JOSH WARRINGTON, Josh Kelly, Lawrence Okolie and Conor Benn are the headline attractions on Matchroom’s upcoming UK schedule, with the Alexander Povetkin-Dillian Whyte rematch looking likely to be staged outside of Britain.
After a rise in coronavirus cases caused all boxing events in the UK to be postponed in January, the British Boxing Board of Control recently confirmed that the sport will resume under its jurisdiction in the middle of February.
Matchroom kick things off on Saturday February 13, as Leeds’ IBF featherweight champion Josh Warrington goes head-to-head with Mexican Mauricio Lara. On the undercard, Zelfa Barrett collides with Kiko Martinez, Leigh Wood and Reece Mould contest the vacant British featherweight title, Dalton Smith takes on Lee Appleyard, and Hopey Price also features.
Seven days later on Saturday February 20, David Avanesyan and Sunderland’s Josh Kelly finally get the opportunity to face off, with the Russian’s European welterweight crown on the line. The supporting cast includes Florian Marku and Anthony Fowler, who meet Rylan Charlton and Jorge Fortea respectively. Amy Timlin and Carly Skelly renew hostilities in a return bout for the vacant Commonwealth super-bantamweight belt, while Johnny Fisher makes his professional debut.
Next up on Saturday March 6 comes the standout showdown on the schedule, as Russia’s Alexander Povetkin and Brixton’s Dillian Whyte clash in their heavyweight sequel. The chief support is still to be announced, but Ted Cheeseman’s fight with James Metcalf – for the vacant British super-welterweight strap – is one of the highlights of the undercard. Fabio Wardley faces Eric Molina, Campbell Hatton – the son of British boxing legend Ricky Hatton – begins his pro journey, and Youssef Khoumari battles Kane Baker.
Later on in the month, on Saturday March 20, Hackney’s Lawrence Okolie aims to become the WBO cruiserweight king when he boxes Poland’s Krzysztof Glowacki for the vacant title. Chantelle Cameron defends her WBC super-lightweight championship against Melissa Hernandez, while Commonwealth cruiser boss Chris Billam-Smith attempts to add vacant British honours to his collection when he opposes Deion Jumah. Joe Cordina and Ramla Ali are also in action, as is the debuting Solomon Dacres.
Rounding off the schedule on Saturday April 10 is rising Ilford welterweight Conor Benn, who comes up against Colombia’s Samuel Vargas. The vacant WBA bantamweight title is up for grabs as Rachel Ball rematches Shannon Courtenay, with Savannah Marshall making a defence of her WBO middleweight crown against an as-yet-unnamed opponent. Felix Cash also takes to the ring, as do Kash Farooq and John Hedges.
All of the bills will be shown on Sky Sports in the UK, aside from the Povetkin-Whyte II card, which is set to be televised on Sky Sports Box Office. US broadcast duties are handled by DAZN.
Each of the UK shows are expected to take place at the same venue. The exact setting is yet to be finalised, though it is probable that an arena in London will be selected.
“Previously we’ve been to Milton Keynes, Peterborough, Wembley – we could go anywhere really,” explained Matchroom chief Eddie Hearn. “I think the general feeling from the Board is that the medical support in London is best for the fighters in terms of the specific units, so the Board would be happy at the moment for us to stay in London.”
With regards to the Povetkin-Whyte II event, Gibraltar and Monaco are seemingly leading the way as potential hosts.
“We’ve spoken to some quite interesting ones – a couple in the Middle East and also Gibraltar and Monaco,” Hearn revealed. “It’s a big fight for Dillian and he’d prefer to fight in front of some kind of crowd. But even in the territories I mentioned there’s no guarantee that’d be the case.”
Although the five-show schedule has been organised, Hearn admits that, due to the uncertain nature of the current climate, there is always a danger of another COVID-enforced disruption.
“The Board are definitely set on it and you’d hope that the infection rate is coming down, but what we’ve learned over the last year is that anything can happen at any time,” warned Hearn. “I know boxing is different to football but the quality of our bubbles, and the testing and isolation of fighters, is so different to football, for example, where you might be tested, go home and then pop to Dubai. I feel we have a really good system in place, but there’s a difference in medical care in our sport versus others.
“Anything is possible but right now I feel everyone is committed to the return of boxing. And I don’t think we have any choice, if the sport is going to survive. I’m sure the Board will review things as we go but we have no choice but to go forward like all other sports. The Board has committed to it but they can only be led by the government. If the government says, ‘We have to delay or stop elite sports from returning,’ that is when you might see a change. If there was a doubt over whether a fighter could receive the right medical attention, then collectively, with the Board, we would pull boxing. But that is not the case right now.”
While Hearn acknowledges that times are tough at present in the industry, his mentality is that the show must go on, for the good of the sport.
“The business of boxing is very difficult because we’re running shows without gates and the revenue has decreased,” conceded Hearn. “Some fighters have flourished and others have been unwilling to move on numbers and have stood still. I think everyone has had a go – us, Bob Arum, Frank Warren. No one has sat back and said, ‘We just can’t do it.’ People have taken their losses on the chin and come up with new ways to make compelling content.
“I feel we need to keep the story going. The vaccine is the only way out and we won’t return to normality until that process is deep underway or finished, and I guess that won’t happen until the summer at the earliest.”