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Frank Warren: ‘My worry was that we were going to lose a generation of fighters’

Frank Warren boxing promoter
Frank Warren talks to Alex Steedman and Matt Christie about Daniel Dubois, the Matchroom proposal, that spat with Dillian Whyte, the road to Fury-Joshua and the future of British boxing

YOU would have been disappointed if Daniel Dubois hadn’t put in that kind of performance against Ricardo Snijders?

Well yeah. He was jumping out of his skin, he’s a big man, he’s a young man and he’s very powerful and he just wanted to get in the ring. It was very disappointing that Erik Pfeifer didn’t send through the correct medical documents and we had to hunt for a new opponent. We did try hard and Snijders was the best available we could get. I would have preferred a much better opponent than that obviously. Having said that, Daniel is what he is. He’s a big punching, strong, dynamic fighter and I think he takes the fight out of most guys with his first shot. Snijders wasn’t allowed to get into the fight and I think most fighters, if they’d have got in there with Dubois on that night, the same thing would have happened.

Talk us through, firstly, how difficult it is to get an opponent for Dubois anyway and then how difficult it must be in the current climate.

The current climate is very difficult. We’re in a situation where we can’t even look at the ratings and say, ‘right, here’s a guy who’s ranked above Daniel, let’s try and get him’ because there’s travelling problems, particularly with guys from the States and so forth. It’s very difficult at the moment, particularly if someone gets injured. We had two guys on the show who pulled out, the other one was Willy Hutchinson’s opponent. [Substitute Ben Thomas] was badly overmatched but it’s all we could get. They were what they were. But they’re [Dubois and Hutchinson] two very exciting young fighters who are in a hurry to get places. At the end of the day, during this pandemic, we’ve been very lucky that we’ve not lost more opponents but – in this business – it’s sod’s law that it’s going to happen.

Do you have a long list already of guys who have turned down the opportunity to fight Dubois?

Yeah, there has been. I mean we tried to get Dave Allen for the last fight and I’m not going to repeat what he said on social media, but it’s not for the want of trying. It is what it is. Daniel is a big powerful guy and opponents will wonder why they’re going to get in there unless they’ve got a chance.

Joe Joyce thinks he’s got a chance.

It’s a great fight. They’re both undefeated, they’re the new kids on the block and they’re on that level of fighters who are coming through. At the top you’ve got Tyson [Fury], you’ve got ‘AJ’. There’s [Dereck] Chisora and [Dillian] Whyte and I actually think that Joe and Daniel are above those guys. If they were to fight them now, they would beat them. The winner will get into a mandatory position.

Does Dubois-Joyce need a crowd to go ahead or will you be able to crack on with it one way or the other?

We’ve got to see what happens. We’re desperate. It was nigh-on sold out, we only had about 800 or so tickets left when it was supposed to take place in April, which is a great shame. We postponed it a couple of times and we hope to get it on October 24 and we hope to get news on that from the government about where we’re at with crowds.

What’s the dialogue – whether it’s you, the TV companies, the Board of Control – been with the government? Horse racing, for example, has political allies who will fight its corner – it was one of the first sports to come back behind closed doors and they’re looking at Doncaster having crowds as well. Is there someone batting for boxing?

Yeah, we’re batting for it! We did the shows before anybody. We were very determined. We brought the shows back in July and we faced some opposition from within the sport which I found surprising. We worked very hard with government advisors, with the Board and their doctors, Andy Ayling in my office did a fantastic job and we got a protocol in place that is being used by everybody now in the UK. We had to start somewhere and we did. Now we’re direct dialogue with representatives from the government about when we can do a test event with crowds. I expect us to be announcing that fairly soon.

You’ve got to look at the different dynamics. Doncaster is a massive area, it’s hundreds of acres, they can space out audiences. In a venue, for example if you go to the O2, it’s just under 20,000 capacity. If they say you have 20 per cent capacity, that’s one in five seats, so it’s going to look awful before you start. You can’t crowd 5,000 people together, you’ve got to space them out around the venue. We’re trying to work out a way so that it looks good as well.

