Boxing: 'Never mind no-balls, it's all about real balls'

Promoter Warren warms up for big night by insisting fight game is not fixed
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The Independent Online

Frank Warren was a guest in Sky's box at Lord's during the Fourth Test between England and Pakistan when an MCC johnnie asked him what he did. "I promote boxing," he replied. "Hmm," came the sniffy response. "I haven't watched boxing since the days of Henry Cooper. It's all bent, isn't it?" "I wish I'd have bumped into him the next day when all that no-ball stuff broke," says Warren. "I'd love to have seen his face."

The promoter can be excused a little smugness for, as he says, there are still those who think boxing is the most crooked of all sports yet in modern times there has not been a shred of evidence to suggest anything shady. Warren argues: "Apart from this cricket affair we've had scandals in snooker, racing, motor racing, athletics, rugby's Bloodgate, highly dodgy things going on in all sorts of sports. But boxing still gets a bashing. Yet I can honestly say that in my time I can't think of any fight that hasn't been straight.

"OK, you get some bad match-making, but in these days of tabloid cheque-book journalism, if someone had done something like this in boxing you can be sure it would have come out. When you look at all the scandals in the so-called pure sports, boxing's reputation stands up well.

"For one thing, most fighters I know are on ego trips and they've got too much pride to take a dive," Warren adds. "Anyone who thinks boxing is bent should go and take a look at Gerald McClellan and Michael Watson [who both suffered severe brain damage]. If fights were bent, there are easier ways to get beat than be beaten up for 12 rounds.

"Another thing is that you can't get a substantial bet on a fight these days. I like a little wager myself but it has to be between friends because there's no bookmaker in the world who would take a big-money bet on a fight. No boxer would intentionally lose a fight. Never mind no-balls, boxing is all about real balls."

This is not to say boxing's history is unsullied. Back in the days of Mob rule in the United States some big fights were certainly rigged but like Warren, I am convinced it simply does not happen now; certainly not in this country, where there is a vigilant Board of Control and the media eager to sniff out any mischief, whether it is philandering or fixing.

In half a century of reporting on boxing I know of only one attempt to fix a fight. In April 1969, Brian London fought the US heavyweight James Fletcher, who was a fearsome hitter. The Blackpool promoter, the late Lawrie Lewis, confessed a few years later that, worried about the outcome, he asked Fletcher what it would take for him to "go into the tank". His angry response was to blast London out in two minutes flat.

Next Saturday, at Birmingham's LG Arena, Warren, soon to celebrate 30 years as a promoter, stages a veritable boxathon, which he claims will be the most competitive night ever in a British ring: 13 bouts including seven title fights involving British, Commonwealth and European championships and bill-topping world-title eliminators featuring unbeaten light-heavyweight Nathan Cleverly and welterweight Kell Brook. Olympians James DeGale and Frankie Gavin and former world cruiser champion Enzo Maccarinelli are on the undercard.

"It is not the most expensive bill I have promoted, but it is the most ambitious," says Warren. It has been a roller-coaster year for Britain's leading promoter, with the defection of marquee man Amir Khan and acrimonious litigation with another of his departed superstars, Joe Calzaghe. But he is back in the world-title picture with Glasgow's Ricky Burns, who brilliantly, if unexpectedly, relieved Roman Martinez of the WBO super-featherweight belt last weekend.

The one certainty is that there won't be a non-trier on the Birmingham bill. And whatever we think of the forthcoming Haye-Harrison match-up, neither will be pulling his punches. Judging by last week's foul-mouthed exchanges, the only mark they will be overstepping is good taste.

The Magnificent Seven is exclusively live and in high definition on Sky Box Office HD. Call 08442 410888. Tickets: 0844 3388000

Pick of the punch-ups

Nathan Cleverly v Karo Murat Boxing's brainbox should live up to his name and outsmart Iraqi-born leading contender, also unbeaten, in WBO light-heavyweight final eliminator.

Kell Brook v Michael Jennings Britain's best young boxer wears an electronic tag after a nightclub barney. He defends his WBO Inter-Continental welterweight title against Preston pop group drummer Jennings .

Derek Chisora v Sam Sexton Once suspended for taking a Tyson-like bite, cocky "Del Boy" sinks his teeth into quest for vacant British and Commonwealth heavyweight title.

Matthew Macklin v Shalva Jomardashvili On his home patch, articulate Macklin may struggle to pronounce Georgian opponent's name but should regain his European middleweight crown.

Enzo Maccarinelli v Alexander Frenkel Flattened by David Haye, Maccarinelli fought back to win European cruiserweight title but faces tough defence against an unbeaten German puncher.

James DeGale v Carl Dilks Booed in Brum on his pro debut, the Olympic champion returns for his stiffest test yet in this British super-middleweight title eliminator.

Frankie Gavin v Michael Kelly 'Funtime' Frankie's Gaelic roots qualify him for first pro championship contest – the Irish light-welterweight title.