The Sweet Caroline soundtrack might be absent and the crowds might be nowhere to be seen, but make no mistake boxing is returning to the UK market this summer.
Both Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn have unveiled their ideas as the sporting schedule creeps out from behind the guard imposed by the British Boxing Board of Control in light of the worldwide pandemic. Warren’s fighters will box in the East London studios of his broadcaster BT Sport while Hearn’s shows will go on in the grounds of Mascalls, the headquarters of Matchroom and the former Hearn family home.
It’s a palatial place, with a helipad, an indoor swimming pool and all of the rooms and editing suites needed to make broadcasting straightforward for the team at Sky.
Of course, boxing is still trying to make the best of what it can while the threat of Covid-19 casts a shadow over the globe, and a day after the great Panamanian Roberto Duran was taken into hospital with it.
Matchroom’s schedule starts on Saturday, August 1 and runs each weekend until August 22. It wraps with an ambitious pay-per-view show headlined by long-time WBC heavyweight contender Dillian Whtye against Alexander Povetkin in a bout that was rescheduled because of an earlier postponement due to coronavirus.
Week one is headlined by an intriguing crossroads fight between Sam Eggington and Ted Cheeseman, which has the ingredients of a war, and there’s further interest with Jordan Gill meeting Reece Bellotti and James Tennyson facing Welshman Gavin Gwynne. At heavyweight Fabio Wardley and Simon Vallily also meet while Dalton Smith faces Nathan Bennett.
The second show is topped by WBC super-featherweight champion Terri Harper against former Team GB Olympian Natasha Jonas and the third sees Felix Cash, Commonwealth middleweight champion, face Jason Welborn (who challenged Jarrett Hurd for the world super-welterweight titles in 2018) and there’s also an intriguing fight between Zelfa Barrett and Ireland’s Eric Donovan.
There’s much more across the four shows. Katie Taylor fights on the Box Office bill (opponent to be determined) and Martin Bakole, 15-1, meets 15-1 Sergey Kuzmin. There are also returns for Keiron Conway, Luther Clay and Chris Kongo, Shannon Courtenay and Anthony Fowler among others.
Warren revealed his hand last week. He starts back on BT Sport on July 10 with a British and Commonwealth title fight at super-bantam between 12-0-2 champion Brad Foster and 12-0 challenger James Beech. His other shows will feature British super-featherweight champion Anthony Cacace against Lyon Woodstock and super-middleweights Lerrone Richards-Umar Sadiq.
The Brits have had the advantage of monitoring Top Rank’s return while watching their mixed reviews come in.
The dismal viewing figures on the first three shows back illustrated that hardcore fans alone can’t be relied upon to deliver big ratings. The events inside the Las Vegas Bubble with Josh Greer-Michael Plania, Emanuel Navarette-Uriel Lopez and Gabriel Flores-Josec Ruiz were the three lowest rated sports programmes that week, at a time when not all sports were even back in play, finishing behind wrestling shows, Premier League soccer (West Ham-Wolves!) and bull riding.
One of the problems in the UK is that everything plays second – and third – fiddle to soccer. Hearn’s announcement of his schedule today will not get the eyeballs or attention it was due because of Liverpool’s crowning as Premier League Champions last night.
And while the popular Merseyside club has sewn up the league title for the first time in 30 years, there’s plenty to play for elsewhere in the league and every game is being televised, with a multitude of fixtures being screened by BT and Sky.
Hearn had always admitted that boxing would have to fight its way out of lockdown in its bid for prominence and coverage.
The viewing figures in the US suggest the earliest shows failed to capture the imagination and Sky and BT should have been able to see that.
Hearn said today that now is the time for 50-50 fights.
Now is the time for promoters to start making the best of a very bad situation, not to outdo one another but to show the sport in the best possible light.
It has the opportunity to come out of its corner fighting and we’ve all had plenty of time to think about what might and might not work.
If boxing is to be given the best chance as it bids to compete for time, resources and money – be it network or advertising spends – it’s important that lessons from this unimaginable crisis are learned and learned quickly – on a weekly basis – to bring the fight starved fans the action they’ve been waiting for.