SO LONG, 2021, NOW ONWARDS AND UPWARDS
By Frank Warren
CHRISTMAS IS FAST approaching and a year of boxing is drawing to a close. I am thrilled that ourselves and BT Sport will be quickly back in world title business early next year on January 15 with Callum Johnson, hopefully, becoming what I am told will be my 150th world champion when he challenges Joe Smith jr in New York.
It would make it quite a start to 2022 for us. But now is a time for reflection and an assessment on the state of the Queensberry Union as we ready ourselves to further push our younger contingent forward and make the biggest fights possible for our contenders, of which there is no shortage.
Looking back on 2021 an obvious high point that springs to mind was a fight that many of us thought we could do without. October’s epic trilogy battle between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder will be lodged in history as one of the great fights of our times.
The remarkable Tyson reinforced his position as the greatest heavyweight of his generation by ultimately overwhelming the hammer-handed Deontay, who himself displayed courage and fortitude of the awe inspiring variety.
Of course it was a shame that we could not get Tyson and Anthony Joshua into the ring together in 2021 despite a clear and obvious will to do so. Unfortunately, following Joshua’s pretty much resounding defeat to Oleksandr Usyk, three of the heavyweight belts are now on hold again due to another rematch clause.
These rematches, particularly at heavyweight, do create a logjam because many of the leading heavies only tend to fight twice a year. So with a rematch six months after the original, the winner then doesn’t defend again for another six months, resulting in a lost year for those waiting to step up and challenge.
From our side, we’ve got who I believe are the two outstanding non-world champion heavyweights ready to take the plunge. Joe Joyce, following his July defeat of Carlos Takam at Wembley, is awaiting his opportunity as the holder of the No.1 spot with the WBO.
We also have Daniel Dubois, back firing on all cylinders, in pole position for a shot at the WBA title. We couldn’t really be in a much better shape in the heavyweight stakes and I expect events to really unfold in 2022 with huge fights for Tyson, Joe and Daniel.
The light heavyweights have sprang to the forefront over the last year and I was delighted to welcome Callum Johnson back into the fold to strengthen our hand in the division. Two fights on and, as mentioned above, Callum will soon be back in world title action.
I was also thrilled to see Anthony Yarde rediscover his mojo in his emphatic rematch triumph over Lyndon Arthur earlier this month. I have long tipped Anthony for major honours and, after losing his way a little, he is right back on his game and now in line to face the winner out of Callum and Smith jr.
What a fight that will be to slot into the 2022 schedule!
I am also very excited by the progress of a young light heavy on our books called Karol Itauma. It is still very early days but the Olympic Youth gold medallist has just got that stamp of quality about him that strongly suggests he will go all the way.
You will be able to see plenty of Karol and his development across our main promotions and also our ‘Prospect Shows’ that will step up a gear in the new year.
Another major plus for me has been the explosive impact of Zach Parker, the Derby super middle who is ready to burst onto the world scene. Our job has been to keep him busy in good fights and we have done just that.
Next year will be huge for Zach as we will continue with the activity level and also look to propel him to the top table once Canelo’s intentions become clear as to whether he will defend or relinquish his four world title belts.
I really believe Zach has got what it takes to win a world title and thrive at the highest level for a prolonged period of time.
Our middleweight Nathan Heaney and his merry band of followers have given us a few fun nights over the last year and I want to see him rewarded by me delivering on his dream of winning a title on the hallowed turf of his beloved Stoke City Football Club.
It was good to see Denzel Bentley get back on the middleweight horse recently after losing his British title earlier in the year to Felix Cash. Denzel’s defence against Cash and Brad Foster’s European title challenge to Jason Cunningham were two occasions where we have stumped up the money to give our fighters home advantage and every chance of success.
It didn’t work out as we hoped in these two fights but Denzel will quickly be back in British title contention, as will Brad. Jason has now joined forces with us which opens up the prospect of some fantastic fights in the super bantamweight division next year involving him, Brad, Chris Bourke, Liam Davies and Andrew Cain.
Any combination of those will make for cracking fights while, at the same time, if there is the opportunity for any of them to push forward towards a world title, we will do what it takes to deliver.
Leading super welterweight talent Hamzah Sheeraz has continued his progress and I suspect he is destined for big things. I know there has been a lot of talk over the Bradley Skeete fight but it is one we are happy to do again and we are currently waiting to hear back from them.
At welterweight Ekow Essuman has hugely impressed me in establishing himself as a British champion of considerable substance. He is a quality operator who will find himself in some big fights in 2022.
The same can be said of his new welterweight teammate David Avenesyan, the European champion who I am delighted has signed with us to push him towards a world title tilt. David is a popular fighter in this country and you will see him in action early in the year as we give him the activity he wants.
Lower down the weights we have some terrific talent coming through and the likes of featherweight Louie Lynn and lightweight Sam Noakes are already in possession of WBC titles. Both Sam and his lightweight rival Mark Chamberlain have signed new promotional contracts with us in recent weeks and Mark’s next fight will see him bidding to win a first international belt as we build towards matching them when the time is right.
The progress of Dennis McCann has continued at pace and he too will be in the frame for titles next year at bantamweight, while featherweight Nick Ball has demonstrated that he is ready for a title push.
We are in such a healthy position as we head into 2022 and obviously I am unable to namecheck all the fighters I have such high hopes for.
What I can tell them is that progress will be accelerated next year as, fingers crossed, we can continue planning shows as normal with fans in the buildings. It has not been an easy year with only having fans in attendance since July and it has often felt like we have had to play catch up for much of the year with the emphasis having been on getting fighters out and keeping them in work.
All things being equal, we will be able to be more strategic in our approach next year while continuing to give everybody the activity level they require.
I will report back with a proper look ahead to 2022 before the turn of the year but, in the meantime, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very merry Christmas and an enjoyable festive period. I would also like to thank you for your support across 2021 and, as Boris would say, we will be building back better in the new year.