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Boxing’s comeback begins

Eddie Hearn boxing
Hearn grabs the headlines with lavish and expensive plans to restart boxing in the UK while Bob Arum urges a drop in PPV prices, writes George Gigney as the media start to take interest in boxing again

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AFTER the government released a 50-page document outlining the next steps to easing the lockdown, which included details of sport returning behind closed doors at the very earliest in June, promoter Eddie Hearn revealed his own plans. ‘Matchroom Fight Camp’ will see Hearn stage shows in his back garden, essentially. In the grounds of the Essex mansion he grew up in, which now functions as Matchroom HQ, the promotional outfit intends to hold outdoor shows on consecutive weeks through July to August.

Speaking to Sportsmail, Hearn explained in full how the cards – which would each have a maximum of five fights – would work with social distancing measures in place. Most fans will no doubt welcome the news that boxing might be one of the first sports to return to action since the lockdown began, though it does not necessarily signal a full return for the sport. Hearn also discussed the significant financial costs of staging such a show, which will require stringent COVID-19 testing for everyone involved.

Those are costs that a lot of promoters across the world won’t be able to afford, particularly without ticket sales. Matchroom also have the backing of Sky Sports and DAZN – those promoters without broadcast deals will struggle to have the same infrastructure in place to ensure their shows are safe.

That being said, these are positive signs for the sport. The UFC recently staged three shows in America without much of a hitch – only one team tested positive across the three cards, and that was discovered before any further contamination could occur.

I was initially sceptical about boxing – and other sports for that matter – returning so quickly in a safe way, though it now seems like much more of a reality. In the short term, that’s exciting – the long-term state of the sport remains unclear.

Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated went so far as to throw down the gauntlet to the sport he’s covered for years: “The UFC has gone. Boxing, you’re on deck.” He argues that the UFC has now set out a blueprint for boxing to follow – and he’s right to note that combat sports events require less people to run – however the UFC is a company in its own right that has full control over all the relevant aspects; boxing is a little more complicated.

There were several reports that Top Rank are aiming to stage a show on June 9, topped by featherweight champion Shakur Stevenson. Top Rank of course have a broadcast deal with ESPN, just like the UFC – not only is there potential for knowledge to be shared there, but it’s likely the broadcast giant will be urging, if not pressuring, Top Rank to get moving as quickly as possible.

Speaking to Boxing Scene, Bob Arum reflected on the future of pay-per-view boxing amid the current pandemic and admitted that prices will need to be slashed. His theory is that less people will gather together and chip in toward the cost of the PPV.

“We have to be very careful when we start doing events again and watch the prices, especially now with coronavirus because people will not watch fights in big groups in their homes like they did before,” he said. “PPV pricing has to be lower. Particularly because more of the buys are going to shift to digital.”

While PPV shows in the US currently float around the $80-$100 mark, Arum proposed somewhere in the region of $40 a pop. Now, it shouldn’t take a global pandemic to make promoters and broadcasters realise that $100 for a PPV is extortionate, but at least we got there in the end.

If such a reduction were to happen, it would be something of a sea-change in the American market – it would be incredibly hard for broadcasters and promoters to jack the prices back up and still hit their desired viewing figures. It’s also no secret that the sport is, gradually, becoming more digital, with platforms like ESPN+ and DAZN.

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Speaking on the 5 Live with Costello and Bunce podcast, General Secretary of the British Boxing Board of Control was upfront about the threat posed to smaller promoters by the COVID-19 pandemic: “They do a fantastic job but they need bums on seats to make any money,” he said. “So we do have concerns on whether they can come back. I would say if we go behind closed doors, promoters are going to take a big financial hit.

“But they have contracts with TV companies and we want to get boxing back on TV.

“Unfortunately we will lose some. That is a business. If they are strong enough, they will survive, if they are not, we will lose some. We are trying to help some where we can but we don’t have an endless money pit. It’s not nice to say but there will be casualties, but the strong will get through it.”

Throughout all of this, the Board haven’t shied away from the reality of the situation and that remains the case here; it’s hard to hear, but some promoters – and, by extension, fighters – won’t be able to return.

Talk of Mike Tyson – and now Evander Holyfield – returning to the ring has become worryingly more concrete. Mike is stoking the flames with training videos on social media, but Holyfield told The 3 Point Conversation podcast that negotiations are underway for the old rivals to square off in an exhibition.

Mike tyson

“His people have been talking to my people and we haven’t yet got a solid deal together but it’s coming that way,” he said. I understand their intention would be to have this exhibition for charity, but that doesn’t dissolve the sense of dread that grows each time one of these two men in their 50’s talks up the potential of it happening.

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