The global boxing year will be dominated by the fists, hearts and minds of two British heavyweights at the very centre of a complex business deal.
Never has one fight come to dominate the boxing colony so clearly, and potentially dangerously, as the overdue fight between Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury, which is now in the lubricated hands of so many different forces, with so many different voices and so many different masters to satisfy. The trickeration, as Don King would say, is deep.
There is no doubt both men want the fight, no proof that either man has shown any fear at the negotiating table; whispers from one camp, rumours of second thoughts, talk of new demands are so often treated as fact in the fight game. And they are not, let’s get that right. Fury and Joshua have agreed what they need to agree.
What we do know is that the fight’s cabal of fixers have clashed and will continue to clash until the final document is revealed - there is nothing wrong with promoters, lawyers, representatives and television executives arguing, threatening and losing their minds in the vicious days before a deal like this is born. It’s probably best that they all hate each other, have no trust or love for each other and in public smile together like aged glamour models at their daughter’s 18th birthday party. It’s an ugly image of deceit and denial.
The vast sums suggest the first of their two fights will happen because mountains of cash can soothe egos and stop fools talking in tongues. Bob Arum is nearly 90 and this fight could be his last piece of promotional magic, but there is only so much glittering fantasy that can be pulled from a hat. Boxing survives this fight’s failure to happen, trust me, but it would be very sad. No magician wants to pull out a dead rabbit.
Away from the neon-lit big boys, the business must continue.
There are fifteen weight divisions in British boxing, over 1,000 licensed boxers and fifty or more fights that need to happen, including rematches from fights since July. The continuation of behind-closed-doors shows could create a series of domestic fights at every single weight. I could pick any division and make five fights for fans, five fights that make sense, English title, British title and eliminators and I could nominate 20 boxers for world title fights. Some sense from all involved will make this a special year; fighters who said “no” to offers last May need to think again. It’s that simple.
However, it is time now for the “he’s above domestic level” line to become obsolete - Fury and Joshua are proof that nobody is above domestic level and the excuse is just a convenient way to avoid a domestic loss. In the women’s game there is just the one level and that is why domestic boxing for women will thrive this year - there are no murky shadows for promoters to hide their boxers behind a shield of unfounded hype. Please, let the best British boxers fight the best British boxers.
It’s certainly not all golden in the boxing garden and the 900 or so excluded boxers and promoters, managers and trainers have to somehow get involved quickly in the business they make; most people in the boxing business have just watched, nothing more than frustrated spectators since the sport’s July return. Promoters without television deals are understandably reluctant to lose 25 grand per show, which they would without ticket sales.
The start in Britain was delayed before the first bell when the British Boxing Board of Control suspended all scheduled shows in January. A review of their Covid situation will follow.
And when shows do return in the UK, a raw fight over six rounds at York Hall for a purse of three grand is the same business as Joshua and Fury stopping the world for half-a-billion in revenue.
And there will be 25 new British professionals this year when the Olympics finally happens or is postponed; the GB boxing squad is vast, an annual rotational beast forever identifying young talent, but planning for Paris in 2024 after the Covid mess and uncertainty of 2020 will be difficult. The potential British medal winners from last summer’s games in Tokyo would all have turned professional now, smiling, looking about 13, holding up medals and disguising black eyes in photographs that live forever.
The brutal truth is that there will be a damaging defection, especially if the Olympics fails to happen. If the Olympics happens, with eight men and five women all reaching the Games after the qualifying event in London in April, the squad will win ten medals and that is impressive currency in the pro game. The GB squad has the resources to survive an unprecedented exodus of talent. The flip side is that the professional game needs this talent for 2025.
Professional boxing in Britain is a maddening business to work in, a business with dubious morals, high standards of competition, a toxicity to rival Chernobyl, a mountain of excuses from some of the finest operators in the sporting world and no calendar of events. I wish we had a Wimbledon, an FA Cup, the darts at Ally Pally, snooker in Sheffield - instead, we have a blank canvas each January and we give the colouring crayons over to a dozen independents and they can do whatever the hell they like.
They can match Liverpool against Dulwich Hamlet and tell us Manchester United wanted too much money and we accept it. “It’s the way our business works,” we mutter, often with delusional pride. Also, and this is often forgotten too easily, boxers listen to fools and price themselves out of the fights they insist they want. What a workplace, it’s a nuthouse.
Hopefully, in 2021 there will be more of the fights we want, the fights the boxers want, the crowds back in glory and a revolution in truth on the outside of the ropes - not quite transparency, but some good, sound reasons why fights have failed to happen. I’m sick of lies.
Thankfully, the boxing has started with an early treat and it was a good year for British boxing for about six minutes on Saturday night in Dallas when Luke Campbell dropped Ryan Garcia in round two; Garcia, a suave kid, survived, showed guts, thrilled and alarmed his 8m online horde and knocked Campbell out in round seven. Bad year early for Luke, nine years after gold in London 2012.
Meanwhile, the Garcia win might just lead to some truly great fights for belts of varying tackiness and authenticity at lightweight with Gervonta Davis, Teofimo Lopez and Devin Haney. However, the real battle, fight, struggle and frustration this year will be behind closed doors when men and women with perfect faces, voices, teeth and memories play boxing monopoly with fighter’s desires and the wishes of fans. Joshua and Fury is only the biggest fight in the capricious hands of too many people, with too many conflicting ambitions.
The motto for 2021 is simple: Just get the fights done.
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