IT happened one warm night in Las Vegas in 2007 when my head was tanned, I was wearing my lucky world title gold tie and my man from Del Monte suit.
The message was stark from the American producer. “We don’t need the bald guy,” he told me.
I was at the time in the ring, in Las Vegas at the Thomas and Mack, with an ecstatic Ricky Hatton. A few minutes earlier Hatton had connected to send Jose Luis Castillo down and out in round four. The one where he paused, took a step and then went down like a sniper victim. Sound familiar? Anyway, it was a cruel body shot, but not as cruel as the producer’s last words: “Forget that bald guy, end the damn interview.”
The bald guy was Wayne Rooney and during the next two days I was roasted by the men in charge at Setanta for not interviewing Wayne Rooney. I never did get the producer’s name.
In the old days – go find the post-fight interviews from ITV’s shows from the Nineties – there was just time for a quick line, a quick grab with a hyped-up winner and not a lot more. Fights like Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank in Birmingham 30 years ago might have been watched by over 15 million viewers, but the interview on the live broadcast is just seconds long. Sky extended the length of interviews, Setanta extended the interview length even further and then in 2011 BoxNation suddenly had all the time in the world for interviews. It’s a short history and on BoxNation’s first night at York Hall I think they interviewed about 10 boxers after fights – that was probably a British record at that point.
The fights under Lockdown rules, where the ring is invaded and cleansed between fights, means that so far just about every single winner has been interviewed. And a lot of losers. It is amazing how good some of the young fighters are and Henry Wharton with George Davey last week was a real treat, even after a fight where the result was expected. There is perhaps room for the reflections of the men who lose on Saturday nights. I know men like Jeff Thomas and Brett Fidoe and Jamie Quinn have their tales and under Lockdown rules and regulations they could get a slot to talk. It doesn’t always have to be the champions, unbeaten contenders with their boasts and hopes. It’s not always the glitzy Las Vegas crowd.
There can be and in an ideal world there would always be real drama and heartbreak in a post-fight interview. But, it’s not always about the glory and too often it is the spewing of an often endless list of sponsors. Sadly, there is no place in an interview with a shock winner who insists on thanking a scaffolding company in Stockport for their sponsorship. That can happen and it might be funny, but it is not clever. On too many nights at BoxNation we had to put up with another endless chorus: “I would like to thank Al Haymon.” That was infuriating, tell the truth. I get a sense of dread when a boxer walks over with 10 brands plastered on his shorts, knowing a poodle grooming shop in Uxbridge is about to get a shout.
And then there is just the rawness of a big event, a big fight and a big ending.
In Chelyabinsk last summer I had to make a decision on interviewing Anthony Yarde just seconds after he had climbed up from the canvas, just seconds after his dream of winning a world title on the night was over. I slipped through the ropes, loitered and – having got a nod from Frank Warren – I approached the boxer and Tunde Ajayi. The pair were still in shock, their eyes red and swollen. They were looking up at the big screens as the fight’s end was replayed and replayed. Fighters always wince when they watch back their heavy defeats, knowing before the punch lands exactly what is coming and dreading it every time.
The fight had ended in round 11, it was Yarde’s first loss in 19 fights, but he was brutally honest and humble in the interview. And then Sergey Kovalev came over, reached out to touch Yarde’s heart and praised him. Sergey stayed to talk, it was terrific stuff and Yarde listened. It felt like a good night’s work, a night salvaged by their honesty.
Last week at York Hall I decided not to interview David Oliver Joyce after he was beaten by Ionut Baluta, whose post-fight, three-language interview was fun. Joyce was left facing some tough, hard and painful decisions after getting dropped and stopped; I don’t get paid enough to open that wound for a three-minute glimpse of a grown-man’s broken heart. It was not personal, it was passionate.
We like the passion. In the ring at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles in December 2018 I managed to get both Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury together at the end of their first fight. Wilder struggled to look me in the eyes, Fury was magnanimous, quite brilliant and raw. I felt there had been an injustice, Wilder shrugged and Fury asked for a rematch. Being in that ring on a night that I knew would never be forgotten was extreme, I loitered for a bit and got a real sense of the event as the aisles slowly emptied and people were busy at ringside. It felt like being a part of history, an unforgettable little part on a night of wonder and I was in no hurry to leave the ring. The adrenaline was there and I was staying for a bit longer, trust me.
It was the same rush last week with Josh Taylor, a special feeling that takes over.
Working from the ring in those fights in Chelyabinsk and Los Angeles was a privilege. And nearly getting to interview Wayne Rooney in a Las Vegas ring was just a bonus.