Do I not like that . . . Boxers know the score: Harry Mullan, boxing correspondent, believes the business does not need new rules to protect its fighters

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The Independent Online
MAYBE it is a worrying symptom of advancing middle-aged respectability, but I found it hard to leap on to the barricades beside the angry young men of the Professional Boxers Association last week. Their president, Barry McGuigan, commenting on last Wednesday's recommendation from the National Heritage Committee that the British Boxing Board of Control should introduce rules to distinguish clearly the financial interests of promoters, managers and television negotiators, said: 'This recommendation is of outstanding importance to professional boxing and professional boxers.

'The PBA is pressing the Board to introduce even-handed management of the sport so that the boxers themselves get a fair deal. The PBA fully supports and endorses this significant proposal which, if implemented, could do much to improve professional boxing as a whole.'

Worthy sentiments, certainly, but a long way short of recognising the realities which prevail in this business - let's not call it a sport. McGuigan also failed to acknowledge the most worthwhile contribution the PBA has made to its members in its short life: thanks to the PBA lawyers, and the back-up the association receives from the Institute of Professional Sport, no boxer today need sign a contract without understanding fully its implications.

Boxers are no longer the nave and easily exploited plug-uglies so beloved of Hollywood fiction. It is no coincidence that every member of the PBA Executive - McGuigan, Colin McMillan, Nicky Piper and Jim McDonnell - is an articulate and perceptive TV or radio commentator. They are remarkable only for their success in the ring, not for their eloquence: given the chance, any number of their fellow-pros could perform as well behind a mike. The days of the mumbling thicko have gone.

Of course it would be 'nice' if Frank Warren and his associates didn't effectively have a monopoly with ITV, if Frank Maloney and now Barry Hearn (through Chris Eubank) didn't have Sky buttoned-up, or Mickey Duff didn't have an arrangement with the BBC which makes it virtually impossible for another promoter to have his show screened on the network. But we must be realistic, and consider why the channels have made these deals. The answer is simply that they contract with promoters whom they know can be depended upon to produce, regularly and reliably, names which will attract viewers.

How long would Hearn survive without Eubank, Duff without Bruno, Maloney without Lewis or Warren without Steve Robinson and Naseem Hamed? One of the oldest boxing cliches is that you're only as good as your last fight, and that applies as much to promoters as to performers.

The Big Four didn't get to their present positions by accident of birth. None of them came from monied backgrounds, and they have each had to carve out their own niche in this most competitive and merciless of businesses. It was open to any Board of Control licence-holder to break the cartel through which Duff and his partners monopolised big-time boxing in Britain for over 20 years, but only Warren had the nerve and initiative to do so. It doesn't wash now for his less fortunate contemporaries to moan about favouritism: they could have achieved as much, had they been able.

Gerald Kaufman, chairman of the National Heritage Committee which produced the report, is misguided when he talks of the need for the board to 'prevent the promoters of televised events owning the contracts of boxers'.

As Chris Eubank forcefully reminded his fellow-pros last month, boxers own their own contracts, and whatever arrangements they enter into with their managers (who are nowadays, almost inevitably, also their promoters) are on the basis of mutual profitability.

So long as the boxers know exactly how much the TV company is throwing into the pot for the rights to their fight, where is the exploitation in a deal which both parties have entered into with their eyes open?