By Alexey Sukachev
While a number of fans and some experts keep lamenting over an inevitable death of the sport, veteran promoter Frank Warren plans to stage one of the most appealing heavyweight fights in recent memory – not just domestically, but worldwide.
Warren - the only active British promoter enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame – put the wheels in motion for a highly anticipated grudge match between hated rivals David Haye and Dereck Chisora. The bout is set to take place on July 14, though required the blessing of the Luxemborg Boxing Federation since neither fighter currently holds a British boxing license.
The decision by the LBF came despite a statement issued by the British Boxing Board of Control - the sole controller of U.K. prizefighting - wholly dedicated to condemnation of such fight. Included in the statement was the promise of future bans of all the involved parties from fighting at home and the refusal to sanction it under the local rules and regulations.
The question arises: who’s got it right?
It’s to be noted that the fight we are talking about isn’t just another encounter in a long history of boxing that saw millions of bouts and fighters taking their parts in. The fight at consideration is a possible FOTY candidate (at least to the north of 200 pounds) and the most appealing heavyweight clash that can possibly be made at the moment. No one is actually interested in watching the Klitschko brothers bashing another overmatched and overaged veteran in a complete mismatch (like it was a case in the Mormeck fight) or even in a competitive encounter. No one is thrilled with watching fights like Rahman versus Povetkin (which falls into the undercard of the proposed collision, is a clear indication what a so-called “world championship” means nowadays). And no one gives a damn about a vast majority of the elite heavyweights, who are competing today.
The bout between Chisora and Haye – 2/3 of the British heavyweight scene at the present moment - is one destined to be talked about and to be discussed even on the mainstream level. The fight has a story and is (over-)hyped but it’s supported by the actual level of the participants and its stance in the present picture of the division.
Haye (25-2, 23KO) is a former champion, who has got something more than tons of harsh quotes over the course of his career. After a devastative loss to Carl “The Cat” Thompson he rolled over the cruiserweight division crushing almost every opponent, including then-champions Jean-Mark Mormeck and Enzo Maccarinelli in back-to-back fights. Haye’s domination resulted in being triple-belted and laying lineal claim to the cruiserweight throne.
Then came the inevitable move to heavyweight – every cruiserweight’s final destination, it seems. Solid wins over Nikolay Valuev and John Ruiz introduced his presence, but he actually made a greater splash outside the ropes, thanks to his sometimes boyish and profane but also effective escapades against the Klitschko brothers.
While his performance against Wladimir Klitschko was less than inspiring and also complete with sad excuses, the least that can be said about Haye was that he wasn’t dominated by the heavyweight king in the same manner as most of the competition before him. Toe excuses aside, the guy can fight. End of story.
Chisora, who has been “glassed” by Haye during an infamous presser in Munich, isn’t as successful on paper as his fellow compatriot. In the ring, it’s entirely different. Chisora -mediocre record and all (15-3, KO)- should be considered on the same level with Haye and just a step (a giant step to tell the truth) down from the kings of the division.
The charismatic Brit was virtually nothing more than an eccentric dude prior to last summer, when he fought to a clear yet a spirited loss to Tyson Fury in an entertaining thriller. We thought it was his best but he proved us wrong by going… 0-2 but against somewhat elite opposition.
First came the disgraceful decision loss to all-mighty Finnish heavyweight Robert Helenius, who had been beaten to the punch according to anyone but the judges. The greater surprise came this past February, when Vitaly Klitschko, an almost invulnerable dominator, was made to look mortal under Chisora’s passion, hard work and punch rate.
Styles mix perfectly here. Chisora, a pressure fighter with unusual aggressiveness, is made for crowd-pleasing fights. Haye, an elusive boxer with both skills and one-punch knockout power, can put us to sleep on the wrong night. But on the right night he can produce a thriller. Chisora fight falls into the second category for a number of reasons, starting from the punch rate of the Del Boy and ending with Haye’s rustiness after a year-long hiatus.
Putting it short: the fight should be made if there’s any chance to make it.
There are no explainable reasons not to make a match-up to determine both the best active British heavyweight and the most legitimate challenger to any of the champions, including Vitaly, Wladimir and Alexander Povetkin. The collision is as natural as it comes. It’s so natural it shouldn’t be even defended. Yet we are forced to put a high guard against the offenders, who are surprisingly and sadly numerous.
The first to come out with indignation was promoter Barry Hearn.
“It sounds as if it is true and it's going to pose a real big problem for the British Boxing Board of Control. The ruling should go out to the promoters that should they get involved in that fight they will no longer be allowed to operate within the rules of the British Boxing Board of Control. We really can't encourage and condone the behaviour of those two fighters by allowing them to come to England and make a lot of money”, said the founder of highly acclaimed Prizefighter series to Radio 5 hosts.
He then asked BBBofC to take action and to withdraw the licenses of all the involved parties. It’s funny that Hearn has never appealed to the level of boxing both fighters perform at. The main reason is their behavior.
What is also symptomatic is the last sentence. Read it one more time and more carefully: “… and make a lot of money”.
Maybe the real reason lies here, doesn’t it?
Hearn, a key player in British boxing over the last two decades, has never been involved in arrangement of heavyweight fights of this caliber. Frank Maloney has been. Yet Maloney, despite his skepticism, has never put forward a real blame on the proposed event, just asking its credibility, although one can surely argue that David Price versus Sam Sexton fight is hardly more appealing.
Surely, another Frank – Warren, arguably the best British promoter of recent memory - has enough experience in staging highly bombastic events, experience he has got a painful way by dealing with the beast of them in Iron Mike Tyson.
Is something going wrong? Nah, not at all – it’s just a simple sample of promoter’s passion for blotting their colleagues in favour of additional promotion and their own good.
The second bunch to come out with such blames was Team Klitschko.
“It is a freak show under freak rules. It is a spit in the face of the British Boxing Board of Control.
To get a license for [Chisora] is disgraceful for the sport. How can you have such an event featuring a man who has shown his behavior to the world, especially considering what he did at the press conference, where he threatened Haye? It's something that isn't good for the fans and the sport.”
So, once again we are downplayed to the ‘behavior.’
It’s said in such a way like professional boxing indeed is the certain kind of Olympic sport with its strong traditions of integrity and gentlemanliness. The truth is that it has never been one. To consider boxing simply a sport is erroneous. Prizefighting is a complicated mixture of sport, business and entertainment.
To reduce it strictly to the sport is wrong.
Prizefighting (in its structure) is much closer to North American professional leagues – like NHL, NFL or NBA – than to any of the sports, governed under Olympic standards, rules and regulations. Even more so, professional boxing has never had a single government because of the dominating role of the business. It’s how it has been working for almost a century and a half. Promoters move boxing forward, not officials or authorities.
It’s not to say that a poor behavior should be tolerated in any way – it shouldn’t.
However, there are much more effective methods to regulate it: say, a 5.000.000 USD penalty can imply a long-lasting effect on those bad guys who allow themselves to violate rules of human’s co-existence. Some experts say that Chisora with his Munich’s stand has crossed the line. It’s arguable. Larry Holmes and Riddick Bowe also crossed the lines outside the ring. Mike Tyson did it numerous times. And they haven’t been penalized for their wrongdoings or their penalties were very modest.
More importantly, they retained their stellar statuses through this hard time.
From a business standpoint, this fight makes perfect sense. It can be sold – figuratively and literally, as evidenced by the 17,000 tickets being purchased hours after officially going on sale.
Unlike David Price against Sam Sexton – which was poorly sold - these guys do have major abilities for selling. And the statement from Berndt Boente, who said: “They both lost to the Klitschkos. They are on the second level. We could [not] care less” says it all.
It should be read just a bit different though, like: “They both lost to the Klitschkos in competitive fights. They are roughly on the same level with each other and not in the other league with my protégés. We shall care much about the winner and look forward to fight him in the fall”.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The harder you show your indifference, the stronger you are interested in what you vehemently try to ignore. It shouldn’t come as surprise if the winner of Chisora vs. Haye will fight either of the Klitschkos in a year since their mutual encounter. Don’t buy the words of their manager: the entire team has a major experience in politics, which shows well in their speeches.
Now to the formal part. Robert Smith, who is a secretary for the British Boxing Board of Control, on behalf of this respected sanctioning body issued the statement to condemn the now-announced fight. Dropping out all the self-praises (partially well-earned and partially exaggerated), paraphrases about fighters’ behavior and ban threats, an entire subject of the issue, which was documented in its full version on the BoxingScene before, can be limited in my opinion to the following statement:
“Those behind this proposal are not concerned with the interests of the sport of professional boxing. Any member who participates in such a promotion would bring the sport of boxing into disrepute and would wholly undermine the authority of the British Boxing Board of Control, of which he/she is a member, as the regulatory body for professional boxing in the United Kingdom”.
It’s a difficult question from that point on. As almost every difficult question in boxing, this one is strictly linked with boxing politics.
Unlike a majority of other sports – both “Olympic” and “strictly professional” – boxing isn’t governed by a single sanctioning body. The last sentence should be applied not only to the international level but to the state side as well. Some countries do have the only sanctioning federation/organization/association to govern prizefighting, as is the case in France, Poland or Italy.
In other locations, more than one boxing commission can be found: there are three of them in Indonesia, two or three operate in the Philippines and so on.
