THERE is plenty that we, as boxing fans, should be grateful for regarding last week’s announcement that heavyweights Joseph Parker and Joe Joyce – ranked fifth and sixth, respectively – are scheduled to fight on September 24 at the Manchester Arena.
Firstly, and most obviously, it’s a very intriguing contest between two of the best big men in the world. Nothing is guaranteed, not in boxing, but this should be a good fight.
Secondly, the winner will move towards a title shot, one that will have been truly earned. No waiting in line, no looking back, this is a huge statement of intent to get to the front of the queue; kudos to both fighters for that.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly for the long-term health of the sport, the contest is the product of two top UK promotional groups coming together and reaching an agreement. It is bizarre that we have to champion two powerbrokers shaking hands, but champion it we should. Parker is part of Ben Shalom’s Boxxer stable, while Joyce is with Frank Warren and Queensberry. The latter will promote this contest on BT Sport with an understanding that, if there is a sequel, the former will then take the reins for Sky Sports.
Better still, it’s a sign – and at this stage only a sign – that the promoters who represent the two aforementioned leading UK sport broadcasters can work together moving forward. There is a clear line of communication between them, something sadly lacking when Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn, the son of Frank’s old rival Barry Hearn, was in charge of the Sky Sports boxing output. The reasons for their inability-slash-unwillingness to work together were plentiful but, aside from the odd collaboration involving lesser fighters on undercards, they found it very hard to agree on anything. Too much time was spent on YouTube being encouraged by click-hungry interviewers to diss the other, which only heightened the wall between them. It always struck me as a trifle short-sighted to get Frank riled up about Eddie, then tell Eddie what Frank said, when the sport would have benefitted enormously from them getting along. But that’s a different matter entirely.
Still far too new to the sport to be bitter, but experienced enough to recognise how fixable plenty of its faults are, Shalom came along without any old grudges or desires to rub his rivals up the wrong way. It was refreshing when the promoter, after taking Hearn’s place at Sky Sports, told BN last year: “We have a massive responsibility. That responsibility is solely to the sport, to a great sport. Not to myself. Not to Eddie. Not to Frank. It makes no sense to butt heads with other promoters… We’re going to want to work with Eddie and Frank to ensure the best fights happen.”
As seasoned boxing fans, we never get too ahead of ourselves, but, on the surface at least, this could pave the way for several fights – particularly domestic fights – to occur that we previously presumed could not. Should the relations between the two remain tranquil throughout this promotion, it stands to reason that this could be the first of several, then, who knows, perhaps Hearn and Matchroom will want to get in on the sharing and caring, too. In fairness to Eddie, allowing fighters with whom he has close relationships to appear on different networks with rival promoters is a process he has long recognised as the only way to ensure the best fights occur – albeit one he’s yet to truly put into practice, box office behemoths Canelo Alvarez and Anthony Joshua aside.
Though it remains an almighty stretch to imagine him, Ben and Frank exchanging pleasantries over lunch (remember that old idea?), the notion that the biggest promotional groups can sit down and thrash out deals between them might not be as far-fetched as we’ve too long believed. Particularly when one considers that Sky Sports have showcased bouts featuring Wasserman and Mick Hennessy fighters in recent months and the Chris Eubank Jnr and Conor Benn negotiations are another example of potential cross-pollination. Nothing groundbreaking, not yet, but worthwhile baby steps nonetheless.
Furthermore – and now we are definitely getting overexcited but, hey, we all need some cheer before the world implodes – improved and regular relations between promoters is great news for those that really matter: the fighters. All of them, by and large, want to fight their closest rivals. Fighting their closest rivals nearly always equals the greatest reward, in terms of both stature and finance. But that Fighter A can’t fight Fighter B, because Promoter A and Promoter B can’t get along, is playground stuff in the extreme. It prevents the boxers from progressing, it drives fans round the bend and it makes the sport look like a joke to passers-by. Therefore, we should all welcome this new sign of maturity, however small it may be at this stage.
Good news all round, then. Well, not quite. Joyce-Parker will come with a PPV price tag on top of the BT monthly subscription fee (as much as £30, depending on your provider).
Unlike the harmony between promoters, the extra cost comes as no surprise. Parker has been a regular on PPVs in this country and, in Joyce, he’s facing an unbeaten and talented fighter who will not only bring out the best in him, but has a very good chance of winning. This is a 50/50 scrap.
Taken at face value, if Dillian Whyte-Parker was PPV, then Joyce-Parker should be too. It can also be argued, though not massively convincingly, that Joyce’s win over domestic rival Daniel Dubois in 2020 (not on PPV) earned him his place in today’s box office bracket.
Ideally, Joyce-Parker would come at no extra cost. Not only for those of us who are facing some serious financial uncertainty in the coming months thanks to a likely recession, but to allow the audience to be as great as possible.
But this is boxing, after all. Nothing is ever ideal. And if this contest triggers the breaking down of boundaries, the kind of which that have hindered the development of the sport for too long, the kind that have prevented fights that do merit a pay-per-view platform consistently occurring, the extra cost here might turn out to be a small price to pay.