Warren's quiet renaissance:THE MONDAY INTERVIEW

Five years ago Frank Warren faced bankruptcy. On Saturday he promotes two world title fights: Bruno v Tyson and Hamed v Lawal.
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The Independent Online
In common with similar theatrical types, boxing promoters decorate their establishments with framed posters of successful productions.

Soon, Frank Warren, whose enthusiasm for art is more tastefully represented at a smart home, complete with mushroom turret, in Hertfordshire (a recent signing is the painter, Sandor Szenassy), will be adding to the sloganized collection that traces colourfully his up and down and up again career as a boxing impresario.

Next Saturday, allowing for time zones, Warren will have his name to contests taking place simultaneously in Las Vegas and Glasgow. In partnership with Don King he is co-promoting Frank Bruno's defence of the World Boxing Council heavyweight championship against Mike Tyson and has the light of his sporting life, Prince Naseem Hamed, putting up the World Boxing Organisation featherweight title against Said Lawal at the Scottish Exhibition Centre. That is not all. Joe Bugner's match-up with Scott Welch in Berlin on the same date will be another interest and Steve Collins's defence of the WBO super-middleweight crown against Neville Brown in Cork two days ago was held under the banner of Warren's company.

Some turnaround for a man who was facing bankruptcy five years ago, his debts running in excess of pounds 5m - all now settled - almost friendless and with hardly a fighter to speak of.

Considering the problems Warren has known, some resulting from self-confessed extravagances, and the difficulties put in his way by established forces, the unconcealed satisfaction of being known as Britain's leading boxing promoter is understandable.

The worst of times for Warren came after he was gunned down in 1989 when stepping from his Bentley outside the Broadway Theatre in Barking. His first world champion, the light-welterweight Terry Marsh, was charged with attempted murder but later acquitted. Surgery to repair Warren's wounds led to the discovery and removal of a potentially dangerous tumour in his neck. Confidence in various business enterprises suffered accordingly.

Warren admits that the crisis he faced, almost writing him off completely, was not entirely the result of misfortune. He had made enemies for sure, but he had also made mistakes, overreaching. "I forgot what I'm good at," he said last week. "I'm good at bringing things in and turning them into events. Trouble was that I fancied my chances in other other areas. I allowed myself to believe that I didn't need boxing any more, that I could be part of the Thatcher boom years. The shooting undermined my credibility and left me without the energy to cope when things started to go wrong."

Before a 9mm bullet took away part of a lung there was more than a hint of Jack the Lad behaviour, resulting in scandal and personal embarrassment. "I know a lot of people have said something similar, but almost getting killed eventually made me grow up. To think of how I carried on, believing that success was spending lots of money in fashionable places, is embarrassing."

It was about 11 o'clock in the morning and Warren was sitting on a sofa in his spacious office close to the centre of Hertford some 30 miles from London. He had on the trousers of an expensive suit, a white shirt and discreetly patterned tie. At 46, there is still an odd shyness about him, evidence of it in occasional involuntary shrugs and small nervous gestures.

Warren had an hour to spare before leaving to keep an appointment in London. "Sorry about that," he said, "but something has come up, something I need to deal with quickly." All go, you might think. Transatlantic travel. Hours on the road, hours on the telephone. "Get me Don King," or whoever. The entrepreneurial life.

Times change, the promotional forces come and go. Warren was not born when Jack Solomons, resplendent at ringside in a midnight-blue dinner suit, orchestrated a post-war boom in British boxing with the fanfares and spotlights that announced and illuminated his coups.

From Solomons to an alliance between Harry Levene, Jarvis Astaire and the young lion, Mickey Duff. Duff, now 66, is still astutely active but cannot compete with the power Warren holds from a pounds 20m-plus deal with Sky television and his partnership with King, the sport's most influential figure. Last year when King's freedom appeared to be at risk as the result of insurance fraud charges it was suggested in the United States that Warren would be appointed regent. "I didn't take much notice of that," Warren said, "because I wouldn't have bet against Don with your money."

Not so long ago plenty of people would have bet against Warren. An investment in London Arena had foundered on infrastructural delays - "it could only happen in this country" - the banks were closing in and his promoter's licence was in jeopardy. "That business with the licence came about because of a mess-up in my office and was easily put right, but far more serious things were happening. Three people were arrested because of a fraud committed in one of my companies and everywhere I looked there was a problem. I hadn't recovered fully from the shooting and naturally people still wanted to know why it happened."

Warren remains convinced that the editor of a popular newspaper set out at that time to discredit him. It helps, perhaps, to explain a now famously litigious nature, his scattergun response at the merest hint of libel. "People criticise me for using the law and yet when I first came into boxing I was called a gangster," he said. That he is the nephew of Bobby Warren, who was given seven years imprisonment for working over a Fifties hoodlum, Jack "Spot" Comer, was bound to raise a few eyebrows at the British Boxing Board but the slur still rankles. "I'd never put my uncle Bob down," he said, "but I was only a child at the time so what did it have to do with me?"

Warren's activities this week are proof of a remarkable recovery that grew out of promotions staged for the Independent Television network, especially a second contest between Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank that drew a crowd of 42,000 to Old Trafford, Manchester and impressive ratings. "We could not have put that together without Don [King] coming in with American television money," he added. "And that's when we really started working together."

When it became clear to Bruno that Duff could no longer call upon funding from BBC television, he signed a promotional contract with Warren that established a link with King, brought about the defeat of Oliver McCall and next Saturday's big event in the Nevada desert. "Obviously, it's bigger than anything else I've been involved in," Warren said.

Not that Warren lacks a conscience about prize fighting. "There is no doubt that boxers will go on receiving serious injuries in the ring and I believe they should have the perils explained to them. But there is not a sport in this country, and without government grants, that is better regulated. Why should I be ashamed of making money from boxing? Should I be ashamed of helping boxers to become millionaires?"

They were the words of a man who knows the name of a good lawyer.