By Frank Warren
The old fight game is presently enjoying a renaissance in Britain with participation levels soaring close to a post war high and the emergence of as bright a crop of developing prospects as I can recall in four decades as a licence holder.
So I feel obliged to deliver a counter punch to a recent hatchet job on the sport to journalist Patrick Collins in the Mail on Sunday which slated the Noble Art as in ‘steep decline’.
Mr Collins – a former multiple sportswriter of the year who should know better – used to wax lyrical about the nobility of the sport and its boxers. However, he has finally come out of the closet and revealed his true colours.
He begins his assassination with a claim that he doubts one sports fan in 50 could recognise the names of current British world champions Ricky Burns, Scott Quigg and Stuey Hall. Really?!
It’s true that the latter two are at the embryonic stages of their reign and will surely develop their profiles in 2014.
Bury super-bantamweight Quigg – who is undefeated in 29 – only holds a diluted version of the WBA belt. Formidable Cuban Guillermo Rigondeaux, a double Olympic champion, reigns as that governing body’s Super Champion.
Darlington’s Hall – once a beach bum in Ibiza – transformed his life to capture the IBF bantam strap four days in an epic fight four days before Christmas to provide British sport with one of its best ‘feel good’ stories of 2013.
However, Collins’ assertion that only one sports fan in 50 would be familiar with Burns is faintly absurd. The Scot is a winner of the Scottish Sports Personality of the Year award and enjoys huge media exposure north of Hadrian’s Wall. Maybe our Pat should get up there sometime.
It appears that Collins is trying to suggest that boxing is no longer capable of producing ‘household’ stars. Sure, the sport is presently in a state of transition following a halcyon period in the noughties when Lennox Lewis, Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe reigned supreme and packed stadia.
However, he conveniently omits from his article the names of Carl Froch, the reigning WBA and IBF super-middle king or Amir Khan. Neither does he recognise our rich quartet of heavyweights, Tyson Fury, Dereck Chisora, David Haye and David Price. All are established stars beyond boxing’s inner circle, as are Olympic champions James DeGale, Anthony Joshua, Luke Campbell and Nicola Adams.
A rung beneath our four existing world champions lie a list of leading contenders such as Martin Murray, Khan, Kell Brook, Brian Rose and Carl Frampton who will almost certainly challenge for the ultimate accolade in 2014. Murray and Frampton have a better than average chance of emerging triumphant.
It’s quite conceivable that – provided they continue to win – several from Fury, Chisora, Nathan Cleverly, George Groves, Billy Joe Saunders, Frankie Gavin, Jamie McDonnell and Paul Butler could also contest and win at world level this year.
And there is a common consensus among journalists who, unlike Collins, specialise in boxing that coming through behind those mentioned, starlets such as Joshua, Hughie Fury, Callum Smith, Frank Buglioni, Anthony Ogogo, Bradley Saunders, Mitchell Smith and Campbell provide Britain with its richest crop of potential world beaters for decades.
Collins writes about boxing’s imagined ‘demise’ with the casual sports fan as a ‘dawning awareness of the sport’s essential brutality’ and condemns it as ‘the only sport that encourages and rewards the infliction of concussion’.
Utter nonsense. Were that the case, why would there be a need for three judges. Clearly he is ignorant to the huge levels of skill and guile which enthral more knowledgeable observers.
Collins opts to wax lyrical through rose tinted glasses about a golden era 20 to 30 years ago when Barry McGuigan and Frank Bruno regaled audiences on live prime time TV. For the record, McGuigan won three of his four world title fights, Bruno just one of five.
In that age of ‘household’ stars, three-time WBC light-heavyweight champion Dennis Andries used to ride the London underground anonymously, with his championship belt concealed in a brown paper bag!
Clearly, Mr Collins is transfixed in time. While it’s true that live boxing seldom features on the terrestrial channels these days, neither does Premier League football, Test cricket, England’s rugby union internationals or Formula One.
The dearth of terrestrial coverage is certainly a worry but the reality remains that presently more domestic boxing is broadcast than at any point in the sport’s history.
