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Frank Warren on Fury-Joshua talks and bringing boxing back

Frank Warren
Frank Warren tells Matt Christie there will be a new world and considers how boxing will fit into it. An essential read

How is lockdown treating you?
Okay. I’ve been trying to keep myself busy, reading, watching a bit of television and listening to music. I’ve been catching up with people I haven’t spoken to for ages but, to be completely honest, I’ve been bored out of my brains.

There have been reports on ESPN that talks are underway between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua yet the talks are just between MTK Global and Eddie Hearn due to a ‘rift’ between you and Eddie. How true is that?
There are no negotiations going on. I’ll tell you how it is. Our side [Team Fury] is Queensberry, Top Rank who are his joint promoter in America and we promote everywhere else, and MTK who act as advisors and managers for Tyson. We all have our respective roles. I’ve never had any dealings with Eddie Hearn and MTK do quite a bit with him, so they’ve been talking to him on behalf of us, and I’ve been talking to a couple of countries about where to put the fight on, on behalf of our side, so that’s where we are. There is an NDA [non-disclosure agreement] being signed with one particular territory which Matchroom have signed, we’ve signed, MTK have signed and has been signed by us on behalf of Top Rank. I can’t comment further on that at the moment. There are no negotiations for a fight to take place because there’s been no offer made yet. Until an offer is made, there’s nothing to negotiate. Whatever happens, all parties concerned have to be agreeable to it. The fact is, where we are now, we have a contractual commitment for Tyson to fight the third fight with Deontay Wilder and Joshua has a contractual commitment with Kubrat Pulev. That’s the reality. All the stuff that [Eddie] Hearn has been spouting off about and so forth is all irrelevant because there aren’t any negotiations because there’s nothing to negotiate about because there’s no offer.

So there’s been no discussions with, for example, Deontay Wilder’s team about a figure to step aside to allow Fury to fight Joshua?
No. One-hundred per cent no. All this other stuff, it’s just Hearn coming out with some bulls**t. But if he’s not saying something, he’s not being heard.

How difficult has it been to ensure that interest in boxing remains during this period of lockdown and is ready to relaunch once it’s over?
That’s the big problem we’re faced with at the moment. I’ve had quite a few conversations with Robert Smith at the Board and I’ve told him we have to keep our sport relevant. There has been lots of talk about football taking place and coming back behind closed doors, motor racing and horse racing too. We [boxing] need to be in there because if we’re not, we’ll be in the slipstream. What we’re going to get when this all does eventually ease off will be a new world. What we thought was normal before will not be normal then. Everything will change, unless you can inoculate 66-million people. So unless that happens, there will be some serious modifications to what we all do. Sport will be behind closed doors and we’ve got to make sure we’re up and running. Robert Smith and I have done quite a lot of detailed work on what it takes to run a show – it’s not just a case of ‘here’s a date we restart’ and everyone piles in to somewhere and we film it. We’ve got a lot of logistical problems. For example, people are going to have to be tested. And once you’ve tested them, you can’t then go home or into a gym with a load of people in it – and that’s if the government allow gyms to open. There’s a risk they’ll go away and catch it and then come back the next day and give it to everybody else. So the fighters will have to be tested and then put in isolation for two weeks. That will be the same for the four-round and six-round fighters on both sides of the card. For all those fighters, you’re going to need gym facilities they can access that have to be cleaned after use. How are they going to spar? The sparring partners will all need to be tested too. Come the week of the fight you’ll have to lock the referee down. The trainers, too, will have to be locked down. So you’re going to have a period where you’re going to be testing people regularly, that equipment is sterile because there will be no social distancing as far as the athletes are concerned in the fight. You can’t have a fighter bringing an entourage. That’s gone. For a main event, it will be a fighter, their trainer and their cutman, and that will be it. Everything will have to be done to a minimum.

Then further problems arise with the TV and media crews?
Of course. If you’re going to film it away from a TV studio, you’re going to have put an OB [Outside Broadcast] unit down. Inside one of those trucks, there ain’t no social distancing. That’s what you have to consider. There’s so many sides to it, everything needs to be looked at. We’ve done a tremendous amount of research so we know where we are and what we need to do to move forward and do these things. But, if you don’t do them, if anybody cheats and thinks they can be wise guys, we’re all in trouble. And we know that certain people in boxing will break the rules and cut corners. Everyone has got to get this right. You’re not going to have lots of shows to start with. I’ve seen a load of nonsense about venues being hard to come by. That’s not going to be a problem. You can go and get as many venues as you like this year because all the [music] concerts have been pushed back 12 months anyway. I’ve got friends in the music industry, I know what’s going on and they’re just pushing their shows back. The only people who can promote behind closed doors are those who have TV deals because you’re not going to get any income from the public – that’s gone before we start. You’re not going to get people promoting at York Hall without TV and without a crowd. Why would you?