Situation of the other sort takes place in Germany: while a majority of promoters works with Bundes Deutscher Berufsboxer (BDB), others operate under the GBA aegis. Moreover, Sauerland Event, the biggest German promotional company (specifically after the recent setback of Universum Box-Promotion) works solely with the Austrian Boxing Federation – even on German soil.
This reporter is also a witness of the ongoing local conflict between the Professional Boxing Federation of Russia, the main governing body in the state, and its counterparts who are trying to set up (not without some success) their own sanctioning body.
PBFR has tried to eliminate the presence of the competitors but juristically there are no hard-written limitations that can prevent anyone to start his own federation in Russia. There is even one sanctioning body – the Baltic League of Professional Boxing, staged in Latvia – which supervises some events in neighboring countries: in Germany (some Arena-Box shows), in Finland and in Lithuania.
And it’s not particularly hard to get its license: for example, Vyacheslav Gusev of Russia has recently risked his WBO European featherweight title against Thai import Padjaj Yongyuthgym. One will wonder why the Thai fighter was allowed to fight for the European title. The answer is simple: he was licensed by the Baltic League of Professional Boxing. It’s not a single case: some American and Latin fighters, including former world champion DeMarcus “Chop-Chop” Corley, have been given dubious European papers in the past to be allowed to fight local guys for local titles.
Obviously, every local sanctioning body wants to create a monopoly for sanctioning and supervising boxing activities in the certain state. Reasons are clearly understandable from both business and political points of view.
The first one is to solely control financial streams and sources of funds not allowing any foreign group to earn money in the same field.
The second one is a question of political influence and domination. By allowing other sanctioning bodies to operate in the very same country the certain federation creates opportunities to be avoided in favour of its competitors that is certainly bad.
Thus the reaction of the BBBofC is explainable. Warren, staging a match under the rule of Luxembourgian Boxing Federation, violates territorial integrity of the British Boxing Board of Control.
It’s like dancing rumba during a tango festival, or eating Chicken McNuggets at Burger King – it is bad manners to do things like that. Unfortunately for BBBofC, their power is diminished in legal field. All what they can do is to revoke licenses of all the involved parties, i.e. Chisora, Haye and Warren.
This is uncomfortable but this is not crucial at the end of the day. If Warren wants to set his principles and doesn’t wilt under the pressure of local officials, he can easily get a foreign license for his future shows the way Wilfried Sauerland and Co did. Of course, if BBBofC has enough balls to ban the most powerful domestic promoter and two well-known fighters on the same night.
BBBofC is actually making two mistakes and in fact has already made one. The other will occur if the British Board retains its stance over the upcoming precedent.
The first one has been made by the authorities, when they revoked Chisora’s boxing license for his actions on the foreign soil and outside the ring.
Chisora’s behavior before his fight with Vitaly was inexcusable – that’s true. But slapping your opponent in the face isn’t something totally shocking. I remember in Dec. ‘05 when Lance Whittaker and Sultan Ibragimov induced a brawl during the presser. Sampson Lewkowitz got injured. Both combatants traded blows.
No one got DQ’d and thankfully so – they produced a great fight in the ring.
After the fight, Chisora was involved in the “glass incident” with an officially retired pugilist and was the host of the beating rather than an instigator.
All in all, Chisora was bad but the Board did even worse by imposing pretty harsh sanctions that prevented the man from doing his job as a professional boxer instead of setting a huge fine for his lawless behavior. This is what set up a plot for future coup, constructed by Warren, Haye and Chisora with a support of their German partners.
The second mistake was coming with a public statement against the proposed fight.
The Board decided to show its growing strength by refusing to sanction the bout and thus making quite a powerful enemy in Warren. This decision was very much questionable from all existing points of view.
Firstly, Warren, with all nonsense and scandals around him, did his job well. His tournaments are huge; he guided a number of fighters to planetary recognition and has lots of talent under his umbrella. Going against him isn’t wise in long-term outlook.
Second, the Board could have been more flexible by refusing to give Chisora his license (which is explainable after his recent ban) but allowing Haye to get his and thus setting up a fight between the British and the Luxembourgian fighters.
Finally, the match-up is already sanctioned by the World Boxing Organization as a fight for the WBO Intercontinental title, which means at least one universally recognized sanctioning body is going Warren’s way. That can induce a feud between a local body (BBBofC) and an international authority (WBO), which will future ignite an ongoing conflict between major sanctioning bodies for their spheres of influence in Europe, which does no good for the sport at all.
The British Boxing Board of Control still has some time to go the right way by accepting a fight that is eagerly awaited by a huge number of not-sanctimonious boxing fans.
Otherwise, we can witness another round of political warfare instead of pure boxing in the ring.
Choose for yourself.