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The impact of BoxNation

BoxNation
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Steve Bunce looks back on the launch of BoxNation, a platform that changed boxing broadcasting as we knew it

BOXNATION is a decade old and it all started on a Friday night at York Hall. Could it have started anywhere else?

On that first night, Liam Walsh was in the British fight of the year when he retained his Commonwealth super-featherweight title at the end of round 10 against Paul Appleby. Walsh was over in the seventh, Appleby in the 10th before it was stopped. It set the agenda and in the 31 days of October 2011, I truly believe the channel changed the shape of boxing coverage in Britain.

Look at the facts and figures for the first full month of live shows. It is stunning.

Eight live boxing nights, including the AIBA World championship finals, Marco Huck and Bernard Hopkins in world title fights, the best of British at the time with Nathan Cleverly defending his WBO title in Liverpool against Tony Bellew. On the Cleverly undercard, James DeGale, Billy Joe Saunders and Paul Butler fought. That was a spiteful night.

On the same night, after a three-hour dash in a car from the Echo in Liverpool, it was Hopkins v Chad Dawson in the legendary Input studio. On that undercard, Danny Garcia pipped Kendall Holt and Antonio DeMarco halted Jorge Linares for a vacant belt. That is some bill. A week or so later, I had DeMarco live on the Boxing Hour. That was a bit tricky because our freelance fixer, who worked for nothing, had set me up with 50s world champion, Tony DeMarco. Still a great guest. I only found out when the real Tony DeMarco said “Hello”. I was on my own then, Barry Jones came in from the cold the following year.

The Boxing Hour launched on Monday October 10 and in the first show I had Bellew and Cleverly on the phone, Frankie Gavin and DeGale in the studio and a big kid from Finchley called Anthony Joshua on the sofa. It was actually a couple of chairs. On the previous Saturday in Baku, Joshua dropped a tight decision in the World amateur championship final; Joshua won five times to reach the final. He came in on that Monday with his medal. Not a bad launch. The show was live, the first 300 shows were all live.

The Worlds were live on BoxNation – it was a revolution, make no mistake. And yes, Oleksandr Usyk and Vasyl Lomachenko both went live on British television winning their finals that day in the Azeri capital. It was the first time we had seen every final from the amateur World championships live on any type of television or feed. I think we started at something like 3pm that day. It was the unknown.

There were three more live Boxing Hours that October – one ran over and went to 90 minutes – and the guests included: Nicola Adams, Jimmy Tibbs, Bomber Graham, George Groves, Leon Williams, Adam Booth, Michael Katsidis, Clinton Woods and Ricky Burns. It was a great platform, a home for all sorts of boxing voices and faces. And so many from that first month went on and fought at the very highest level. There were others who came and then vanished.

After the launch with Walsh at York Hall on the Friday night, there was a cruiserweight IBF title fight from Germany the following night with Steve Cunningham losing his belt to Pablo Hernandez in a bad-tempered brawl. It set the tone for years of showing the type of competitive title fights that had previously fallen under the radar and had not been on British television. Setanta had, admittedly, set the agenda, but they had been gone over two years by the time BoxNation launched. It was a global platform very quickly.

And at its very heart were nights like the 21st October at York Hall when Rob Norton fought for the last time and dropped a split to the massive underdog, Leon Williams. The British cruiserweight title, so long a lost trophy, changed hands in a temporary move that night. It was not a classic, but it had raw drama. On the same night, Johnny Garton made his debut. Frank Buglioni came in and sat on my sofa at the end of the month and a few days later he made his debut; both Garton and Buglioni won British titles. I believe they call something like that a breeding ground.

In that opening month we also had an interview with Dewey Bozella before his first fight, which was on the Hopkins undercard. Bozella spent 26 years in prison as an innocent man before his release and Hopkins gave him his dream; it was a good story. There was a bizarre show from the Royal Albert Hall where a team from the American navy met a British military team for a cup. The event never happened again. So many live nights in just one month and, I reckon, close to 100 live fights in that first month. The BoxNation shows had seven, eight, nine or even ten live fights. There was no fear of time, no walls – we just put out fights, every fight available on any given night. It had never been done that way before.

It was a joyride, make no mistake, and from Hopkins to Johnny Greaves, losing at York Hall the first night of the first month, it was a privilege to be involved. Jim Bentley the wizard producer – he made it all happen – is now at DAZN. His car boot was loaded with magic fights and hidden gems and they helped fill the hours during that brilliant launch. I’m still holding microphones and sitting on dodgy sofas. John Rawling is still commentating. Richard Keys, who presented the first shows, is in glorious exile in the Middle East.

What a month it was. Truly amazing.

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