boxing Frank Warren
Boxing gyms are currently shut down. Getty Images

So what is the short-term solution for promoters?
We’re going to put shows on but they’ll be at a certain level to start with and to see how that goes. Which means it will likely be Matchroom and ourselves, and MTK have that Golden Contract, who are in a position to put on shows and that will be it. I’d be surprised if anyone else was doing it. That’s not going to be strain on any [government] resources but we can only do this when the government says it’s safe to do so. People need to know that doctors, ambulances and paramedics are paid for by the promoters, not the Board of Control, not the National Health Service, that’s our cost. The only time the NHS are involved is when, God forbid, a boxer gets seriously injured and is taken to a neurological unit. Thankfully, that is a very rare scenario.

You’re more experienced than the vast majority. How fearful are you about boxing’s long-term future?
My main concern is that the two biggest sports TV businesses in this country are BT and Sky. They’re subscription-driven models, both of them. At the moment, they’re not showing sport so there’s no subscriptions or money coming in. When sport returns, there’s going to be very little money unless you’ve got a contract. I’ve been down this road before; the major sport that drives these subscription channels is football so they’ll be looking to keep the football going at the detriment of other sports. The other sports will suffer and we’ve got to make sure that boxing doesn’t become a casualty of that. So we have to make sure we are up there and ready to go when they give the green light. If people are not watching boxing, then the question, ‘what do we need boxing for?’, will be asked. At the moment we have to be realistic. We’re not going to be putting on Daniel Dubois versus Joe Joyce behind closed doors. We’ll start with British title level fights behind closed doors and then we hope the situation will change.

How do you cope with the financial pressure of putting on shows behind closed doors?
All we’re going to do is lose money but we’ve got to do it: One, to ensure the sport remains relevant and, two, we’ve got to make sure the fighters are getting paid. Not every fighter is Tyson Fury or Anthony Joshua. If fighters have got no dough coming in, they’re going to have to try and get a job in a very bad employment market. These are tough times for everybody. Magazines are closing. Retailers are closing. Airlines are going bust. This is the world we are in now, so the sport has to get moving. The alternative, with no live shows, is unthinkable. We have to get the sport moving. I see Hearn is talking about staging Dillian Whyte-Alexander Povetkin. Is that really worthy of pay-per-view? And I’m not just saying that in a ‘us and them’ way. But irrespective of that, imagine you’re a paying subscriber to Sky Sports, are you then going to be happy to pay a pay-per-view fee on top after months of zero live sport? That’s how I see it. There are dangers in these strange times that we are heading into.

With that in mind, how do you keep fighters like Daniel Dubois happy if fights behind closed doors won’t pay?
That’s another issue. We have to wait and see what the government says at the weekend [in regard to easing lockdown restrictions]. We need to know what is allowed and what isn’t before we can make plans to reschedule it [Dubois-Joyce]. We moved that show back from April to July because everyone said it would be three months before everything came back. We now know how that’s going to be. But regarding fighters like Daniel, Josh Taylor and Carl Frampton? Let’s look at it from Carl’s perspective – he’s a good ticket-seller but all that revenue is dead. You can’t make it up – where are you going to get it from? Even if you did go pay-per-view with a fight you weren’t originally intending to go pay-per-view with, in the hope of making extra revenue, you’re not going to be able to charge for pay-per-view what you charge for a ticket. That would be greedy and it wouldn’t work. These are challenging times for everyone. We’re all going to be chasing sponsorship and advertising revenues that at the moment aren’t there. We’ve got to be innovative and, most important of all, keep boxing between all of us. We’ve got to be sensible and not greedy and stupid. Greed and stupidity is the last thing we need. The industry has to be sensible and accept there are sacrifices for everyone.

There was some live boxing in Nicaragua recently. Some parts of America maybe in a position to stage boxing before the UK. Is there scope to take your fighters abroad?
Again, it depends where it is safe to take them. In an ideal world you’d say let’s put the fights on in New Zealand but then you’ve got a terrible time difference and so forth. It’s not just taking the fighters, it’s taking everything over there, it’s a very expensive exercise, it’s got to work. At the end of the day, we’ve got to make the best out of what we can do. At the beginning, it is our intention to show one televised show a week. That’s what we’d like to do and then we take it from there.

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