Boxing: An old Palle act rewards Nielsen

Harry Mullan meets a caring, sharing promoter taking on the world from Denmark
Click to follow
The Independent Online
There was a world heavyweight title fight last weekend between a colourful and hugely popular champion who had scored 25 knockouts in an unbeaten run of 38 fights, and an American challenger with a spectacular record of 42-0, all by knockout. Unusually, both were white, and the fight - which drew a sell-out crowd - provided non-stop, hard-punching action.

No, this is not the story-line for Don King's favourite wet dream: the title at stake belonged to the lightly regarded International Boxing Organisation, and the fight took place in Copenhagen, which is why Brian Nielsen's knockout of Don Steele did not even rate inclusion in the small print of Monday's results round-up in any British newspaper. The show was typical of those staged by Denmark's sole promoter, Mogens Palle, for whom it marked 40 years in the business. He has survived and succeeded by following a well- tried formula of compiling long winning runs for his handful of Danish boxers, matching them against assorted journeymen and faded contenders before letting them sink or swim against serious competition.

So far he has produced 18 European champions and a dozen "world" champions whose titles have covered the spectrum from WBA to WBO, IBO, IBC and WBF; Palle never troubles about initials. Nielsen, an amiable 32-year-old who won a bronze medal at the 1992 Olympics, is the latest beneficiary of his experience and expertise. His record includes wins over former champions Tony Tubbs, Bonecrusher Smith and, most notably, Larry Holmes, but it also features its share of men like Steele, last Friday's victim.

Steele had compiled his 42-0 record in the boxing backwater of South Carolina, knocking over men who would struggle to sweep their garden path let alone a road, but the game's politics condemn Palle and Nielsen to this level of opposition unless they choose to sign away control of Nielsen's career to one of the big American promoters. Palle has come under fierce criticism from the Danish boxing press for what they see as his refusal to match Nielsen in meaningful fights, but, he says, "these so-called boxing writers simply don't understand the way the business works".

"I think every fighter should have fair treatment because they dedicate their lives to boxing, training twice a day, and if their record is good they deserve a chance. But the way it is now, if you go through the list it is very difficult for me to get opponents because Don King has tied them up, even though he doesn't give them any fights. He signs them up just to stop them fighting for anyone else, which is unfair and ridiculous. I want to treat my fighters as human beings and they have to have a guarantee of so many fights and so much income per year, otherwise it is criminal to tie them up.

"Of course I could get fights for Brian if I was happy for him to be 'the opponent' and get opponent's money, but why should we do that? I have spent more than five years building him up and I am looking for him to get a payday on which he can retire and be secure for the rest of his life. We live in a small country, working with a small TV station where the money is not like in Britain where Frank Warren is backed by Sky. I run regular shows on terms I can afford, and work hard to build up my fighters with the right opponents.

"Everybody in the ratings is tied up, with King, Arum or Cedric Kushner because they have big TV stations behind them. Even if Brian became the official challenger for Zeljko Mavrovic's European title, Mavrovic would probably give up the title if I won the purse offer because he doesn't want to come to Denmark.

"For a while Brian was No 25 in the WBC ratings, then suddenly they took him out because he became the IBO champion. When the fight with Lennox Lewis was proposed, they put him in at No 12. A month later he was 11, the next month 10 and suddenly when the negotiations fell through they put him down to No 18, without any loss. What kind of justice is that?"

Palle says the Danish press pay much attention to the Independent World Boxing Rankings, issued monthly by the Bristol-based company who use a complicated points system to calculate the top 100 in each division. Steele was ranked 38, and Palle drew criticism for matching Nielsen - their No 5 - with such a lowly rated opponent. Next time, Palle says mischievously, he plans to try for the IBWR's No 51 Vaughn Bean, who, in a perfect illustration of the absurdity of the ratings game, is also the official No 1 contender for Evander Holyfield's IBF title.