I am a boxing fan. For better for worse, I enjoy watching boxing. I remember an ex-girlfriend asking me why I enjoyed watching two men punch each other repeatedly and my youthful self replied “the violence”. Now I appreciate that was a stupid statement. And it was far too simplistic. There are so many nuances to the sport beyond the barbaric nature. Yet, the physical brutality is an important element. I love watching other sports, mainly football, but there is something about the danger of boxing that I find so intoxicating. Knowing that the two combatants are putting their health on the line adds to the excitement. Boxing stirs a primal emotion deep inside that few other sports do. MMA comes a close second but this isn’t BMMAB so we will leave that for another website to cover.
That sentiment is important because it often gets lost in the gap between fans of the sport and those directly involved. We at BBB, feel that we are in a privileged position. We are fans first and foremost. That will never change. We have however been granted access to many boxing personalities that we could have only dreamed of when we concocted the idea of a website. We would never consider ourselves insiders however (even if we have been privy to some sensational information at times). Through our recent experiences, we have learned more and more about just what is required to be a boxer though. The sacrifices are often publicised but many only see the examples at the highest level. It’s easier to spend time away from families when you’ve got multi-million-pound sponsorship deals pouring out your ears. It is harder to feel pity for the unsocial hours when they rock up to training in a Bentley. There are those however that have to hold down regular jobs, maintain families and put the hours in at the gym. With very little financial reward.
With that in mind, who are we, the non-boxing boxing fan to begrudge these warriors a degree of comfort?
Last Saturday, we attended the post-fight press conference at the Newcastle Arena. With our press heads on, we nodded sagely as promoter Eddie Hearn outlined his plans for outright Lonsdale belt holder, Lewis Ritson. Everyone was singing from the same hymn sheet. Don’t rush. Take our time. Build him slowly. Trainer and father, Davey Ritson, openly said they are “all boxing men” and that they’d look for “the safest route”. He wants to protect his son’s health and career. Again, no one could begrudge him that.
Hearn talked about his role as a promoter and his proudest achievement: Tony Bellew. Now, there are many men that Matchroom have guided to world titles. More recently Anthony Joshua and Kal Yafai have done so solely under the guidance of Hearn and co. So what is it that makes Bellew’s achievements so special? He was promoted by Frank Warren during the early part of his career and moved over to Matchroom having unsuccessfully challenged for the WBO title. Eddie Hearn made it very clear that having made the “Bomber” enough money to look after his family ranked atop his proudest promotional successes.
Generally, Bellew attracts a whole host of criticism. There are many who dislike his pre-fight antics, his perceived arrogance and the fact that despite winning one world title match out of three, Bellew is now a national PPV attraction.
This is where the gap between the boxing business and fans becomes more of a chasm. The Pay Per View format was once reserved for truly special events. To become a star in the ultra-competitive world of boxing once required elite ability and a certain charm (maybe it didn’t and I’m looking through rose tinted glasses). Nowadays, it seems all that is needed is some level of ‘rivalry’ (no matter how contrived) and ‘bad blood’. While this is a huge irritant for the paying punter, it is no doubt music to boxers’ cauliflower ears. They no longer have to reach the absolute pinnacle of the sport to make vast sums of money. I doubt that there are actually any boxers who set out into the professional game with that mind-set, but age and experience can change one’s priorities. Being a boxer is among the toughest career paths to take. So by the time these individuals have been involved for decades (amateur and pro) their ambitions will change.
From a boxing perspective, winning a world title is the ultimate goal. The problem with that is that there are so many available to win. Personally, Tony Bellew achieved his dream. He won a world title at the home of his beloved Everton. He has since admitted that whatever he goes on to achieve won’t top that. So it’s understandable why Eddie Hearn would consider him as his biggest success.
No longer is winning a world title the sole dream of the modern boxer. Yes, belts were discussed with Ritson on Saturday but his promoter was quick to suggest the illustrious stadium fight. Now, as I staunch Newcastle United fan, I can totally sympathise with anyone wanting to perform at St James Park. His eyes were gleaming with the imagined riches such a bout will bring. Quite rightly though, the “Sandman” acknowledged that a great deal of luck and timing (as well as more impressive victories) would lead to such an opportunity. Prior to 2014, if you’d said to Carl Froch that his career defining night would be a win over George Groves, he’d have laughed in your face. Yet that 80,000 at Wembley Stadium moment has sparked the clamour for stadium fights. The AJ bandwagon has obviously allowed the momentum to snowball. So much so, that we are now at a point where boxing in front of a huge crowd in a stadium is up there with winning a world title.
This sort of prioritisation leads to those inside the business to come into conflict with the fans of the sport.
By admitting that WBC Cruiserweight title win at Goodison Park was his pinnacle, Bellew has left himself in no man’s land. Hardcore boxing fans would’ve loved all of the champions to go into the World Super Series of Boxing. What better way to head towards the exit from the sport than in a blaze of glory? Win, lose or draw, Bellew would have gained respect across the boxing fraternity. How very romantic. Respect (of random strangers on the internet) doesn’t pay the bills though. The two fights against David Haye on Sky Sports Box Office will have made him more money than a valiant loss to Usyk or Gassiev for example. They probably made him more money than if he’d won the Super Series. And with far less risk.
Many mock Bellew’s repeated statements that he wants to get home safely to his family after every fight. But in his situation, how many of us would act exactly the same? He got to a point in his career where he had a choice to make. He took the easier, better paid route. Whether you love your job or not, that’s not really a difficult choice. Particularly in such a dangerous profession. So from a personal standpoint I, even as a fan, can completely understand why boxers sometimes take easier options.
However, this goes directly against the old adage of the best facing the best. Too many times, we are fed nonsense about letting fights “marinate” or making “business sense”. Although I can understand the reasoning, it doesn’t make it any less infuriating that we have missed out on countless potential classics happening at their optimum time. What fans need to understand though is that they are not the priority. Yes, they are needed to bring in the money but they are not, nor will they ever be the most important part of a promoter’s plans.
I might not be happy with that but I can understand it.