If you were watching this past Saturday’s Matchroom Boxing offering on DAZN, you might have noticed something a little unusual. Although the crowd was engaged in the main event between Danny Jacobs and John Ryder, two top-level super middleweights, they were significantly more enthusiastic for the fight that directly preceded it. 

The co-feature, so to speak, between novice heavyweight Johnny Fisher and journeyman Gabriel Enguema, had the fans in Alexandra Palace in London in a frenzy, alternating between singing in unison and the constant hum of anticipation that lets you know an audience is living and dying with every moment. The venue was loud enough and the anxiety in the room high enough that lead commentator Mike Costello was either forced or compelled to raise the octave of his delivery as one does when moments feel big. As far as action in boxing matches go, the proceedings were relatively modest. Fisher won a competitive fight in which he was clearly better in most rounds, just as fights for prospects at the stage of career he is in often go. 

But Fisher is not your ordinary 5-0 prospect. Not because the 22-year old is a can’t-miss blue chip prospect talent-wise, or a surefire future heavyweight champion. Last year, he admitted as such, telling Sky Sports “my limit might be British, English, or European title.” Fisher reportedly had just ten amateur fights, nine of which ended by knockout, but spent most of his formative athletic years on a rugby pitch. He certainly has physical gifts. Fisher has natural strength and athletic ability, and it’s difficult to tell whether a fighter five fights into their career might fight for a world title one day, but having major promotional backing helps. Rather, Fisher is uncommonly popular for a fighter in the beginning stages of their career—perhaps unprecedentedly so. 

Fisher and his father John Sr. personally sold 2,000 tickets for Saturday’s event, and told reporters that they “could have sold 4,000.” Judging by the sound of the crowd, there were no doubt additional fans in attendance who might not have bought directly from the Fishers but were there for the same reason as those who had. It wasn’t a fluke either—for his last fight on October 31 in 2021, he sold 1400 tickets to fans who watched him knock out Alvaro Terrero in two rounds. 

“It's just the most incredible story,” said promoter Eddie Hearn prior to the Enguema fight. “This doesn't exist in boxing.”

Prospects selling a decent number of tickets is not totally unheard of, and as any promoter will tell you, local favorites are vital to the success of almost every live event. Much of this is because of the structure of televised boxing, which is that it is a global sport staged as a live event in local markets. This means that the bulk of the audience that might want to be physically in attendance can’t be, but also that high level fights, such as Jacobs-Ryder, aren’t always enough to sell on their own merits. This is one of the reasons why even the largest promoters in the world often partner with local promoters on live events, to tap in to the local market on a day-to-day basis, but also to find undercard fighters who can combine to turn the turnstiles. 

However, Fisher is a one-man economic boost. If the Fishers’ estimate that they could have sold 4000 tickets is true, that would equal roughly 40% of the entire capacity of the venue on Saturday could have been there for Fisher specifically, on the undercard of a fighter in Jacobs who had headlined major pay-per-views in the past. 

What sets Fisher’s fanbase apart from other prospects’, but also most other fighters in general, is its tribalism. Fisher’s fans, known as the Romford Bull Army, behave like die-hard football fans, decked out in matching merchandise, waving flags and scarves. On Saturday, many of them took part in a pub crawl from Romford to London. It began at The Drill in Romford at noon, headed to Hamilton Hall in London, had a singalong of “There’s Only One Johnny Fisher” as they passed through Wood Green Tube Station before arriving at Alexandra Palace. 

In general, boxing is a poorly merchandised sport. Companies like Roots of Fight have been successful selling nostalgic merch of the sport’s biggest stars of yesteryear, and upstarts like Millions have entered the marketplace to help fighters sell made-to-order paraphernalia, but overall, it’s still a bit surprising to see someone on the street in a boxing shirt. Even at boxing events, most fans are in civvies, unlike team sports events at which nearly every attendee is in identifying garb. 

Some of this is because of a lack of availability, but it’s also largely due to the nature of boxing fandom. For one, there are no teams to be a fan of in boxing, although its brain trust tries to substitute its lack of them by pushing nationalism, regionalism or sometimes outright jingoism. The entities you can be a fan of in boxing generally fight no more than four times a year, but often less frequently than that. Therefore, boxing fans tend to either have a handful of favorites, or are just general fans of the sport as a whole. The nature of boxing’s online discourse is shaped by this dynamic as well. Discussion is at its most lively (but also its most toxic) when dedicated fans of specific fighters do battle, but overall, boxing fans play armchair promoter and speculate and argue about business dealings, rather than chum it up or commiserate with fellow fans of specific fighters as fans of team sports tend to do. 

This is what makes Fisher’s popularity so fascinating. Fisher said prior to the bout that the tickets he sold were “all to people he knew,” that they were at least “a friend of a friend.” After his win over Enguema, he took pains to share seemingly nearly every story posted about him by his fans on Instagram, enough that the dots at the top of the screen were barely visible. Anecdotally, a glance at the social media profiles of people in the Romford Bull Army didn't often produce folks whose outward online identity was that of a boxing fan. They might have been boxing fans as well, but they were Johnny Fisher fans first and foremost.

Amazingly, his father, known as “Big John,” may be becoming just as big a star as he is. Fisher’s younger brother Will launched a TikTok account which features his father mainly eating and reviewing Chinese takeout, drinking beer and exclaiming “BOSH!” The videos have garnered over 7.2 million views and 4.6 million likes on the platform. On the backs of this, Big John has his own merchandise store and has been making appearances and hosting meet-and-greets particularly in university areas where his jovial displays of excess have been well-received. 

"I'd say my dad gets recognized more than me," Fisher told Oliver Salt of Dailymail last week. "If we go out of the area, we were in Cornwall once having fish and chips, and someone walked round the corner and went 'Bosh! That's the TikTok man, can we have a picture?"

After Saturday’s fight, Fisher fielded a few questions from Matchroom’s social media team before greeting his opponent from earlier. Fisher offered Enguema a chicken ball, perhaps from a takeout order his father would later review on TikTok. Still in their fight attire, the two dunked their appetizers in sweet and sour sauce, did a ceremonial “cheers,” and Fisher thanked Enguema in a charmingly honest fashion. Fights of this nature, between a newbie and a veteran opponent, are often framed as a tutoring session of sorts--the latter teaching the former something about the sport while still coming up short--but seldom is that candidly admitted between combatants. 

“Thank you very much for the experience,” said Fisher. “You helped me get better.”

Fisher had even managed to make a fan out of the man he’d just fought. 

Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman.