BOXING returns to Britain this weekend for the first time since March. We must all be thankful for that. It feels like much longer than four months ago when, on the front cover of Boxing News, we ran the sobering headline: SHUT DOWN.
We hoped that the sport would bounce back quickly. Some of us expected the break to be a matter of weeks rather than months but the truth was nobody knew the severity of our situation and the truth remains that nobody knows what’s ahead.
Only those who operate in the engine room of the sport can truly understand how gruelling the impending comeback has been to bring to fruition.
“It’s been difficult, to say the least, because we’re dealing with something that’s changing all the time,” the British Boxing Board of Control’s Robert Smith told Boxing News. “We spent time working to one set of guidelines and then before we know it, they change. Ordinarily I walk into a show and know there might be problems but at least we had experience of how to deal with those problems. With this, it’s very much a case of walking into the unknown.”
Frank Warren, 12 years after he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canastota and with a long history of staging huge fights all over the world, is the promoter who’s bringing boxing back. On paper, this event – a five-fight card topped by a British super-bantamweight title fight in a TV studio – is one small step for Frank. In reality, it’s one giant leap for the sport – and a highly complicated and expensive one at that.
Like the moment when Back To The Future’s Marty McFly emerged from the DeLorean in 1955, wearing a face mask and anti-radiation suit looking like he had taken a wrong turn from Mars, the vision of British boxing in 2020 – referees and trainers wearing masks and gloves, ring announcers outside the ring, strict distancing rules at ringside with media attendance sparse and crowds non-existent – is alien to everything that came before. “It looks like an airplane – without wings,” a confused and frightened Otis Peabody said as he observed McFly’s time machine in his barn. And as boxing goes back to the future, it must now start from the ground up.
Sixteen further cards are proposed to take place in the UK before September 2. “The teamwork from the promoters, there is only two scheduled clashes, has been gratifying,” Smith added.
Seventeen shows may not seem a lot. But it is. At a time when the sport traditionally reclines and has a little summertime doze, boxing is standing to attention, eager to prove its worth in a sporting world battling for relevancy.
Back in March, as we adapted to lockdown and immediately missed what we had long taken for granted, we yearned for the sport to come back with a bang. We blindly hoped for a glorious summer showdown between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua in the UK and a third fight between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin in the US. The sport needed something big to get it going again, we thought. But it could never have been anything more than what we’ve got. Too many things have changed. Too many lives have been lost. The real statement of intent is now purely one of survival.
So we build. We learn, in a way that we haven’t in a long time, and we plan for the future. Everyone in the sport should be willing this weekend’s show to succeed. Warren follows Bob Arum’s lead but recognises, as the Top Rank boss didn’t in the early days of his Las Vegas comeback, that for boxing to thrive in the long-term the fights at its heart have to be competitive. Brad Foster versus James Beech Jnr is unlikely to create too many waves outside of boxing’s bubble, it’s true, but for those of us within it, the compelling nature of the contest is recognised and appreciated. It gives two deserving fighters the chance to shine and invites the British title, a truly great championship that for too long has been undervalued, to take centre stage.
The hope now, and this time it’s a realistic one, is that the sport reminds us what we’ve been missing and proves what a truly wonderful spectacle it is.
Good luck to everyone involved.