Being on the ropes is an occupational hazard in boxing, whether you punch or promote. Frank Warren, for so long the sport's ringmaster, has been on the painful end of some blows of late, not least those delivered by his ambitious young rival Eddie Hearn, the new kid in the corner.
He is the son of the ubiquitous Barry, and the pair's Matchroom organisation have recently captured several prize fighters defecting from the Warren stable. The latest is George Groves, the unbeaten London super-middleweight who was due to challenge for the European title on a Warren show at Wembley next Saturday. But Warren has had to postpone the promotion because Miguel Vasquez, the Mexican opponent for joint bill-topper Ricky Burns in a world lightweight unification bout, withdrew citing illness.
Within hours Burns's manager, Alex Morrison, declared that the Scot, frustrated after a second successive fight had fallen through, was splitting with Warren, a situation over which the promoter is now threatening legal action. The immediate speculation that Burns was heading Hearn's way was heightened yesterday when Hearn announced that he would be unveiling "another major new signing" tomorrow. I understand this is Burns, a move that is certain to result in a lawsuit.
Warren's woes have been compounded by his promotional company recording accumulated two-year losses of over £4 million last March. But while financially and fistically he may have his back to the ropes, he remains the cutest counter-puncher in the game. As you would expect, the old pro has come out fighting. And he has an distinct sense of déjà vu.
Twenty years ago, Warren successfully battled it out with Barry Hearn for boxing's bragging rights, Matchroom putting the sport on the back burner. But Hearn Jnr, 33, says that in the past two years they have decided "to reinvest in boxing and become a major player again", assembling the biggest stable in Britain and securing an exclusive two-year-deal with Sky to televise 20 shows a year.
"They say I'm on the ropes but that's not the way I see it," Warren told The Independent on Sunday. "The bottom line is, I'm really comfortable where I am. Yes, we have had a few problems, some shows have been postponed, but boxers get injured, so what am I to do?
"OK, so in the last couple of years my promotional business has lost money. Having said that, you tell me how many companies have made profits in that time? Everything's tough out there. Sometimes people have had to get their money a little bit late. They'd much rather be paid late than be owed money by Blockbuster, HMV or RBS. The point is, they do get paid.
"Customers have always got value for money with my shows. Last year I staged the two biggest in Britain in terms of bums on seats [David Haye v Dereck Chisora and Burns v Kevin Mitchell].
"Fighters come and go, but as far as I'm concerned, Burns is still under contract to me. I always found him a really great kid, one of the nicest in boxing. The sad thing is that he has been given a lot of misinformation. I have an agreement with him and that agreement is to be honoured.
"The show [which will also feature a world light-heavyweight title fight between Nathan Cleverly and Robin Krasniqi] will now go ahead at Wembley on 20 April. This fight is 100 per cent on and I am not letting it go even though it would be easy to tear up the contract and move on. It is postponed. Simple as that."
He adds: "I hear about this power struggle between Eddie Hearn and me. What about the power struggle with his old man? If he's going to do what his dad has done at Leyton Orient, then I ain't got no worries.
"Promotional rivalry? I don't even think about that stuff. Going back to the days of Mickey Duff [whom Warren eventually dislodged as Britain's leading fight impresario] I have always done my own thing. I'd like to dig out all that has been said about me making comebacks. According to some, I've made more than Sinatra, but the fact is I've never been anywhere, I've always been here.
"When I walked away from Sky I decided I wanted to do my own thing and set up BoxNation. What we have done is got a TV channel going that is breaking even, of which my family owns 70 per cent. I think that's quite a success story, so my emphasis has changed in certain ways from being a promoter. Everything we do is down to us, we're not beholden to any TV company.
"What have they [Matchroom] done in the last year? Taken four guys abroad and got them all beat. What a great track record. There's a good way to build your business."
So is the 30-year Warren dynasty under threat? At 61, he still bears the scars, mentally and physically, from the .22 bullet fired at close range from a Luger pistol outside a Barking theatre in 1989 by a masked assailant. He says he knows who pulled the trigger, but refutes the suggestion while Fast Eddie is taking aim at his empire, he is not calling the shots.
"He's doing well, but every couple of years someone comes along and they're going to change the face of boxing. But I'm still head and shoulders above anyone else. Should I worry about Eddie Hearn? Do me a favour. Is he a better man than his dad? Let's see where he is in 30 years' time."
Tale of the tape
Fearless Frank Warren
Has promoted 263 world title fights.
Past champions include Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, Naseem Hamed, Amir Khan, Frank Bruno, Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe.
Present stable features Nathan Cleverly, Frankie Gavin, Billy Joe Saunders, Dereck Chisora.
Elected four years ago to Boxing Hall of Fame in United States.
Fast Eddie Hearn
Has established British boxing's largest stable of over 20 fighters, headed by super-middleweight Carl Froch. Kell Brook, Tony Bellew and George Groves have all moved from Warren's stable.
Went to public school in Brentwood and boxed as an amateur.
Son of multi-sports czar Barry.Reuse content