THE ETERNAL cry is that we need boxing stories to go with the fights.
Let me tell you about a weekend, an ordinary weekend in our boxing calendar. It fell between the excesses of the Misfits in Manchester, with their devoted flock, and the wonders of this weekend in Saudi. Hey, Tyson Fury might just appear in a moving ring that has been built 26 feet underground.
The magic, rising ring is this Saturday, I’m talking about last weekend.
Last Saturday there were eight professional shows up and down the country. Big venues, small venues, fight cities and new places. Shows with 10 fights, three fights, televised, recorded on phones only. I think there were 57 fights from Bournemouth to Derby to Manchester to dirty York Hall. British title, Commonwealth belts, pride, milestones, debuts, tears, broken dreams and the retirement of a modern great. All in one night and all under the auspices of the British Boxing Board of Control. It was just a solitary night in our professional business, and we do it most weekends, never forget that.
However, it’s not all glory and as many as five or even six of the promoters might have lost money or just about broken even on their shows. It is all about the search for a star, the one to make it all worthwhile. What a business of dreamers we are. There were a lot of debuts on Saturday and even more fighters with a record like two and zero or three and zero.
In addition to the professional fights, there were nearly 250 contests in the Development amateur championships in Cannock over Saturday and Sunday. I don’t need to bore you with how many of the men and women, boys and girls will be tomorrow’s stars. On Sunday, for your tenner, you got to watch 92 finals in three rings. Curtis Woodhouse, the former British champion and Premier League player had his first national champion.
Here is another story. Dale Arrowsmith won his 100th fight. He has not won many, but at The Fuse, at about 6pm on Saturday night, he won his landmark fight. He was watched by his cousin, Stacey Copeland. How about this: a few hours later, Stacey was presenting the Five Live Jack Catterall-Jorge Linares coverage from Liverpool. Wait for it, just five years ago, Stacey was boxing in Harare, Zimbabwe, for the Commonwealth light-middleweight title and winning over ten rounds. That is pioneer territory; if a female reporter buys a pie at a football match, she is called a pioneer. Stacey Copeland has moved from winning the Commonwealth title against the odds in Africa, to presenting the boxing live on Five Live in just five years. I like that. Go on, sister.
On that same bill in Manchester, Tasha Jonas had her first winner as the first black female boxing manager when Mikie Tallon boxed. Three stories in one night. And dozens of rumours; in Liverpool I must have heard 30 theories and inventions being used as facts. Admittedly, that is probably a bit low for a Saturday night out with Scousers.
“Usyk v Fury on the 23rd, done deal. The Saudis want it.” “Usyk v Fury in April, done deal. The Saudis want it.” You get the idea. And people at ringside love to gossip: Anthony Yarde was at the Boxxer show, Ben Whittaker was at the Matchroom show. It is all quality stuff.
There were also tender and hard moments to witness. Jamie Moore comforting Aqib Fiaz after the fighter’s first loss in 13 fights. He was inconsolable. Moore has the words. He knows that feeling.
And what about the numbers. I think it is 114 boxers in the eight shows, as many as 300 trainers, managers, promoters, matchmakers, agents, whips and other licence holders all got paid. The Board probably had to find about 100 officials, plus the medical teams, the security details. There must have been 10 grand spent on gloves and double that on the travel of the international judges for the show in Liverpool. It was business as normal. Incidentally, I heard that the hoist lifting the ring from the depths of the desert in Saudi is from an Italian company and cost three-million Euros. That is priceless gossip, priceless.
On Stefy Bull’s show in Rotherham, Fonz Alexander was meant to have his 162nd fight, but instead he fought on the same night in the North East. For a moment, I thought that the Fonz had done what Bruce The Mouse Strauss often did and boxed twice in one night at different locations.
In Liverpool, in the midnight corridors of the old Echo, Jorge Linares stayed late to do an interview with everybody. It was his last fight, he told everybody. It must have been 1am before he was done. Imagine the thrill of being a kid reporter and getting to be there for the last fight of a legend. Not many of us can say that. I did get Big George Foreman on his last ever fight. It was the Trump in Atlantic City and Shannon Briggs had beaten George. It was not fun in the dressing room. I shook his hand, and it was like shaking hands with a hundred years of boxing history. Our shared history: the hand that held the tiny flag at the Olympics, the hand that dropped Joe Frazier and Michael Moorer, the hand that tried to grab Muhammad Ali as he fell in Kinshasa. That hand was in my hand.
Late on Saturday I shook Jorge’s hands as he walked away. I would have liked to have congratulated Dale Arrowsmith on his 100th fight or given Issac Chamberlain a hug after his win at York Hall. The Chamberlain win was emotional, another story mostly overlooked. So many good stories.
Three very different fighting weekends. Tommy Fury won in Manchester, James Dean Fury, just 17, won twice in Cannock under Peter Fury’s watchful eye and this Saturday, the biggest Fury, Tyson will lead an orchestra of the converted. Stories? We have thousands, you just have to look a bit harder.