LAST WEEK, amid whispers that the World Boxing Council (WBC) were about to announce that Conor Benn would be eligible for inclusion into their world rankings, the boxing Twitterati lost their minds. How dare they, plenty screamed. And how dare Benn even suggest he is innocent, remains the general opinion among fans.
Boxing News understands that reports suggesting a forthcoming announcement from the WBC regarding Benn were premature. Certainly, one did not arrive. But what difference would it have made if we were told that the WBC were planning to reinstate Benn? Purely aesthetically, on social media channels, it would have been a sharable tool for Benn’s ongoing PR campaign but, in truth, it wouldn’t change anything in regard to the boxer’s guilt or innocence. Being ‘cleared’ by a sanctioning body, like the WBC, is very different to being cleared by a governing body, like the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC).
In short, a sanctioning body ‘sanctions’ fights by attaching belts (and fees) to them, it stipulates the rules of that contest (in agreement with the governing body who reside over the fight’s territory), and it ranks fighters. It does not ‘govern’ in the way that the BBBofC or, say, the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) governs. A sanctioning body doesn’t conduct brain scans, it doesn’t monitor a fighter’s health, it doesn’t administer licences. It is only the governing body who can ‘clear’ a fighter to fight. So, for argument’s sake, if Benn wanted to fight in Las Vegas moving forward, he wouldn’t need a WBC ranking, he would need permission from the NSAC, particularly now he doesn’t hold an existing licence with any governing body in the world after last year relinquishing his licence with the BBBofC.
It certainly begs the question why Benn seems to be prioritising the approval of a sanctioning body over any governing body. The obvious answer would seem to be the WBC’s close relationship with Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA), the testing agency who discovered clomifene in Benn’s system on two occasions last year. However, even if the WBC do reinstall Benn as a world-ranked welterweight, there are still obstacles to clear. Logically, clearing those obstacles before obtaining a ranking would seem a more sensible course of action, for the sake of both Benn’s long-term future and the sport’s overall reputation. Because as we should all know only too well by now, boxing rankings are some of the most corruptible leagues in the whole of sport and, when it comes to justice, sanctioning bodies are not exactly bastions for truth and honesty.
How many times have you heard any of them condemn a boxer for failing a test? Instead, the priority is nearly always clearing a fighter’s name, particularly when that fighter is marketable and capable of affording expensive counsel. Innocent until proven guilty is the phrase we continue to hear and though fair enough to a degree, who is even attempting to prove guilt?
The WBC welcomed 270 pages from Benn and his team which the fighter believes will prove his innocence. It might well do. In fact, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary (bar the initial failed tests), it’s no doubt a pretty convincing bit of documentation.
Top boxers who fail PED tests have the resources to compile cases to prove their innocence. They line up the best lawyers and the best scientists, as is their right. But in a sport like boxing, where lives are on the line, is it not just as important to also hear the case for guilt? Is anyone in place to make that case, can the authorities even afford such luxury, or are decisions being made purely from hearing just one side of the story, crafted, no less, by the best lawyers and scientists that money can buy? If the judiciary operated in that way, it’s doubtful a jury could ever return a guilty verdict and overcrowded prisons would quickly become a thing of the past.
It is of course important not to presume guilt. Not in the case of Benn or any fighter who fails a test. But it is essential, at the very least, for authorities to consider guilt a genuine possibility simply because, beyond any doubt, illegal substances have been found in their system. And in order to first consider the case, and then make a decision, authorities surely need to implicitly understand all of the evidence. Like any incident worthy of investigation – be it a knife found in a body or an illegal substance detected in blood – it’s vital that all possibilities are explored to their fullest.
Only when a cocktail of substances are discovered – like in the cases of Larry Olubamiwo and Jarrell Miller, for example – are we allowed to infer guilt. Pretty much every other high profile case gets written off as a dreadful mistake. Are we really supposed to believe that 90-95 per cent of PEDs found in boxers’ bodies are a consequence of contamination or the equivalent?
Benn’s reputation has plummeted in recent months for understandable reasons. It won’t be cleansed by one document nor a Top 10 ranking from a sanctioning body who last week told BN: “We always believe in the innocence of athletes until they are proven guilty. I have known the Benn family for many, many years and I’m just hoping this gets resolved quickly.”
The real hope is that this young and talented fighter gets the chance to clear his name the right way, with all of the facts being presented and some worthy decision-makers overseeing the outcome. Benn, if innocent, should not have to live the rest of his boxing life under a shadow of doubt. Only if all evidence is uncovered and understood can the opposite occur.
LAST WEEK it was the WBC getting fans in a spin, this week it’s news that DAZN plan to increase their monthly fee from £7.99 to £19.99, which is an almighty hike. As ever, though, it pays to look beyond the headlines.
There are other options for subscribers. They can pay £9.99 per month, though this does not allow cancellation to occur at any time and would mean committing to a year with the streaming platform. Or they can stump up a one-off payment of £99.99 for 12 months. The plan is clearly to attract as many long-term subscribers as possible, which is no different to any subscription-based business.
To soften the blow, DAZN – alongside their main boxing provider, Matchroom – announced that Anthony Joshua’s comeback bout against Jermaine Franklin on April 1 inside the O2 Arena would not be on pay-per-view. There are other noteworthy bouts approaching, too, with the best being Leigh Wood-Mauricio Lara (February 18), Shavkatdzhon Rakimov-Joe Cordina (April 22) and Katie Taylor-Amanda Serrano II (May 20). There are other bouts, with big names versus big underdogs, like Callum Smith-Pawel Stepien (March 11), Bam Rodriguez-Christian Hernandez (April 8), and a domestic crossroads clash, Cyrus Pattinson-Chris Jenkins (March 18).
Matchroom remain the most prolific promotional group in the world, and the above is as good a schedule as any in the industry heading into 2023, but they have an awful lot of pressure on their shoulders, even with Golden Boy chipping in and anti-hardcore offering, Misfits Boxing, set to increase their output.
Boxing – which continues to fly by the seat of its pants when it comes to making fights – will always struggle to carry a sports channel for as long as it operates with no long-term scheduling in place and every promotional group at odds with their rivals. Simply, when compared to true mainstream sports that promise resolutions to competitions and regular big dates in the diary throughout the year, boxing cannot give its fans peace of mind when it comes to long-term planning.
Other sports available on DAZN include women’s Spanish and Champion’s League football, chess and the Professional Fighters League – but there remains several days a month when there is no live action at all. Compared to Sky Sports and BT Sport, whose monthly subscription fee is similar to DAZN’s £19.99 offering, it’s a barren schedule.