By David McIntosh
2018 has by every thinkable measure been a blockbuster year for British boxing. Multiple world champions, World Super Series success, fantastic domestic match ups and, lest we forget, the spectacular redemption of Tyson Fury – the undoubted sporting moment of 2018. British boxing is the envy of the boxing world. How disappointing therefore that the end of the year is blighted by a feud between sharp-suited egos that will prove to be bad for boxing, bad for boxers and bad for Britain. The deliberate schedule clash this weekend between the Frampton Warrington world title fight and the Whyte Chisora domestic heavyweight fight is unnecessary, demeaning but unfortunately all too predictable. The rhetoric between Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn, the two big beasts of British boxing, has been brewing all year. Finally, at the end of 2018, the battle of words has escalated into action with two Pay Per View fights going head to head on the same night in the UK. Let’s be clear – Saturday night’s schedule clash is a disgrace.
Boxing fans are faced with a dilemma – a world level clash that will allow the winner to enter the elite featherweight ranks in 2019 or a barnstorming heavyweight sequel that promises toe-to-toe action. I will be following the featherweights and I have my reasons, but many will have similarly valid reasons to follow the heavyweights. One thing is for sure – the individual boxers will suffer. Hardcore boxing fans are finite and this weekend their hard-earned cash will be split between two PPV offers. Casual boxing fans are a more fluid bunch and their attention will be equally split across the two matchups. The result for the boxers is not just an immediate financial impact from lower PPV figures but also a longer-term loss of casual fans who have missed their opportunity to see a fighter they still don’t know. I feel particularly sorry for Josh Warrington who has remained under the radar despite his rise to world honours. Every fan drawn to the bombastic heavyweight fight between Whyte and Chisora is a potential fan Warrington could have had. That’s bad for boxing.
2019 has the potential to be the greatest ever year for British boxing. We have amazing boxers, even better fans and the world at our feet. However, 2019 could also be the year British boxing falls into the trap that has plagued American boxing for half a century. Money, ego and boardroom belligerence have destroyed American boxing and robbed boxers and boxing fans of some of the greatest sporting moments we’ll never know. Sharp suits have been the most important thing in American boxing rather than boxers and the outcome has been clear – an over-priced, under-marketed, over-complicated, unloved mess and a magnificent sport in near terminal decline. In 2019 British boxing has a choice. And the right path has already been shown. Tyson Fury didn’t think about money or business or contracts when he agreed to fight Deontay Wilder. He thought about history and legacy and the fans. And by doing so he produced the sporting moment of 2018. Redemption? 2018 saw Fury reborn as the boxing Messiah. British boxing needs to follow Tyson Fury’s lead. By doing so British boxing in 2019 would see promoters put the boxers first. It would see promoters realise that they are not the stars and that history cares little for their feuds. It would see promoters collaborate to deliver a single platform for all boxing instead of the convoluted distribution of fights across multiple subscription channels (how many kids from poorer backgrounds have actually seen Fury or Joshua box?). It would see a coordinated approach to pay per view that doesn’t require fans to be IT experts to put a fight on their TV sets on a Saturday night. It would see casual fans flock back to boxing in their millions. 2019 could deliver all of those things. British boxing has a choice and to take the right path we need everyone to be just a little more Tyson Fury.