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Time for boxing to think big

boxing Anthony Joshua
Coronavirus is causing chaos but boxing has two huge aces up its sleeve

SOME bizarre things are happening out there. At a time when we should have been debating who was going to win between Daniel Dubois and Joe Joyce, we’re instead losing our minds over a computer-generated fantasy tournament created by the World Boxing Super Series to fill the void in action created by Coronavirus.

Mike Tyson outpointing Muhammad Ali in the heavyweight tournament raised the odd eyebrow before Winky Wright – who we all remember being as aggressive as a grasshopper – turned into Godzilla, chinned the unchinnable Carlos Monzon in the middleweight semi-final and sent the boxing hardcore into a frenzied twist.

That tournament, the brainchild of WBSS marketeer Matt Rich and simulated on the old Fight Night Champions video game, was of course just a bit of fun but fans’ reaction to such a preposterous result highlighted what a passionate bunch we are.

Boxing promoters all over the world are surveying the ongoing damage caused by Coronavirus and wondering how best to escape from it. Events we hoped might provide the necessary leg-up have already lost their footing. It was no surprise to learn this week that Anthony Joshua’s June 20 defence of his heavyweight belts against Kubrat Pulev at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium had officially been postponed. Although Britain might be slowly emerging from the crisis by then, it would be logistically impossible to stage an event of that magnitude so soon.

Mike Costello and Steve Bunce, on their excellent weekly BBC podcast, discussed the problems facing the sport; namely how promoters might struggle to attract the crowds required to ensure boxing is up and running and in full flow by the end of the year. And though the WBSS fantasy tournament highlighted that fans are eager for any semblance of live action, actually persuading them to mix in huge crowds after such a long period of doing precisely the opposite will be difficult. Think about it; though a visit to your local boozer might be appealing, will you really want to get on public transport and stand in crowds of thousands during a period of deep and potentially scary uncertainty?

There are several trains of thought on this: the optimistic among us suggest that fans, so tired of isolation and eager for its end, will flock to any old event in an effort to experience normality again; the reality, though, is likely to be different – at least in the short term.

Costello asked Bob Arum, who alongside Frank Warren promotes Tyson Fury, if the “Gypsy King” might bypass his third fight with Deontay Wilder and go straight into a winner-takes-all showdown with Joshua instead. Arum, while stressing that Wilder and Pulev would need to be appeased, acknowledged that such a scenario was a possibility.

On the surface, it makes perfect sense. Two weeks ago I made the point on this page that the sport will need to create the best fights as soon as possible to ensure a swift recovery and they don’t get any better than Fury-Joshua. If one matchup could persuade punters to part with their cash and lift an entire nation’s spirits, it’s that one. Dig deeper, though, and the age old obstacles become apparent. This is not simply a case of loading two names into a computer and pressing play, unfortunately.

Aside from Pulev and Wilder, there is the not so small matter of where to stage it. Fury doesn’t have a UK licence after relinquishing it in February before his latest run-in with UK Anti-Doping hit the news, and asking fans to travel abroad is a definite no-no. Joshua has mandatory commitments with the IBF and WBO (though, it must be said, such obligations now seem more trivial than they ever did) and there will be numerous TV broadcasters eager to protect their respective investments.

But what we’re blessed with is a period of time that allows those in power to negotiate and talk and agree. Boxing needs those enemies to come together like never before. So who knows, out of the wreckage, we might just be able to salvage the mother of all restorations. After all, if we’re now living in a world where Winky Wright can clobber Carlos Monzon, anything can happen.

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