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Yafai, Jonas, Klimas, Taylor, Andrade and Warren’s bid to savour: A bizarre day of boxing magic and mayhem

Natasha Jonas
Lewis Storey/Getty Images
Steve Bunce on an extraordinary 24 hour period in the sport

JUST before noon last Thursday I was in a studio finishing a 10-part podcast series on the Winter Olympics for the BBC. It was a mixture of the truly great, Jean-Claude Killy, the heroic, Philip Boit, the ridiculous, Eddie The Eagle, the perfect, Torvill and Dean, and some out and out nutcases like Matti Nykanen. And then boxing was plunged into an equally outrageous 24-hour period. Just a day, just a day in our business, but not a normal day.

By 1pm on Thursday I was in a room in east London overlooking the Tower and talking to Tokyo Olympic gold medal winner, Galal Yafai. He had just announced he was turning professional with Eddie Hearn and would make his debut on the Lawrence Okolie bill in a couple of weeks. In the last 54 years just five British men have won an Olympic gold medal; it was an event and rightly so.

One of those men was Audley Harrison. At about the same time as Galal turned over, Big Aud was a day or so into a seemingly endless stream of Twitter debates and rows and insults. At first people thought his account had been hacked, but then it emerged that it was indeed the Sydney gold medal hero and icon behind the stuff.

At the Galal conference, everybody was talking about Big Aud. He was in the news again and drumming up support to get the GB boxing centre in Sheffield named after him.

At about the time that afternoon when Claressa Shields landed in the UK, there was news that Natasha Jonas would be moving to light-middle – sorry, super-welter – and fighting Poland’s Ewa Piatkowska for a vacant title. Jonas has never been heavier than 139 pounds – her last fight was at that weight – and last year she lost to Katie Taylor for the lightweight titles at 135 pounds. However, Piatkowska was only 146 pounds in her last fight and when she won a version of the light-middle title she weighed just ¾ of a pound above welter.

It’s business and Piatkowska is not a dangerous puncher. Jonas is slick, make no mistake, and, just like Lauren Price, she might have an easy time against big and slower opponents. It was a shout from nowhere and it makes a lot of sense.

A bit later that day, Nathan Heaney announced that he had shifted 1,500 tickets for his next fight. There is no date, no venue, no opponent. They just adore the Stoke boy. He has a special following.

And then, just as we all waited for heavyweight news, it was announced that Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano will fight for all the lightweight belts in New York at Madison Square Garden in late April. This fight is in the big house, as they call it, the upstairs. The real Garden – Muhammad Ali’s Garden. Two women fighting and selling out the sacred house.

And then, Jake Paul, the old scoundrel and wind-up merchant, emerged as one of the major players in making the Serrano and Taylor fight happen. “Never saw that coming,” said Catford’s finest, Ellie Scotney. And she is right.

A few hours after my deadline, there was a nice Twitter row brewing when Bob Arum said something about women’s boxing that Jake took exception to, calling Uncle Bob a “dinosaur.” It rumbled for a bit. “I feel sorry for Mikaela Mayer”, Jake tweeted. That kid is slick.

As a balance to the Jake Paul praise, he did claim on Friday, inside my timeline, that he would fight Saul Canelo Alvarez in the next two years. Ouch.

And on Thursday night, at about 9pm, there was a lot of chat about Demetrius Andrade and Zach Parker fighting for a version of the super-middleweight title. And this is where a story that started with me talking about Winter Olympic heroes and an interview with a boxing gold medal winner, takes an odd turn. I met a geezer holding four Stellas in the check-out line at Co-op and he told me a Parker deal was done. He did the same two years ago with another big fight. That was the last time I saw him, I don’t know his name, but he has called it before. Parker and Andrade in the middle of this mayhem makes so much sense. Mind you, a sighting of a unicorn in Basildon would make sense in the middle of this sequence.

And then, just hours before the big reveal in the land of the heavyweights, Egis Klimas, the man behind so many former Eastern Bloc fighters, came to the defence of Oleksandr Usyk after Tyson Fury had accused him of running scared. It needs to be said that even a quick glance at Usyk’s boxing record would confirms that he is one of the bravest fighters in the modern game: He won world title fights against the local champion and idol in four countries. I know, just like Fury. Usyk is fearless, trust me.

Klimas accused Fury of “holding this wagon” and then continued with a warning to Fury, “Yelling and talking is cheap”. The clock was ticking as the Friday deadline, the latest deadline approached.

Audley was still ranting and raving.

By the end of the press conference on Thursday, as Okolie and Yafai fulfilled about three hours of interview commitments, it was clear that the purse bid would finally take place – it was the fifth date for the ceremony of truth. Dillian Whyte’s advisors appeared briefly in the hallways at the conference, chatted to Fabio Wardley and vanished again. They had no comment on the bid. Eddie Hearn was relaxed. “A deal was there,” he said. “A deal was there.” If you look back on about 20 days of speculation and rumour and invention, there have been very few solid comments. I had a week of people asking me: “Is Fury really fighting that big UFC geezer?”

Anyway, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, Audley was still typing and talking.

And then on Friday it came out, a purse bid to savour and it perfectly finished a truly extraordinary 24-hours of boxing news. Heaney, Yafai, Jonas, Klimas, Taylor, Serrano, Parker, Andrade, Arum, my pal in Co-op, Paul and then Mauricio Sulaiman – a closet Beastie Boys fanatic – declared the bid saga finally over. Frank Warren was the winner. Phew, what a relief that it was all over.

And, now it is another week and the boxing is back.

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