In addition to BoxNation and Sky Sports who both do a stellar job providing extensive weekly coverage, Channel Five, Eurosport, ESPN, Primetime and Loaded TV all showcased live action from British rings in 2013. The BBC transmitted highlights of both the European and World amateur tournaments.
In the ‘Golden Age’ that Mr Collins needs to wake up from, the overwhelming majority of promotions were hidden at local town halls, off TV.
Today, fans regularly fill huge venues such as the O2 and Copper Box in London plus newly erected or expanded facilities in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Sheffield, Nottingham, Newcastle, Cardiff, Glasgow and Belfast. Despite huge capacities, the biggest fights continue to sell out in hours rather than days.
Perhaps most importantly, boxing has long instilled discipline and confidence into the meek and disaffected souls within essentially working class communities, often with a rich ethnic mix; never more so than today.
Mr Collins might be surprised to learn that during the early 80s, the number of carded amateur boxers in England dipped beneath 5000. Currently, there is more than three times that number active at 1100 clubs. Add to that, thousands more ‘keep fitters’ who embrace the sport in a ‘non contact’ capacity to derive the massive fitness benefits.
Several London boroughs have re-introduced boxing training into their PE curriculums. Similarly, it is increasingly used by authorities as a tool to help calm and rehabilitate offenders.
Floyd Mayweather’s position over the likes of Tiger Woods, top US Basketball players, footballers including Messi, Beckham and Bale, at the top of Forbes list as the highest earning athlete in all of sports provides final evidence that the sport is far from ‘steep in decline’. It’s never been healthier!
It was a busy week for new year signings and one of the top names that I was thrilled to see join BoxNation was heavyweight sensation Tyson Fury.
The deal, which was agreed with Team Fury represented by Mick Hennessy, sees Tyson featuring in an International contest on the big Copper Box Arena show on Saturday 15th February.
Tyson will be up close again with rival Dereck Chisora who headlines the show defending his European title against the hard Ukrainian Andriy Rudenko, who is unbeaten in 24 fights with 16 ko’s and it also marks the HD debut of BoxNation who will televise live.
What's more exciting is the prospect of the pair meeting again in a rematch of their epic July 2011 encounter that saw Tyson take Dereck's British and Commonwealth belts, plus his unbeaten record.
And that could well happen if they both come through their fights at the Copper Box Arena as it will set up a deal between the two camps for a joint promotion that could see Chisora v Fury 2 being staged outdoor at football stadium in a big summer showdown before the World Cup.
Both men have improved considerably since the first fight. Tyson is still undefeated while Chisora is looking the business, and I'd have to say that if they did fight again then it would have to be an eliminator for the world title.
Tyson will also be joined on the card by his younger cousin, heavyweight terror Hughie.
The 19-year-old has ripped his way through 12 opponents, stopping seven in under a year of turning pro, and has marked himself as a top talent to watch this year.
I've also signed this week former amateur star Tom Stalker who makes his debut for me on the Copper Box Arena card and then features at Aintree Racecourse on 1st March.
The Liverpool ace is unbeaten in five and amongst his impressive amateur credentials is Gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Bronze at the 2011 World Amateur Championships and captaining the GB London 2012 Olympic squad.
A fantastic signing this week was Liverpool's Kevin Satchell, the current British and Commonwealth Flyweight Champion, and a raft of talent from the area with manager Neil Marsh including Steve Lewis, Nathan Brough and Ryan Farrag, to strengthen my plans for boxing in Merseyside this year.
The last signature captured was that of big-hitting Corby cruiserweight Simon Barclay who joins Queensberry Promotions. The talented 24-year-old won ABA titles at cruiser and heavyweight and is the only man to beat Deion Jumah in the amateurs who’s currently undefeated in three fights in the pros and rated as a top prospect.
While Corby isn’t known as a big fight town - Barclay is the first pro fighter from the town in 20 years - and is more famous for manufacturing steel in the 1930s, he’s looking to make history and become its first ever British and World Champion.
It’s a great start to the year and it will go from strength to strength with more star signings and big shows to announce soon.
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