By Alan Hubbard
“It must feel like they are boxing in a space ship,” David Haye observed as boxing punched its way out of the pandemic last week, staging a long-awaited comeback in the confines of the BT studio in London’s Olympic Park. Well, there was certainly plenty of space, none of it occupied by an audience and with the combatants keeping their required distance – at least until the first bill rang. Then it was all systems go as usual. And very entertaining it was too.
Pity the sport did not get the same publicity as the return of football and cricket to the small screen. It may be what the game calls a small hall show but in these hard to believe times it was professionally presented and brilliantly promoted, underlining the fact that British boxing has talent in its burgeoning ranks. Especially the young talent being recruited by.Frank Warren;s Queensberry army.
Hats off to Warren,and his team.notably the ubiquitous Andy Ayling who surely should patent his inspired invention of the disposable spittoon. Plus the BT backstage and frontmen, Robert Smith and the Board of Control and all in boxing’s “bubble” who had isolated for most of the week. In all there were 101 coronovirus tests. All negative
All stuck rigidly to the rules laid down jointly by the Governnment and the Boxing Board which made it all very different, if most watchable- at an additional cost of some £25,00 to the promoter.
Even the irrepressible Steve Bunce abandoned his usual high volume effervescence to informatively take those of us watching from the safety of our settees literally step by step from self- isolation in a nearby hotel to the custom-built ring via dressing room areas. to the ring, and the aftermath with the required disposal of all accoutrements such as gloves and hand wraps immediately into ringside bins; then still in their dressing gowns the fighters hopped into waiting taxis to take them back to the hotel to shower and change.
It was the sight of men in full astronaut style white head to toe protective gear cleansing the ring, stools and ropes with strong disinfectant which caused former double world champion turned pundit Hayeto make the spaceship analogy. It was certainly unreal and rather sterile, But that was before leather started pounding into flesh.
Then it became very real indeed However two things did really strike me as odd. First, why did the referees – who had to showerer and change their clothes between the five permitted bouts have to wear masks, but not gloves? And why were the fighters not allowed to be interviewed together afterwards, even if “socially” distanced the stipulated metre apart when a few seconds earlier they were in even closer proximity during their inevitable clinches in the ring?
But in but all in all it was a highly commendable effort and one surely welcomed by the sofa- bound flight fans after such a long absence. Like me, no doubt they were heartened by the bristling talent on an entertaining bill which augurs well for the future of the sport when the pandemic is ko’d.
Interestingly, no fighter took the knee, although the first boxer to be introduced in a ring since last March, w Stan Greener. was soon on both of his and was promptly stopped by big hitting prospect Mark Chamberlain after just 55 seconds.
I particularly liked 21-year-old Hamzah Sheeraz who dedicated his victory over Paul Keane to the aunt he lost to coronavirus, and one of David Hayes former heavyweight sparring partners David Adeleye, who has been training with both Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua.
The top of the bill, a defence by another potentially highflying youngster, Brad Foster, of his British and Commonwealth super bantamweight title against James Beech Jnr was a cracker. Both fighters were cut in a rumbustious yet highly skilled encounter which Foster, 22, deservedly won to claim the much treasuredornate Lonsdale Belt for keeps, something achieved only 13 times in the last decade.
Foster typifies today’s articulate, intelligent young men- of- war and graciously said of the valiant Beech afterwards “I’d like to congratulate him on giving me such a good fight. He was a terrific opponent.”
Asked whether the missed the roar of the crowd he replied: “Whether there is no person or 10,000 you have to concentrate on just one – your opponent”
Nice touch, and there were many during this edifying evening.
This weekend it will be the turn of one of boxing’s premier heavy mob, the former Olympic silver medallist Joe Joyce to appear ‘in camera’ so to speak. He headlines Warren’s second of five BT bills this Saturday evening – almost against the veteran Hall of Fame promoter’s better judgement.
Juggernaut Joe is scheduled to fight in October at the O2 Arena, hopefully when crowds are allowed to resume, against the similarly unbeaten British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion Dynamite Daniel Dubois in what is likely to be the blockbuster of the year.
The October10 clash has been postponed twice because of the coronavirus crisis and is the most eagerly awaited all-British heavyweight battle since Lennox Lewis beat Frank Bruno in Cardiff 27 years ago. Joyce has been out of action for a year due to the pandemic, while Dubois will have been idle for nine months.
Warren reluctantly agreed to allow the two world championship contenders to feature behind closed doors at BT’s Stratford studios.
Joyce tackles German Michael Wallisch, 34, on July 25, and Dubois faces German-based Russian Erik Pfeifer,33.. Both are competent, but no wold beaters, although Pfeifer twice defeated the current Olympic champion Tony Yoka in his amateur days.
. Defeat for either — though unlikely — would obviously wreck Warren;s best-laid plans, hence his reluctance.to use both men even though the risk may be minimal.
For history shows that where heavyweights are concerned, one lucky punch is all it takes to shatter dreams.
Says Warren “The last thing I wanted to do as put the Dubois-Joyce fight at risk — it’s huge and every fan can’t wait to see it.
“But Dan and J“oe have been away from the ring so long, I felt duty bound to allow them to get involved in something more meaningful than sparring.
“But I’ll sleep much easier when I know they have come through unharmed. We know the dangers where heavyweights are concerned. Remember Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas in Tokyo?”
So it will be with chewed nails on crossed fingers that Warren will be watching Juggernaut Joe enter boxing’s space-age with his traditional back-flip after he climbs unto the ring on Saturday.
Additionally of course there will more of the best of British young talent on show, including a really tasty-looking Southern Area title set-to between Chris Bourke and Ramez Mahmood.
Cracking stuff .And so good to see that during the lockdown boxing has not taken its eye off the punchball.
Live coverage of Joyce V Wallisch and full supporting bill starts at 7.15pm on BT Sport on Saturday.