BOXING is bracing itself for one of the biggest battles in its long and colourful history. Last week, the British Boxing Board of Control announced its latest plans to emerge from the coronavirus lockdown while the UK’s leading promoters, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom and Frank Warren of Queensberry, declared their intentions to come out fighting as soon as the current restrictions are lifted. That fight, at least for the foreseeable future, will not be a joint effort. Both will forge ahead with separate ventures on Sky Sports and BT Sport in the short term.
Any reports that Matchroom’s Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury, promoted by Queensberry and Top Rank, might be close to agreeing terms for a super-fight are somewhat premature. At the time of writing, both of the heavyweight leaders remain tied to contracts to fight other opponents (Deontay Wilder and Kubrat Pulev respectively) though it seems a territory, reported to be the Middle East, is in place to stage the showdown should talks between their respective teams evolve into negotiations.
A bout involving two British superstars not taking place on British soil will understandably annoy plenty of fans. Yet the argument that it’s becoming increasingly unlikely that Britain will be in a position to host anything of that magnitude until next year at the earliest carries significant weight. However, any country on the planet hoping to host an event like the supersonic Fury-Joshua any time soon is facing a momentous challenge. For example, Saudi Arabia, though some way behind the UK in coronavirus casualties, has seen deaths from the virus rise sharply in recent weeks.
But if there is some blue sky – and sifting through the clouds to find it has rarely been more important – it’s that discussions are in place regarding the heavyweight mega-fight. Discussions, don’t forget, that seemed so distant before the world as we know it was washed away by the pandemic. More importantly, with determined figures like Hearn and Warren showing no sign that their appetites for boxing have been dampened – quite the opposite, actually – it seems likely that we will soon get news of boxing returning.
Hearn insists he will move forward by rescheduling the fights Matchroom lost as a consequence of coronavirus, starting – he promises – with ambitious plans to stage the pay-per-view heavyweight clash between Dillian Whyte and Alexander Povetkin behind closed doors. It’s an appealing enough heavyweight scrap but one wonders if Whyte-Povetkin – on paper, a battle between a leading contender and a fading former titlist – is the kind of showdown required. Particularly as it will have to come at an extra cost to consumers likely to be feeling the pinch during this new era of grave economic uncertainty.
But Hearn is nothing if not ambitious. He likely knows that fans – starved of action for so long – will put their hands in their pockets to see their beloved boxing again. Furthermore, supporters of Hearn will understand the importance of our sport quickly and defiantly staging big events as the likes of football and rugby make their plays for attention.
Warren, in contrast, has vehemently ruled out staging any box office contests, like Daniel Dubois-Joe Joyce, without fans there to watch and pay for tickets. He hopes to test the waters with appealing bouts at British title level in the short term. Though less grand, the veteran promoter’s plans – akin to starting from the ground up – appear at first glance the more realistic in the current climate.
Whatever one’s opinion on Warren and Hearn and their methods, British fighters and fans should put their faith in them as they embark on the unenviable task of ensuring boxing regains its prominence in the British sporting calendar.
Their goal, though it’s being approached with different tactics and personalities, is exactly the same: To ensure that boxing not only survives, but flourishes. The sport needs Hearn and Warren more than ever right now and the hope is, with Fury-Joshua in the distant horizon, that any old rifts are put to one side during the restoration process.