If ever Mike Costello thought he was going to leave the BBC, he didn’t think it was going to him making the decision. However, opportunities come when you often least expect them.
The BBC’s “voice of boxing” had been with the Corporation since he was a teenager and he was just four years short of collecting his pension when he decided to leave and accept the job as the UK’s lead commentator of boxing at DAZN.
“They were shocked, so was I,” Costello said, recalling the moment he told his bosses that he was leaving. “I thought I’d be there until they didn’t want me anymore.”
Costello is a big appointment for Matchroom and DAZN, who confirmed their UK broadcast team this week. When Eddie Hearn announced that they were bringing al their production in house, there were fears that the commentators and experts would merely be cheerleaders, roaring platitudes to please their bosses. Costello gives them credibility.
He will take over behind the microphone at the third Fight Show night on August 14. Prior to that, he will do his final duty as BBC Radio’s Boxing and Athletics commentator by covering the athletics at the Tokyo Olympics.
He will be joined on the broadcast team by former world champions Andy Lee, who is likely to be the main co-commentator, Tony Bellew and Darren Barker. Chris Lloyd will be the second commentator, Laura Woods will be an interviewer, while Maya Jama will front the coverage.
“We don’t want yes men,” Eddie Hearn, the Matchroom chairman, said. “Mike could not be further away from that. He is unbelievable integrity. He is the best at what he does and we wanted the best.
“I wanted people I could have an argument with. If I put on a bad fight, I want people to say it’s a bad fight.”
Costello grew up in south London, the son or Irish parents. He boxed for the famous Lynn club, once competing at the same schoolboy championships as Lloyd Honeyghan. After giving up on his dream of reaching the Olympics, however, he became a trainer. Among the boxers he trained were Derek Angol, who would later win British and Commonwealth cruiserweight titles as a professional, and a young Adam Booth.
He gave up training, though, when work commitments with the BBC World Service meant he could not dedicate enough time to his fighters.
His big break came in 2004. With John Rawling, who was then BBC Radio’s athletics and boxing commentator, in Las Vegas for Vitali Klitschko against Danny Williams, Costello was given the job of live commentary on Ricky Hatton against Ray Oliveira, the same night in London.
“That was a big thrill,” he said. “I was as nervous as I had been as a kid boxing and used those nerves to help me. It meant so much, I felt I was on trial for future gigs. Little did I know that I was. Because the next year, John, was headhunted by ITV when they returned to boxing and they gave me the job.”
It was more or less the perfect job, ringside for fights and trackside for athletics meetings, although the emergence of Talksport as a radio rival for the BBC meant there were times when few of the big fights ended up on the BBC.
“There was sometimes a constant waiting for a phone call to see whether we had the rights or not,” he said. “Sometimes we didn’t, like the second Fury-Wilder fight. For all we can go and do some podcasts, it wasn’t the same.”
The biggest night of Costello’s career to date turned out to be the worst of Anthony Joshua’s when he lost his world titles to Andy Ruiz Jr in New York.
“My first boxing memory is my dad coming into my bedroom one morning to tell me the result of the Fight of the Century between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier,” he said. “So, to be commentating on a world heavyweight title fight at the same venue was a big deal.
“Still, it was expected to be a straightforward fight. Suddenly it became a monumental story.”
It was also a huge boost for Costello’s profile, after his commentary was put on social media by the BBC.
“It had half a million views and there were some really nice things that people said in the comments,” Costello said. “It was really uplifting and it seemed to create a profile I hadn’t known before.
“In terms of looking forward to fights, the second Froch-Groves fight was as big as anything. It was such a change from usual covering of fights going into a showpiece stadium. The build-up for that fight was exciting as any fight I remember.”
Despite having been a broadcaster for so many years, Costello’s television work has been limited. The only time he did athletics on BBC television was when he stood in for Steve Cram at an indoor meeting in Birmingham that clashed with the Winter Olympics, where Cram had been sent.
The job at DAZN created a new opportunity, though. The chance to stick with the sport that was his first love.
“It is good to think I will be learning something new, as I have not done much TV,” he said. “It will also be good to know I will be at these fights, although there are others, like Lomachenko, Crawford and Lopez, who at the moment I won’t be.”
There is a possibility he could do athletics again on the BBC as a freelancer, although boxing’s habit of changing schedules at the last minute could make it difficult to commit. Still, he is particularly keen to cover the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next summer, having done his first stint on live athletics commentary the last time the Games were in England in 2002 in Manchester.
One other new thing for Costello will be the likelihood of engaging in social media, something he has steered clear of in the past.
“I think it will be expected, he said. “I’m part of a new team and we’ll all be backing each other.”
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 - covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.