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Frank Warren: ‘Let’s keep the sport relevant’

Frank Warren
Frank Warren discusses his recent battle with coronavirus, the problems boxing faces as we enter 2021 and outlines exactly why we must overcome them

YOU were struck down by Covid-19 recently. How are you now?

I’m much better, thanks, compared to what I was. I was in hospital over the Christmas period for eight or nine nights and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. The ward I was on, it was pretty awful for everyone but the staff were magnificent, they looked after us.

How scary was it?

I was struggling to breathe. I’d had a test on the 20th and I had another test a couple of days later and I was quite ill with it. My wife called an ambulance on Boxing Day. I didn’t want to go to hospital so they gave me some oxygen but the next day I was in quite a bad way so they came back and took me to hospital.

The big problem with Covid, obviously, is your breathing. It took me a long time to get myself sorted out. I didn’t want to be doing bed baths so I made sure I got up every day – I struggled, but I did it. I knew I had to get myself well and get out of there.

After a few days I would come out of the ward and walk up and down the corridor in an effort to get myself feeling better. In the end I was discharged, thank God.

These things can make you stop and think about your life and your career. Did you reflect like that?

Yes, it does do that but I’ve got to tell you it’s quite a debilitating condition when it gets you. Some people only have mild symptoms but when you get it bad, it’s a problem. My big problem was concentrating. I couldn’t focus on anything. When you’re in hospital, you can’t really do anything; you can’t have visitors, I couldn’t even get a newspaper. So I had my iPad, my phone but I just couldn’t concentrate on anything. Ordinarily I’m always reading, I’ll go online and play scrabble, I’ll watch boxsets but I couldn’t do any of that.

All I was determined to do was get out of the hospital. There was one guy on my ward who had been in there for four-and-a-half months, which is dreadful. There was another old guy – and I know I’m no spring chicken – who had blood clots on his lungs. So it’s quite distressing.

I find it amazing that you have these morons calling it all a hoax. The hospitals are full to capacity, they’re overflowing, they’re struggling. The virus keeps mutating, it’s a difficult time for everybody.

Thankfully, I’m out and I’m at home. I’m in a much better place today than I was a few weeks ago when I was struggling, really struggling.

Did it give you a fresh appreciation of the effect on boxing and the Board’s decision not to stage any events in January because they didn’t want to put any strain on the NHS?

I hear that. No one wants to put strain on the NHS. No one wanted to put strain on the NHS last year. But to get it right, the doctors that work on boxing shows are paid for, they’re not supplied by the NHS. As promoters, we pay for them, pay for the ambulances and the paramedics, in the same way that other sports pay for their medical care.

We’re very conscious at Queensberry, particularly now we’ve seen it first hand, not to put a strain on anyone so our first show will be on February 27 providing it is safe to do so. At the moment, it is safe because the government are allowing sport to take place. If there was any strain on the NHS as far as sport goes, the government would immediately stop it from happening.

Frank Warren
Jan Kruger/Getty Images

So in your eyes, there’s nothing to stop boxing going ahead right now in the same way that other sports are going ahead?

The only way there could be any strain on the NHS is if, God forbid, a fighter got injured. That’s not happened yet. We don’t want to tempt fate but we know it can.

At the end of the day, the government are now being very strict. If sport is deemed to have an impact on the NHS, they will stop sport.
What are Queensberry’s plans moving forward?

We’ve got the Carl Frampton show [versus Jamel Herring] on Feb 27 then we’re looking at two shows in March and two in April. That’s what we’re working on now – some may come down to purse bids. So it’s whether we’ll be promoting the shows that involve some of our fighters or our rivals will be.

And Tyson Fury-Anthony Joshua is the biggest of the lot. Are we right to believe that’s close?

Everybody wants it happen. I had reservations that ‘AJ’ didn’t want the fight but I was wrong, that’s not the case. We will soon all look at a document and take it from there. I’m confident that all the parties involved will agree and we’ll get that fight on. It’s a fight that everybody wants to see and all of us want to make it. It will get announced when all the parties agree and not before. That’s why we’re not making much comment on it.

Sometimes with fights of this magnitude, the less we hear from the various camps, the more likely it is to happen.