Is there a minimum number of attendees that you need for Dubois-Joyce to go ahead in October?

We put the fight together on a sell-out. That’s what we were looking at to generate the income. Now we’re looking at other options to get the fight to go ahead.

We spoke to you in lockdown and there was a feeling of doom and gloom and concerns about boxing but you seem a lot brighter now. Are you less fearful about the sport’s future?

I never had a worry about the sport’s future. What I kept saying from the beginning was that we had to get it out there, we had to make it relevant. The big guys have got a few quid, they’re lucky, they’ve got money. They’ve still got to earn money and capitalise while they’re young. But they guys at certain level need the regular income and they were not getting it. My worry was that we were going to lose maybe a generation of fighters, that they would go off and get other jobs and not have the desire to come back into boxing. We’ve worked hard to get our youngsters out, we were very limited in what we could do at the start because we were only allowed to put five fights on a show. There’s concerns about the medical side but if you go to the shows you will see that, between each fight, the referee has to go off and shower, the ring and everything around it has to be sanitised, and that’s why we’ve got such big spaces in-between the fights. It’s not ideal. So where we used to put 12 fights on or more, we haven’t been able to do that. It’s been frustrating. But, yes, I’m happy now that we’re back doing what we’re doing and our guys are going in the right direction.

Frank Warren

How many fighters are kicking their heels because there isn’t the opportunities and are fighters a bit more realistic about pay in the current climate?

Some are, some aren’t. It’s like people in all walks of life. Everyone is different. Some are reasonable, some are not. It’s like the footballers. Some took a haircut for their clubs, some wouldn’t. If they’re realistic they get it, and they understand it. Some of them have taken quite dramatic pay cuts. It’s not just the lack of crowds, we can’t financially exploit TV they way we to because it’s hard to get the quality of fight that we’d like to put on. So it’s been a bit of chicken and egg, but I think that will change a bit now. We’ve tried to make the fights competitive and overall we’ve done that – I’m not saying Daniel’s fight was competitive – but most of the fights have been competitive. But there are a few still waiting to work, but we’re getting them all out there, we’ve just announced another four shows, two in September, two in October and we’ll be announcing November and December shows, too. We’re very active at the moment. We’re probably more active than anyone else in this country and making sure we’re servicing the guys’ contracts and getting them some work. We’re doing the best we can, working together with the fighters, the managers and trainers, trying to cooperate to deliver. I keep banging on about it, but we’re trying to make the sport relevant amongst other sports that are now active.

You’ve been banging that drum for a while. That was the motivation for reaching out to Eddie Hearn and Matchroom. What has been the reaction and what is the latest with that?

About two weeks ago he sent me an email and said he was going on holiday and we’d meet up when he gets back.

So where does that leave you?

I don’t know. I won’t keep chasing people. I put it out there. I picked up the phone, I initiated the conversation, he called me back, we exchanged a couple of brief emails, I want to get this meeting on. But I’m not sitting around waiting for it to happen. I want it to happen. I can’t do anymore than that. There’s willing on Queensberry’s side to make some of these fights.

Those steps were great news for the sport. There has been a very obvious barrier between Matchroom and Queensberry over the years and with that in mind, Eddie Hearn has said in interviews that Queensberry haven’t helped Matchroom for the last 10 years, they’ve been doing quite the opposite, so why should he work with you now. What’s your response to that?

