Phoney titles and TV deals are killing British boxing

IF THERE is still plenty of truth in the late AJ Liebling's assertion that fight writers - "since they last longer than boxers" - are the game's most persistent howlers after antiquity, it is no longer possible for anyone to oppose the view that the sport used to be better.

IF THERE is still plenty of truth in the late AJ Liebling's assertion that fight writers - "since they last longer than boxers" - are the game's most persistent howlers after antiquity, it is no longer possible for anyone to oppose the view that the sport used to be better.

Despite the drumming-up of Mike Tyson's ring return against Orlin Norris in Las Vegas on Saturday and the featherweight tussle in Detroit tomorrow night between the World Boxing Organisation champion Naseem Hamed and the World Boxing Council title-holder Cesar Soto of Mexico, all the signs point to a bleak future in this country for the most basic, natural and uncomplicated of athletic competitions.

There is no question at all that untold harm has been done to British boxing by promotional alliances formed with Sky television and the subsequent proliferation of ratings-driven phoney world championships contested by fighters who would once have been fortunate to pick up small change for appearing on undercards.

No wonder that boxing - other than rare events of widespread public interest such as the second matching of Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis in Las Vegas next month for the undisputed heavyweight championship - now gets only fringe status in British newspapers.

In an essay published 44 years ago, Liebling wrote: "One thing about the Sweet Science upon which all initiates are in agreement is that it used to be better. The exact period at which it used to be better, however, varies in direct ratio with the age of the fellow telling about it; if he was a fighter, it always turns out to be the time when he was fighting, and if a fight writer, the years before he began to get bored with what he is doing."

Whether or not boredom eventually overtook even the most ardent of Liebling's contemporaries on this side of the Atlantic, a big difference in his time was that every British national print employed a full-time boxing correspondent. Star sports columnists like Peter Wilson of the Daily Mirror, Desmond Hackett of the Daily Express and George Whiting of the Evening Standard were guaranteed at ringside whenever a British title fight, never mind a world championship, was in progress.

As a humble gatherer of sporting information on the Mirror staff, I was sometimes sent to fights as Wilson's assistant. His eyes never strayed from the action. Significant punches and crucial manoeuvres were faithfully recorded on his typewriter and as the phrases leapt from the keyboard, I spoke them into a telephone.

With one or two exceptions, there is hardly a sports editor today who thinks it necessary to make boxing the subject of a specialist reporter's attention. "What happened to boxing writers?" is a question that was put to me this week by the veteran trainer and corner- man, Dennie Mancini. "What happened to British boxing?" I replied.

Not only boxing's disappearance from the terrestial television channels on which aspirants could show their hands to a much wider audience than Sky can offer, but the ludicrous advancement of journeymen as potential world champions and the collapse of amateur boxing.

Last week more than 1m viewers saw a repeat on BBC Grandstand of the contest that led to Adrian Dodson's 12-month suspension for biting. No figures were released when the first Holyfield-Lewis contest went out on Sky's pay-per-view channel, but it is unlikely that the audience exceeded 300,000.

The eyes can be influenced by an idea. What these rheumy eyes see is a sport that has lost all sense of direction.

So fearful of litigation that it often chooses to take no serious action over infringements of weight-making regulations, the British Boxing Board of Control could be forced into bankruptcy as a result of a case brought successfully against it by Michael Watson.

As for the decline in standards and the absence of personalities, an old fighter whose company I enjoy on the golf course recently brought in two bound volumes of Boxing News dating back to the 50s. The issue of 6 January 1956 included the ratings of licensed British boxers.

The heavyweights include Don Cockell (then British champion), Jack Gardner, Johnny Williams, Joe Erskine and Henry Cooper. Wally Thom was the welterweight champion, Frank Johnson held the lightweight title for which Dave Charnley was the six-rated challenger.

I know that this is going further back than some of us find it comfortable to remember but when you come across those names and many others, no defence for the present state of British boxing is discernible.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor