By Alan Hubbard
How ironic that just as British boxing was having one of the successful spells in its long history and escalating in popularity as a spectator and participant sport, it was forced to take a knee some five months ago by the pandemic. Thankfully it is now getting back to its feet due to the closed door shows operated by Queensberry and Matchroom respectively.
What’s more it has been good news week and for the noble art, with Hall of Fame promoter Frank Warren offering a sensible and timely olive branch to Eddie Hearn at Matchroom, suggesting how beneficial it would be to the future of the sport to stop the bickering and get on with the boxing.
His idea of cross-stable shows between the cream of Queensberry and the best of Matchroom sounds great and would attract tremendous interest especially at a time of such International and domestic success and with boxing being hailed not only as a means of attaining fitness at a physical level, but mentally healing too.
This has been highlighted by two articles on the same day in separate sections of the Daily Mail featuring two leading personalities with different career patterns using boxing training as a means of fighting depression and getting physically fit as well becoming mentally more robust.
Veteran BBC television newsreader Huw Edwards, 58, told how he sank into depression following the death of his father, ballooning in weight and not realising his own health was failing.
It was his wife Vicky who suggested to took up boxing and he walked into former British and European super-lightweight champion Clinton McKenzie’ south London gym and asked for his help.
Under McKenzie’s tuition his mental health significantly improved and he shed three stones.
“Getting physically fit by dieting sensibly, cutting out sugary rubbish and training as boxers do has helped me to be mentally more robust. Big shout out to Clinton McKenzie. He kept me going this past year.”
Turning to the Mail’s sports section we find a tale about the bearded English golfer Andrew “Beefy” Johnston who says he has beaten the lockdown blues after taking up boxing training.
We know that many sports, among them football, cricket, rugby and tennis use training techniques based on boxing to strengthen the muscles as well as the mindset.
But discovering it is also an antidote to depression in golf is surely something new!
Johnston has spoken openly about his battles with depression and two years ago revealed that he broke down in tears in his hotel room after an event in South Africa.
He also withdrew after playing just nine holes of the British Masters and headed home, saying the stringent COVID-19 protocols were not for him.
Now 31-year-old Johnson has had a change of heart after sparring, skipping and pummelling the punchbag and his professional game has been transformed. “What’s helped me is boxing. I’ve done a lot of bag work and it’s been good for my head. There are a lot of mental similarities between preparing to go into the ring and playing golf. Now I’m just trying to take the same boxing mentality on to the course.”
So, boxing is good for your health, both mentally and physically. Now there’s a punch on the nose for the abolitionists!
WHO WOULD HAVE thought that the killer pandemic which has divided nations, kept families and friends apart and split society may result in bringing together the two biggest rivals in British sport. Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn are on speaking terms for the first time in more than 10 years. This unlikely and totally unexpected rapprochement has been bought about by concerns over the devastating effect the coronavirus might have on the future of the fight game.
Until last week they had kept their distance both socially and professionally, and had not met or spoken since Eddie took over from his dad Barry a decade ago.
The rivalry between fearless Frank and Fast Eddie has been long and bitter, but now it seems they have shaken hands, metaphorically speaking – or shall we say in the present climate bumped forearms – spoken on the telephone and arranged to have dinner together soon.
A remarkable and very welcome truce, the turn of events brought about by the crippling damage done to not only boxing but all sports comes because of the COVID-19 lockdown.
It is only recently that Warren, at 68, the senior figure in British boxing and 41-year-old Hearn have started to promote again, albeit crowd free, Warren in the Olympic Park studios of his television backers BT and Hearn in Matchroom’s ranch sized back garden in Essex, under the auspices of Sky.
Any union between the two promoters means that Sky and BT would have to work together too, bringing a whole new brawl game to the screens. And why not?
It was Warren who threw down the gauntlet – or in his own words, a whole suit of armour – when he suggested in his website column here that the time had come for the sake of the future of the sport for the two organisations to work together to produce fights that would put boxing on the road to recovery after its isolation. One idea he proposed was be to match the best fighters from his stable against those promoted by Hearn in a series of shows.
He wrote: “The time is right to throw off the shackles and truly give our sport a proper shot in the arm.
“What I am proposing is to break down the borders and give the fans the fights they want to see.
“Let’s make the natural matches that have previously been deemed too complicated due to promotional and broadcast affiliations. Queensberry’s finest versus the best of Matchroom.
“The fans are longing to see Anthony Yarde take on Joshua Buatsi with light heavyweight supremacy at stake. So am I, let’s get it done.
“Who wouldn’t want to see Dillian Whyte taking on the best young heavyweight in the world, Daniel Dubois, later this year or early next while Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua are busy making other plans?
“Any takers for Joe Joyce against Dereck Chisora? There are numerous potential match-ups.
“Forget the past. Don’t focus on the difficulties and let’s get on and make the fights people want to see. When it comes time to make Fury v AJ, everyone involved will have to cooperate anyway so I see no reason why we can’t make these fights now.
“Forget about promoter pride and egos, it is not about us. This is the time to turbo-charge boxing right back into the mainstream and capture the imagination of the watching public.”
Hearn’s immediate response appears to be positive.
“I gave him a buzz and said later in August or September we can have a chat and a bite to eat,” Hearn said. He added that meeting up with Frank was “overdue” and should have happened “10 years ago”.
“The main thing to focus on is AJ against Fury… that’s the priority. The other stuff is great and those fights can get made, but that fight will open the door.”
Unlike Fury and Joshua, Warren and Hearn may not be a match made in fight heaven, but as the great American referee, District Attorney Mills Lane used to say “’Let’s get it on!”
To catch all the action on Queensberry’s show headlined by Carl Frampton against Darren Traynor tune into BT Sport 2 from 8pm on Saturday