WITH so much boxing content rolled out in the space of a week – interviews, podcasts, previews and three separate major broadcasts – it can be easy to get overwhelmed and swept up in it all. There was brief moment, perhaps just after Troy Williamson had finished Ted Cheeseman in a breathtaking fight, that I looked down at the pizza I’d ordered, with my dog curled up next to me and, giddy in the knowledge that we still had the main event of that Liverpool card to come, plus Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder a few hours later, where I was convinced boxing had peaked.
This is it, I thought as I chomped down on another cheesy slice, we’ve cracked it. This is the greatest night of boxing ever. The comedown from that euphoria was fairly swift and culminated about halfway through the snoozefest between Efe Ajagba and Frank Sanchez on the Fury-Wilder undercard, but I wasn’t completely off the mark.
Across all three shows, there were at least 10 different fights that hardcore fans were really looking forward to, and almost all of them delivered. When the sport gets so much right in one night, it’s tough to focus on any one aspect rather than just gushing about everything, but what seems clear is this; we – more specifically us fans in the UK – have it a lot better than we thought.
Not only were there several brilliant fights, capped off by an all-time-great collision between Fury and Wilder, but both DAZN and BT Sport provided standout coverage.
First, let’s get the main negative out the way, and it isn’t even a particularly big one; the schedule conflict. DAZN’s Liverpool show ran at the same time as the first of BT’s broadcasts, which came from Birmingham.
I was in the fortunate position of being able to record the BT show to watch once the DAZN one had finished, though this wouldn’t have been an option for everyone and clashes like this are far from ideal.
Now, onto what worked. DAZN’s product has been steadily improving with each card, and this one was no different. They drafted in UFC fighter and local favourite Molly McCann for some punditry work and she was excellent.
Though she competes in a different sport, she still offered nuanced and valuable insights into fighting throughout the card. She was particularly good in the aftermath of Shannon Courtenay’s defeat to Jamie Mitchell, wherein McCann initially said she was scoring the fight to Courtenay
She then saw replays and highlights and, on air, admitted that her “bias” likely got in the way and that Mitchell was a deserved winner. It’s hard to stress how rare it is to see a pundit or commentator do that live on the broadcast they’re working on, and it was a breath of fresh air.
The main fights on the bill were called by Mike Costello and Andy Lee, a pairing that should never again be split up. Costello made the move to DAZN from his position as a radio commentator at the BBC, and it isn’t a like-for-like substitution; television commentary is very different.
Despite that, Costello is a natural and was able to keep pace with the breathless energy of Williamson-Cheeseman and the drama of Liam Smith-Antony Fowler without imposing himself too much on the action.
Lee was typically astute, even detailing the straight right hand Smith was subtly setting up seconds before he uncorked it for the first knockdown of Fowler. The only gripe is that Lee’s scoring of the early rounds definitely seemed off, something he addressed on social media the following day when he admitted two things: One, he made a mistake and two, he only scores because he is told to do so.
What also stood out was how the commentary did not speak in between rounds, but instead let viewers listen in to what was being said in the corners of the fighters. It might seem like a simple decision, but it’s one that greatly enhances the viewing experience.
BT Sport followed this up with a solid card in Brum, but it was their coverage of Fury-Wilder on Box Office that really stood out. John Rawling and Richie Woodhall commentated the entire card and were joined by David Haye for the main event.
Rawling is another exemplary veteran of British sports broadcasting, and Woodhall has an incomparable knack for breaking elite boxing down into the simplest of terms, as if he were talking you through a sparring session in an amateur gym.
Even during those rounds where it seemed Wilder was entirely spent, with nothing else to give, they didn’t fall into the trap of assuming it was only a matter of time for Fury. Sure enough, Wilder proved them right with his awe-inspiring bravery and fight-altering power.
The production of the broadcast was noticeably worse than UK shows and it’s worth making the distinction, because this wasn’t a BT setup – they were using the international feed, as were all other territories outside of the US. This much was clear during the numerous times Paul Dempsey had to cut some of the punditry short, because he and the BT team apparently weren’t kept up to date.
There were sound issues at times and some rogue camera angles, including a point where one cameraman seemed to almost fall off the ring apron while filming Wilder’s corner between one of the rounds.
All of that is to say, at least on this night, that the UK offerings and productions were far superior than the US ones. That also isn’t to denigrate the American broadcasts, as that would be unfair given I couldn’t watch those, but it is more a highlighting of the quality of the content British audiences have access to on an almost weekly basis.
That content isn’t perfect, and never will be, and the cost of following boxing across the different broadcasters is undeniably high, but in many respects we are being spoiled on these shores.