AS THE year began, a lot of our attention was focused on how the PPV market within boxing would change, if at all, in 2022. While there have certainly been developments on that front, it’s another topic that proved to be far more important this year: accountability.
Boxing is often referred to as the Wild West of sports, a place where you can get away with things you wouldn’t dare try in another discipline or business. As fans of the sport, we’ve come to begrudgingly accept that as just the nature of the beast. But that attitude could be changing.
One incident in particular brought this to the forefront: Conor Benn’s failed drug tests. When we talk about accountability in this instance, we’re not necessarily referring to Benn himself. There are still various investigations ongoing and Benn continues to proclaim his innocence, despite twice testing positive for banned substances. Once all the evidence has been addressed, then we can discuss holding him to account.
What was important here was the coverage of Benn’s failed test. The Daily Mail broke the news during fight week in what was one of the most impactful scoops the sport has seen in recent years. The focus then turned to those involved in the staging of the aborted fight with Chris Eubank Jnr: Matchroom, Wasserman, DAZN and the British Boxing Board of Control.
Once it became apparent that there were attempts to push ahead with the fight despite the adverse finding, the boxing media were united in their opposition of this. Op-eds were written, key players in the event were hounded for interviews and answers were demanded. It was a fine example of how powerful the media can be in sport.
Of course, a lot was still kept under wraps. A sit down between IFL TV and Eddie Hearn days after the incident revealed very little. Those who were asking the right questions were met with the wrong answers: basically “no comment.” It was a dark period for the sport and, in all honesty, it’s not out of the woods yet.
What has been encouraging is the continued coverage of this Benn saga. Too often we’ve seen boxing scandals shrink back into the shadows with nary a whisper, but things seem different this time. National newspapers are keeping tabs on the various investigations being undertaken and the likes of Hearn and Kalle Sauerland continue to be probed on what’s happening.
It’s not just national media outlets that have done their bit, though, it’s also dedicated channels such as ID Boxing who produced some outstanding coverage of Benn’s failed test. Their lengthy livestream on the day the news broke, in which various key figures within boxing were roped into interviews, was an insightful and entertaining watch on a day of confusion and concern.
This might just seem like I’m scrabbling for a silver lining inside an overwhelmingly dark cloud, and perhaps that’s partly true, but an impartial media holding people to account is essential to the sport’s health.
So too are broadcasters putting on the biggest and best fights. While 2022 didn’t give us everything we wanted, there were plenty of significant events and some excellent broadcasts.
BT Sport’s coverage of Tyson Fury-Dillian Whyte back in April was a particular highlight. Though the fight itself ended up being quite one-sided, the broadcast was everything a big fight should be. The commentary was excellent, star pundits were on hand throughout the night and the atmosphere from Wembley Stadium jumped out of the television screen.
DAZN had various successes throughout the year but none surpassed Katie Taylor’s historic clash with Amanda Serrano, which also took place in April. The show drew 1.5 million viewers according to DAZN, a record for the streaming service. That’s a huge win for DAZN but also for the sport as it helps further develop women’s boxing in a big way. Sky Sports also aired a hugely significant women’s fight later in the year when Claressa Shields defeated Savannah Marshall in the UK.
Sky also aired Josh Taylor’s extremely controversial win over Jack Catterall toward the start of the year, in which it seemed the challenger had done more than enough to relieve Taylor of his belts, only to see his hopes dashed by the scoring judges. Sky did a terrific job of covering a very difficult situation: pundits and commentators – even promoter Ben Shalom – were given free rein to air their opinions on the result and all were brutally honest. This also ties in to the issue of accountability and how the more of it there is, the better.
There are still pervasive issues within boxing broadcasting, though. Competition is healthy, but we have seen a proliferation of broadcasting options that customers have to pay for and that fighters can partner with. This has made it harder for the biggest fights to be made – a prime example being Terence Crawford recently fighting David Avanesyan on BLK Prime rather than facing Errol Spence Jnr.
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2023…
The discussion of PPV will continue. DAZN, after launching with a staunch anti-PPV message, are now one of the main providers of this particular type of event. In January alone we’ll already get two – one on DAZN, the other Sky Sports, though the most intriguing fight of the month – Artur Beterbiev against Anthony Yarde – will air on BT Sport 1, and full credit to that broadcaster for that.
We’ll also be holding out hope for the truly big fights: Tyson Fury vs Oleksandr Usyk and Crawford vs Spence. There’s also the very real prospect of Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia finally clashing.
In the coming weeks there should, hopefully, also be a resolution to the situation with Benn. How that unfolds could have huge ramifications for the sport as a whole.