IT had all gone so smoothly. Almost eerily so. Eddie Hearn had staged four outdoor events on four consecutive weekends during a period of summer when, traditionally, the British weather is notoriously changeable. Yet the rain did not affect a single one of them. Just ask Michael Eavis, the man who invented Glastonbury Festival in 1970 and this year had to pull his 50th anniversary show, how hard a feat that is to achieve.
Furthermore, Hearn staged it during a worldwide pandemic and nobody who was invited into the four-week festival – boxers, trainers, officials, media, workers – tested positive for the virus. Also consider how entertaining every event was and it’s hard to draw any other conclusion than Matchroom Fight Camp was a resounding success that went above and beyond every reasonable expectation.
But it was the unpredictably of the four-week festival’s theme and purpose – boxing, the most unpredictable factor of all – that provided a truly stunning finale and wiped the smile from Hearn’s face. After four rain-free shows, a grand total of 433 covid tests passed and 18 fights of predominantly stellar quality, the final punch of the whole extravaganza was thrown by 6/1 outsider Alexander Povetkin and it knocked Dillian Whyte cold. The same Whyte in whom Hearn has invested significant time and money and the same British heavyweight who, at last, was on the cusp of securing his long overdue world title shot. All he had to do was win.
But the decision to fight Povetkin, a known name and a known danger but also past his best, was a decision – a gamble – that spectacularly backfired. Or at least that’s how it must have appeared at first glance. Hearn, as Povetkin’s fifth round victory was announced, cut a crestfallen figure at ringside. He was visibly shocked when interviewed in the aftermath. But when the dust settles on this latest heavyweight explosion, it could work out better than anyone, even Eddie Hearn, could ever have dreamed of.
Whyte’s position as WBC mandatory is lost to Povetkin for the time being but so too is champion Tyson Fury’s obligation to fight the No.1 contender. Once Fury’s third fight with Deontay Wilder is done and dusted, presuming the American takes that bout, then the winner is free to walk into a unification bout with Anthony Joshua (if ’AJ’ defeats Kubrat Pulev later this year, of course).
In the meantime, Whyte has the right to trigger a rematch clause and take on Povetkin again. Though there was a lukewarm reaction to this matchup at the beginning of the year, the sequel – in a similar way to Andy Ruiz-Joshua II – suddenly becomes a must-watch in the second half of 2020. Should Whyte have stopped Povetkin in that fourth round when the Russian looked on the brink of defeat, instead of being walloped in the fifth, fans would have been complaining about the one-sided nature of the fight and not, I’d venture, be as invested in the sport as they are now.
Granted, there’s a lot of ifs and maybes, but suddenly the path to one world heavyweight champion is clearer than it’s been in a long time. And what shouldn’t be forgotten in all of this is the truly fascinating heavyweight era we’re in the midst of. That (understandable) desire for one champion often means we don’t truly appreciate the journey to achieving it.
Think about it. Between them, Joshua (versus Whyte, Wladimir Klitschko, Povetkin and the two fights with Ruiz), Fury (beating Klitschko and the two battles with Wilder), Wilder (in two contests apiece with Luis Ortiz and Fury) and Whyte (against Joshua, Dereck Chisora, Joseph Parker, Oscar Rivas and now Povetkin) are responsible for some undeniably thrilling times. The cynics may scoff, but look back through heavyweight history and it’s very rare indeed that the leaders were churning out drama as regularly as this. And that’s before we mention the significant promise of the chasing pack (Oleksandr Usyk, Daniel Dubois, Joe Joyce et al).
It may not have been the ending to Fight Camp that Hearn or Whyte wanted but it might yet turn out to be the best one for the sport’s long-term future.