By Frank Warren
On Tuesday I finally concluded an agreement with the London Legacy Development to promote six events at the Copper Box Arena inside the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford.
It’s a deal that promises to revitalise boxing in the capital and provide fight fans with a fantastic new facility to savour. Located in the heart of London’s East End - historically the spiritual home of pugilism in Britain - the futuristic venue was used as a site for several events, primarily handball, at the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Dubbed ‘The Box That Rocks’, the atmosphere generated when two elite well supported prizefighters are slugging it out is going to be electric. Though boxing didn’t feature at the Copper Box during London 2012, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Team GB were the top performing boxing nation at the Games and the move to incorporate the sport into the venue has been widely celebrated. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, hailed it as ‘a knockout deal’.
Likewise, Greenwich Leisure Ltd, who operate The Box as a non profit distributing co-operative, are strong supporters of grassroots boxing and sponsor the renowned Repton Boys Club in Bethnal Green and great boxing fitness initiatives.
The GLL has made a commitment to plough any profits reaped from the venue back into financing opportunities for young children within the local community. That will cement a lasting legacy from London 2012.
A fight friendly, mid-sized arena is long overdue in London. While the real blockbuster fights will continue to feature at Wembley Arena or the O2 in Greenwich, the 7,500 capacity Copper Box promises to provide a perfect outlet for top grade promotions.
Save for a few shabby town halls, there were just two venues of consequence - the 12,000 capacity Wembley Arena and the 5,000 capacity Royal Albert Hall - when I first broke into the industry 33 years ago, The latter, though brilliant for boxing, included 1500 debentures leaving just 3500 tickets to sell. Both halls were monopolised by the Duff-Barrett-Astaire cartel who dominated boxing in the 60s and 70s before I cracked them.
In the late 1980s, I invested heavily in the 12,500 capacity London Arena on the Isle of Dogs. It featured a number of big fights, most notably former and future world heavyweight champion George Foreman’s sole performance in Britain plus a number of WWF wrestling events and music concerts.
The provinces were similarly barren back then. However, over time fabulous multi-purpose arenas have been erected in several of our major cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast. I’m very proud to have initiated professional boxing into all of them.
Though The Copper Box shall also be used for concerts, it was purpose built for sport. In addition to being fully utilised by the local community, it shall house the London Lions basketball franchise next season and badminton’s London Grand Prix in October and has a state of the art fitness gym.
Retractable seating permits you to alter the floor space and with easy accessibility on public transport, the Box appears tailor made to house world class boxing; compact and intimate with fabulous sight lines from every vantage. There really isn’t a bad seat in the house.
Above all, of course, great venues need great fights and I’ve a pretty decent track record for delivering those. Ironically, the debut promotion on 21st September will be headlined by my British middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders; himself a teenage Olympian from the 2008 Beijing Games.
In a clash of highly touted prospects who are unbeaten in 31 fights combined, ‘The Caravan Kid’ squares off against his mandatory challenger John Ryder from Islington. Known as ‘The Gorilla’, the 24 year old Ryder represents the rival Matchroom faction but Andy Ayling on behalf of Queensberry Promotions, which is co-owned by my sons Francis and George, secured the winning purse bid to promote the ‘pick’em ‘clash and provide the Copper Box with a fitting launch.
The bang up has already split the trade and, given the rival southpaws crowd friendly styles, it’s sure to be a real humdinger.
Thereafter, we intend promoting at the Copper Box every two months and providing a fantastic platform for the other leading talents. My dream fight for the facility? It would have to feature iconic heavyweight Tomasz Adamek against Del Boy Chisora.
The grapevine is ripe with rumours that Amir Khan could challenge WBA welter king Devon Alexander from St Louis over in Dubai in early December.
The sport can never have too many outlets. However, I remain sceptical regarding interest from the Middle East. There was no bigger Muslim draw than a prime Naseem Hamed yet, despite plenty of lip service, the Arabs were always very slow pull their dough up. Only believe it’ll happen when the money is deposited in the bank.
Having baited Carl Froch in vain during his nine months as mandatory IBF super-middle challenger, Adonis Stevenson stepped up to light-heavyweight last weekend and needed just 76 seconds to clatter reigning WBC king ‘Bad Chad’ Dawson over in Montreal.
The 35 year old Haitian is a seriously dangerous puncher. Nevertheless, Nathan Cleverly is willing to accommodate him in a unification spat on either side of the Atlantic, any time Stevenson fancies it.
Despite sending a young, transitional squad, Britain’s elite amateurs returned with an impressive three medal haul from the recent European senior championships in Minsk, Belarus.
Congratulations to Welsh flyweight Andrew Selby who retained his title plus Englishmen Jack Bateson and John Joe Joyce who collected bronze medals at light-fly and super-heavyweight respectively.
However, the amateur code could be in jeopardy of imploding from within. Squabbling between the British Amateur Boxing Association, which oversees the elite program, and the home nation associations, which cater for the sport at grassroots, saw BABA Executive Chairman Derek Mapp ousted from office at an EGM last week.
The rift has angered benefactors UK Sport who are threatening to withhold funds until the feuding factions get their house in order. Quite scandalous that administrative egos could compromise our flourishing young boxers.
The up-coming film “Tapia” on the tragic life of Johnny Tapia will be given the Hollywood treatment when it premieres at the Los Angeles Film Festival today.
Rap star and boxing promoter 50 Cent and Lou DiBella have joined forces to produce the documentary on the five-time and three-weight world champion who was found dead at his home last year.
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