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Why the crisis facing British boxing could turn out to be its saviour

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Matt Christie on boxing's road to recovery

THERE are 1,121 professional boxers in the UK and at least 75 per cent of them have no idea when they’re going to fight again. Out of that 75 per cent, subtract a handful – those with household names, world titles and sponsorship deals – who do not need to fight in the immediate future to earn money. That leaves approximately 850 British fighters in limbo. That’s nobody’s fault, but a sobering number nonetheless.

Then add the teams of those fighters, the promoters without television deals, the trainers without a big name, the gyms without funding, the training assistants without a job, and we might be at the tip of the biggest iceberg to hit British boxing in history. Think about the journeymen. Always a borderline offensive term yet suddenly appropriate: No fixed abode in the boxing world, no away corner to inhabit. When boxing starts again in the coming months there won’t be many places on the five-fight cards for boxers whose sole purpose it is to survive.

“I’m worried that this break is going to make journeymen obsolete in the future,” Stockport’s Jamie Quinn, 7-102-2, told Lewis Watson for an upcoming Boxing News feature. “But if they [promoters] can’t fill buildings up, then they can’t get the money from the tickets that we rely on to get paid. It’s going to have a huge impact on the journeyman.”

The ‘prospects’ who rely on those journeymen will also struggle. Those without much fighting education but an ability to sell tickets. To the promoter who now has no seats to fill, those youngsters – particularly those with records that flatter to deceive – may have limited appeal, at least in the short term.

Five promoters have approached the British Boxing Board of Control about staging events behind closed doors. Each have relationships with television platforms and each will recognise the importance of staging competitive fights. Importantly, they’re all talking to each other. There’ll be no room for the 40-36 four-rounder. Those bouts were often the staple of small hall shows up and down the country yet competitiveness was often lacking.

Similarly, on bigger shows, pitching amateur standouts against woeful European imports was not a good look. Those mismatches have no place anymore and that must be a positive.

A more depressing casualty of the pandemic is the champions who are already being forced out of the sport. Last month, fan-friendly warrior and former British king Johnny Garton announced his retirement due to the current restrictions. After spending months training for a rematch with Chris Jenkins, a bout that was cancelled due to the pandemic, Garton – without any income – had to search for new ways to keep the house above his family’s head and food on their table. Yet chances for the likes of Garton will return. He’s exactly the kind of fighter the sport will need to recover.

Huge changes are underway and plenty will be for the better. Though the sport appeared healthy because there was so much of it occurring, ticket-sellers winning 40-36 every weekend and ticket-buyers leaving the venue once their mate had his arm raised was never going to safeguard the sport’s future.

Area, English and British titles can regain their standing. Fights that are evenly matched, whether they consist of two ‘journeymen’ or two unbeaten fighters, are infinitely more appealing than those where the winner is known long before the opening bell.

Let’s restore some order. Instead of bogus continental belts taking priority, fighters can establish themselves in a hierarchy where national championships lead the way. Imagine that. Fighters proving themselves to be the best in their Area and then their country before they aim for world titles.

The raw appeal of boxing – two well-matched athletes fighting each other – will win the day. The demand for British fighters will return and 20-0 records, should they even exist, will actually mean something again. The sport may never again be as prolific as it was but the necessity for quality fights can create a brighter tomorrow.

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