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.

Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Field of broken dreams: Andy Bell visits Passchendaele
news5 News's Andy Bell visited the killing fields of the Great War, and his ancestor - known only from his compelling war diary - came to life
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In my grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel