to be back.

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