Inside Story: Ready for the rumble

Calling the big fights from ringside requires a top team of technicians, a clipboard full of facts and a sharp suit, says JIm Rosenthal
Click to follow
The Independent Online

For more than three decades Jim Rosenthal has presented the fight game. Most recently he covered an all-star bill from the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, with four hours of live coverage on ITV1 and ITV4 including Joe Calzaghe's defence of the WBO super-middleweight title against Peter Manfredo, from the USA. This is Rosenthal's insider's guide to presenting from ringside


I work with a double earpiece, similar to that used by Rod Stewart and Robbie Williams. It means I'm in a world of my own, which is good. I had an incident in Liverpool recently where a couple of characters were doing their best to disrupt what I was doing, but I've used this earpiece in the Formula One paddock and it shuts out the engines, so a couple of well-lagered guys in Merseyside didn't worry me.

I like to be supplied with cups of tea and bars of dark chocolate because it's a pretty long night at ringside. The first fight on Saturday was at 2.15pm, so we had a production meeting at 12.45pm. I was back at the stadium at 4pm to record stuff for the opening of our two programmes on ITV1 and ITV4. I think I left the arena just after midnight. It's a very hard sport to cover, not like a football match that lasts 90 minutes: a fight can last 11 seconds or an hour. We always have to have other fights ready to go to in case there's a knock out. At Cardiff I worked with two very good directors, Jamie Oakford and Rob Levi, and an outstanding editor in David Moss. They had to take account of the wishes of American television and also the commercial breaks.


One thing about boxing is that you can't script it once the action starts. But without the clipboard I would feel very exposed. It contains all the information I have gathered from preparation beforehand. I arrived in Cardiff on the Thursday, went to the press conferences and the weigh-in and did a whole lump of scripting on the Friday for the boxing on Saturday night. It's a safety blanket - I would feel inadequate without having written down the background to the boxers, a few quotes about what they feel about the fight and some notes about whether they made the weight easily. The day before a fight I'm an antisocial being, locked into my hotel room with a computer and a pile of information, herding it all into my brain. I've always viewed myself as a journalist first and foremost. I started my career on the Oxford Mail before joining BBC Radio Birmingham, where I commentated on boxing for the first time. I joined ITV in 1980 and it was always a core sport for us. In the Nineties it was massive with Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn and Naseem Hamed. We were stopping people from having their dinner on a Saturday night. People either like boxing or they can't stand it. I would never try and convince anyone who hated it of its merits but it has always been a sport that I have got a buzz out of.


In my time at ITV I've run the full gamut of what to wear and what not to wear. Sometimes they've said, 'you look better casual', and sometimes, 'you look better with a collar and tie'. At the moment, at ringside, I don't think it would look right without a suit and tie, though unless it's a dinner show I think it's a bit over the top to do it with a dinner jacket. I try to look reasonably smart and just hope I don't get too much blood on the jacket. I've a suit at the cleaners now for that very reason. It's a real problem, but when viewers turn to our coverage they feel close to the ring and that's because we are close to it. They feel like they have a ringside seat because that's where it's all coming from. We've made it raw.


(master of ceremonies)

He is a real character and also works as an Elvis Presley impersonator. Honestly. He is the main announcer at all the ITV fights. He's an important figure because he announces the fighters in the ring and the verdict. All that he says is timed because we can't have him rambling on, so we work closely with him. For the main bout in Cardiff, which was broadcast live to the United States with HBO, we brought in the famous American MC Michael Buffer, who has patented the catchphrase 'let's get ready to rumble'. The fighter in this shot is the Scot Kenny Anderson.


This is Frank Warren's company, which put on the whole show. We've been back with him for nearly two years. I thought boxing was almost flat on its back after a decade on satellite television but we've come back in and rehabilitated it. I don't think there would have been 35,000 people in Cardiff without ITV's involvement. It was the largest indoor crowd at a boxing event since Muhammad Ali fought Leon Spinks in 1978. Frank is a brilliant salesman of his sport. We are not going to get the 15 million we used to get watching Benn and Eubank, but we had 3.9 million on Saturday and it would have been more if the fight hadn't been stopped in three rounds by the referee, Terry O'Connor. I was furious with him - I normally side with referees, but this was a very quick stoppage and the Americans were justifiably incensed. A lot of people's enjoyment of the fight was affected by that decision.


(sound engineer)

He's responsible for all my sound and is absolutely critical. If you lose the sound you are cast adrift. I first worked with Steve at the start of my career, at BBC Radio Birmingham in the early Seventies. Working at ringside there isn't much space and that makes things much harder than working from a nice studio in London. The rig and de-rig are physically demanding jobs but worth it because the ringside coverage brings us that edge.


(lighting technician)

Another crucial guy. It's very easy to look dark and shadowy down there, and he has to work in a very small space. When the lighting is wrong it shows, but in Cardiff we got it right.


(analyst and former world featherweight champion)

I've worked with lots and lots of experts over the years and he is the only one where, after the event happens, the participants come over and ask how he thought they did and take his advice. I've never seen that happen in any other sport. His knowledge of boxing, and the way that people view him within the sport, is exceptional. My job is the journalistic side and his is the expertise. There's nothing he doesn't know about boxing but I can help him in the way he expresses that. I think we work pretty well together and there's a bit of humour in there.