I agree with that. Until it’s done, it’s not done. We’re all of the opinion that we want to make it happen and that’s the direction we’re moving in. I hope, and I’m confident, that it will happen. There might a few bits of argy-bargy along the way but, collectively, we all know what we need to do to make this fight happen. Most importantly, the two fighters want this fight to happen this year.

Might there be an issue with Tyson Fury potentially being out of the ring for well over a year before he fights Joshua?

He’s not happy that he’s not fought. We tried to get him out in December but we couldn’t do that for various financial reasons. It is what it is. He wants to get out and if we can get a fight for him in between I’m sure he’d be delighted. But the name of the game now is to get the Joshua fight over the line. It does depend when it happens, if for whatever reason we can’t get it over the line until August or September, he might have a fight in the interim.

What might push it back to August or September?

I don’t think anything should. I’m just saying if that were to happen. Who knows? Things happen in boxing don’t they?

And Oleksandr Usyk’s situation with the WBO?

I think the WBO will order an Interim world title fight with Joe Joyce. That’s not certain but I think that’s what will happen. If that doesn’t happen for Joe, it could be a fight with Dereck Chisora.

The loss to Joyce must have been hard for Daniel Dubois to take.

It was very hard for him. That’s boxing, it happens. He was ahead on a couple of cards and had it gone the distance who knows what the outcome might have been. But it didn’t because Joe’s tactics were to keep working on Dubois’ injury once it happened. Dubois is very frustrated but he’ still a young man, he’s not an old guy. I’ve seen boxers come back from worse defeats than that and go on to win world titles. He obviously couldn’t continue because of the pain and thank God he had the sense to do that because if he didn’t it would have been the end of his career. As the doctor said, if the fight had continued, he could have ended up blind in one eye. Once he gets the all clear, he’ll be back.

In terms of business, are you accepting that this is the way it is or are you allowing yourself to dream that crowds could be back in the summer?

We’re not going to get any crowds back before May or June at the earliest. Even with the roll out of the vaccine there have been difficulties. The government are talking about February 15 to have had a large amount of the population vaccinated which is a step in the right direction. That has to happen. If we get people into arenas by the end of May, we’ll be very lucky. Having experienced this virus first hand, and been quite lucky, we need to focus on what the problem is here. We need to get grips with it. This is no life for anyone.

The only way we’re going to get through this is to be sensible. There should be no pressure to ‘get back to normal’. We have to see what the new normal is. The vaccine will be an annual thing. So let’s be very careful and not rush into anything.

How much longer can the likes of Queensberry and Matchroom keep doing what you’re doing? The financial strain must be immense.

It’s a killer. It’s very difficult for us financially but what else are we going to do? If we’re not promoting shows between us then the sport loses its relevance. If we’re not on TV, but other sports are, then we’ve got a problem.

There’s the economic fallout to consider. There are furlough schemes, loans, grants being given out. They’re going to want the money back somehow at some stage. TV companies have lost subscribers from when there was no sport. The financial directors won’t be looking at sport, they’ll be looking at the bottom line. They’ll look at it and go, ‘Right, where can we save money?’

The one sport they’re not going to cut back on is football. It’s the national sport and it’s very competitive for the stations. The next most popular is boxing. So if we’re not promoting it and it’s not on the TV, then it’s very dangerous for the sport. So we have to look long-term, everyone be sensible and cut our cloth accordingly, and get to a point where we can get bums back on seats.

With all that in mind, British boxing owes you and Eddie Hearn a debt of gratitude for keeping the sport alive in this country.

We’ve all worked hard. It’s not just Eddie Hearn and me, it’s all the people who have worked on the shows as well. Andy Ayling from our office has done tremendous things on the safety side of it working with the Board. But everybody, by co-operating and using common sense, has managed to keep the sport going.

We have to keep going, keep safety in mind, and get to a position where we can put the decent shows on.

That famous lunch with Eddie Hearn has been put on hold…

There’s nowhere to go is there? For all of us, there’s no lunches, we’re all stuck at home. Fortunately, my wife isn’t a bad chef. We’re all okay. We’ve got to keep working and making sure the sport is relevant.

Listen to the full interview with Frank Warren on the Boxing News podcast, The Opening Bell.

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