Well, I think if you look, more of my fighters have appeared on their shows than the other way around. The only ones that have appeared on my shows have been when we’ve won the purse bids – like Lee Selby, like Kid Galahad, like John Ryder. Other than that, we’ve done a number of voluntary deals. But I don’t want to talk about the past and all that bulls**t. It is what it is. We’re in different times. Why would I want to keep sticking more obstacles down and talk about all that crap? Why would anyone want to do that? Let’s deal with today. We’re competitive but so are Sky and so are BT, so are ITV and so are BBC, so are Virgin Atlantic and so are BA, so are Ryanair and so are EasyJet. That’s the world. Grow up everybody, what do you think this is? We are rivals in a small market but we’re no different to any other industry. Look at football clubs, the way they fight over players and so forth, what’s different? Sometimes I find it quite pathetic people even think that way. What do they think we’re going to do, all hold hands and have some crumpets and teacakes? It’s not like that. We’re rivals in a very competitive industry. So what is going to take to make this idea get over the line, or even to the next stage where it might go from being a dream to a reality? A meeting. [Silence]. There’s a huge pause there! You asked what it’s going to take and that’s what it’s going to take! A meeting! Until we have the meeting it means nothing. There’s been some upsets in lockdown, none more so than when Alexander Povetkin knocked out Dillian Whyte. What were you thinking when that happened? Selfishly and from Tyson Fury’s perspective, I was thinking ‘good’. We got rid of that mandatory, we got rid of those barriers to make the fight with Anthony Joshua. The other side were saying they wanted to make the fight but Dillian Whyte had to be serviced, he’d been hanging around a long time. Well, he’s not hanging around anymore. For Dillian Whyte, it’s a shame obviously, he’s been sitting there for a 1,000 days but that’s not my fault is it? That’s his fault. He was number one with two organisations, he was with the promoter who had the world champion and the belts. That’s down to him. I don’t know why he got the needle with me over it, it’s not my fault at all. There was a bit of needle, or banter, or a spat on social media. I honestly answered a question like you’ve just asked me about that fight. All the week of that fight I’m being told that Whyte has got to fight Fury, that lawyers’ letters are going to the WBC, all this is going to happen. They were selling that fight off the back of Tyson, let’s get it right. He’s going to win then he’s going fight Tyson, Joshua wants to fight for all four belts so he’ll go in a different direction. So when I was asked how I felt, I said ‘good, because now we can make the fight [between Fury and Joshua].’ I shouldn’t think people will be too concerned about it. Because all we want to see, all your readers and listeners want to see, is Tyson Fury in the ring with Anthony Joshua. That’s all anyone wants to see. All the rest of it is all bulls**t, nobody cares.

So we’re now in a situation where Joshua fights Pulev, Fury fights Wilder and the winners fight each other?

Tyson is contracted to fight Wilder, so we get that fight on and get rid of that obligation. Hopefully Joshua gets through Pulev, I’m confident Tyson will get through Wilder, I don’t want to tempt fate but I’m confident he does and let’s get on to the next one, the big one.

It’s been fairly quiet from Deontay’s side. Are we right in presuming that talks are advanced and that will happen this year…

It’s contracted! There’s no talks to be had. All we’ve got to do is find a venue. The only talks to have are ‘This is the date’. We’re working very hard to find a venue, or a site, to make sure we can generate enough income to ensure the guys get the purses they’re due.

What is looking like the favourite location at the moment?

They’re talking about Vegas in December, there’s been a couple of offers from other countries around the world but as I’m sitting here now, there’s nothing concrete because everybody is in the same boat. No one knows what’s happening, some countries like the States have big problems. In Vegas, MGM just laid off 18,000 people. Vegas is not in a healthy state financially, let alone being unhealthy because of the pandemic. That’s the world we live in at the moment unfortunately.

Is what the sport is doing now sustainable in the short to mid-term before the sport gets back to normal?

It is what it is and it’s going to have to be sustainable if that’s all we’ve got, until things change. It’s the same for everybody. I drive through London, like the West End, like Canary Wharf, and it’s like a ghost town. How many people are going to go back to work? How many are going to get laid off? How are all the businesses going to survive without the customers? We’re in very challenging and dangerous times. If this is what it is, this is what it is.

  • To listen to the full interview, where Warren outlines his ideal plan for Josh Taylor and Jack Catterall and tells the unmissable story of how he wined and dined Don King to get the Frank Bruno-Oliver McCall fight over the line, listen to episode five of The Opening Bell, the BN podcast. Available on Apple, Spotify and all major podcast providers or listen direct from our website.

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