BOTH BT Sport and Sky Sports offered up some tournament-style action over the weekend, starting with a heavyweight version of The Ultimate Boxxer on BT on Friday.
For those unfamiliar with the format, it’s essentially a reboot of Prizefighter, meaning that the entire tournament takes place in one night. Six fighters are involved, and each fight scheduled for three rounds.
You wouldn’t be blamed for expecting an explosive night of action with this sort of set up and six heavies involved, but we only got one stoppage from seven bouts. That being said, some of the fights were good fun, and the propulsive nature of the tournament means it never really gets dull, particularly as you know you’ll find a winner by the end of the night.
The quality of boxing inside the ring wasn’t great, but the whole event had a fun feel to it, something a bit fresh (though, as noted, the format isn’t wholly original). Anthony Crolla and Amir Khan were on punditry and, in keeping with the theme, rarely strayed too deep with the analysis.
The following night over on Sky, we got the first instalment of MTK’s Golden Contract light-heavyweight tournament.The most intriguing fight on paper was Bob Ajisafe v Hosea Burton – both former British champions – though it was the second fight on the televised card, with Steven Ward’s first round defeat to Ricards Bolotniks topping the bill – and it was, strangely, described as the main event, despite all these quarter-finals theoretically being equal.
This weekend’s UK broadcasts will most likely be defined by their omission of Terence Crawford’s welterweight title defence against Egidijus Kavaliauskas. The Top Rank show also had Richard Commey-Teofimo Lopez for a lightweight strap and Michael Conlan-Vladimir Nikitin. With all the money currently being thrown around in the sport alongside all the talk of providing fans with more content than ever, it was a surprise that this stacked card – topped by one of the best fighters in the world – was not picked up. But with Sky Sports having spent a fortune on delivering some of the best international offerings of the last six months, and BT broadcasting the UFC on the same night, that none of the UK broadcasters in the chasing pack (ITV, BoxNation and co) paid for it highlighted two things: One, money is tight and, two, the appetite for events that will only appeal to the UK hardcore is not what it was a few years ago.
It seemed as though the BBC were going to completely ignore boxing during the Sports Personality of the Year broadcast until, toward the end of the show, they played a ‘boxing review’ done by none other than KSI who – it can’t be stressed enough – has very little to do with boxing. The short clip barely scratched the surface, mentioning Joshua’s fights with Ruiz, Callum Smith, Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder and, yes, KSI’s ‘fight’ with Logan Paul. Afterwards, there was a brief mention of Caroline Dubois winning the Young Sports Personality of the Year, but there was no time to even allow an applause for this incredible achievement, let alone a presentation of the award.
TKO with Carl Frampton had one of the more interesting interviews of the week, as Frampton’s co-host Chris Lloyd sat down with Angel Fernandez – one of the integral additions to Anthony Joshua’s camp ahead of his rematch with Andy Ruiz.
Fernandez reveals some details about how he came to be drafted in by Joshua – their ‘relationship’ started when Joshua followed Fernandez on Instagram ahead of the first Ruiz fight (Fernandez recalling his elated reaction is nice). Angel was then called in officially ahead of the rematch, though things were largely kept under wraps.
Sadly, we don’t get much detail about what exactly Fernandez focused on tactically and the sort of input he had and while Lloyd tries to tease these things out, Fernandez avoids giving much away. He does, however, provide insight into the dynamic of Joshua’s team, in particular how he worked alongside Rob McCracken.
It was good to hear Barry Jones – best known for his work as a BT Sport commentator – on Sky Sports’ Toe 2 Toe show this week, alongside Ed Robinson and heavyweight contender Michael Hunter. Not only does it show a willingness from Sky to pick the brains of those across the aisle, but Jones is a knowledgeable voice to have on any show, and I for one would like to hear him on more podcasts.
Tris Dixon’s sit-down with John Scully on Boxing Life Stories is also a good listen for us boxing nuts – and I’m not just saying that because Scully is a columnist for BN. Scully – who trains light-heavyweight king Artur Beterbiev – is a true student of the game and breaks things down excellently, plus he discusses his experiences sparring the likes of Roy Jones Jnr.
In a relatively quiet week, a lot of interviews eventually turned toward the fallout from Joshua-Ruiz 2, and the former champion took a hammering from the likes of Bob Arum, Lou Dibella, Dan Rafael and Carl Frampton, being labelled things like “bum,” “disappointment” and a “disgrace to his family.”
In the spirit of balance, others like Andre Ward and Jamie Conlan point to Joshua’s mental strength to bounce back so successfully from a crushing defeat.
After Crawford’s win at the weekend, Arum was also filmed in a media scrum saying that ‘Bud’ could be matched with Shawn Porter next – a great fight, though it would take some political wrangling to get made.
Undisputed female middleweight champion Claressa Shields was in Vegas for the UFC card, and spoke to ESPN about how she is meeting with promoter Dana White to potentially set up a crossover fight with UFC champion Amanda Nunes, considered by many the greatest female UFC fighter of all time.
However, the most brutal assessment of Ruiz’ effort against Joshua came from rival promoter Frank Warren in his weekly column. Describing Ruiz as “literally the elephant in the room,” Warren also wrote, “Joshua must have wondered which chin he was supposed to aim for.”
While Warren’s views on the fight should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt given his alignment, you can’t really argue with his assessment of Ruiz’ abysmal preparations.
Speaking to ESPN, Vasyl Lomachenko appeared to reveal that he’ll seek to unify lightweight titles against Lopez next when he directed the message, “Welcome to my club, see you in April,” at the new IBF champion.
On the same site, Mark Kriegel has written an excellent feature on Lopez’ troubled family life and their bleak history – for all his flamboyance, there are demons lurking in Lopez, and Kriegel does a stellar job of exploring them.