Opinion

Paul Dempsey: “We need to remember we are lucky to do this.”

Paul Dempsey has hosted a number of boxing broadcasts over the years
Paul Dempsey says he feared for the future of boxing during the boom of MMA, but insists the sport's now thriving again, writes Terry Dooley

A lot of people enter the world of boxing thinking that it will lead them to fame and fortune. Then they spit a sentence or two and the game bombs them out. They stagger out of the darkness, muttering about how the sport turned their “Days of Wine and Roses” love of it into a bitter addiction followed by an even more acetous disillusionment — like it is some kind evil reverse Jesus that turns water into vinegar. Then they say: “Well, it is all one big Old Boys’ Club, isn’t it? I didn’t stand a chance.”

In reality, the people who make it in boxing must have the resilience of a honey badger mixed with the heart of a lion and the cynicism of a career politician, with a thick skin to boot. Overnight success stories are often anything but and it requires a lot of patience to make it. Most people have earned their spot. The ones who haven’t fall by the wayside.  

Paul Dempsey has hosted many, many shows for SkySetantaBoxNation and now BT Sports, with other channels mixed in. When he left the City of Leicester Boys’ School and, later, St John’s College he had no real idea of where he was going or how he would get there. Consequently, Dempsey moved into journalism without a fixed employer at first and spent some time living the precarious life of a freelancer before nailing down permanent roles with the likes of Sky. 

Working freelance must be either exhilarating or excruciating. Dempsey walked that tightrope in the early days, hustling up work wherever he could. He still has fond memories of it. “Being freelance is never easy and thankfully there was a lot of work available,” he told Boxing News

One thing that we can all agree on is that on the surface he has fallen into the dream job yet a lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes to make it look so effortless. He also told me that you will only make it if you are enthusiastic about the smaller nights as you are about the big ones.

“One can never get blasé and every day we need to remember we are lucky to do this,” he said. “Obviously there is more energy around a big event yet in our job very often we get up the next day and move on to a ‘smaller’ job, which you cannot take for granted, and for the people involved it may be a very big event in their careers. What is demanding is the constant travel. By the end of the football season, one is ready for a few days off, but we have international tournaments and of course the boxing never stops.”

There have been bad times, too, as Dempsey has seen ring injuries first-hand as well as witnessing the more unseemly side of boxing, times when people in the crowd act like idiots and act up. “Nights like [Chris] Eubank [Junior] against [Nick] Blackwell are the hard part,” he said.

“I have been involved in five or six with three fatalities. The most important thing is to remember the welfare of both boxers and all the people close to them who may be at ringside or watching on TV. You never forget those occasions. I will also add that serious crowd trouble, especially if it is orchestrated or pre-planned, is very disturbing for everybody, and especially for our TV crew.”

Like Jim Rosenthal and his other peers, Dempsey has witnessed the rise of new media. There are now many platforms for fighters to use to self-promote their fights. They can also use the growing number of video channels to reach a wider audience. Like most people, the broadcaster believes there are good and bad points when it comes to the rise of the new media.

“I am not terribly comfortable in the social media world,” he admitted. “It is a good tool if used properly, but a lot of young fighters now are giving themselves problems by trying to over-promote themselves online instead of concentrating on learning their trade. But new media does create access to boxing for new generations of fans — just look at the demographic for [Anthony] Joshua’s big Wembley nights.”

Dempsey has seen a lot of people come and go, as well as listening to the constant claims that boxing is on its way out and that MMA would take over its role in society. That has not and will never come to pass, and Dempsey accredits the work done by those within the sport for this. 

“I admire every single boxer at every level and there are several trainers and referees I have great respect and affection for,” he said. “In the UK we are extremely fortunate to have Robert Smith leading the governing body. 

“The promoters I admire the most are Bob Arum, Frank Warren and Barry Hearn for their longevity in a very tough business. Eddie Hearn has done a brilliant job in creating a new fan base and really helping to fight off the appeal of MMA. In fact, in many ways the industry has never been bigger and the surge in the UK in the past 10 years has been remarkable. I feared MMA might take over but the opposite has happened.”

You can read more from Dempsey in the recent edition of Boxing News.

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